HC Deb 29 June 1972 vol 839 cc1673-85

3.50 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

I will, with permission, make a statement about the case of Graham Young, who was today convicted of murder and other grave offences committed while he was a patient conditionally discharged from Broadmoor Hospital. I wish at the outset to express the deep concern which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I have felt about the case and our deep sympathy with the surviving victims and the relatives of those who have suffered.

Young was sent to Broadmoor in 1962 on his conviction, as a boy of 14, of offences of administering poison to three persons, all of whom recovered. The court ordered that he should not be discharged without the consent of the Home Secretary for 15 years. He was conditionally discharged in February, 1971, on medical advice that he had responded well to treatment and was no longer a danger to others. His discharge was on the conditions that he should reside at a stated address, be supervised by a probation officer and attend a psychiatric out-patient clinic.

It is now tragically clear that Young's morbid interest in poisons had not abated and that he had been able successfully to conceal this through a prolonged period of careful observation by a most experienced doctor and other staff.

My right hon. Friend and I, immediately we learned of this case, instituted a searching examination of the arrangements for discharging and supervising restricted patients. This is an area raising issues of profound difficulty. We have as a result already introduced a number of changes aimed at strengthening still further the safeguards for the protection of the public. Now that the trial has finished, we are at once seeking totally independent advice on whether there are any further changes within the existing law that should be made. This review will be carried out by Sir Carl Aarvold, the Recorder of London, Sir Denis Hill, Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, and Mr. G. P. Newton, Director of Social Services for Wiltshire.

The present case has confirmed my right hon. Friend and myself in the view that the time has come for a fundamental review of the provisions of the criminal law relating to mentally abnormal offenders, and the facilities for the treatment of such persons. We are taking steps to appoint an independent and authoritative committeee for this purpose. I am glad to inform the House that Lord Butler of Saffron Walden has agreed to be the chairman.

I will, with permission, circulate in the Official Report a detailed statement about Young's case and the action which is being taken.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

May I associate myself with the sympathy expressed by the right hon. Gentleman to the relatives of the victims of Graham Young and also the relatives of those who survived and the survivors themselves?

We fully recognise, as anyone who has ever served at the Home Office must do, the great problems which arise in administering any system of release and the fact that it is almost impossible to be certain that there are never going to be any mistakes.

Having said that, I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that this case gives rise to a number of concerns. One concern is that the first charge made against Young was dated one month after his release, although he was arrested about eight months afterwards. Secondly, information which has been sent to me indicates that the nursing staff did not wholly agree with the medical advice which the right hon. Gentleman received.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's decision to set up a committee of inquiry under Judge Aarvold. Will the committee be able to make inquiries into the circumstances of the release of Graham Young, and will it be able to call evidence for that purpose? Will it be able to discover whether there were any disagreements about Young's release? Will the committee be able to study the previous arrangements that were made for Young in view of the fact that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, he was placed in the care of a probation officer but there was, clearly, a failure to recognise that he was returning to his earlier habits for a period of eight months before he was arrested?

I welcome, too, the right hon. Gentleman's decision to set up a long-term inquiry under Lord Butler, but may I ask him to inquire of his right hon. Friend whether immediate steps can be taken, before the results of that long-term inquiry are known, to strengthen the medical staff at Broadmoor, who I believe are understaffed, and also to strengthen the nursing staff, who I believe are also under establishment?

May I ask whether the long-term inquiry might consider the possibility of establishing Broadmoor as a teaching hospital and greatly strengthening the staff and the supervision which is now available, which I again understand is understaffed, for the after-care of Broadmoor inmates?

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the way in which she has dealt with this tragic case. On the first, point, the verdict is so recent that I am not clear on which counts Young was convicted and on which he was acquited.

Questions about Broadmoor are normally for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, but he has given me information on this matter and I understand that the release of Young was made after discussion with the consultants and senior nursing staff at Broadmoor. On the third point, all the information of any kind about this case that is asked for will be provided to Sir Carl Aarvold and his colleagues.

On the fourth point about strengthening the staff at Broadmoor, my right hon. Friend has done what he thinks right in this matter, but, again, we shall have the independent view of Sir Carl Aarvold, Professor Hill and Mr. Newton. On the final point about whether the long-term inquiry can make recommendations about fundamental changes in the nature of Broadmoor, certainly we want the committee to examine every possibility absolutely fundamentally.

Mr. Powell

Will my right hon. Friend consult his hon. Friend with a view to limiting the setback which this event might produce upon the wonderful and devoted work which is done at Broadmoor Hospital and endeavour, rather, to make it the means of improving and increasing the morale of both the medical and the nursing staff?

Can my right hon. Friend say when last, if at all, in the more than 100 years of existence of Broadmoor Hospital there has been an instance of a patient released—not escaped—who has committed again an act of the kind for which he was committed to that hospital?

Mr. Maudling

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said about Broadmoor, and I wholly share his view. It is the urgent desire of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to do what my right hon. Friend has said about the matter. There have been a large number of releases from Broadmoor. Over the last 12 years well over 300 people have been released. This is the only case of someone committing another homicide during his period of supervision.

Mr. David Steel

The House will be glad to have heard a description of the isolated circumstances of this incident. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House a little more about the advice which is given before a patient is released from Broadmoor? Is it wholly medical advice, or is there any other kind of advice? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether in this instance there was any conflict within the advice about the advisibility of releasing this person?

How was it that if Young was being supervised by a probation officer he was able to take up employment as a storekeeper at a chemical factory—employment which, in view of his history, was surely highly inappropriate?

Mr. Maudling

I should make it clear that Young did not get the poisons through his employment.

On the first point, the advice is of a medical character. I should make it quite clear that the offences for which he was committed when he was 14 would not, if he had been a sane person, have carried a sentence of more than seven or eight year. He was therefore being held in Broadmoor solely so long as he was judged to be mentally abnormal, and when the medical advice was to the effect that he was no longer mentally abnormal it was difficult to do other than release him.

Mr. Deedes

I share the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolver Hampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). Can the Home Secretary, as a measure of public reassurance, give some indication of how many people are now on conditional discharge from Broadmoor and like institutions, and whether any special action is being taken in this regard?

Mr. Maudling

I ask my right hon. Friend to look at the longer statement which I am circulating about the measures that we have taken. In the case of people on conditional release, we are reviewing each individual case.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Having had the unenviable task of dealing with Broadmoor releases while at the Home Office, I have the fullest sympathy with those concerned. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in this case the usual practice was followed of acting only on the unanimous advice of the Broadmoor advisers? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the opinion of Dr. Fysh, given at the trial in 1962, that Young was a continuing risk was brought to his attention? Has not the time come for psychopathy to be treated as a matter that is out of the ordinary run of mental diseases and disorders, and will this be brought to the attention of the committee of inquiry?

Mr. Maudling

I think that the hon. Gentleman's second point is exactly the sort of thing with which, I hope, Lord Butler's inquiry will deal. This matter needs dealing with at length and in depth.

On the first point, I believe I am right in saying that the statements of Dr. Fysh refer to 1962, when Young was committed as a boy of 14. At that time all the doctors would have agreed that he was a very dangerous person. But the advice we received was that over the nine years in Broadmoor between the age of 14 and the age of 23 there had been a total change in his personality. In the last few years he appeared to have abandoned his morbid interest in poison and violence, and he was at that stage regarded by all the staff, so far as I am aware, as being safe for release.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

What persuades my right hon. Friend that the best way of having a detached chairman for the new inquiry is to ask someone, however eminent, to undertake that task who has himself been Home Secretary and who will, to some extent, be reviewing his own handiwork? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this is in no sense an aspersion on the integrity of Lord Butler but merely on the advisability of asking someone who cannot appear to be totally detached to be chairman of the new inquiry?

Mr. Maudling

Apart from the depth of his experience in these matters at the Home Office, which I think is not without value, Lord Butler is President of the National Association for Mental Health and Chairman of the Trustees of the Mental Health Trust.

Mr. C. Pannell

May I, first, associate myself with what was said by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)? I should have thought an ex-Home Secretary a most unsuitable person to conduct this inquiry.

May I ask the Home Secretary, first, before he has this broad look at all the general background, to have a specific inquiry into this case? One can imagine the degree of public alarm that will be present in the next few days and which needs to be allayed. I do not think that it is enough to express sympathy for those killed. The right hon. Gentleman should move with some alacrity to find out exactly what happened in this case. That will illuminate the wider inquiry that the right hon. Gentleman has later and over which he will have had plenty of time to think.

Mr. Maudling

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has not heard correctly what I said. I stated that we have made a profound investigation into what happened and have already taken a number of measures. We have asked Sir Carl Aarvold and his colleagues to advise us urgently on whether anything more should be done. This is quite independent of the long-term inquiry and is precisely designed to meet the point the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Fowler

Will my right hon. Friend accept that these inquiries he has set up will be widely welcomed by the public and that the fact that Lord Butler is chairing one will create increased confidence in them? Will he also accept and agree that public security must be the first priority in decisions on release of this kind, and will he examine whether the parole board procedure, which is working very well with life sentence prisoners, could be adapted to this kind of case?

Mr. Maudling

Yes, Sir. But I think that we must recognise that this is a case of a young man who in 1977 would have been totally free of any restrictions whatever anyway. He was being kept in Broadmoor not as a punishment but because he was believed to be still a danger to other people. That was a medical judgment, not a judgment suitable to laymen. I do not see how one can have other than medical advice about whether or not a man is still psychopathic. The only way—this is the great dilemma—of assuring absolute safety is to say that a young man who was incarcerated at the age of 14 will remain in Broadmoor for the rest of his life even though doctors say he is safe. I do not think that that alternative is possible; but it is the only way of getting total safety. But I entirely agree that, within that the safety of the public should be the overriding consideration.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)? There is no doubt that there will be very grave public concern about the facts which have been disclosed by the Home Secretary and about the facts which are likely to be disclosed by the Press. There have been a number of disturbing indications of the kind of information which is likely to be reported.

In those circumstances, would it not be desirable to have a specific inquiry, perhaps within the ambit of that to be presided over by Sir Carl Aarvold, into the actual circumstances of the release? It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman has said that the Home Office has made such an inquiry. I understand that it is not intended that the full details of the outcome of that inquiry are to be made public. It may well be that something on those lines might at any rate be of some assistance. But I am afraid that the public reaction will be that the full details of how this man came to be released should be disclosed. Reassurance of the public in this way—while I agree with the whole basic approach of the Home Secretary—is very important. In considering the need for such an inquiry, would the Home Secretary make sure that it would have all the necessary powers to summon the necessary witnesses and make the necessary information available?

Mr. Maudling

I will consider any suggestions put forward on this matter. But I quite agree that the whole circumstances of this matter should be made public, and they will be made public. We have nothing to conceal; there is nothing that we want to conceal. At the same time, it should not be assumed that some of the statements that may circulate in the Press are necessarily based on fact. We have made an exhaustive inquiry into what happened and should be delighted to make known all the information we have.

Mr. Allason

On behalf of my bereaved constituents, may I thank my right hon. Friend for the very prompt way in which he has acted and for setting up an inquiry which it appears will take care of the very real fears being felt now in my constituency.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure about his last answer? Would he think about certain points that have been made, although not necessarily answer them this afternoon? My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), who raised the question, suggested that the nursing staff, at least, who were perhaps in a better position to know the man's recent behaviour day to day, were very much opposed to the release, and that it may have been agreed evidence but that was not the agreed view of everyone concerned.

The fact that the Home Office is to have an inquiry is reassuring, but is it not possible that a more detailed inquiry should be made and that Sir Carl Aarvold should be provided with power to require evidence to be produced and power to sit in public in this case? Recalling that on a very recent matter which affected insurance policies for motor cars, a 1921 Act tribunal was set up so that everyone could be satisfied about those responsible, is there not at least a case for considering whether in the circumstances—not the future; not the Butler inquiry or part of the Aarvold inquiry—this could not be in the hands of a court of inquiry which could require evidence to be produced and could decide to sit in public if the public need that reassurance? As the right hon. Gentleman said, very fairly and movingly—and we all agree—there have been deaths in this case, and it is an even worse matter, one would have thought, than the loss of insurance policies.

Mr. Maudling

Certainly what one has to consider is the best way to operate in future to ensure that no such tragedy can occur again. But my right hon. Friend and I are absolutely open to every possible suggestion and will certainly consider them. The facts in this case are known entirely to the two Departments and will be placed unreservedly at the disposal of Sir Carl Aarvold.

Mr. Mayhew

Though in the event a tragic mistake was made, the six consultant psychiatrists at Broadmoor, with 50 years' experience between them of assessing cases with extraordinary backgrounds, are agreed not only that this case is unique in their experience but that they know of no parallel anywhere else in the world. Secondly, on the question of supervision, would the right hon. Gentleman say whether this man saw, after his release, the particular consultant who had treated him in Broadmoor? On the subject of supervision, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that of the more than 300 patients released from Broadmoor, as he said, since 1960, the two cases of homicide which have been committed were both committed after the patients had left active expert supervision?

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. What he says is absolutely right on the facts, and Young was in contact with the man who had treated him in Broadmoor.

Following is the statement: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I learned with deep concern of the case of Graham Young who was convicted today at St. Albans Crown Court. His offences were committed while he was a patient conditionally discharged from Broadmoor hospital. Young was convicted at the Central Criminal Court in July, 1962, on three counts of causing grievous bodily harm, by administering poison, to his sister, his father and a schoolfellow (who all recovered). He was then a boy of 14. The court found him to be suffering from psychopathic disorder, and made orders under the Mental Health Act, 1959, for his detention in Broadmoor hospital and for restriction on his discharge without the Home Secretary's consent for a period of 15 years. Young remained at Broadmoor until February, 1971, when he was 23. His initial response to treatment was slow. But in June, 1970, the responsible medical officer reported that, during the previous three or four years, profound changes had taken place in the patient; that he was no longer obsessed with thoughts of poisons, violence and mischief; and that he was no longer a danger to others. Consequently, Young's conditional discharge from Broadmoor was agreed by my authority. The conditions were that Young should (i) reside at a stated address; (ii) be subject to supervision by a probation officer; and (iii) attend at a psychiatric outpatient clinic as directed by the responsible medical officer at Broadmoor. As a conditionally discharged patient, Young remained liable to recall to Broadmoor until the expiry of the restriction order in 1977. After that date, he would have been free without any restriction. Young went on discharge to the Government Training Centre at Slough, and subsequently was employed by a firm at Hemel Hempstead. It is clear that the morbid interest in poisons which he had successfully concealed through a long period of prolonged and careful observation in hospital by a most experienced doctor and other staff was resumed almost immediately upon discharge. Young complied carefully with the condition that he should submit to supervision. He did nothing to arouse the suspicions of his supervising officers or psychiatrist about his activities; and his employers at first had no reason to connect the illnesses among their staff with him. Poisoning is a unique crime. If violent offenders on release return to violent ways this is apparent at once. But the use of poison can escape detection for a long time—and in this case the nature and effects of the poisons used made it especially difficult to recognise that the resulting symptoms were not due to innocent causes. The discharge of restricted patients who have committed serious offences raises issues of profound difficulty. The safety of the public must be the paramount consideration, and no patient is discharged unless it is considered safe to do so. But a judgment must be made, and although the utmost care is taken, it cannot be infallible. Fortunately, errors of judgment are extremely rare; substantial numbers of restricted patients are discharged each year and successfully take their place in the community. In this case, as explained, the restriction order would have expired anyway in 1977; and complete insurance against misjudgment could be assured only by ignoring the opinion of doctors and detaining for the rest of their lives people who have committed offences that might not have made them liable to a life sentence if committed by a mentally normal adult (as was indeed the position in respect of the offences of which Young was convicted in 1962). Nevertheless, it is plain that all possible steps must be taken to reduce the possibility of misjudgment in the individual case and to strengthen the effectiveness of supervision. Under the present arrangements, as already stated, great care is taken, and considerable numbers of patients have been successfully reabsorbed into society without harm to others. But my right hon. Friend and I examined the existing arrangements in detail as soon as the facts of this case came to our notice, and our Chief Medical Officer has fully discussed the issues with the consultant psychiatrists at Broadmoor. As a result, we have already introduced changes designed to tighten up the safeguards still further. In particular, first, no patient is now discharged from the special hospitals until the responsible medical officer who has supervised the patient's treatment has obtained a concur- ring recommendation from another consultant psychiatrist experienced in this particular work. Secondly, the arrangements for supervision, including psychiatric supervision, have been strengthened; and arrangements have been made to ensure that, where necessary, the supervising officer is in touch with the employer and the employer is sufficiently informed about the case to be in a position to tell the supervisor of any incident giving rise to anxiety. My right hon. Friend and I were in no doubt that these changes should be made without delay, and without waiting until the Young case had been disposed of by the courts. Now that the case in the Crown Court has been concluded, we are forthwith seeking independent advice on whether the procedures, as now improved, are satisfactory or whether there are further changes that should be made within the existing law. We have invited Sir Carl Aarvold, Recorder of the City of London; Professor Sir Denis Hill of the Institute of Psychiatry; and Mr. George Newton, Director of Social Services in Wiltshire, to review the procedures as quickly as possible. These advisers will have access to full information about the Young case and any other individual cases they may wish to examine. This is immediate action within the existing law. There is also a need for a more profound review of the legal provisions in this general area. My right hon. Friend and I have for some time been coming to the conclusion that there should be a wide-ranging inquiry into the whole question of the application of the criminal law to mentally abnormal offenders, and have discussed this proposition with the Chairmen of the Law Commission and the Criminal Law Revision Committee. This view has been reinforced by the present case. We are now jointly taking steps to appoint an independent and authoritative Committee, including legal, medical and lay members, which will be asked to examine to what extent, and on what criteria, the law should recognise mental disorder or abnormality as a factor affecting the liability to trial or conviction of a person accused of a criminal offence, and his subsequent disposal. The Committee will also be asked to consider whether changes are desirable in the powers, procedure and facilities for enabling appropriate treatment—including treatment in the community and supervision after discharge—to be given to such offenders. Lord Butler of Saffron Walden has agreed to be Chairman of this Committee. Lord Butler, who was of course Home Secretary from 1957 to 1962, is President of the National Association for Mental Health, and Chairman of the Trustees of the Mental Health Trust and Research Fund. The names of the other members of the Committee will be announced as soon as possible. The present case is one giving rise to great anxiety. My right hon. Friend and I thought that it was clearly right at once to review the procedures and make immediate improvements, and we shall now be receiving independent advice on whether anything additional should be done within the existing law. Whether further and more fundamental changes should be made raises issues which are complex and difficult, and these will be fully investigated by the authoritative body which is now to be appointed.