Questions raised over care of paranoid schizophrenic who killed three pensioners

By Rod Minchin, PA

Questions are being raised about the care a paranoid schizophrenic received, after being freed from police custody and hours later brutally killing three pensioners.

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell, 28, battered Anthony Payne, 80, with a hammer and bludgeoned to death with a shovel 84-year-old twins Dick and Roger Carter.

The “whirlwind of destruction” took place three hours apart at two houses just a mile and a half away from each other in Exeter on February 10 this year.

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell killed three men (Devon and Cornwall Police/PA)

Just hours before Lewis-Ranwell attacked Mr Payne, he had been released from custody for attacking an elderly farmer with a saw.

This was his second arrest in the space of 24 hours, and took place just seven hours after he had first been released.

The former scaffolder was gripped by paranoid schizophrenia and suffering from delusions about saving young girls from a paedophile ring.

A jury at Exeter Crown Court found Lewis-Ranwell, from Croyde, north Devon, not guilty of murder by reason of insanity after hearing evidence from three psychiatrists.

Before returning the unanimous verdicts, the jury passed a note to the judge, Mrs Justice May, which said: “We the jury are concerned at the state of psychiatric service provision in the county of Devon.

The scene outside 65 Bonhay Road, Exeter, where the body of Anthony Payne, 80, was discovered (Ben Birchall/PA)

“Can we be assured that the failings in care offered to Alexander Lewis-Ranwell will be appropriately addressed following the trial?”

The judge imposed a hospital order with restrictions, meaning Lewis-Ranwell will remain detained at high-security Broadmoor Hospital.

“This has been a disturbing case to hear. Three dead and two badly injured at the hands of somebody you have found on strong psychiatric evidence was in the grip of a grossly florid psychosis,” she said.

“He will be cared for in hospital with a restriction order, which means he will not be allowed into the community until the agencies are absolutely content it is safe for him to be released.”

Anthony Payne was killed by Alexander Lewis-Ranwell (Devon and Cornwall Police/PA)

Speaking afterwards, the Carter family said: “This case will, we are sure, raise questions regarding the care, monitoring and custodial treatment of the mentally ill.

“We can only hope that in the course of time, lessons learned are put into practice to ensure that there is no repetition of these awful events.”

During the trial the court heard evidence of Lewis-Ranwell’s interaction with various health professionals during his three spells in custody between February 8 and 11.

After his first arrest his mother, Jill Lewis-Ranwell, had phoned police expressing “grave concerns should he be released”, but he was charged and let go.

He was released from custody at Barnstaple police station at 2.49am on February 9, but returned there seven hours later after attacking farmer John Ellis, 82.

A 12-minute triage call with a mental health practitioner identified “potential psychotic symptoms present, including paranoid beliefs”.

An inspector reviewing his detention said he “potentially presents as a serious risk to the public if released”.

Floral tributes left outside 109 Cowick Lane, Exeter, where the bodies of twins Dick and Roger Carter were discovered (Ben Birchall/PA)

A forensic medical examiner – a doctor employed by G4S Health Services – was escorted to Lewis-Ranwell’s cell at 6.30pm, but deemed he was not “acutely unwell,” and a full mental health assessment was not carried out.

Dr Mihal Pichui told jurors he left the police station with the “expectation” he would be seen by a mental health nurse the following morning, but later found out this did not happen.

Lewis-Ranwell was released from Barnstaple police station at 9.32am, and travelled to Exeter, where he killed the three men that afternoon.

He was arrested for a third time the next day, after attacking hotel night manager Stasys Belevicius.

While in custody concerns were raised about his mental health, and he was transferred to a psychiatric unit for assessment.

The defendant told a psychiatrist later: “I cannot believe no one helped me – they let me out twice when I was unwell.”

One doctor said the defendant was living in a “very nightmarish world” and believed he had a “moral justification” for the killings because he was rescuing people.

Lewis-Ranwell also thought the police had “sanctioned his actions” because they had twice released him from custody.

Detective Superintendent Mike West, from Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “During his time in custody, prior to the deaths, the defendant had a number of interactions with five different health care professionals who were involved in providing guidance and professional assessment.

“As a result it was agreed that he was fit to be detained and interviewed and indeed confirmed that he did not need a full Mental Health Act assessment.

“We fully accept our responsibilities to look after those detained in our custody units, however it is unreasonable to suggest that police officers or staff, in these circumstances, should have over-ridden decisions made by those who are trained, qualified and skilled in health care.”

Mr West added: “There will be inquests in relation to how Anthony, Dick and Roger died, and there will be subject of significant level of review between now and those inquests.

“It is vitally important that we learn any lessons as far as a number of agencies are concerned, to find out exactly what happened.”

Dr David Somerfield, medical director at Devon Partnership Trust, said: “We would welcome an opportunity to determine what lessons there are to be learned by any of the agencies or individuals involved.”