Patients who find solace in life of high security: Rosie Waterhouse talks to patients at Rampton special hospital following its reprieve with Broadmoor and Ashworth

FRANK, a long-stay patient in Rampton high security special hospital in Nottinghamshire, put down his book, Medical Murders: Classic True Crime Stories, to explain why he wanted to stay locked up.

The last time he was released, in 1977, he had been out for only two hours when he was desperate to get back in. Then, after five years in the institution, he was completely unable to cope with the concept, still less the reality, of freedom. Now, after a total of 21 of his 67 years in Rampton, he still is.

To force Rampton to take him back Frank set fire to a barn. He had to start another fire before they got the message but Frank intends to spend the rest of his life in Rampton. He is a patient on Drake ward, an intensive care ward for 'high risk' patients who are a danger to themselves or others.

Frank is one of the 1,700 patients for whom the three special hospitals - Rampton, near Worksop, Broadmoor in Berkshire, and Ashworth on Merseyside - were built, and he will be as relieved by Rampton's reprieve as any member of staff worried about their job. 'I look on Rampton not as a prison, not as a hospital, but as my home,' he said. He would have preferred to be in the monastery where he spent three years as a lay brother in the 1950s, but in Rampton he has the same sort of secure and ordered existence. Only more so.

Patients are sent to special hospitals under the 1977 National Health Service Act because they must be detained 'in conditions of special security on account of their dangerous, violent or criminal propensities'.

The special hospitals are principally for mentally disordered offenders, some of them 'high profile' such as Peter Sutcliffe (Broadmoor) and Ian Brady (Ashworth). Four out of five patients are referred from prisons or the courts, and the remainder are sufficiently dangerous to require special security. All are mentally ill, suffering from conditions such as psychopathic disorders, schizophrenia and 'mental impairment'.

Of Rampton's 518 patients, 101 are women; 344 are 'restricted' and cannot be moved or discharged without approval from the Home Office; 171 are unrestricted and can be released by the patient's Responsible Medical Officer or by the Mental Health Review Tribunal, and three are on remand.

Since responsibility for the three special hospitals was transferred from the Home Office to the National Health Service in 1989, administered by the Special Hospitals Service Authority, there has been an attempt to change the atmosphere and culture so they feel less like prisons.

The main features retained are high-security perimeter fencing and locked doors. Rampton has 4,000 doors, and one of the first impressions once inside is the jangling of keys carried by each member of staff. Every few yards there is a door to be unlocked, passed through and re-locked.

Since 80 per cent of the patients are offenders who include murderers, rapists and arsonists, there is an air of tension and constant watchfulness. But with a staff and patient ratio of more than two to one, staff contrive to make the atmosphere seem informal and relaxed. Built in 1912, after Broadmoor filled up, Rampton has 29 wards, some of them in institution-like dark, red brick blocks, others in detatched 'villas' dotted around the grounds of the 169-acre (68-hectare) site, where patients who are not an imminent danger are housed.

There are two main pre-discharge wards where patients are prepared for release, usually to regional medium secure units. A shortage of such places means patients spend months, sometimes years, awaiting discharge.

Peter, a patient on Moss Rose pre-discharge ward, has been waiting for seven years. Paul, who was once allowed out alone on trial leave, could not cope outside after 13 years in Rampton. He felt he should have been better prepared to handle money, find his way around and mix with people. 'The freedom was more or less thrown at me,' he said.

Contrary to preconceptions that Rampton would be a cross between the sets for The Silence of the Lambs and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the main building looks, on approach, more like a naval academy. Once inside there is the unmistakable smell of hospital food and disinfectant. Seemingly miles of echoing corridors are newly decorated in soft pastel colours and with patients' art work.

There are no padded cells, (the most immediately dangerous patients are kept under observation in 'seclusion' with just a bed and a cardboard bedpan), and lobotomies went out with the 1960s, according to Richard Tear, the hospital's first public relations man, appointed in October last year.

The special hospitals have an image problem. The brutal and 'dehumanising' regime at Ashworth exposed in a report by Sir Louis Blom Cooper last year prompted Virginia Bottomley, the Health Secretary, to order the Reed review.

After the death of a Rampton patient after a 'violent incident' last year five staff faced criminal charges. A manslaughter charge against one male nurse was dropped and four men charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice were recently discharged after magistrates decided they had no case to answer. After an internal inquiry one of the five was dismissed.

Mr Tear said the hospital could not comment on the circumstances of the death until after an inquest later this year.

Although many staff are members of the Prison Officers Association, they are nurses and as part of the image change at Rampton the wearing of uniforms - a blue suit - was stopped. Staff are no longer addressed as 'Sir' or 'Miss'. First names are used. Gary, a patient for 24 years on and off, approves. 'In the past it was all work and standing to attention. Nowadays you are treated like a normal person. Years ago we were treated like animals.'

But Frank, with his military-style moustache, is one of the few patients who dislike the new order. After a strict upbringing by a father he likens to Adolf Hitler, he requires discipline and rules.

'It's a question of respect,' he said. 'The patients treat the staff like dirt and get stroppy and violent. Now staff are wearing civilian clothes it's only those bits of plastic (identity passes worn by staff) that separate them from us.'

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?