Ex-criminal treated in same psychiatric hospital as Ian Brady overcomes drug-induced schizophrenia to help vulnerable people

He had landed a life sentence in the same high-security psychiatric hospital where Moors murderer Ian Brady was treated.

By Laura Longworth
Saturday, 8th February 2020, 6:00 am
Martin even received a Positive Future Awardfromthe House of Lords and met British politician Ann Widdecombe.
Martin even received a Positive Future Awardfromthe House of Lords and met British politician Ann Widdecombe.

Martin Sullivan, of Lostock Hall, spent his youth battling drug-induced schizophrenia and moving from prison to prison for committing unprovoked violence.

But now the 41-year-old has left behind a life of crime and plans to launch his own counselling business to help mentally unwell people detained in police custody. The former Ashworth Hospital patient has even made history by returning to the Maghull psychiatric facility - to work as paid staff.

He said: "You don't go any further than Ashworth. That's where you go when prisons can't cope. I'd reached the end of the line."

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Martin, who is under a parole office for life for committing acts of unprovoked violence, now gives talks in schools about the dangers of knife crime.

But Martin, who has not committed a single offence since 2008, added: "I've gone from feeling constantly paranoid and carrying firearms to avoiding drugs completely and helping vulnerable people."

He grew up in Liverpool, born into the Showers family. His brother Anthony is serving a double life sentence for murdering two women while his uncle Michael, a drug lord, was handed 20 years for his part in a plot to smuggle £2m. worth of heroin into Britain. Another uncle, Delroy, was arrested in the Netherlands for his involvement in a plan to flood Denmark with 40kg of amphetamines in 2007. And Martin's sister Maxine was murdered four years ago while earning a living as a sex worker.

Martin, whose childhood was riddled with trauma, was just 12 when he turned to drugs to cope with the impact of being taken into care.

"My mum was an alcoholic, had mental health issues and was violent towards me. From the age of about seven, I went to school with bruises," he said.

He has overcome both a cannabis addiction and drug-induced schizophrenia in order to return to community life and gain four qualifications.

"I was put into care for my own safety but I struggled and felt frustrated because I hadn't done anything wrong. So when I was 12, I started smoking cannabis, self-harming and carrying knives, and at 13, I became really violent."

A two-year rampage landed him in Glenthorne Youth Treatment Centre in Birmingham, where he was among juveniles convicted of offences like rape, murder and manslaughter.

But authorities struggled to cope with him and over the years he was in and out of numerous prisons and young offenders institutions where he assaulted staff, fought with inmates and was handled by riots teams.

"My violence was unprovoked. I didn't know it at the time but I was doing to other people what my mum had done to me," he said.

He has gained a Level Two qualification in counselling and plans to launch a business supporting mentally unwell people in police custody.

Outside of prison, his battles were twofold. He was plagued by a cannabis addiction, which resulted in paranoia, and it was never too long before he was carrying weapons again.

He remembers being let out when he was 17 - only to commit armed robbery.

"My behaviour was getting worse and after a couple of months I held a taxi driver up with a fire arm and took his money. The police kicked down my Ma's door to arrest me and the judge said I was a menace to society and gave me four years," he said.

But even spending the last six months of the jail term in an adult prison - while still a juvenile - where people were doing triple life sentences, was not enough to keep him away from drugs when he came home. He began spending £60 a day on cannabis and his grip on reality quickly slipped away.

Martin Sullivan helps mentally unwell people living in Ashworth Hospital, a psychiatric facility, where he used to be a patient.

"I was always stoned," said Martin.

"I bought a CCTV set and would sit inside with a samurai sword watching it all the time. I was paranoid of everything and everyone."

And then his mental health took a frightening turn when he attacked a stranger and was given three and a half years in jail following a police siege at his flat.

Martin said: "I was walking with my girlfriend one day and saw this lad looking at me. I thought he was either staring me out or looking at my girlfriend. As he went to get on the bus, I ran behind him and pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the back, making a 3cm gash. He was doing nothing wrong and for him it must have been a really scary time."

But everything changed when he was transferred to Ashworth psychiatric hospital for attacking a prison officer. Martin planned a protest with two other patients, who believed staff were conspiring against them. Setting off an alarm as a distraction, the trio climbed up on the hospital roof and caused around £50,000 worth of damage during a 10-hour demonstration, with Martin seriously self-harming.

He was then moved to a super-high security ward where he received a life-changing diagnosis of drug-induced schizophrenia and was finally given the treatment he desperately needed. Schizophrenia is a severe, long-term mental health condition with symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, confusion and social isolation.

"I was put on a new medication that's been used for treatment-resistant schizophrenia. Within months, the violence, self-harm and paranoia all stopped," he said.

"But that doesn't turn someone into a pillar of the community overnight and I knew I had a long road ahead of me as I faced a life sentence."

With the cloud of paranoia having dissolved, Martin was determined to put his offending behind him and spent seven years at Ashworth undergoing therapies for drug use and anger management.

Authorities were so impressed, he was moved to Guild Lodge in Preston where he was taught to cook, read and write. He also completed two diplomas and a City & Guilds qualification in metal inert gas welding, even being named Student of the Year at Preston College. His hard work eventually earned him a hospital order and parole.

Two years were then spent setting up and running a cleaning business that helped other ex-offenders gain work experience. It was a proud moment when he collected a Positive Future Award from the House of Lords and met British politician Ann Widdecombe.

"I'm a determined person. It’s been a long road but it’s been a rewarding experience," he said.

Wowed by his transformation, the Guild decided to enlist him for an educational programme about handling prisoners, while the Armed Forces teamed up with him for a campaign about knife crime in schools.

His experience became invaluable to services, with more and more asking to work with him. Today, Martin gives talks on drugs, crime, suicide and mental illness at schools, prisons, hospitals, conferences and children's homes.

He is also an adviser for the prison service, assesses secure hospitals, has helped to create educational DVDs, supports police cadet training and psychology students, has worked on articles in NHS magazines and has completed a Level Two qualification in counselling.

Martin, who is under a probation officer for life, said: "I love helping people. You walk away feeling so good. It's reinvigorated me. The old Martin is gone and the new one is here to stay.

"Gun crime is so low in Preston. People here are good and I'd gladly help them. They've given me a home and a purpose so I'd do anything for them."

That is why Martin is encouraging people to speak up about mental illness, adding: "Don't be ashamed. Just be honest. It happens to everyone. Trust the professionals. If they can help me, then they can help anyone."