Socio-Political Context of the North Wales Mental Health Services in the 1980s

My blog posts ‘How I Arrived At Denbigh’, ‘Behind The Scenes – At The North Wales Hospital Denbigh’, ‘Massive Over-Reaction – Or Something To Hide?’, ‘A Very Cosy Relationship – And Some Serious Smears’, ‘An Expert From England’, ‘The Blog Post That Was Hacked Can Now Be Read’ and ‘Enter Professor Robert Bluglass CBE’ make it clear that the gross abuses and criminality pervading the mental health services in north Wales in the late 1980s were known to the Welsh Office, the Mental Health Act Commission, the Medical Defence Union, the GMC and leading figures in psychiatry in the UK medical establishment. Not only did the people in these organisations do nothing to put a stop to what was happening, but they were going to considerable lengths to conceal it and to ensure that it continued. Even if I had been a lone voice, my allegations were so serious – and there was a substantial amount of documentary evidence suggesting that much of what I was alleging was true – that all of these organisations should have been recommending an investigation with police involvement. But I was not a lone voice. In the late 1980s there were many indications that some terrible things were happening in north Wales.Movie Passengers (2016)

Alison Taylor, a social worker employed by Gwynedd County Council, had approached councillors, the police, Health Minister Tony Newton and even Margaret Thatcher regarding her concerns that serious abuse of children in care was happening in north Wales and that an organised paedophile ring was operating in the region via Gwynedd Social Services and Clwyd Social Services. My blog post ‘The Blog Post That Was Hacked Can Now Be Read’ details how some of the things that were happening to me seemed to be happening in parallel with Alison’s attempts to be heard.

My constant attempts to draw attention to people in authority regarding the activities of the mental health services in north Wales were ignored. I presumed at the time that people outside the region simply didn’t realise what was happening. Of course that was not true. It is instructive to look at the wider socio-political context of the north Wales mental health services at the time.

Gwynedd Health Authority was known to be in serious trouble by the mid-1980s, although as ever with the NHS, the cause of it coming under scrutiny was financial mismanagement. My blog post ‘A Visit To Gwynedd Archives’ details this and provides references to the parts of Hansard documenting debates in Westminster between Dafydd Wigley (then MP for Caernarfon), Ieaun Wyn Jones (MP for Ynys Mon) and Wyn Roberts (MP for Conwy and Minister of State at the Welsh Office) that had taken place regarding Gwynedd Health Authority. (I had by the time of these dates written to Wyn Roberts regarding my problems with the mental health services but received only a bland reply. I did however later write to Dafydd Wigley as well and received an incredibly supportive reply.) Hansard records that the Welsh Office had sent in a team of management consultants to Gwynedd Health Authority – so although the Welsh Office knew that this Health Authority was a nightmare and was being seriously mismanaged, at the same time they went to very great lengths to protect people in the mental health services in Gwynedd and Clwyd. When I visited Gwynedd Archives I noticed that in 1990 David Hunt, by then the Secretary of State for Wales, had written to Noreen Edwards (Chair of Gwynedd Health Authority) such were the problems in Gwynedd. I note that many of the letters about me that were being sent without my knowledge were being copied to Noreen. I also found another interesting reference in the archive, that is that the Welsh Office were questioning the integrity of a senior official in Clwyd Health Authority – I seem to remember the person named was Laurie Wood, who was the manager of the North Wales Hospital whilst I was imprisoned there (when Dr Peter Higson took over that role, Wood moved on to occupy another very senior position in Clwyd Health Authority). But the Welsh Office had colluded with Laurie Wood over my complaints regarding Denbigh, so of course they’d have known that he had no integrity.

So by the late 80s, politicians in north Wales and Wyn Roberts, the Minister of State, knew that the mental health services and wider NHS in north Wales were a car crash. (At this time, the post of Secretary of State for Wales was considered a ‘less important post’ in Cabinet. Events in Wales clearly weren’t a priority for Margaret Thatcher. The Secretaries of State for Wales during the 1980s were Nicholas Edwardes and Peter Walker. Neither of them seems to have actually taken much interest in Wales and the remit seems to have been left in the hands of Wyn Roberts, who was knighted in 1990 and then given a peerage in 1997. So someone was clearly very grateful to him for something, despite that fact that chaos reigned in the NHS on his watch and that a paedophile ring was operating through the social services.)

This was pre-devolution, so the NHS in Wales was still the responsibility of Westminster. So what were Health Ministers doing whilst all this was going on in north Wales? Tony Newton was Minister for Health between 1986 and 1988 after a reorganisation at Whitehall and it was Tony Newton whom Alison Taylor approached regarding the abuse of children in north Wales. Clearly no-one responded to her concerns. Prior to Tony Newton’s appointment, health was the responsibility of John Moore, who’s main interest seems to have been facilitating the privatisation of the NHS. Both Tony Newton and John Moore later received peerages. Tony Newton was succeeded by Ken Clarke, who was Secretary of State for Health between 1988 and 1990.

I am not a Tory but I have rather more time for Ken Clarke than I do for many of his colleagues. I can remember his time as Secretary of State for Health very well and the thing that I remember most was his battle with the BMA. They hated him and at one point ran an advertising campaign across the UK featuring posters with the slogan ‘What do you call a man who ignores medical advice? Ken Clarke.’ For his part, Ken Clarke made his famous observation regarding doctors who were ‘feeling for their wallets’. I was involved in biomedical research at the time and although I knew many junior doctors who were appallingly bullied and exploited, I had become very aware of just how self-interested, and frankly corrupt, parts of the medical establishment were. The less scrupulous junior doctors whom I knew were also very obviously aiming to become part of that establishment – that was the only reason they were accepting all the drudgery. So I suspected that Ken Clarke probably had a point. (Ken Clarke recently spoke out about the BMA once more, describing them as ‘virulent’. Indeed the BMA are so virulent that most Health Ministers daren’t speak publicly about them – Ken Clarke is the only one that has had the guts to do so, although all Health Ministers have found the BMA very difficult.)

However Ken Clarke had a problem on his watch – a junior Health Minister called Edwina Currie. It has now been revealed that it was Currie who appointed Jimmy Savile as chairman of the ‘task force’ to manage Broadmoor Hospital in 1988. (Savile of course had close connections to Margaret Thatcher who, it was recently revealed, personally lobbied for Savile to be knighted, although she was warned that there were concerns about his ‘private life’. But then Professor Bluglass ignored my concerns about Dr Dafydd Alun Jones’s ‘private life’. Thatcher was also a friend of Augusto Pinochet, which says an awful lot about her.) After Savile’s extensive sex offending became public, Currie made some extraordinary comments regarding her rationale for appointing Savile to the management committee at Broadmoor. Most ‘nurses’ in the special hospitals at that time belonged to the Prison Officers Association (POA). The POA was causing havoc, particularly at Ashworth and Broadmoor. Savile had made a number of comments to Currie regarding the abuses being carried out by the POA. There were of cause allegations that the POA were grossly abusing patients, but Savile and Currie’s concerns seem to have centred upon the financial swindles that POA members at Broadmoor were alleged to have been involved in. Savile had told Currie that he would beat the POA into submission by a number of frankly unlawful methods and by utilising his connections with tabloid newspapers. Dear old Edwina was so impressed that she let this prolific predatory sex offender loose on the management committee of the hospital. There were some very odd practices going on at Broadmoor at the time regarding the appointment of people in senior positions. A friend of Savile’s, Alan Franey, who had met Savile years before when Franey was the assistant general manager at Leeds General Infirmary, was also appointed to the ‘task force’ and soon became Chief Executive of Broadmoor. Franey later admitted in a book that he wrote that he was appointed to the ‘task force’ after having an ‘unusual meeting’ with Government health officials at the Athenaeum club in London. Savile enjoyed boasting about his membership of this club (which has a high number of medics and academics among it’s membership) – Franey later admitted that Savile was present at the meeting. Broadmoor was a very troubled institution well before the advent of this ‘task force’ (the task force had been appointed because people were at their wits end as to what to do about Broadmoor), but it would seem fairly obvious that appointing Savile and his mates to run the place was not a particularly good idea. Although the official line regarding Savile by just about everyone now is ‘ooh but we never knew’, I was friends with two young researchers in 1988 who had been students at Leeds – they told me that Savile had been in trouble in Leeds for sex with underage girls. So if students at Leeds University knew, I’m sure an awful lot of other people did as well. I also remember at the time that a lot of people in the medical establishment were horrified at Savile’s appointment – it was certainly not uncontroversial. However, it would seem that the problems went even higher than the management of Broadmoor. In the 1987 Brian McGinnis was the Under-Secretary for Mental Health with responsibility for high security special hospitals. It was McGinnis who was ‘instrumental’ in forming the ‘task force’ with the inclusion of Savile. Yet many years later, McGinnis was accused of sexual offences against children. He was never convicted but was prevented from working with children by Croydon Council in 2005 and three years earlier Bromley Council had ended his involvement with services for children with learning difficulties.

But Broadmoor was not the only troubled special hospital in the UK in the late 1980s. Ashworth Hospital in Liverpool, receiving patients from Wales, also had terrible problems with the POA.  (Savile was a regular visitor at Ashworth.) The abuse that the POA members were inflicting upon patients was so severe that there was a Public Inquiry into this led by Louis Blom-Cooper QC which reported in 1992. The report made grim reading. Ashworth had been formed by the merger of two other hospitals, Moss Side and Park Lane. Whilst I was in Denbigh, I was assaulted by a particularly unpleasant SEN, Stephen Rose. My complaint about him was never investigated – I was simply eventually told by the authorities that he no longer worked at Denbigh, as he now had a job at Park Lane. So that’s what happened to the most abusive member of staff at Bryn Golau Ward at Denbigh when someone complained about him. The problems at Ashworth were so entrenched that although action was promised after Blom-Cooper’s report, another Public Inquiry was held into Ashworth, led by Peter Fallon QC, which reported in 1998. And guess who was a member of Fallon’s committee? None other than Professor Robert Bluglass, who had so successfully done nothing about the dreadful abuses at Denbigh (please see blog post ‘Enter Professor Robert Bluglass CBE’). It gets better – the Fallon Inquiry relied upon opinions from, among others, the Director of Nursing at Bluglass’s Reaside Clinic in Birmingham. One member of the committee that investigated the murder of a patient at Ashworth was one Mr W. Jones, the Chief Administrative Nursing Officer from Clwyd Health Authority. So Bluglass, who knew exactly what the practices endorsed by senior officials from Clwyd Health Authority involved, was happy to rely on one of them to investigate a murder. At this time, Bluglass was busy publishing articles arguing that the special hospitals should be shut down. Bluglass was obviously not a man to be concerned with abuse of patients or criminal activities on the part of hospital staff so one can only speculate as to why he wanted to see the back of special hospitals. Was it because they were being run by the POA rather than the psychiatric establishment? Some of his published work suggested that the remit of the special hospitals should be passed to regional secure units – such as Bryn Golau at Denbigh…. The Fallon report was also highly critical of the Mental Health Act Commission, the body allegedly protecting detained patients ‘rights’. By now, the Chief Exec of the Mental Health Act Commission was William Bingley – who, when he was still legal director of MIND a few years earlier, had told me all about Dafydd Alun Jones at Denbigh.

Now much of this information will only have been of interest to professionals and academics. But the problems of the north Wales mental health services and the mental health services per se in the UK had become very public by this time. Mary Wynch (please see blog post ‘The Mary Wynch Case -Making Legal History’) had begun her legal action against Dafydd Alun Jones and two psychiatrists at Risley Remand Centre and that had been widely reported in the press. Risley Remand Centre itself, where many mental health patients from north Wales ended up, had an appalling reputation for suicides as well as brutality towards inmates and was the subject of much media coverage. A Welsh language TV programme had run an expose of Holyrood House, a hostel for people with mental health problems in Llandudno, run by a woman called Margaret Richards. Patients were being violently assaulted and the drugs cabinet was overseen by a drug addict. It was subsequently discovered that all the patients in this place were patients of one Dr Dafydd Alun Jones. Holyrood House gained even more publicity when Esther Rantzen ran a report about it on her TV show ‘That’s Life’. At about this time, the ever-caring Esther ran a campaign on mental health. I wrote to Esther giving her a full account of the Denbigh experience. I did not receive an acknowledgement. Esther soon lost interest in matters mental health and moved on to campaign on drug problems and then really hit the big time when she took an interest in child sexual abuse and established ‘Childline’. After Savile was exposed, Esther maintained that she only ever heard ‘gossip’ about Savile, not firm evidence. An abuse campaigner subsequently claimed that she had told Esther of allegations that she’d heard about Savile many years before. Esther could not remember anything about this. So presumably should the horrible truth about Dafydd Alun Jones and Denbigh ever find its way into the London based media in a big way, Dame Esther (as she is now) will not be able to remember my letter either. There was another public figure at the time who was also making a name for herself by mental health campaigning. That was Sunday Times journalist Marjorie Wallace, who founded the charity SANE. I wrote to Marjorie as well, but never heard back. (For more details on Marjorie and her sterling work please see blog post ‘Another Confession From NHS England’.)

So during the 1980s the mental health system in the UK was plagued at all levels by negligent, violent people or people with a history of sexually exploitative behaviour, if not actual sexual offending. Because of the stereotype of the patients who ended up in secure mental health units no-one was interested in the welfare of these patients. Whilst many of the male patients were violent or sex offenders, many of the female patients were there because they were serious self-harmers after having been subjected to sexual violence themselves. A group of campaigners were so worried at what was happening to women patients in these places that they established a charity, ‘WISH’ (Women in Special Hospitals), in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of women who had been sexually abused and were then being brutalised and sexually abused all over again in the special hospitals. WISH had enormous trouble gaining support because the public thought that they were being asked to help murderers. But there were of course people like Professors Bluglass and Robert Owen who knew exactly what was going on behind closed doors and concealed the lot.

We are now living in an era in which people are obsessed with sex offenders and believe that a paedophile lurks on every corner. However my blog post ‘A Very Convenient Arrangement With The Private Sector’ describes how all is still far from well at Ashworth Hospital and similar establishments.

 

 

 

 

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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