Inquiry into escape of Broadmoor murderers: Nurses suspended at high security hospital

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The Independent Online
AN inquiry is to be launched into how two dangerous murderers managed to escape from their Broadmoor Hospital escorts during separate outings in the past two days.

Anthony Pilditch, 47, a rapist and murderer, escaped from his two nurse minders while on a rehabilitation trip to Reading in Berkshire on Wednesday and is still at large.

And yesterday Kenneth Erskine, 30, known as 'the Stockwell Strangler' after throttling seven pensioners in south London over a 15-week period in 1986, escaped from the custody of his two nurse minders during a visit to Ascot's Heatherwood Hospital accident and emergency department for an X-ray of an injured little finger. He was recaptured 50 minutes later after a search by police and nurses.

Four nurses have been suspended pending an internal inquiry at Broadmoor, which caters for mentally abnormal offenders.

Pilditch, 47, was sent to Broadmoor, near Crowthorne in Berkshire, in 1984 for killing a 17-year- old Scottish waitress. Her badly decomposed body was found under a bed in a flat in Luton in 1978.

He was having lunch with his escorts at the George Hotel in Reading when they let him go to the lavatory unaccompanied and he seized his chance to escape.

'We are looking at airports, ports, places where he could leave the country,' Thames Valley police said yesterday. 'There have been no confirmed sightings of him. We know where he lived in London and his mother's address in Northamptonshire, so we have made various inquiries.'

The Special Hospitals Service Authority, which has overall control for Broadmoor, said it had asked for full reports on the escapes of Erskine and Pilditch 'as a matter of urgency'. Joe Fox, Assistant Chief Constable (Operations) at Thames Valley police, said: 'We are very concerned that within 24 hours, two patients from Broadmoor Hospital have escaped from their escorts whilst away from the hospital. We are looking into the circumstances of both escapes and the hospital is aware of our immediate concern.'

Alan Franey, Broadmoor Hospital's general manager, said: 'Instructions were given to staff today by the director of nursing, reminding staff that they must not lose eye contact with patients when they are on rehabilitation trips.'

Frank Mone, chairman of the Broadmoor branch of the Prison Officers' Association, said the suspended staff were scapegoats for the more liberal system introduced at Broadmoor since it came under the full control of the Special Hospitals Service Authority four years ago. Since then the number of escapes had increased dramatically.

'Between 1981 and 1991, there were about three,' he said. 'In 1993, we have had between eight and nine. Patients have access to phones, to banking systems, their mail is not looked at or read prior to leaving hospital.

'A number of patients are manipulating the prison system to their benefit. The nursing staff walk a fine line between defending themselves against patients and being prosecuted by their own management.'

Calling the decision to suspend four members of staff 'unforgivable', he said: 'This is something that has been done to appease the public and throw the light from the administrators of the hospital.'