Lord Lane appeals for more hospital places for abnormal offenders

By Frances Gibb, Legal Affairs Correspondent

The Times, 22nd January 1985

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, yesterday strongly criticised the lack of facilities for mentally abnormal offenders which was forcing courts to send them to prison.

"It is high time something was done to remedy courts being forced into passing prison sentences on persons for whom prison is certainly not appropriate", he said.

It should be unnecessary for the Court of Appeal or any other court to have to keep on saying that there are people for whom a special hospital might not be appropriate, and prison was certainly inappropriate, he added.

Lord Lane was giving judgement in a case in which the court allowed an appeal by Wendy Porter, aged 22, a severely disordered woman, who was sentenced in October to life imprisonment for offences of arson and criminal damage.

He said that he and his colleagues were conveying their comments "to anyone who is prepared to listen", he hoped such people existed.

[Wendy] Porter, of New Bradwell, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was sentenced at Aylesbury Crown Court. Passing sentence Judge Verney had said it was a scandal that people such as she had to be imprisoned because there was nowhere else for them to be sent.

Neither Buckinghamshire social services nor the Oxfordshire Regional Health Authority were able to provide facilities to treat her. Milton Keynes Health Authority had spent about 50,000 paying for private treatment for Porter at St Andrews Psychiatric Hospital, Northampton, but was unable to continue paying for treatment.

Porter's behaviour was disruptive and St Andrews had no secure facilities. Nor had the authority the funds to continue paying for treatment elsewhere.

Yesterday Lord Lane said that Porter's medical state had been reassessed and the Court of Appeal was in a position to make an order under the Mental Health Act 1983 for her to be detained without time limit at Moss Side special hospital [now Ashworth], Merseyside.

Miss Lydia Sinclair, legal officer of MIND, the mental health pressure group, said yesterday that not only was there insufficient provision for such patients, but also courts had inadequate powers to compel hospitals to take the patients.

Wendy appeared in Aylesbury Crown Court three days after Lucy first appeared in Aylesbury Magistrates Court. For some of the time Wendy was in the next cell in Holloway to Lucy.

At the beginning of January the family were gathering evidence of Lucy's obvious mental illness for the Aylesbury Crown Court, but within days of the above ruling the NHS found a bed for her in Hill End Hospital, St Albans.