Broadmoor Hospital

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Broadmoor Hospital

Broadmoor HospitalImage courtesy: Andrew Smith (Creative Commons)

Broadmoor may be a hospital, but presents a forbidding face to the outside world

Perhaps Britain's most notorious hospital - specialising in the incarceration and treatment of some of the most violent and disturbed people in the country. Originally named Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum its brief is decidedly less judgemental these days and while many of its residents are effectively prisoners and referred to the facility from the criminal justice system it is actually a hospital with dispensation to discharge patients who it believes have been cured.

From its earliest days, the institution has attracted suspicion and curiousity in equal measure. On learning that Jack The Ripper suspect Thomas Cutbush had been incarcerated at the hospital, two Sun journalists stole into the building in an attempt to interview him in 1893 - and were only thwarted by chance.

Within its walls today are such luminaries as Kenneth Erskine (the 'Stockwell Strangler') and the London Nail Bomber, David Copeland. Previous occupants have included Robert Maudsley and Peter Sutcliffe - prior to his release back to the main prison population in 2015.

While they have been found guilty of some of the most heinous of crimes they are kept apart from the general prison population on the basis that they are suffering from forms of psychosis such as extreme forms of schizophrenia and that therefore a secure hospital is a more fitting place for them to be held than a regular prison cell. Despite the high levels of security at the hospital, there have been several escapes over the years and some of the more notorious patients such as Sutcliffe have suffered from attacks from their fellow patients within its walls.

This official video describes how the institution sees itself and its role and includes commentary from clinicians who work within its walls.

Initially borne from the deep wellspring of Victorian philanthropism and social reform, the early inmates were allowed to mingle freely with staff and each other, and encouraged to pursue arts and sports. One early inmate - Richard Dadd - produced scores of pictures at the facility, despite being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and imprisoned following his murder of his own father. Over the years, as the manner of criminal incarcerated at the unit grew in seriousness, greater security came into force, but it wasn't until the escape of John Straffen in 1952 that the culture at the hospital changed. During his brief stint of freedom, Straffen murdered a five year old girl and the resulting outcry led to a stringent new regime and a massive overhaul of security facilities.

In 1972, the hospital found itself at the centre of a further scandal when the 'Teacup Poisoner' Graham Young was released after 9 years of treatment by the hospital's psychologists. Convicted of killing his stepmother aged just 14, he had apparently reformed during his containment and was released back into the general population. Within months, he had poisoned more than 70 people - two of whom died. The resulting furore once more focussed attention on whether the hospital was providing the right service and whether it was truly secure enough to contain potentially dangerous criminals.

Over the following decades, Broadmoor has never been far from the headlines - with competing allegations of staff brutality and lax security being eagerly brought up by pressmen whenever crime is in the headlines. "Britain's Most Violent Prisoner" Charles Bronson staged a three day rooftop protest in 1982 which caused more than 250,000's worth of damage. Such incidents are manna to the sensation hungry media who regularly label Broadmoor's patients as dangerous lunatics rather than as patients who need highly specialised care, as the hospital itself sees matters.

Controversially, the hospital was also home to June and Jennifer Gibbons - the so-called "silent twins", who spent 11 years at the institution not so much for extreme criminal behaviour, but for their retreat into a shared private world, which ultimately proved unbreakable.

In recent years, the revelation that Jimmy Savile had his own room and set of keys for the hospital has brought the spotlight once more on this famous institution. Allegations of sexual abuse by Savile have been made by ex patients and staff alike and as of August 2014 investigations have begun into his role at the hospital and whether he used his privileged position to carry out abuse. 

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 28th September 2017 | © Weird Island 2010-2021
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Inside Broadmoor documentary