Anglia and Oxford region has rejected a call for an independent inquiry into its handling of mental health services following a series of deaths blamed by campaigners on 'incompetence and mismanagement'.

The Zito Trust called for an inquiry after former psychiatric patient Stephen Allum pleaded guilty last week to the manslaughter of his wife, Thelma Allum, on grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mr Allum had been admitted to Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, following an attack on his 70-year-old stepmother. The Zito Trust said that, despite threats to kill members of his family, he was discharged after three weeks.

Zito Trust director Michael Howlett said trusts in Anglia and Oxford were currently involved in 13 homicide inquiries.

He said many of the problems stemmed from a lack of medium secure beds. And he backed calls by the Allum family for an independent inquiry into Berkshire health authority's handling of the case.

'This region is responsible for 17 unnecessary and preventable deaths so far, three of them children under six, ' he said.

Rejecting calls for an inquiry, a regional spokesman said medium secure provision was being increased by 25 beds in Milton Keynes, 17 beds in Norfolk and that there was a new 40 bed private finance initiative scheme at Littlemore in Oxford.

'While every case is a tragedy we are an administrative centre which coordinates NHS strategies. Just grouping these deaths together in this way is very misleading.'

He argued that figures for Oxford and Anglia were not out of line with other regions.

There had, he said, been 12 inquiries in North Thames alone since 1994 when the Department of Health issued guidance on handling deaths in the community following the death of Jonathan Zito at the hands of Christopher Clunis.

Berkshire HA has set up an inquiry into Mr Allum's treatment.