Escaped killer 'exploited legal loophole'

AN ESCAPED killer who will become a free man if he stays on the run for 28 days probably identified a loophole in the law before absconding, according to the head of the hospital that treated him, writes Steve Boggan.

Dr James Earp, director of the Trent regional forensic service, said James Rudman, who stabbed his wife to death in 1991, was likely to have deliberately exploited the Mental Health Act when he absconded while walking unescorted in the grounds of the Towers Hospital secure unit in Leicester. The order imposed by Mr Justice McCollough last August will expire if he stays away from the hospital for 28 days. The Department of Health has confirmed that he will be a free man by 28 August.

Leicester police said yesterday that Rudman had contacted them to say he was 'safe and well'.

At his trial, Rudman pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was sent to the hospital under Section 37 of the Mental Health Act, which places an emphasis on treatment and must be renewed regularly, rather than Section 41 which ensures secure detention and has no time limit.

Dr Earp believes Rudman may have noticed or been advised of a clause in the Act that says Section 37 patients cannot be taken into custody once they have been away from hospital for 28 days.

'I think it is quite likely that he knew about the 28-day rule before absconding,' said Dr Earp. 'Patients these days have all kinds of rights read to them and they have access to all sorts of documents.'