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Secure unit bosses strive to combat residents’ fears

PUBLISHED: 13:57 30 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:30 01 July 2010

BOSSES at a controversial medium secure mental health unit are hoping to allay residents security fears by holding open days this week-end, writes Kate Nelson. River House, situated on the Royal Bethlem hospital site in Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham is

BOSSES at a controversial medium secure mental health unit are hoping to allay residents' security fears by holding open days this week-end, writes Kate Nelson.

River House, situated on the Royal Bethlem hospital site in Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham is due to open on February 18 and will house 89 patients.

The unit will accommodate patients who have been involved in criminal activity with offences such as homicide and arson, with some being transferred from high-security mental hospitals Broadmoor.

Residents are concerned that the hospital's security is not good enough and that patients pose a risk to the public.

Fears were heightened after three patients escaped on December 15, 2007, two were found later that day while another was on the loose for four days before being picked up by police.

To reassure residents, mental health chiefs are inviting them to view the units tomorrow (Friday), this Saturday and Sunday.

West Wickham resident and member of the Campaign Against Bethlem Building Expansion (CABBE), Lawrence Wright fiercely opposed the unit.

He said: "When patients are allowed unescorted leave from the confines of the unit nobody has control over them. They are a danger to themselves and to the public.

"I am going the open day on Friday to see what we have ended up with."

Independent councillor for Beckenham, Rod Reed, tried to stop the unit being built in 2005 when a 12-year-old boy was attacked by patient who had escaped from the hospital.

He said: "Why do these units have to be built so close to schools? It puts the residents in that area at risk.

"I am not convinced the unit has enough staff, I will believe it when I see it."

The £32 million unit, part of South London and Maudsley Trust (SLaM), has a five metre perimeter fence, metal detectors, a search area and double locked doors to each ward.

There are 250 members of staff and every patient will have their own en-suite room with a window looking out to the garden.

Once doctors think patients are safe to move around the unit, they will have access to a full sized sports hall, a music room, a gym, a pottery room, educational facilities, and a vegetable garden.

Dr Peter Pierzchniak, River House consultant, said: "We have very tight controls on when a patient is allowed to leave the confines of the unit and have to apply for permission from the Ministry of Justice.

"This unit is a vast improvement on anything we have had before. It's state of the art."

Mary Yates, senior nurse for the women's ward, said: "We're hoping people will feel reassured after coming to the open day."

All are welcome to can attend the open days from 10am to 1pm, 2 to 5pm, 6pm to 8pm tomorrow (Friday) and from 10am to 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.

katherine.nelson@archant.co.uk

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