The news of the past day has been another worrying episode for South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust (SWLSG) and most especially the residents living near the Springfield hospital site.
In this example Paul Caesar, a convicted killer, absconded after being allowed to spend time unescorted in the hospital grounds. The escape was deemed serious enough for the police to warn the public not to approach Caesar and dial 999 if they saw him.
The episode seems to have ended in tragedy with the apparent suicide of Caesar at Balham.
Clearly SWLSG will be conducting an investigation into this episode. I know I run the risk of commenting prematurely, but I cannot help feeling that they have failed badly here. They allowed a potentially dangerous prisoner to escape, which puts local residents in danger. And they have failed Paul Caesar; regardless of what he did, he was a patient in their care.
And what really annoys me is that this is not an isolated incident. Just thinking back over the past few years there have been a series of similar incidents. The most recent was last November when two Springfield patients, including an alleged murderer, escaped. There have been a number of other escapes in recent years but the most tragic one in recent times was the 2004 escape of John Barrett who went on to murder a Denis Finnegan in an unprovoked attack in Richmond Park.
The circumstances were remarkably similar, Barrett had been allowed into the grounds unescorted. He simply walked out of the hospital.
SWLSG were slammed in the subsequent enquiry, which questioned whether the secure unit at the Springfield site should even have stayed open.
So now we have two cases which have ended in a tragic, needless, deaths. The council will be asking serious questions of SWLSG, but the one question I would love to see answered is this:
Exactly when will you learn the lessons from at least 8 escapes and 2 needless deaths in just five years?