Last update 27th. August 2004


Nightmare on Pond Street

From Ham&High 13th August 2004

Former mental patient tells of "attempted rape and assault" suffered in hospital

by Luke David

A HAMPSTEAD woman has spoken exclusively to the Ham&High about her horrific experience in the locked mental health ward of the Royal Free Hospital.

Marie (not her real name) says she was subjected to violence, attempted rape and two sexual assaults by inpatients at the Alice and Helen Boyle wards of the hospital in Pond Street last year.

She also alleges that staff encouraged an atmosphere of punishment and humiliation where people were kept under control by high doses of prescription drugs, while patients regularly drank alcohol and smoked marijuana.

Marie said: "A number of my friends used to bring me alcohol disguised as lemonade or Ribena and there was a husband of a patient who used to bring in joints."

"We used to smoke them on the balcony of the Helen Boyle ward, totally unsupervised."

Marie contacted the Ham&High after we reported how Fabio Piazzini, a day patient at the hospital, had been found dead on Hampstead Heath with a bottle of prescription pills next to him - a month after staff in the psychiatric wing run by the Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social Care Trust had allowed him to walk out of the hospital on day release.

"I nearly killed myself twice because I couldn't take what they were doing to me," Marie continued.

"I wasn't alone in feeling like this. There were other women in the wards who weren't dangerous but were locked up with dangerous people and given a dangerous cocktail of drugs."

Marie, who is married and has two grown-up children, was locked up for almost a year in the Royal Free's psychiatric wing after suffering a mental health break-down on holiday in France in January 2003, caused by a traumatic personal event. She spent a month in a French psychiatric hospital before being transferred to a private clinic in North London.

But after her health insurance ran out she was forcibly transferred to the Royal Free under the Mental Health Act.

"The whole atmosphere at the French hospital was one of caring and healing," she said "It was a very happy place to be whereas the Royal Free was so appalling in every way.

"It was my worst ever nightmare. Patients constantly stole my possessions and staff did nothing about it."

Marjorie Wallace, of mental health charity SANE, could not comment on Marie's individual experience but said her story was indicative of the state of mental health care in London's run-down psychiatric wards. Mrs Wallace said: "It's a sad state of affairs that we have turned wards that should have been places of healing into places where people are afraid to stay."

The Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social Care Trust is undergoing a separate investigation into why the triple killer Anthony Hardy was released from its St. Luke's psychiatric hospital in Muswell Hill shortly before he murdered and dismembered his last two victims in Camden Town. A spokeswoman for the Trust said: "The care trust was awarded two stars by the Healthcare Commission in the 2004 NHS performance ratings. A two star rating confirms that the care trust is performing well overall."

Contact Luke David

Drugs Marie was forced to take while in Hospital

Sodium Valproate - mood stabiliser -1200 mg a day

Oplanzapine - anti psychotic drug 15mg a day.

Lamotrigine - anti psychotic drug.

Rispiridon - 100mg

Valium - orally or injected.

Zopiclon - 7.5mg.