Published: 12/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5822 Page 6

A national protest against the draft Mental Health Bill has been scrapped because of concern that campaigners could be attacked in the climate created by the Soham child killings.

The march, due to take place on Saturday, was organised by the Mental Health Alliance, an umbrella body.

Alliance chair Paul Farmer said the organisation 'could not guarantee the health and safety of march participants in the atmosphere of misunderstanding of people with mental health problems.'

The decision followed intense debate within the alliance.

Some campaigners were angered by the decision, claiming it reinforced prejudice against people suffering from mental illness.

Consultation on the draft bill ends on September 16. Although the Department of Health says it is still consulting widely with stakeholders, there is growing belief among mental health professionals and patients that none of their concerns are being taken on board.

A source said: 'It is all about Soham. It will probably mean the government will face little opposition either within the media or from back-benchers. It is an open door for legislation and that is a source of real fear among patients and those working with them.'