HC Deb 08 February 1973 vol 850 cc162-4W
27. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he will now take to ensure that citizens unfit to plead in murder cases because of insanity are released on parole only after a sufficient time lag to prove cure; and if he will report on the case of Mr. Hugh Mason, allowed home on parole from Middlewood, Sheffield, unsupervised less than four years after such an offence, indicating how many other such offenders have been similarly released, the grounds for their release, and how soon this has been after the offence had been committed in each case.

Mr. Carlisle

All cases of patients subject to the special restrictions in Section 65 of the Mental Health Act 1959 are considered with great care, particular regard being had to the safety of the public, and consent to the grant of leave of absence is given only if on clear medical advice it is considered safe to do so; the timing depends on the particular facts of the case, including the patient's mental condition and his response to treatment.

The following is a statement on the case of Mr. Hugh Mason and the related matters raised by my hon. Friend: Hugh Eric Mason was tried at the Sheffield Assizes on 30th January 1969 on a charge of murder and, after hearing the evidence of three doctors that he was suffering from mental illness, the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. In accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964, the court ordered him to be detained in such hospital as might be specified by the Secretary of State, on whose direction he was on 24th February 1969 admitted to Broadmoor Hospital. At the request of the patient, his case was on 11th February 1972 referred to a mental health review tribunal. The medical reports made it clear that Mr. Mason had suffered from a form of mental illness which might be expected to yield to treatment, and that his condition had in fact responded to the treatment he received in Broadmoor Hospital. Both the responsible medical officer and the tribunal, which included an experienced consultant psychiatrist, accordingly felt it right to recommend his transfer to an ordinary hospital where he could have some contact with his family, and receive further treatment and observation before the question of his discharge from hospital was considered. Mr. Mason had lived a settled life with his family and until the illness which led to his offence had been in trusted employment with the same firm for some years. After full consideration of the medical reports and all the other facts of the case, and after consultation with the Department of Health and Social Security, my right hon. Friend gave his consent, under the provisions of Section 65(3) of the Mental Health Act 1959, to Mr. Mason's transfer from Broadmoor to Middlewood Hospital, Sheffield, where he was admitted on 21st December 1972. On the advice of the responsible medical officer at Broadmoor, my right hon. Friend also consented to the patient's being granted day parole and weekend leave at the discretion of the consultant who was assuming responsibility for Mr. Mason's care in Middlewood Hospital. The authority was, and is, subject to the condition that the patient shall not be granted leave of absence unless the responsible medical officer is satisfied on each occasion that it will entail no risk to the patient or to other persons. In the exercise of this discretion, the responsible doctor allowed Mr. Mason to go home in the care of his wife for a period of five hours on Saturday 27th January. The police were informed that leave of absence had been authorised. Mr. Mason's conduct during this short period of absence gave no cause whatever for concern, and my right hon. Friend can find no grounds for withdrawing the discretion given to the responsible doctor. In 1970 and 1971, the latest years for which statistics have been published, 81 and 84 patients subject to the special restrictions set out in Section 65 of the Mental Health Act 1959 were transferred from the three special hospitals—providing treatment in conditions of special security—to hospitals in the National Health Service. Of these, 28 and 15 patients respectively were transferred from Broadmoor Hospital, where they had been detained after being accused or convicted of murder or manslaughter. The periods for which these patients had been detained, up to the time of transfer, were as follows:

Transfers in
1970 1971
Under 1 year 1 2
1 year and under 2 4 3
2 years and under 3 3
3 years and under 4 1 2
4 years and under 5 3 1
5 years and under 10 3 3
10 years and under 20 7 3
20 years and over 6 1

These patients had been found under disability—unfit to plead—under the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964—or guilty but insane or insane on arraignment under earlier legislation; or had been convicted of manslaughter and either made subject to a hospital order under Section 60 of the Mental Health Act 1959 with a restriction order under Section 65, or sentenced to imprisonment for life and later transferred to hospital under Sections 72 and 74 of that Act.

In most cases the Home Secretary's consent was given to the grant of day and weekend leave to the patient after transfer to the National Health Service hospital, on condition that when granting leave the responsible medical officer should be satisfied on each occasion that no undue risk would be involved.