Behind The Scenes – At The North Wales Hospital Denbigh

My blog posts ‘Hippocratic Oath Or Hypocritic Oaf?’, ‘How I Arrived At Denbigh’, ‘The Case of the Disappearing Clinical Psychologist’ and ‘The Distressed Young Woman Who Vanished’ give some idea of just how seriously and casually the law was being flouted by some people in north Wales with regard to the means by which people were admitted to and detained in the North Wales Hospital Denbigh and also suggest that some pretty monstrous things were happening out there. I had other clues that this was a completely lawless institution regularly hosting some very bizarre happenings whilst I was there. I had been there a number of days before Dr Dafydd Alun Jones condescended to visit me, but when he did it was in the middle of the night – I remember being ‘interviewed’ by him at about midnight. None of the staff on the ward concerned, Bryn Golau, batted an eyelid at Jones doing this. Years later I was told by a former psychiatric social worker who had worked in north Wales that Jones was very obviously floridly manic a lot of the time and would conduct ward rounds in the early hours of the morning. I have also never forgotten another comment from a member of staff made a matter of hours after I’d arrived at Bryn Golau. I had got into a confrontation with another patient – she had attacked me but in a fairly inefficient way, she had seen me writing (I was actually writing an essay for the MSc that I was pursuing at the time as part of my course work) and she had rushed over to me and ripped up all my paperwork. I shoved her off me and unfortunately she fell onto the floor. I then heard a nursing assistant – who was only ever identified as ‘Marion’, but whom I later discovered was quite dim – remark to the charge nurse ‘I think this young lady ought to go downstairs’. The charge nurse said nothing in response to this but he did come over to find out what was going on. I was curious as to what the reference to ‘downstairs’ had meant, but I never heard ‘downstairs’ mentioned again whilst I was there. But a few years later when I was living in a small village near Bethesda, I discovered that a lot of the elderly people there knew Dafydd Alun Jones because he had originated from Bethesda. They would freely talk about his unpleasantness and how grim Denbigh was. I had a friend who spent a lot of his time in the company of an elderly man from Bethesda and he told my friend an awful lot about the abuses that were alleged to go on at Denbigh. One day my friend told me that the old man had talked of a cellar-like place at Denbigh where patients were locked in and left, in the manner of some Gothic horror – staff referred to the cellar as ‘downstairs’…

There were a number of nurses in Bryn Golau who were clearly very unhappy with what was going on and who did seem to be trying to do their best for patients in very restricted circumstances. Two members of staff there – the ward sister, a Janice Davies, and an SEN, Stephen Rose – were abusive and were very obviously colluding with Dafydd Alun Jones. They would lie about patients conduct, attempt to harass and intimidate patients, elicit conflict between patients in order to break up friendships etc. On one occasion Rose assaulted me.

One interesting ritual in Bryn Golau was afternoon tea for the staff. They’d all gather around one big table, out would come the tea-pot and cups and they’d spend the best part of an hour chatting and socialising with each other – sometimes nurses and nursing officers from other parts of the hospital would arrive and join in. Whilst they were having their tea, quite an interesting process would take place – the staff would completely forget that patients were present and might be listening. It seemed that tea time was a forum for general gossip and for discussing the wrongdoing of the medical staff at Denbigh, particularly Dafydd Alun Jones. I heard a lot of interesting things at tea times. Most of the staff neither liked nor trusted Jones but were very obviously cowed by him. There also seemed to be a lot of friction between Denbigh and the psychiatric wards at Ysbyty Gwynedd, with staff having complex allegiances and being at war with each other – staff from Denbigh maintained that the wards at Ysbyty Gwynedd were unsafe and hopeless, whereas staff at Ysbyty Gwynedd levelled the same allegations at Denbigh. (The irony was that the wards and management of both places had both been subject to damning criticism following external investigations and by this time Denbigh had been ear-marked for closure.)

Another interesting thing that happened whilst I was in Denbigh was Jones’s attempt to nobble my solicitor. Fortunately I already knew the solicitor who was representing me regarding the ‘charge’ that I was facing whilst I was in Denbigh – I had previously consulted him when I first encountered problems with the psychiatric services at Ysbyty Gwynedd. However when Jones finally arrived at Denbigh to see me, he felt able to state that he had telephoned my solicitor and was ‘most surprised’ to find that he already knew me. He announced this in front of a group of nurses. So just as Jones turning up to visit patients in the middle of the night was an everyday occurrence, clearly so was him contacting patient’s solicitors without their knowledge or permission. Thank God I actually had an honest solicitor…

When I got out of Denbigh (as described in my blog post ‘The Case of the Disappearing Clinical Psychologist’, this was sudden and unexpected and did not seem to involve discussions with the ward staff, let alone me), I went straight back to London where I was on a postgrad course lest Jones had me arrested on yet another trumped up charge. As soon as I got to London, I contacted the Mental Health Act Commission and made a formal complaint to the authorities at Denbigh regarding what had happened, although I’d already had indications that the Mental Health Act Commission were pretty hopeless – they were by this time supposed to be investigating the circumstances of me being sectioned by a grossly incompetent junior doctor at Ysbyty Gwynedd some months previously, whose English was so bad that he could not understand what I was saying. My first encounter with Dafydd Alun Jones had occurred then – the day after the incompetent had sectioned me, Jones turned up and told me that he would only let me out if I agreed to leave Bangor immediately and that if I returned he’d have me arrested. This alone should have alerted the Mental Health Act Commission to something being very wrong, before I even ended up in Denbigh.

My memory of returning to London and then raising my concerns regarding events in north Wales with the Mental Health Act Commission and the authorities at Denbigh was one of being constantly messed around, with my letters usually being ignored and information being withheld. I do not ever remember any of my complaints being dealt with appropriately, let alone resolved. So it was enlightening to find documents relating to all this among the numerous documents released from my lawyers to me last week.

Among the documents is a letter from me, dated Jan 1987, requesting a copy of my medical records from Denbigh. My request had been turned down flat, with the administrator at Denbigh, a Mr D. Hinchcliffe, stating that the records were ‘legally unavailable’ to me. I knew this to be untrue, because I was being refused copies of my medical records by Ysbyty Gwynedd and had sought legal clarification – the situation was that it was at the discretion of the practitioners who had compiled the records, but any decision had to be made with the best interests of the patient in mind. There is a copy of another letter dated March 1987 that I subsequently wrote to Mr Hinchcliffe at Denbigh explaining this. There is a copy of a letter from Hinchcliffe to me again refusing me a copy of my records but stating that he was ‘currently investigating the points you have raised with the medical staff’. The reproduction of this letter is poor and it is not possible to make out the exact date on it, just ‘1987’.

However, the files recently released contain correspondence between NHS staff compiled at the time that I have not seen before – these documents provide a picture of life and practices behind the scenes at Denbigh. It appears that it was taken as an absolute given that I was not going to have access to my medical notes. There is a letter to Jones from the administrator simply stating that of course Jones wouldn’t want this – it seems that no-one even had to ask him. The administrator then wrote me a letter stating that it wasn’t in my best interests to see my medical records – which was exactly what Ysbyty Gwynedd had done when they discovered that they were allowed this legal get-out clause. Being me, I didn’t go away and wrote further letters and was still requesting a response to my complaint.

But the machine at Denbigh was obviously encountering problems too. There is a copy of a letter written to Dafydd Alun Jones by Laurie V. Wood, the Unit General Manager at Denbigh, dated 24th April 1987. The reproduction is poor, but this seems to be a letter referring to complaints that I and two other patients had made about Jones. The letter states that Jones has not responded to ‘numerous requests both orally and in writing’ and that ‘I really do not want to have to ask our three Health Authority [illegible] to interview you formally about this’. Then there is a copy of a memorandum dated 6th May 1987 written by Kay Hemsley, Assistant Administrator, (please see blog post ‘How I Arrived At Denbigh’ for details of Kay’s other activities regarding my complaint) to Laurie Wood, in which she states that Jones phoned her to say that his responses to the complaints from me and the two other patients were ‘somewhere in the system awaiting typing’ but ‘he gave me the following comments’. There is a reference to one patient whom Jones maintains is ‘no longer in his care’ and he ‘thought that the matter had died down’. There is then a reference to another patient with Jones stating that he hadn’t seen the original letter of complaint, but that he had arranged to see the patient’s mother to discuss it – in Jones’s outpatients clinic. There is then a truly ominous sentence – that at lunch time on that day ‘the mother was admitted to the North Wales Hospital’. So ‘the mother’ couldn’t get a response to her complaint about her son, Jones invited her to an outpatients clinic to discuss it – and then banged her up in Denbigh. Kay then documented Jones’s comment regarding my complaint  – that Jones ‘does not wish to enter into correspondence with this lady. He would be prepared to see her at any clinic but will correspond only with medical practitioners.’ It was then noted that they’d received another letter from me ‘today’. This memo from Kay Hemsley had been stamped ‘7 May 1987 Unit Administrator North Wales Hospital’, so presumably had been received by Mr D. Hinchcliffe. There is a letter to Mr Hinchcliffe from Jones, dated 7th May, in which he states that he won’t communicate with me but that he is willing to see me in outpatients in Ysbyty Gwynedd. Jones continues ‘you must be aware of the complications which arose in relation to her both in the North Wales Hospital and in Bangor and I felt that I had to act as properly as I could with the full anticipation that there might be problems arising but with no intention of being drawn into protracted correspondence with [me]…I will only communicate with our general practitioner’. (The slip Jones makes when he refers to ‘our’ general practitioner is revealing – presumably the man that he is talking about is Dr DGE Wood, my former GP, who had initially referred me to a colleague of Jones’s, T. Gwynne Williams, whom I found out many years later had been the notorious lobotomist at Denbigh. Wood had become very angry when my then partner Brown and I attempted to complain about Williams and stated that we ‘weren’t allowed’ to complain. The files released last week contain documents demonstrating that unbeknown to me, DGE Wood had been colluding with Jones behind the scenes before, during and after I was in Denbigh. Wood was indeed ‘their’ general practitioner.)

There is a copy of a letter to Mr Hinchcliffe from Dafydd Alun Jones dated 14th May 1987 telling him to ‘acknowledge this note [could this be a reference to the recent letter from me that Kay Hemsley had referred to?] and tell [me] that although I am not really going into written correspondence other than with a medical practitioner, I am very willing to see her at my clinic if she should wish it’.

Among the documents released recently is another most interesting letter, but again the reproduction is very poor – it is clearly a letter from someone charged with managing Denbigh and the part of it that can be read says ‘I wrote to Dr DA Jones on ..[illegible] 1987 and Mr Wood wrote on the 29th April and on 8th May 1987..[illegible]…the matter had ‘died down’ and he had ‘nothing to add’…Dr Jones…would be willing to see her in his outpatients clinic at Ysbyty Gwynedd…[my name] is currently residing in London which I am sure Dr Jones is aware of and his invitation to attend his outpatients clinic is somewhat farcical, similarly the administrative changes does not alter the fact that he was the consultant in charge of the case at the time. My concern is that he appears to be neglecting his duty with regard to compliance to complaints procedures…’

There are familiar themes here regarding Jones’s approach to dealing with complaints – firstly, he is obviously stating that he is no longer responsible for my ‘case’ (due to administrative Jones was no longer the consultant covering Anglesey which was where I had lived prior to moving to London) and secondly he thought that this was another matter that had ‘died down’. Presumably Jones worked on the assumption that you ignore all complaints, refuse to correspond with anyone at all about it, claim that ‘the matter had died down’ and if the complainant doesn’t go away you invite them to an outpatients clinic where you section them. But who was the author of this letter who clearly knows exactly what Jones is up to? It is not Laurie Wood because the author mentions writing to Laurie Wood. There was one other manager in the north Wales mental health services at that time responsible for overseeing the services and associated complaints – and that was one Dr Peter Higson, present Chair of the Betsi Board. Other documents previously released to me from Denbigh had Higson’s name on them in relation to Jones not responding to complaints and I think that dear old Higson was the man behind this letter too…

There is another very illuminating document regarding why no aspect of my complaint about Denbigh was ever resolved. That is a copy of a letter to Mr Hinchcliffe from ‘D.K. Jones, Acting Senior Nurse’. This letter states that s/he is ‘unable to comment on the two main issues ie. her request for a copy of her medical notes and the medication she was prescribed…medication is prescribed by medical staff and the nursing staff only administer it.’ The letter goes on to claim that when I was admitted to Bryn Golau on 17 December 1987 ‘she was in quite a disturbed state and despite her very obvious intelligence had little or no insight into her condition. She was placed on Section 35 of the Mental Health Act on 19th December 1986 and regraded to Section 2 on 29th December 1986. She went on leave on 7th January and was officially discharged on 25th January 1987. The letter admitted that ‘she may well have a point regarding the simplistic method of questioning employed when assessing patients – the questions could be more of a flexible nature and tailored to the individual…I am sorry to be of so little help…but her complaints are aimed more at the ‘system’ rather than the nursing she received.’

Now the contents of this letter are completely inconsistent with the contents of the nursing notes made whilst I was in Bryn Golau. I have described in my blog post ‘How I Arrived At Denbigh’ how the nursing notes described in detail the plan that Jones hatched with the police at Bangor in order to have me taken to and then detained at Denbigh and how the nurses noted that they didn’t want to be part of ‘this deal’. Again and again the nursing notes state that there were no grounds for detaining me under the Mental Health Act and that Dr Neil Davies agreed. The nursing notes also detail a phone call from DA Jones in which he stated that he would ‘prefer’ for the nurses to state that I should be detained under the Mental Health Act. The nurses refuse to do this. At no point do the nursing notes state that I was ‘in quite a disturbed state’ with ‘little or no insight into [my] condition’. The nursing notes do however state that although Dr Neil Davies had already stated that there were no grounds to detain me under the Mental Health Act, after talking to a psychiatrist from Ysbyty Gwynedd about whom I had complained, Dr Davies then said that I should be sectioned. The only time the nursing notes even come close to stating that I had any sort of mental health problem was after Jones et al had stitched me up with the police in Bangor, when they make a reference to my ‘paranoia’ about Gwynedd Health Authority and my references to corruption in the north Wales NHS. Of course the nursing notes compiled days previously demonstrate that there was indeed the most appalling corruption going on in the north Wales NHS, indeed it was so bad that the nurses in Bryn Golau didn’t want to be part of ‘this deal’. Regarding the ‘medication’ – I discovered that I had been prescribed huge doses of chlorpromazine, although no-one had diagnosed me as psychotic. (I noticed that nearly everyone in Bry Golau had been given the same prescription, no matter what their alleged diagnosis.) To their credit, the nurses didn’t ever suggest that I should take it – no doubt they noticed that it was completely inappropriate. So the dosing up of absolutely everyone on that ward with a uniform liquid cosh of ‘medication’ that has many debilitating side-effects was never addressed. But there were other aspects to my complaint too – the abusive staff that I named earlier in this post, Janice Davies and Stephen Rose. Their (mis)conduct was never addressed. When I repeatedly raised the matter of Stephen Rose’s constant aggression towards me and his eventual assault, I simply received a letter from Denbigh stating that no other nurses ever noticed anything untoward and Stephen Rose had now left Denbigh to work at Park Lane Hospital. (Park Lane Hospital was a secure hospital in the north west of England that became engulfed in scandal regarding staff assaulting patients and allegations that children were being taken into the hospital in order for paedophiles to gain access to them. One wonders what sort of a reference the authorities at Denbigh gave Rose for him to take up a job at Park Lane.)

So a complaint involving unlawful detention, the flagrant breaking of the law in numerous ways, inappropriate medication and an assault – among other things – was never ever investigated by the authorities at Denbigh despite all the documentary evidence that the staff had themselves compiled. At the time that I made this complaint, another patient, Mary Wynch, was suing Clwyd Health Authority – because Dafydd Alun Jones had unlawfully incarcerated her for a year (please see blog post ‘Making Legal History – The Mary Wynch Case’). And staff were actually documenting that Dafydd Alun Jones was banging the mothers of patients who had complained up in Denbigh. Its quite incredible isn’t it.

As for the Mental Health Act Commission – of course I got nowhere, but that’s par for the course. However, the newly released files do contain a gem of information that has been previously kept well-hidden from me for thirty years. My blog post ‘Hippocratic Oath or Hypocritic Oaf?’ describes a very honest social worker who visited me in Bangor Police Station but refused to play ball with the appalling Dr K. Shah and Dafydd Alun Jones. Her name is mentioned in the files – she was an Ann Williams who worked for Gwynedd Social Services. So Ann Williams could have given evidence to all and sundry involved in this if anyone had really wanted to investigate – but no-one ever referred to her again. The files of course contain further evidence of Jones’s outrageous behaviour. It was recorded that after I was released from Denbigh, Jones had contacted the Student Health Centre in Bangor (although I’d graduated several years previously – but hey, I’d complained about Jones’s lobotomist colleague who had been doing a few shifts up there), he had notified ‘their’ GP, DGE Wood and he had also contacted my tutor in London. How about that for breaching confidence and ethics in one fell swoop? There are also some hints in the newly released documents to other very serious wrongdoing – there’s someone whom I remember played a substantial role in events at Denbigh but it looks as if all references to him have been removed. I will be investigating this further…

Attentive readers will have noticed one obvious loose end regarding this tale. Although he refused point blank to correspond with me regarding my complaint, Jones did kindly offer again and again to meet me in his outpatients clinic at Bangor to discuss my complaint. Of course, I had no idea that when he’d done this to another complainant he’d sectioned her. So what happened to me? Well I made it very clear that I didn’t want an outpatients appointment for clinical reasons, if I went to an outpatients clinic it would be to discuss my complaint. It was made clear to me that this would be the only way my complaint would ever be discussed. So I went to the outpatients clinic – where I was arrested. But that’s a story for a future post – as is the story of how Jones et al in north Wales mobilised some of the biggest names in UK psychiatry at that time to ensure that my complaints regarding the north Wales mental health services were completely silenced…

Author: Sally Baker

I am a writer and a sociologist, originally from Somerset, but I’ve been based in Wales for most of my life. I had my first encounter with a mental health professional in 1984 at the age of 21. My GP described this man to my then partner – who also became a sociologist – as someone who had experienced ‘considerable success’. My meeting with this psychiatrist was a disaster and we attempted to complain about his insensitivity and highly inappropriate behaviour. That was the first time we were threatened and pressurised to withdraw a complaint against a mental health professional. This man is long dead – he was a retired psychiatrist from the North Wales Hospital Denbigh, T. Gwynne Williams, who was working shifts in the student health centre at University College of North Wales (now Bangor University). We discovered years later that this ‘successful man’ was notorious – he had been an enthusiastic lobotomist…

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