West London Mental Health Trust (WLMHT) – which runs the high-security psychiatric mental health unit in Crowthorne – wants to cut seven of its 13 alarms. These alert residents to an escaped patient in the surrounding area, though the last escape was more than 20 years ago.
The trust is planning to get rid of the sirens in Finchampstead, Bracknell, Winkfield, Bagshot, Camberley and the two in Wokingham, while keeping the six sirens closest to the hospital, in Crowthorne, Sandhurst and Little Sandhurst.
This is expected to save about £200,000 over time.
The health trust is consulting local people before it makes a decision and the proposal was discussed by members of Bracknell Forest Council’s overview and scrutiny commission at a meeting last Thursday.
Speaking after the meeting, panel chairman Cllr Ian Leake said: “I have three issues with this. First, the ones in the Bracknell area are serving the greatest number of the population of the borough. Secondly, I’m not convinced over the WLMHT’s financial argument. Thirdly, these sirens have been here for so long that many people including me regard them as part of the culture and community here.
“While the sirens will not prevent a breakout, they provide a great deal of comfort to the general public and they say to the patients in the hospital if they do get out that they are being searched for, almost like a deterrent.”
The sirens were installed in 1952 after patient John Straffen escaped for 24 hours and killed a young girl in Farley Hill.
The sirens, tested every Monday at 10am, were last activated for a real incident in 1993.Explaining the proposal, John
Hourihan, director of security at Broadmoor Hospital, said: “We at the trust are of the view that security is very robust at the hospital and there is no need for sirens at all. But what we do recognise is there is a great deal of public anxiety and public concern, having had the sirens for so long, that we need to have something.”
Mr Hourihan added security measures such as extensive CCTV, alarms and extra staff patrolling perimeter boundaries all provide 'robust’ security. A £242m redevelopment of Broadmoor Hospital began in January
Broadmoor has considerably fewer patients – down from about 900 in the 1950s when Straffen escaped to 200 now, while the number of staff has increased to 900.
Consultations on the proposals will continue until the end of the month when WLMHT will analyse the results and make a decision. To have your say, email email@example.com