A patient with a history of violence escaped from Thomas Embling hospital in Melbourne last week. Picture: Susan Windmiller
A patient with a history of violence escaped from Thomas Embling hospital in Melbourne last week. Picture: Susan Windmiller

Inside home to ‘not guilty’ prisoners

WHAT happens to our most violent and deranged prisoners when they're deemed too unwell for jail?

In Victoria, they end up here - at Thomas Embling Hospital in Fairfield, a stone's throw from the Melbourne CBD.

The 116-bed facility is home to 89 forensic patients, 18 security patients - prisoners - and four civil patients.

It was home to Sean Price between 2004 and 2012, three years before he graduated from rape to murder during a brutal daylight attack on Doncaster schoolgirl Masa Vukotic. Staff at the hospital recall he pushed lit cigarettes into his flesh and smashed himself in the face repeatedly.

It's home to Huan Yun Xiang, who in 2002 took a gun into Monash University and shot dead two students. He stabbed a doctor at the facility while serving 25 years. For that attack he was ordered to spend a further seven-and-a-half years inside.

It's home to Adele Stuart, who killed her son because she thought he was Jack the Ripper. A jury found her not guilty of murder because she was mentally impaired.

Last week a patient at the hospital with a history of violence went missing. He was later found, but his disappearance once again shone the spotlight on a facility that's no stranger to attention.

It was the site of a brutal double-killing in 2009, had staff walk out as recently as 2016 and remains under-resourced, despite recent improvements.

Sean Price, who killed Melbourne teen Masa Vukotic. Picture: Mal Fairclough/AAP
Sean Price, who killed Melbourne teen Masa Vukotic. Picture: Mal Fairclough/AAP

WHEN PATIENTS ESCAPE

In 2013, psychiatric patient Lee Bartel escaped while she was on unescorted leave. Bartel, who stabbed her former partner in the neck, back and face in 2007, thankfully returned of her own accord.

She's what they call an "involuntary psychiatric patient", some of whom the hospital says are allowed out to go grocery shopping, attend medical appointments or visit family. It's meant to "assist in their rehabilitation" but they're supposed to return.

When they don't, police get involved. That's what happened last week after Michael Keogh, 46 and serving a sentence for assault, went missing.

On Thursday, Victoria Police took to social media asking whether Victorians had seen him. The post was shared more than 700 times and the response was immediate and brutal.

"If he is an involuntary patient then why was he allowed unescorted leave?" one woman wrote on Facebook.

Others wrote that letting patients out on day trips "seems like a big risk, not only to the public, but to their own welfare" and is "surely a recipe for disaster".

But Tom Dalton, CEO of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, which manages the facility, told news.com.au the decision to release some patients temporarily was not one made lightly.

He said an independent body chaired by a judge of the County or Supreme Court considered the patient's mental condition and, first and foremost, "that leave will not create a risk to any person".

Thomas Embling Hospital in Melbourne.
Thomas Embling Hospital in Melbourne.

STABBINGS, STAFF WALK-OUTS

The hospital has been forced to face some harsh truths in recent years. The state's Mental Health Minister Martin Foley has been outspoken about the need to tighten the screws.

He said the facility had been neglected after it was revealed by The Age that Stephen Bailey, who killed his mother Penny, had waited more than eight months for a bed.

Nurses walked off the job in June, 2016, citing a lack of beds and safety concerns. Health and Community Services Union state secretary, Lloyd Williams, said "Thomas Embling is bursting at the seams" and the ABC reported there had been 100 incidents in three months.

As violent as those incidents were, none compare to the night a man on suicide watch stabbed two other patients to death.

Peko Lakovski, 49 at the time, grabbed a large kitchen knife in 2009 and stabbed his roommate Raymond Splatt, 54, several times in his upper body. He died at the scene.

Lakovski went into the next room and stabbed Paul Notas, 36, in his bed. An Ombudsman's investigation into deaths and harm in custody found it was "not until an hour after police attended" to the first patient "that a further patient was discovered deceased in his bedroom".

Police say the first incident appeared to have been sparked by an argument between the two roommates, who were regarded as friends and went on fishing trips together on day passes.

Lakovski was sentenced in 2011 to spend the next 25 years in the same psychiatric hospital. He was found not guilty by reason of mental impairment.

As a result of the brutal killings, knives are now chained to the benches in the hospital kitchen.

A prison transport van arrives at Thomas Embling Hospital.
A prison transport van arrives at Thomas Embling Hospital.

MORE BEDS, MORE MONEY

The hospital says despite last week's incident, things are improving. They're doing their best to meet demand while the state's prison population soars.

"The waiting list for Thomas Embling Hospital has improved significantly since the opening of the Ballerrt Yeram-boo-ee Forensic Mental Health Services at Ravenhall Correctional Centre," Mr Dalton told news.com.au.

"The service provides treatment for 75 prisoners requiring specialised mental health care."

He said construction of a new eight-bed secure psychiatric intensive care unit "as well as an additional 10 infill beds and expanded living space" are scheduled to be completed by mid-2018.

It might not be enough to prevent more violence inside, but it's a start.

- with AAP

Lee Bartel.
Lee Bartel.
Huan Yun Xiang.
Huan Yun Xiang.
The bodies of two men were taken from their units at Thomas Embling Hospital to the morgue in 2009.
The bodies of two men were taken from their units at Thomas Embling Hospital to the morgue in 2009.

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