The suspension of the deputy chief executive of Ashworth highsecurity hospital is understood to relate to a forthcoming court case involving a former senior manager at the hospital, according to HSJ sources.

Allan Menkin was suspended on full pay last week following the hospital's decision to conduct an investigation into 'a number of serious concerns'.

Although Ashworth has refused to give any details of the nature of the allegations made against Mr Menkin, HSJ sources have said they relate to a case being brought by a former nursing director, Colin Dale.

It is understood the allegations concern statements from the hospital authority relevant to the court case that Mr Dale is bringing against it, alleging it was responsible for stress-related illness that led him to take early retirement in 1999.

However, although Mr Dale's legal representative at the Royal College of Nursing said that witness statements had been swapped between the two parties some time ago, he was not aware of any change in the statements, as had been suggested in press reports.

A hospital spokesperson said that an independent external investigator would determine whether there was a case to answer against Mr Menkin, and that suspension was the standard procedure in any case of this type.

She said there were two other members of staff on suspension while investigations are carried out.

Representatives of the three main unions at the hospital, the RCN, Unison and the Prison Officers Association, told HSJ Mr Menkin's suspension had come as a complete surprise to them.