A MOTHER and her daughter are the latest people to battle against red tape and secrecy to get to the truth about why a relative was sent to Roundway Hospital in Devizes as a young woman and stayed there until her death 40 years later.

Wendy and Laura Ellis from Urchfont, near Devizes have been spurred to delve deeper into a family mystery by a book written by former psychiatric nurse Keith Genever.

Mr Genever has also pledged to try and help Australian Lauren Smith-Mitchell who contacted the Gazette after reading about his book on the internet.

Now Mrs Ellis, 67, and her daughter are desperate to find out the true story as to why Annie Eliza Gale was incarcerated in what was then known as Wiltshire County Asylum in 1932. She died in the hospital in 1974.

Mr Genever believes both family's quest for information is being made more difficult because of a wall of secrecy.

He said: "I have been told by one woman who worked at the hospital when it closed that she had to sign an official document saying she would not divulge anything. She said information can't be given out until 100 years after the closure of the hospital."

Mrs Gale was Mrs Ellis' grandmother but she believed her gran was dead until she was in her early 20s and her mother suddenly asked her to go with her to solicitors in Swindon just after Mrs Gale's death.

She said: "It was only then that I realised she had only just died. For all those years growing up I assumed she was dead. She was never mentioned. I would dearly love to find out exactly why she was admitted what sort of treatment she had and why she was never released.

"I believe some of her siblings worked at the hospital but I can only assume that she hardly had any visitors in those 43 years."

Mrs Ellis' own mother was only three when her mother was sent to the asylum shortly after giving birth to her third child. She was sent to live with family friends while the baby was sent into foster care. A brother aged 12 moved from the family home in All Cannings, near Devizes to Bradenstoke with his father.

She said: "My mum was so young she can't remember anything about her mother. Other family members only have vague memories. One remembers going once to visit but no-one has been able to give me any proper information."

The story has many similarities to the few facts Mrs Smith-Mitchell has managed to glean about her husband's grandmother Elsie Smith-Mitchell who died in Roundway in 1968 aged 71.

She said: "She was only 26 and the mother of two young children when she was declared a lunatic in Shanghai, China in 1924.

"Elsie’s crime was that she had tried to drown her young daughter Nancy. This information was long covered up by the family and was finally revealed just a few years back after many attempts to find out from a very elderly relative in the USA.

"Elsie’s children had been told when they were still quiet young that their mother had passed away."

The family of Mrs Gale are feeling even more frustrated as many of Mrs Gale's relatives still live in the Devizes area but no-one seems able to throw any real light on why she was sent to Roundway and kept there for so long.

Mrs Ellis said: "I have done a lot of research but without success. I was given a man's name to contact at Roundway Hospital, he did reply, only to tell me that the records would have all been destroyed in floods at the hospital.

"Unlike the Australians my family have been local to Devizes for generations, my grandmother is buried in the cemetery at All Cannings along with her parents and some of her brothers and sisters."