Loophole gives knifeman freedom

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The Independent Online
AN ARMED robber who has been on the run from a mental hospital for more than 28 days has gained his freedom because of a loophole in the law.

Steven Newson, 33, was sent to St Luke's psychiatric hospital in Middlesbrough, Cleveland, in December after being convicted of two armed robberies.

On 29 January, he escaped through a bathroom window of the hospital's secure unit. The hospital believes an inside accomplice may have helped Newson scale the unit's 20ft perimeter wall.

The hospital confirmed yesterday that the search for Newson, from Darlington, had officially ended. There have been four escapes from the secure unit, which holds 33 people, in the last year.

Police repeated a warning to the public yesterday that Newson, who is heavily tattooed, should not be approached. A statement said he was known to arm himself with knives. During the robberies he was convicted of carrying out, Newson threatened shop staff at knifepoint.

The Teesside MPs Stuart Bell, Michael Bates and Frank Cook demanded action from the Home Office and from Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr Bell said: 'The law is an ass. It is a shocking situation when a dangerous criminal can walk free by evading recapture for a month.'

Mr Bates said: 'It is absolutely extraordinary that the hospital is not looking for him on the grounds of his own safety, if not for other people's' Mr Cook said the case was both terrifying and farcical and put innocent people at risk.

Last year, a man who killed his wife escaped from a Leicester psychiatric hospital. James Rudman, 40, was recaptured an hour before the Mental Health Act 28-day rule allowed him his freedom. Under Section 37 of the Act a patient cannot be detained again after being out for more than a month.

Following his recapture, the Department of Health and legal experts from the Lord Chancellor's office were said to be re- examining key sections of the Act. Newson's case will see renewed pressure for an immediate revision of the current law.