HC Deb 01 December 1976 vol 921 cc912-8
Mrs. Hart

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the incident at Carstairs State Mental Hospital yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

The whole House will wish to join with me in expressing its deep regret and sympathy to the families of the three people who died in the tragic events which took place in and near the State Hospital at Carstairs last night, and to the others who were injured.

Since criminal proceedings are pending against the two patients, Mr. Robert Mone and Mr. Thomas McCulloch, who escaped, it would not be proper for me at this stage to comment on the events, and I shall give only a brief summary of what is so far known to me.

The two patients were parole patients —that is to say, they had some freedom of movement within the hospital. A nursing officer, Mr. Neil McLellan. was in charge of recreation. The patients were members of his drama group. Early in the evening of 30th November there was a routine check of patients in wards, and, as some patients in the drama group were absent, a call was made to Mr. McLellan's office in the old administration block, part of which is being used temporarily as a recreation area. As there was no reply, nurses went to the office and found the dead bodies of Mr. McLellan and another patient, Mr. Ian Simpson, with severe head injuries. Mr. Simpson was also a parole patient and a member of Mr. McLellan's drama group. A fireman's axe was missing. This axe had formerly been kept in a safe in the central nursing office in the old administration block. When the new block was opened the axe had been handed to Mr. McLellan to keep in the safe in his office for use in case of fire.

The alarm was given and escape procedure put into operation. It was found that the patients had got over the perimeter fence using a weighted rope ladder, which they had evidently prepared beforehand, by what means is not vet known. It is not the case, as stated in the Press, that the patients got through the gate in nurses' uniforms. The patients had taken Mr. McLellan's keys, but these were not used in their escape and they have now been recovered.

The police officers, Constables Taylor and Gillies, were meanwhile on routine patrol in the vicinity of the hospital in a Panda car. They saw two men and stopped to interrogate them. Constable Taylor sustained injuries from which he has since died. Constable Gillies was also slightly injured. The two men made off in the police car until it crashed on the A702. A van stopped at the crash so that the occupants might help. Its two occupants were seriously injured and are in hospital. The van was then taken by the two men, who made off to Town-foot Farm, Roberton, where they secured, apparently under threat of violence, the farmer's car. The men then made off to the south on the A74, with the police in pursuit. The car crashed at roundabout 43, just north of Carlisle, and after a struggle the occupants were overpowered by the police.

Mr. Mone and Mr. McCulloch were brought before the Sheriff Court at Lanark this morning on a charge of murder. They were committed for further examination and sent to Barlinnie Prison.

These are the main facts as so far known to me. I am already pursuing my own immediate inquiries to satisfy myself that the incident does not reveal any obvious security deficiency that should be dealt with at once, but the House will know that the security record of the State Hospital has been a good one. In view of the nature of the incident, however, it is my intention to set up as soon as possible an independent inquiry into the circumstances in which the escape was possible and to report on any additional measures that might be taken in the interests of security.

Finally, I wish to express my appreciation of the prompt, brave and effective action taken by the police and of their ready co-operation with the hospital. I should also like to pay tribute to the constructive and devoted work done by the hospital staff in the care of patients, often in circumstances of the utmost difficulty.

Mrs. Hart

I think that the whole House would wish to share in conveying our deepest sympathy to the families of those who have been killed—Constable Taylor of Carstairs leaves behind four small children, and Mr. Neil McLellan had a son—including our sympathy to the family of the patient who was killed. I also share with my right hon. Friend the appreciation of the work of the staff of the State Mental Hospital and the very deep appreciation of what the police forces of Lanarkshire and Cumbria did last night in apprehending the two persons who had escaped and preventing any further disasters.

I welcome the inquiry that my right hon. Friend is about to conduct, but may I ask him to ensure that the results of that inquiry are made public, because this is a matter of deep public concern, certainly in my constituency and, I think, in the whole of Scotland? As he knows, there is great anxiety in the area surrounding the Carstairs State Mental Hospital about the security of its own people and their families in the area.

May I finally put one point to my right hon. Friend? Is it not the case that in order to allow maximum tolerance within the hospital for severely disturbed mental patients who are criminals, the perimeter should be much more totally secure? Is that not really one of the things to which we need to give deep attention?

Mr. Millan

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what she said in the earlier part of her remarks. I know that the House will share the sentiments that she has expressed.

Concerning the nature of the inquiry, I shall make an announcement as soon as possible. It is certainly my wish that the maximum amount of information should be made publicly available, subject, of course, to the necessary inhibitions in terms of security. I shall certainly make available the maximum amount of information, because I accept what my right hon. Friend has said, namely, that the staff at the hospital and the people who live in the locality are entitled to reassurance about the security arrangements at the hospital.

It is true, as my right hon. Friend has said, that a certain amount of freedom of movement in the case of some patients is allowed within the hospital. However, as I recollect from my own visit to the hospital —admittedly a few years ago—there is very tight perimeter security. Obviously, that is among the matters that will have to be looked into very carefully by the inquiry.

Mr. Monro

May I join with all hon. Members in expressing regret at what has happened? Does the Secretary of State agree that the work of the Strathclyde, Dumfries, Galloway and Cumbria police was a quite exceptional example of police co-operation, in arresting these men at the shortest possible notice and in view of all the circumstances? In order to reassure the people living in the district and, indeed, in Scotland as a whole, even before the inquiry completes its work, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that if there is the possibility of weapons such as axes being available within the confines of the hospital, they are most rigidly secured? Will he also, as the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) said, look again at the question of the perimeter fence?

Mr. Millan

The question of weapons will obviously be a matter for the inquiry. In fact, it is being looked at in the immediate inquiry now. Similarly, I have already said that the question of the perimeter fence will have to be looked at.

I pay unstinted tribute to the police in dealing with what was obviously an extremely dangerous situation. Perhaps the incident should also remind us that the staff at the hospital are in daily contact with extremely dangerous men, and it is a great tribute to their dedication that they take up this work.

Mr. David Steel

As one who has had occasion to visit this hospital more than once in the last two or three years, may I, on behalf of my colleagues, join in the expressions of sympathy for the injured and the relatives of those killed in this incident? It is right that the House should pause to pay tribute to those who work in the State hospital service, which is little known, publicised or understood outside. We shall await the result of the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry.

Mr. Millan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

I live within four miles of this hospital. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a genuine fear—not just because of this incident last night—because the neighbouring villages do not receive sufficient warning immediately an escape occurs and, furthermore, because after the escapees have been captured the neighbouring villages are not immediately reassured that matters are under control?

I, too, pay a terrific tribute to the staff of the hospital. Included in the staff are my son-in-law and other relatives, so I know the work that they have to do. I add my personal tribute to the two young constables who were involved, one of whom was killed and whom I knew personally. They acted extremely bravely.

I ask my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to the suggestion put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart). In my opinion the perimeter fence has never been sufficiently strong, or even high enough.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay careful attention to what seems to have been the availability of weapons to these two dangerous men.

Lastly, will my right hon. Friend make public the findings of the inquiry, so that we can all study them and find out how best we can help?

Mr. Millan

Again, I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said. On the matter of the safety record of the hospital, one patient escaped in 1969, and two in 1972. In both cases those concerned were at large for only hours rather than days. The hospital's record is a good one, and I know that the hospital authorities have security as a constant preoccupation. That ought to be put on record. All the matters mentioned by my right hon. Friend will be considered, and I shall consider in particular the suggestion about giving warning to people in the surrounding areas when an escape has occurred.

Mr. William Ross

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I particularly welcome his drawing attention to the fact that the hospital has a good security record? I visited the hospital earlier this year, and I formed and retain a high regard for the standard of security at the hospital and the devotion to duty of the staff. Last night's events underline in a tragic way exactly what we owe to our protective services in Scotland.

The people with whom we are dealing are potentially terribly unstable, and perhaps the most violent men in Scotland. Is it too early for my right hon. Friend to say what part was played by the patient in this affair—or should we await the further proceedings in that matter?

Mr. Millan

I gather that my right hon. Friend means the patient who died. I have no information that he was involved in the incident, except as an innocent victim, and I think that I had better wait until we get the results of the inquiry.

I was glad to have my right hon. Friend's impression of this hospital. Anyone who visits the hospital—and I include myself among those who have visited it—comes away with an extremely high regard for the staff at the hospital and the way in which they perform their difficult duties.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I should like to associate my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself with the expression of sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives, particularly the policeman and the nursing officer. We await with interest the results of the inquiry. I think that it is best to rest on the assurance of the Secretary of State that the inquiry will be thorough.

I hope that this incident, horrifying as it was, will not in any way distort our appreciation of the work that is done by the staff at these hospitals, which is largely unrecognised, unsung and unnoticed when everything is going well. I pay my tribute to the work of these officers who, year in and year out, take on the major responsibility that is passed to them by the ordinary members of the community.

Mr. Millan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said, and I am in full agreement with it.