Life at Ashworth Hospital

image captionAshworth Hospital is one of only three high-security psychiatric hospitals in England and Wales

Moors Murderer Ian Brady is expected to appear before a mental health tribunal to try to prove he is of sound enough mind to be moved from Ashworth psychiatric hospital to prison, where he wants to die.

BBC north-west health correspondent Nina Warhurst was the first TV journalist to be allowed in to Ashworth for more than a decade.

Walking through the gates of Ashworth for the first time, anyone would feel a little nervous.

A high-security psychiatric hospital, it's treated some of Britain's most dangerous and disturbed criminals.

Rapists, murderers and paedophiles live here - all 228 of the patients are held under the mental health act.

But inside Ashworth, there are no slamming steel doors. No uniformed guards jangling giant keys. No sinister screams. Because Ashworth is not a prison, but a hospital.

Set in green, open spaces, the buildings have the feel of a retirement village - or even a primary school.

Grouped together

There are 14 single-storey semi-detached wards, each providing a specific type of treatment or care.

Some are used for admission and assessments, others for treatment and rehabilitation.

Patients with similar conditions and at similar stages of treatment are usually grouped together.

As the first TV crew allowed in for more than a decade, we were asked not to record any audio - but if we had, it would only be the sound of seagulls - circling from the Merseyside coast.

I was encouraged to speak to staff. They are employed by the NHS, and like most of their colleagues across the country, incredibly proud of the work they do.

They might be treating men who most see as monsters, but to the workers of Ashworth, these people are poorly - with complex mental health problems. It's their job to try, as best they can, to make them better.

The environment is therapeutic - with art and music workshops, pottery and cooking classes, and social events such as bingo and film nights.

They try to make sure every patient engages in some sort of social activity as part of their treatment. As one member of staff explained: "We all need something meaningful to fill our days."

They told me there wasn't one patient who was made to, or even chose to, sit in isolation all day.

In their comfortable bedrooms, patients are allowed personal items such as CDs, photos and books.

The slim window panels are the only reminder they are being detained. But with a private toilet in each room, this is far from a grim prison cell.


On average, patients stay for about six years, and most return to medium-security prisons. And staff feel a massive sense of achievement in helping them move on.

Their most famous patient has been here much longer. Arriving in 1985, Ian Brady has since then been unable to convince psychiatric experts he is well enough to leave.

Now the time has come to try again, but this time in front of the world.

If Brady's mental health tribunal does take place at Ashworth, the press and public will be able to watch via a video-link to the Manchester Civil Justice Centre, a set-up with which he is said to be disappointed, calling it a "parody" of a public tribunal.

Only 7% of patients who leave Ashworth will return. Brady will not want to be part of that statistic.

If he gets his wish, he will stop eating completely. And the questions over whether it's possible to make him stay alive will be passed on from Ashworth to the prison services.

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