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Women in Broadmoor 'should not be there'

High-security hospitals: MPs to launch investigation over claims of abuse

The incarceration of women in high-security special hospitals is to be investigated by an influential committee of MPs.

David Hinchliffe, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Health Select Committee, believes women should never have been locked up in places like Broadmoor and should be rehoused.

The latest allegations of sexual abuse and rape of female patients at Broadmoor have prompted Mr Hinchliffe to consider reopening the committee's two-year-old inquiry into special hospitals.

The Independent on Sunday has been campaigning for better treatment of the mentally ill since June last year. The campaign was prompted by an IoS investigation into the plight of a Broadmoor in-patient who had spent 20 years in the high-security institution for throwing a stone through the window of an office building.

Mr Hinchliffe said there was evidence that at least two-thirds of the women held in Broadmoor "should not have been there in the first place". "I am very sceptical about special hospitals full stop, in particular in relation to women's care," he said. "We need to press ahead with moving to smaller units that would offer better patient care."

The Government yesterday confirmed it would move all the women in Broadmoor from the high-security unit within three years. "The process has already started. There is a move towards more specialist services for women with mental health problems," a Department of Health spokeswoman said.

Since the recent reports of the Broadmoor "whistleblower" Julia Wassell's claims of abuse and rape of women in-patients, the spokeswoman said, mixed-sex activities at the Berkshire hospital had been suspended and would not be reinstated.

But concerns remain over practices at the hospital, which houses some of the country's most dangerous criminals including Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. The Department of Health confirmed action was being taken following claims by Ms Wassell, who was formerly a senior manager at Broadmoor. Ms Wassell's survey of 28 women found more than 1,000 incidents of verbal abuse, 64 cases of sexual harrassment, 56 cases of sexual abuse, five rapes and six incidents of consensual sex over three years.

As well as moving women from Broadmoor, the Government is keen to upgrade protection for people with mental health problems through its Sexual Offences Bill. The Tories, led by Lord Astor of Hever, who has one daughter with autism and another who suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are seeking to tighten these measures further.

Lord Astor is to table amendments to the Bill, urging more severe penalties for carers who engage in abusive sexual relationships with their mentally ill charges.

Commenting on the scandal engulfing Broadmoor, he said: "The problem is we have too many prisoners and a lot of them should have much more help. People, particularly women, with mental disorders and learning disabilities need more protection."