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MPs and charities join call for Clunis public inquiry: Campaigners demand moratorium on closure of psychiatric hospitals

PRESSURE is mounting on the Government to hold a public inquiry into the killing of a man on a London railway platform by Christopher Clunis, a paranoid schizophrenic who was constantly released from hospitals under the care in the community programme.

Opposition MPs and charities representing the seriously mentally ill yesterday unanimously backed the Independent's call for a public inquiry as requested by the widow of Jonathan Zito who was stabbed in the eye.

The inquiry should also examine the Government's policy of emptying the asylums and treating seriously ill psychiatric patients in the community without adequate resources.

In addition, campaigners demanded a moratorium on the closure of beds and psychiatric hospitals until adequate community care facilities are in place.

An investigation by the Independent found a succession of failures and omissions in care and supervision of Clunis during his contacts with hospitals, social services and the police over seven years before he killed Jonathan Zito last December.

The investigation was carried out after the Government refused to hold a public inquiry, despite a personal appeal by Mr Zito's widow, Jayne. Instead the Department of Health has ordered an inquiry by the two regional health authorities which dealt with Clunis in the six months before the killing. That inquiry, which will be in private, has not started and is unlikely to report before the end of the year.

When Clunis was convicted at the Old Bailey last month, John Bevan, for the prosecution, said: 'After being discharged from Guy's (Hospital), there was no substantial psychiatric or social work follow-up. The failure of care in the community led to yet another deterioration in his health on his release, as a result of which Jonathan Zito was the random victim.'

The claim that care in the community had failed Clunis was reinforced by Haringey council, under whose supervision Clunis was supposed to have been.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said: 'It is not good enough for Virginia Bottomley (Secretary of State for Health) to hold the inquiry in secret. The facts detailed in this case are both tragic and extremely worrying. The whole matter should be made open to public scrutiny so that the apparent catalogue of mistakes is not repeated.'

Martin Eede, chief executive of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF), said: 'The public inquiry may well reveal that Christopher Clunis was the victim of negligence arising from a grossly underfunded community care programme.'

Research by the NSF shows that more than 40 men, women and children have been killed by schizophrenic or seriously mentally ill people in the last two years since the Government stepped up bed closures. At least 100 people diagnosed as suffering from mental illness committed suicide in the same period, while a survey revealed that 94 per cent of those sleeping rough have needs formerly catered for by residential care.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, a charity for schizophrenics and their families, said: 'This is not about the few who slip through the safety net, it's a question of the thousands who are disappearing into the black hole that care in the community has become.'

Letters, page 17