By Cara Sulieman
HUNDREDS of psychiatric patients have escaped from Scotland’s mental hospitals in the past five years.
The figures include 38 serious offenders who receiving treatment without time limit – including murderers and rapists – and 20 who were on remand.
The numbers have led to a call for the tightening of security at the institutions, with the Liberal Democrats calling it a “serious public safety issue”.
Among those escaped was killer James Cowen, who disappeared two years ago while on escorted leave from the Orchard Clinic, the secure unit of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. The 36-year-old was sentenced to life in 1992.
Just five months earlier violent ex-heroin addict Mark Biggley escaped from Ayr’s Alisa Hospital for the fourth time.
Most mentally ill criminals who are deemed to be a risk to public safety are sent to the State Hospital, Carstairs where there were no escapes in the last five years.
But under new laws complying with the European Convention on Human Rights, patients at Carstairs have been allowed to appeal against their security grading.
As a result several have been moved to Orchard Clinic, which had six restricted patients absconding in the last five years.
In the same period nine went missing from Dykebar in Paisley, five from Ravenscraig in Greenock, five from Leverndale in Glasgow and four from Ailsa in Ayr. All were eventually tracked down.
There are about 3000 psychiatric in-patients in Scotland, with 290 detained under a restriction order. Records show that in 2007/08 at least 161 escaped.
Robert Brown, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, said: “This could be a serious public safety issue. We must identify problems with security.”
Dr Richard Simpson, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “People who have restricted status should not be going into the community unsupervised.”
Dr Donald Lyons, director of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, said: “Unaccompanied leave in the community can form an important part of mental health care and treatment.
“Any leave for restricted patients is carefully scrutinised by Scottish ministers with expert advice.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman, said: “Part of the rehabilitation of restricted patients involves, where appropriate, supporting a gradual and supervised reintegration into the community and occasionally a patient will overstay the period of leave.
“Restricted patients are only ever allowed on leave if it’s judged safe and only after thorough assessment.”
See more of our videos at our dedicated channel, Deadline TV.