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Rampton Hospital

Volume 19: debated on Tuesday 2 March 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Thompson.]

10.29 pm

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for having given me the opportunity to raise this Adjournment debate, and the Attorney-General for coming to the Chamber to answer it. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), who are here to give me a great deal of support, as they have done throughout the long troubles of Rampton hospital.

It is nearly three years since a television programme called "The Secret Hospital" was broadcast by Yorkshire Television on 15 May 1979. It was, in effect, trial by television. To call it a show trial would not be too abusive a term. Before the programme, there had been several investigations into Rampton hospital. In 1968 the Dolphin report was published; in 1969 a Select Committee looked at the situation; in 1971 there was the hospitals advisory committee; and in 1973 there was the Elliott report. There were further reports by the General Nursing Council, the Butler committee and even The Guardian. Over a thousand visitors a year have visited the hospital, ranging from church councils to women's institutes. It could hardly be called a secret hospital. Although it was a top security hospital there was no secret as to the treatment given to the patients.

The Yorkshire Television programme alleged that patients had been kept naked and abused, had been beaten up and kicked with hobnail boots and had been strangled with wet towels to restrain them. Many other allegations were made against the staff, ranging from theft to other serious offences. The programme was based on evidence submitted, in the main, by two ex-patients—a Mr. Stephen Wilkins, who had been convicted of raping an 83-year-old lady and who committed two more murders after his release just after the programme was shown, and a Mr. Len Harding who had originally been in Rampton for one attempted murder and after being released then murdered an old lady for 2s.6d. He was sent back to Rampton.

The allegations were serious and caused a nation-wide sensation in May 1979. Every newspaper in the country and every television programme demanded an investigation. The staff were abused in the local pubs and shops and their children were spat at in the street and abused in the playground. None of them at that time could reply because they were governed by the Civil Service secrecy laws which prevented them from making statements on the truth of the allegations or of defending themselves at all. Because of the serious allegations, the Secretary of State for Social Services referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions and asked for a full inquiry into the organisation of the hospital. The Boynton committee was set up to report on every aspect of Rampton's organisation and administration.

The Boynton committee reported in December 1980, 18 months after it had been set up and 15 months ago. The committee did a good job of investigation. It recommended about 200 changes to the hospital, of which 195 were fairly trivial technical administrative changes which were in progress anyway. The vast majority of the evidence of the Boynton committee exonerated the staff and found that there was no evidence of brutality or practices such as using a wet towel around the neck to restrain patients.

After the Boynton report it was thought that the Director of Public Prosecutions would wind up the investigations into the allegations. However, nearly three years after that television programme the Director of Public Prosecutions still insists on investigating allegations made during the programme and since by the staff. I have twice requested the Attorney-General to wind up the inquiry on the grounds that everything which could by now have been found out and traced would have been found out and traced. However, the Attorney-General refused.

Out of a staff of 600 at Rampton Hospital, 200 have now been questioned extensively about the allegations. About 30 of the staff were notified at one time or another that proceedings might be taken against them. Some of them were notified as long ago as August 1980. That notification is a blight on the person concerned and on the hospital. A person could spend as long as 18 months in that tense situation, never knowing when the phone will ring and whether they can book a holiday. Those notified do not know whether they can change their cars or take out hire purchase on a television, because they do not know what will happen in a couple of month's time.

That terrible form of mental torture affects marriages and the relationships and atmosphere in the hospital. There is also an effect on the livelihoods of those concerned. Once a charge has been made, the staff concerned are suspended on basic pay. They can lose anything between £125 and £300 per month in allowances for anti-social hours and overtime. That represents a savage attack on their standard of living before they have been found guilty. Indeed, four of the nurses have been charged and found not guilty. One of them lost £2,000 in allowances and pay that he did not retrieve, although he was found not guilty. Eventually, he had to sell his house and move into tied accommodation in the hospital. That is drastic and severe punishment for someone who was found not guilty.

Since the programme, between four and 16 top detectives have been at Rampton every day for almost three years, investigating the allegations. I do not know the cost of the inquiry, because it is impossible for us to ask questions. The questioning is being undertaken by the Nottinghamshire police. However, it must have cost £100,000 to carry it out. The police have travelled far and wide—to America and to the Continent—to check and cross-check the allegations.

Staff have been suspected of informing on each other and that has led to a bad relationship between those suspected—often unjustly—of being informers and others. Some of the alleged incidents occurred as long ago as 1961. Staff who have long since retired—one of them is aged 78—have been investigated. Staff have been placed in an intolerable position. Those who are being questioned are in day-to-day contact with their accusers. That is not involved in the normal questioning of suspects. Staff have to work with the patients who accused them of brutality. Naturally, some patients will taunt the staff, will refuse to do as they are told, and will threaten to make allegations against the staff and to have them taken to court if they try to impose any discipline.

Hon. Members must remember that there are 600 patients, with records of severe violence. Many of them have long records of murder, violent assault and rape. It is not unusual for staff to be attacked by patients. During a three or four-year-period there were as many as 2,000 attacks on staff by patients and hospital treatment was required in 300 of those cases.

Relationships are being soured because of the investigations. The staff complain that police questioning of the patients has not been carried out properly. I merely repeat the allegations that have been made to me and do not comment on whether they are justified. However, last Saturday I met the staff and two of their solicitors, who backed up the staff's points. The staff say that patients have often been questioned for long periods without being informed that they could be legally represented.

The staff allege that some patients have been questioned as many as 23 times in three months and that they have been kept without food and water for several hours during questioning. It is said that patients are being returned to the wards late in the evening in a distressed state. The staff allege that even high-grade psychopaths have returned in the evening, distressed at the police's incessant questioning. In addition, it has been difficult to calm them after such questioning.

The staff also allege that several patients wanted to withdraw statements that they had made and that the police refused that request. I stress that those interviewed, cross-examined and used as witnesses have been very ill, and have backgrounds of being mentally disturbed. Therefore, there is great concern.

The Prison Officers Association, the union that the nurses belong to, alleges that the police themselves are fed up with the whole business, that they are saying in confidence or informally to the nurses that it is a waste of time, that it has gone beyond a joke, and that there is nothing more to be found by the incessant questioning.

The feeling is that the Director of Public Prosecutions was going to draw the examination to a halt last summer, but that for some reason there was a change of mind. The information that I been asked to put to the Attorney-General is that a Mr. Maitland of the DPP's office was suddenly taken off the investigations last summer, that a lady replaced him, and that the investigations continued.

The nurses allege—I am not saying that this is true; I am merely doing my job as a Member representing them, by presenting their allegations to the Minister in charge—that all too often there has been pressure by influential relatives of patients in Rampton, threatening to allege that there has been a whitewash or cover-up if further prosecutions are not brought, and if the present situation is allowed to continue. I think that one person has been convicted after three years of the examination.

Surely three years must be long enough for any investigation—where the suspects and witnesses are there, in the same place. There is no need to search for an assassin, as with the Yorkshire Ripper. There is no question of witnesses being dead, like the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper. The accusers and the accused are there together under one roof. Surely there is no reason why the end of the investigations should not have been reached after three years.

I have been putting serious allegations to the Attorney-General on behalf of my constituents. I am grateful to the House and to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for this opportunity to put them, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield, from neighbouring constituencies, for being here tonight and for the support that they have given me in the past.

10.42 pm

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) has dealt with the problem. He will appreciate that I shall take a certain amount of care in replying to him, because a number of cases are pending.

I should like to summarise the facts, which have also been dealt with by the hon. Gentleman. Following the programme on Yorkshire Television in May 1979, the then Secretary of State asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate the allegations made on that programme. The Secretary of State also set up an independent review team under Sir John Boynton, which, in its report in 1980, made about 200 recommendations.

The central recommendation was the establishment of a review board, which was appointed last September. I understand that the board is making good progress to tackle the shortcomings identified in the Boynton report, and in implementing most of the specific recommendations.

The chairman of the review board and the management of the hospital are of course concerned about the length of the inquiry, just as the hon. Gentleman's constituents are, and they also have made representations on behalf of the staff.

I have been personally aware of the investigation since it was started, and I have corresponded about it on at least two occasions with the hon. Gentleman, as well as with other people. I should like to make it quite clear—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept it from me—that the Director of Public Prosecutions and I appreciate the problems caused by an investigation which occupies this length of time. We are conscious of the need to bring it to a conclusion, when the inquiry has been properly carried out.

The DPP has a senior member of his staff on day-to-day supervision of the case. The hon. Gentleman was right: it was a Mr. Maitland, who was replaced last autumn by another of the DPP's senior professional staff. That was a routine shift involving a number of members of the DPP's staff, which required Mr. Maitland to go to another department. That is the only reason for the substitution. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing sinister in it.

I am sure that the House would agree that it is unthinkable in a civilised society that, for whatever reason, we should fail to try to protect adequately the interests of those who are less able than us to look after themselves. That applies especially to such a hospital, where there is probably, in almost every case, a degree of mental instability.

However, we must face the fact that there were over 800 allegations, many of them of great gravity. Since then—as is inevitable in such an inquiry—during the investigation many more allegations have been made. What happens is that Mr. X is seen because the investigator has been told by Mr. Y, who has complained, that Mr. X saw the incident. The investigator goes to see Mr. X, who says "Yes, I saw that, but you should know that I also suffered at the hands of a nurse". In a sense, matters tend to snowball.

It is appreciated that the complainants may have unjust or improper reasons to complain, especially in a community such as Rampton. However, we must be satisfied that in the end justice has been done. There are too many occasions—I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me—when the cry of "cover-up" is raised if one stops an investigation. If the allegation is serious, it must be examined. The trivial allegations are much easier to dispose of.

If one considers the matter impartially—I am sure that it must have crossed the minds of some of his constituents who work in the hospital—it cannot be in the interests of the staff or the patients that there should be any feeling that the matter has not been inquired into fully.

The present position is that four cases have been completed, involving five prison officers, four of whom were acquitted. There are four more cases awaiting trial, one due to begin shortly, with four defendants. There is a second case involving five defendants, a third involving two and a fourth involving one. The Director of Public Prosecutions is considering whether to prosecute in four further cases, which, if he does, would involve another nine nurses.

Thus, it seems that we are at last approaching the end of the investigation. I cannot guarantee that that is the sum total of cases, since the police investigation into some outstanding allegations has not yet been completed, but it looks as though we have reached the end. However, everyone is anxious and aware of the need to achieve finality. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Director of Public Prosecutions and I are as conscious of that as everyone else.

May I end by paying a tribute to the staff at Rampton hospital. Theirs is a most demanding task, and the way in which they care for so many of the most seriously disturbed members of our society is widely recognised in Britain.

Although it may not be a matter for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department, is there any way in which the staff who have been acquitted can have some form of compensation for loss of earnings or for any monetary loss that they may have suffered while suspended from duty?

The hon. Gentleman is right that it is not a matter for me. I am concerned only with the mechanics of the prosecution process. If someone who has been acquitted can show that he has been put to a loss for which he should be compensated, it is a proper case for the Home Office to consider. Questions should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Eleven o' clock.