Public safety fears over mental hospital security

According to a spokesman from the hospital, each time a user does not return from leave 30 minutes after the agreed time the situation is reported as an incident. Photo: Paula Donnelly

A call for safety measures has been made in Hackney, after convicted killer Samuel Lee escaped from the John Howard mental hospital.

Last Thursday, police launched an emergency manhunt for the criminal – who they described as “violent” – after he failed to return from an authorized trip to the John Howard Centre, on Kenworthy Road, Hackney. They worriedly urged the public not to approach Lee, who suffers from a mild form of schizophrenia.  He was fortunately found in Eastbourne, Sussex, on Sunday evening.

Lee, 44, was jailed for life in 2000 after being convicted of brutally raping a woman suffering from cerebral palsy in Finsbury Park, North London. He had previously been jailed for manslaughter in 1989, for stabbing a man to death.

Convicted killer Samuel Lee escaped from the John Howard mental hospital and was found in Sussex on Sunday evening. Photo: Paula Donnelly

The case has brought to light the disconcerting question as to how Lee had even managed to escape. Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South, who has twice visited the Centre, said there were some “serious questions to be answered”.

She said: “Of course I’m seriously concerned that someone with a violent record was absent (from the unit) and no one knew where he was. They are dealing with some of the most challenging individuals – not only are they criminals but they have serious mental health problems.”

She added: “I defend the right of the John Howard Centre to exist, it is for people with serious mental challenges and they are trying to rehabilitate them. While they rehabilitate that’s a good thing, but they should make public protection their highest priority, at the end of the day if they lose support on public protection they won’t do their job at rehabilitating people.”

Since 2001, 211 individuals with mental health issues escaped from John Howard mental hospital. Photo: Paula Donnelly

Unfortunately, Lee is only the latest in a series of cases where a prisoner has absconded from the John Howard institution. Data gathered from a Freedom of Information request earlier this year showed 211 individuals under supervision at the same mental health unit had gone absent without leave since 2001. Many of these individuals include murderers, sex offenders and kidnappers.

Lerone Boye, who was jailed for 28 years in 2012 for the murder of 17 year-old Kelvin Chibueze, escaped from the Centre and was missing for three-months. What is even more disturbing is that a member of the John Howard staff has been accused of aiding his escape and will soon stand trial.

Another convict, sex offender James Manley, escaped in 2003 and was only found after he turned himself in. Others who have absconded from the unit include Shane Smith, who was charged with beating and raping a schoolgirl in 2012. He was returned to custody after six weeks on the run. However, some absentees have still never been found. As a result, the Centre has been subject to a series of investigations due to the startling number of escapes.

These facts have raised major concerns for the people in Hackney, especially those living nearby the John Howard Centre. ELL visited the area and spoke with local residents about their concerns following the latest escape:

Simon Ward, 28, builder, is shocked with the episode. Photo: Paula Donnelly

Simon Ward, 28, builder: “I just can’t understand how he was given the opportunity to escape. How is a criminal like that allowed unsupervised? It’s shocking.”

Anna Menzies, 22, student, is scared since she leaves close to the hospital. Photo: Paula Donnelly

Anna Menzies, 22, student: “I didn’t actually know about this, but now that I do it scares me. I live just round the corner. I didn’t realise there were such dangerous criminals in there, so it’s really worrying that the hospital is letting this happen.”

Alisa Hutcheson, 25, designer didn’t know someone was on the run in the area. Photo: Paula Donnelly

Ailsa Hutcheson, 25, designer: “I’ve heard about this happen in other places, but I didn’t know there was someone on the run around here! That is scary isn’t it? You would think someone like that should be kept under maximum security.”

Charles Calder, 23, waiter, says the episode is even more worrying considering the hospital is located on a main road. Photo: Paula Donnelly

Charles Calder, 23, waiter:  “I was speaking the other day about this with my friend, who is a lawyer. The institute has a duty of care to the public not to let things like this happen. The hospital is also on a main road, which is even more worrying as it gives dangerous people like him the opportunity to reoffend. ”

A spokesman from the John Howard Centre said: “Patients may be allowed periods of time outside the unit, as part of an individual’s rehabilitation and planned treatment programme.

“This only happens after a comprehensive risk assessment. This is reviewed prior to each episode of leave.”

She added: “They will be accompanied by a member of staff initially, but as they progress, they will be allowed unescorted leave to undertake specific activities.

“When a service user does not return from leave 30 minutes after the agreed time, this is reported as an incident.”

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