POLICE have criticised "panic-stricken" staff at a private mental health hospital after patients smashed windows, harmed themselves and threatened violence.

The four-hour incident began at the Oak View Hospital, Crockenhill Road, St Mary Cray, at 6.30pm last Saturday.

According to Bromley police, six female patients aged from 15 to 17, all of whom are detained under the Mental Health Act, caused a "serious disturbance" in the hospital courtyard.

A police spokesman said: "They had dug up block paving and cobblestones, smashed windows and harmed themselves with the broken glass.

"They were threatening staff and police with injury. Police contained the area and order was restored, with no injuries.

"All six patients were either taken to hospital with minor self-inflicted injuries or to secure rooms. None were suitable for arrest or detention."

He added: "Our mental health liaison officer will be raising our concerns with the establishment over the actions of the staff on duty at the time, who seemed totally panic-stricken and unable to offer police any assistance during the incident."

Oak View is a secure hospital for mentally ill adolescents aged between 12 and 18. It is owned by American firm Oak View Estates.

The site started to concern nearby residents after being transformed into a medium-secure psychiatric facility in 2001 without planning permission.

In the past three months, Bromley police have received 16 calls for urgent assistance there.

And in the past month there have been 10 allegations of crime linked to the hospital.

The police spokesman added: "In view of this incident and the apparent confusion surrounding it, our mental health liaison inspector will be contacting the centre with a view to establishing a protocol for dealing with such occurrences in the future."

Councillor David McBride, the Liberal Democrat leader on Bromley Council, resigned from the hospital's board in 2004 because of residents' planning concerns.

Commenting on the incident, he said: "Residents have had concerns in the past about staff supervision at the hospital and I think this highlights this issue.

"I resigned from the board as I had residents coming to me about their concerns with the planning aspects and the fact the hospital just seemed to be growing.

"My concern was I wasn't going to be able to represent the residents as well as I could have done if I was on the hospital's board.

He added: "This is meant to be a medium-secure centre with around 20 patients. We are not talking about a big wing with 50,60 or 70 inmates.

"How the hell did this happen over a four-hour period?"

In a statement, hospital director Lee Thorogood said: "On the night of September 1 several staff and a patient were assaulted by a number of other patients.

"As the risk and violence was beyond that normally experienced by healthcare professionals, police assistance was requested and the situation was resolved rapidly.

"The background to the incident will be reviewed and any necessary steps taken.

"The incident was contained within the hospital and there was no risk to public safety."

Report found 'shortfalls'

The hospital was inspected by the Healthcare Commission last year, which noted in its report that it had "not met a number of the national minimum standards" but said the findings still represented "a significant improvement on the previous inspection."

The report added: "In particular shortfalls were still noted to exist in the areas of staff training and the lack of robust policies and procedures for all of the operational areas of the hospital."

The full report and previous ones can be viewed online at healthcarecommission.org.uk