AN INVESTIGATION has been launched into the escape of killer Laura Van Marle from the custody of a psychiatric hospital.
Convicted killer Marle, who stabbed her mother to death in 2021, was being detained under the Mental Health Act in Wellington's Wellesley Hospital.
The hospital, which is run by Elysium Healthcare, houses patients with mental disorders in low and medium secure units.
On Friday, August 11, Van Marle was on 'escorted leave' in Wellington. CCTV footage appeared to show Van Marle in the Iron Duke pub, where she is believed to have been accompanied by a single member of hospital staff.
At around 5.10 pm, Van Marle threatened the member of staff with a weapon, before making off on foot.
A major manhunt then got underway, with the police helicopter joining a large number of ground assets as officers swept through the town. Van Marle was detained by police on Saturday morning, August 12, and returned to the mental health hospital.
But questions are now being asked about how Van Marle, who police warned "may pose a risk to herself or others” was allowed to abscond from the hospital's custody.
The Wellington Weekly News approached Elysium Healthcare to ask why convicted killer Van Marle was permitted to visit Wellington town centre.
Elysium healthcare declined to say whether the visit was made in accordance with its policies, or say when asked that they were confident the correct procedures were followed.
However a spokesperson for the firm confirmed they would be investigating the incident. They said:
"We have launched an immediate, and thorough investigation, into this incident to ascertain the chain of events which occurred last Friday.
"The safety of the public, and our patients and staff, is our highest priority and we are utterly committed to being a trusted member of the local community.
"We would like to thank our partners in Avon and Somerset Police for their assistance regarding this incident."
Elysium Healthcare also declined to say whether Van Marle would be permitted to enter the town on escorted leave in the future.
43-year-old Van Marle is a diagnosed schizophrenic who is subject to indefinite detention at the Wellington mental health facility following her conviction for the manslaughter of her mother.
During her trial Worcester Crown Court heard how Van Marle travelled over 150 miles from Dorset to her parent's Herefordshire home. There she let herself in using a spare key, before taking a knife from the kitchen and stabbing her mother seven times.
Defending, Kate Bex QC argued Van Marle's mental state warranted a hospital order, rather than a custodial sentence to be served in a prison.
Judge James Burbidge QC agreed, and ordered Van Marle to be indefinitely detained in a psychiatric hospital under section 37 of The Mental Health Act. He further issued a section 41 Restriction Order, meaning she can only be discharged with consent from the Secretary of State for Justice.
According to the act, a section 41 Restriction Order is issued when there is reason to believe the subject continues to pose a risk to members of the public.
Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission have previously raised concerns about assaults by patients on staff at the Wellesley.
Speaking in 2018, Karen Bennett-Wilson, head of hospital inspection in the south west said: "It provided quite an unsafe situation for staff, because they weren't able to manage the patients appropriately, and for patients, because of the nature of their illness they needed to be kept safe but staff at the time were finding that very, very difficult."
A more recent 2022 inspection by the Commission recorded that the hospital was providing a 'good' service on every metric.
The Wellesley Hospital has been home to a number of violent and unwell individuals, including former Torquay nurse Emma Thompson who repeatedly stabbed a child with a kitchen knife. Thompson was found not guilty on account of being medically insane.
Former Cambridge researcher David Lake spent time in the facility, before being imprisoned for life after an attack on an Exeter shopkeeper in which he donned a carnival mask and proclaimed himself a 'black witch' before physically and sexually assaulting his victim.