Tyne & Wear

Phillip Westwater escape: Northumbria Police reaction criticised

Phillip Westwater
Image caption Phillip Westwater was found in a gay bar

Police did not properly assess the risk an escaped killer posed to the public, a report by Northumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) says.

Phillip Westwater, dubbed the "Black Dog Strangler", was held at a Tyneside psychiatric hospital after he slashed a gay man's throat and later strangled another gay man at a secure unit.

Following his escape in January he was found at a gay bar in Newcastle.

The force said it was taking action to address the failure of "safety nets".

The 44-year-old, also known as Phillip Whiteman, was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act following a pub fight in 1989.

'Lulled away'

He later used a dressing gown cord to strangle fellow patient Derek Williams at Ashworth Hospital, Merseyside, whom he was convinced had turned into a black dog.

While being escorted from his medium-secure ward at St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth to an on-site restaurant he asked to go to the toilet where he changed his clothes and escaped.

He was located about 12 hours later at a bar in Newcastle after a member of the public recognised him from a circulated photograph.

A report by Vera Baird, Northumbria's PCC, said police were "lulled away from recognising Westwater's status as an escapee" as they often received reports of voluntary patients going missing.

It was three hours before his status was changed to "unlawfully at large", but even then no risk assessment was done and no photograph was released until about 10 hours after he had fled.

The report said: "It is of note that he, the killer of one gay man and who had slashed another's throat in licensed premises, was found drinking in company, in a renowned gay bar.

"It seems likely that had the police not been lulled away from recognising Westwater's status as an escapee, a timely risk assessment would have led to circulation of fuller information including a photograph and perhaps to his earlier recapture."

'Action plan'

Northumbria Police said in a statement that the tone for its response was set by the fact the initial report came via the forces's non-emergency number.

It added: "The safety nets that are in place to ensure that such a risk to the public is identified and managed with the right level of response did not work.

"Every aspect of this response has been examined in detail.

"Our action plan absolutely addresses each and every one of the points raised in both our internal review and the subsequent Police and Crime Commissioner's report.

"We will continue to work with our partners to deliver this."

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