Ian Brady in public plea for transfer from hospital and death in prison

Hunger-striking Moors murderer, 75, appears for first time in almost half a century, via video link from private hearing

The Moors murderer Ian Brady has appeared in public for the first time in 26 years as he begins his legal attempt to be released from psychiatric hospital and sent to a high-security prison.

The hearing opened on Monday with proceedings relayed live by video link to rooms at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, where press and public were able to attend.

The 75-year-old could be seen sitting with his lawyers, scribbling notes throughout the hearing. He was wearing dark glasses, which the tribunal heard he very rarely takes off, and had his grey hair styled into a quiff. There was a feeding tube coming out of his nose – he has been on hunger strike at Ashworth mental hospital, in Merseyside, for 14 years but has been kept alive by force-feeding.

He claims he is sane, and says he wants to be transferred to prison, where he hopes he will be allowed to starve himself to death.

Brady was transferred to the maximum-security hospital on 28 November 1985 after being detained under S47/49 of the Mental Health Act.

The tribunal heard that Brady does not see his crimes and behaviour as abnormal but as an "existential exercise – personal philosophy and interpretation," said Dr Cameron Boyd, a forensic psychiatrist who along with a judge and another expert will decide whether Brady should stay in Ashworth. Brady, said Boyd, argued that "in some ways his behaviour was petty compared with politicians and soldiers in relation to wars".

Another forensic psychiatrist who has interviewed Brady on 10 occasions between 2003 and 2013 said he did not believe Brady was sufficiently mentally ill to be detained in hospital but instead suffered a "severe personality disorder" which was not "amenable" to treatment.

Dr Adrian Grounds, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology, said Brady claimed he had learned how to feign psychosis after observing psychotic inmates while in prison – perhaps when he had a job as a cleaner at Wormwood Scrubs. "He says he feigned having symptoms of mental illness; he simulated it because he had seen prisoners with psychotic illnesses."

Grounds noted that Brady had not received any treatment or medication for psychotic illness in over a decade. "If he had a significant chronic mental illness it's just not consistent to leave him untreated. That fact in itself shows that his illness, if there are any symptoms … hasn't reached the threshold requiring compulsory treatment," said the doctor, adding: "I think it is simply inconceivable that as he is now, Mr Brady would be assessed as showing a degree of mental illness that warranted detention in hospital for treatment."

Doctors within Ashworth claim Brady has schizophrenia, having observed him "muttering to himself" in his room, said Grounds. But he said Brady justified this as simply him "responding to what's on television, exercising his vocal cords".

Brady did not interact much with other patients, the tribunal heard, instead spending most of his time writing letters or in his room watching TV.

Grounds said Brady is realistic that he will never lead a normal life. "He has no hope of release. He is realistic about that. Although he would like a better quality of life in the future he knows that that will not happen. He thinks in prison he would be more free to end his own life in his own way and to control that than is possible in hospital," said Grounds.

He said Brady understood that prison life would be very different from the regime at Ashworth. "He knows clearly that if he returns to the prison system the likelihood is he will be in a high secure prison, that it will be a much more prescriptive regime and, as he put it, he could be there … for the duration. And he was not troubled by the fact that such a regime would be considerably more austere and less flexible than would be the case here. He also had quite detailed awareness of the approach that's adopted in the prison system for prisoners who refuse to take food. He was of the view that he couldn't be force-fed in prison in normal circumstances."

According to his lawyers, the firm of Scott-Moncrieff, for at least 14 years he has received no form of treatment for mental illness, and has consistently refused to engage with his clinical team. For all of that time, he has been compulsorily fed through the nasogastric tube.

For many years, he has applied to the tribunal to be discharged from hospital and returned to a maximum-security prison. These applications to the tribunal have been heard in private, as the law allows in most cases. In October 2011, a mental health tribunal agreed to grant him a public hearing of his case.

In a statement before the tribunal began, Scott-Moncrieff said: "Mr Brady's crimes are well-known to the public. He has a full-life sentence and will never be released. He wishes to be discharged from hospital and returned to prison.

"Despite Mr Brady's requests to be transferred to prison, Ashworth hospital has maintained that he is mentally ill, and has fought for him to remain in the more comfortable environment of the hospital. Mr Brady's position is that he is not mentally ill and has not received any treatment for many years.

"Three professional mental health experts, instructed by his solicitors, who have assessed and met with him on several occasions over approximately the last 10 years have consistently reported that Mr Brady is not mentally ill."

In letters Brady exchanged a number of years ago with the Guardian's prison correspondent, Eric Allison, he talked of his wish to die. "Haven't exercised in the open air since 1975; walking from a matchbox into a shoebox of sunshine only reminded me of where I was and could be," he wrote in one letter. "Three decades devoid of sunshine hasn't affected my health, unfortunately, despite my smoking the strongest tobacco. My luck has run out. I can't even catch cancer."

During the eight-day tribunal, his lawyers are expected to argue that Brady no longer fulfils the legal criteria for detention in hospital, and therefore he should be returned to prison.

The Mental Health Act provides that if a person has no mental disorder that requires treatment in hospital, and they fulfil the relevant legal criteria for discharge, then they should be returned to prison – provided the secretary of state for justice agrees.

Current research and policy from the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) on the detention of serious offenders suffering from severe personality disorders indicate that they should be detained in prison rather than in hospital.

Scott-Moncrieff argues it is a waste of public money to keep Brady locked up in Ashworth at great expense. In a statement on Monday, the firm said: "The cost of detaining Mr Brady in hospital is enormous, approximately £300,000 per year, whereas the average cost for a prisoner is approximately £40,000.

"The hospital is spending an extraordinary amount of money to keep Mr Brady in hospital both in terms of the actual annual cost and their legal costs in resisting this application. It is difficult to understand why there should be such resistance to mov[ing] him to a less pleasant environment where he is likely to be locked in his cell for large parts of the day, and may well have to be segregated for his own protection.

"Mr Brady is in receipt of legal aid for this application, as would [be] any patient detained under the Mental Health Act," Scott-Moncrieff said.

The hearing is expected to last eight days.

Brady and his partner Myra Hindley were responsible for the murders of five youngsters in the 1960s.

They lured children and teenagers to their deaths, with victims sexually tortured before being buried on Saddleworth Moor above Manchester.

Pauline Reade, 16, disappeared on her way to a disco on 12 July 1963 while John Kilbride, 12, was snatched in November the same year.

Keith Bennett was taken on 16 June 1964 after he left home to visit his grandmother; Lesley Ann Downey, 10, was lured away from a funfair on Boxing Day 1964; and Edward Evans, 17, was killed in October 1965.

Brady was given life at Chester assizes in 1966 for the murders of John, Lesley Ann and Edward.

Hindley was convicted of killing Lesley Ann and Edward and shielding Brady after John's murder, and jailed for life.

In 1987 the pair finally admitted killing Keith and Pauline.

Both were taken back to Saddleworth Moor in 1987 to help police find the remains of the missing victims but only Pauline's body was found.

Keith's mother Winnie Johnson, who made repeated calls for Brady to reveal the location of his grave, died at the age of 78 on 18 August 18 last year without being able to fulfil her last wish of giving her son a proper burial.

Hindley died in jail in November 2002, aged 60.


Helen Pidd, northern editor

The GuardianTramp

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