Calls for public safety to be “highest priority” at Hackney mental health unit after violent rapist went on the run
- Credit: PA
New concerns emerged this week over a secure mental health unit from which a convicted murderer escaped last year – after another patient serving time for raping a disabled woman absconded while on unsupervised leave.
Officers launched a manhunt for sex attacker Samuel Lee, 44, after he failed to return to the John Howard Centre, in Kenworthy Road, Homerton, on Thursday afternoon.
Police described him as “violent” and warned the public not to approach Lee, who suffers from a mild form of schizophrenia.
Lee is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2006 of snatching a cerebral palsy sufferer in Finsbury Park, and raping her during a terrifying hour-long attack in 2000.
In 1989, he had been jailed for manslaughter for stabbing a man to death.
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He was found and arrested in Eastbourne, Sussex, on Sunday evening.
Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South, who has twice visited the centre, said there were some “serious questions to be answered”.
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She said: “Of course I’m seriously concerned that someone with a violent record was absent (from the unit) and no one knew where he was.
“They are dealing with some of the most challenging individuals – not only are they criminals but they have serious mental health problems.
She continued: “I defend the right of the John Howard Centre to exist, it is for people with serious mental challenges and they are trying to rehabilitate them.
“While they rehabilitate that’s a good thing, but they should make public protection their highest priority, at the end of the day if they lose support on public protection they won’t do their job at rehabilitating people.”
Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request earlier this year showed 211 individuals under supervision at the same mental health unit – including murderers, sex offenders and kidnappers – had gone absent without leave since 2001.
The centre, which specialises in prisoners with personality disorders, has been the subject of multiple investigations due to the number of escapes.
Lerone Boye, who was convicted in 2012 for the murder of 17-year-old Kelvin Chibueze, was captured by police in January after a three-month long manhunt, including the offer of a £15,000 reward.
A member of the centre staff is to stand trial accused of aiding his escape.
Others who have fled the unit include sex offender James Manley in 2003, child-kidnapper Shane Hart in 2009 and Shane Smith, convicted of beating and raping a schoolgirl, in 2012.
Manley, who is considered a major threat to women, was only found after he turned himself in.
Meanwhile Smith and Hart were returned to custody after six weeks, and a day, respectively.
However, other absentees have never been found.
In 2012 Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said: “Places of asylum such as the John Howard Centre have a duty of care to patients – and to the general public – and it is worrying that so many should have absconded, leaving the police to locate them.”
A spokesman for the John Howard Centre said that patients were only allowed periods of time outside the unit as part of their rehabilitation and treatment programme after a “comprehensive risk assessment, which is reviewed before each episode of leave”.
She said: “They will be accompanied by a member of staff initially, but as they progress, they will be allowed unescorted leave to undertake specific activities.
“When a service user does not return from leave 30 minutes after the agreed time, this is reported as an incident.”