Russell Hall was 23 when he killed his girlfriend nine years ago. Found guilty of manslaughter by reason of insanity, he is detained at Ashworth Hospital without limit of time under the Mental Health Act.

Doctors say he has a personality disorder but is not now suffering from any mental illness. In 1996 a mental health review tribunal ordered his release, subject to conditions, but these proved difficult to meet.

In April 1998 another tribunal again ordered his discharge, laying down more stringent conditions.

Gwent health authority had to find a forensic psychiatrist who would agree to be responsible for him and Torfaen council had to find him somewhere to live and provide social supervision.

Eighteen months on, Mr Hall is still in Ashworth. No forensic psychiatrist has yet agreed to take over his care, though Gwent has written to all 120 in the UK.

In April 1999, the High Court held that Gwent and Torfaen had acted unlawfully in failing to come up with a care plan, and that the tribunal had a duty to satisfy itself that any conditions it imposed could be fulfilled within a reasonable time.

The tribunal appealed (Gwent and Torfaen did not) and the Appeal Court overturned the High Court ruling.

The appeal judges said the tribunal had no power to order a local authority or HA to come up with a care plan; it might shame others into action, but had no power to police the work of authorities. It could not even set a time limit.

Meanwhile, Gwent has only one hope: the Maudsley Hospital in south London has housing association property nearby and might consider assuming responsibility for Mr Hall if he is given a place to live.