QUESTIONS were last night being asked about how a convicted killer escaped from a secure hospital and remained on the run for 12 hours.
As reported in yesterday’s Journal, Phillip Westwater, also known as Whiteman, went missing from St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth, Newcastle, after asking to use the toilet on an escorted visit within the site.
He was found in The Bank bar in the city centre shortly before 11pm on Wednesday.
Health trust leaders said an internal investigation will be held into how the 44-year-old, who has been detained under the Mental Health Act for 20 years, managed to give staff the slip.
A trust spokesman said yesterday: “Planned or escorted leave is an important part of any patient’s treatment plan, especially when working towards their recovery.
“Arrangements for escorted leave are rigorously risk assessed, made on an individual basis and regularly reviewed.
“The decision to grant leave involves the views of the patient’s multi-disciplinary clinical team and, when appropriate, input from the patient, their carers, family members, as well as external agencies such as the police and Ministry of Justice.
“We will be carrying out a thorough internal review of this incident as soon as our colleagues at Northumbria Police have concluded their investigation.”
West Gosforth councillor Nick Cott said residents living near the hospital, which houses low and medium-secure patients as well as children and older people, would want answers.
“An internal investigation by the hospital is something I would expect and welcome,” he told The Journal last night.
“I would like them to make sure the outcome of their investigation is made public, so residents are able to absorb that information.”
He said many people living in the area were frightened when they discovered Westwater – dubbed the Black Dog Strangler – was on the loose.
“We do talk to the hospital as a ward committee and I we will probably wish to raise this case with them,” he added.
“Generally, there is a low level of concern about the hospital but an incident like this will alert residents to the potential problems.
“Hopefully, nothing like this will happen again but residents will need some reassurance.”
Westwater, who is from Newcastle, was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act after paralysing a man during a pub fight in 1989.
A year later, he killed a fellow inmate at Liverpool’s Ashworth Hospital with his dressing gown cord, convinced that his victim had turned into a black dog. He admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, which covers St Nicholas Hospital, said twice-married Westwater escaped while he was on “escorted leave” from his medium-secure unit. He was being taken by staff to a restaurant in a separate building within the site when he asked to use the toilet and disappeared, leaving a pile of clothes behind, at around 10am on Wednesday.
After police launched a man hunt and circulated a photograph, Westwater was spotted by a member of the public in the Bank bar in Newcastle and police took him into custody just before 11pm, after The Journal had gone to press.
It is understood he has now been returned to St Nicholas Hospital.
Northumbria Police had warned the public not to approach Westwater as the search went on, but Superintendent Derek Scott said Westwater was not seen as a danger to the public.