UK: Police criticised after gay killer escapes from prison and ends up in gay bar

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A report has criticised police over their response after an escaped prisoner who previously killed a gay man was found drinking in a gay bar earlier this year.

Phillip Westwater, dubbed the “Black Dog Strangler”, was arrested at a gay bar in Newcastle in January, having spent 12 hours on the run.

Westwater, who also used the alias Philip Whiteman, was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act in 1989 following a pub fight in which he left a gay drinker paralysed after slashing him across the throat.

He then strangled gay patient Derek Williams at Ashworth Hospital, Liverpool, with his dressing gown cord after becoming convinced that his victim had turned him into a dog.

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Vera Baird said in a report  police were “lulled away from recognising Westwater’s status as an escapee” as they often received reports of voluntary patients going missing.

It was three hours before his status was changed to “unlawfully at large”, but even then no risk assessment was done and no photograph was released until about 10 hours after he had fled.

The report said: “It is of note that he, the killer of one gay man and who had slashed another’s throat in licensed premises, was found drinking in company, in a renowned gay bar.

“It seems likely that had the police not been lulled away from recognising Westwater’s status as an escapee, a timely risk assessment would have led to circulation of fuller information including a photograph and perhaps to his earlier recapture.”

In a statement Northumbria Police admitted it had failed to fully protect the public.

It said: “The safety nets that are in place to ensure that such a risk to the public is identified and managed with the right level of response did not work.

“Every aspect of this response has been examined in detail.

“Our action plan absolutely addresses each and every one of the points raised in both our internal review and the subsequent Police and Crime Commissioner’s report.

“We will continue to work with our partners to deliver this.”