A HAMPSHIRE health authority at the centre of a scandal in which a schizophrenic man killed a pensioner has been cleared by an independent inquiry.

But the Zito Trust, which campaigns for improved care for the mentally ill, has criticised the way in which the panel treated 67-year-old David Close's widow during her interview.

Today, the report said that Phillip Craigie had received the appropriate medical and social services care less than 24 hours before he drove a car into the back of Mr Close's Rover at traffic lights near junction 11 of the M27, near Fareham, in March last year.

The experts said that since the crash the DVLA had issued new guidelines under which patients taking psychotropic medication should stop driving immediately.

Widow Christine Close, of Fareham, campaigned for the inquiry after a judge detained Craigie for an indefinite period under the Mental Health Act.

The 23-year-old, of Longmynd Drive, Fareham, admitted at Winchester Crown Court earlier this year to causing death by dangerous driving.

A press conference was held this morning in Portsmouth in which Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Health Authority chief executive Penny Humphries said: "All of those involved offer their deepest sympathy to Mrs Close and her family in their tragic loss."

Mrs Close has always maintained it was wrong for Craigie to be released into the care of his parents the night before the fatal crash. He had been arrested at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham when nursing staff became concerned about his behaviour - described as "obviously, actively psychotic''.

But Michael Howlett, director of the Zito Trust, said: "The panel's mind - that nobody was at fault -- was made up before she gave evidence. What was significant was that Mrs Close asked the right kinds of questions. I think she didn't get all her questions properly answered. They didn't seem to have much regard for her as the bereaved victim of a horrendous homicide. "I thought it was a horrendous way to treat someone.

"There's the possibility of having the inquiry - the way it proceeded - appealed in the high court through judicial review."

Three people sat on the panel, including a psychiatric expert and a social services member.

A courier is set to bring Mrs Close two copies of the report to her home.

She is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of her husband of 41 years.

She campaigned for a full independent inquiry because she believed Craigie should not have been released the night before the crash.

"I feel David's death was so avoidable and unnecessary - and the two people that should have prevented it and could have prevented it didn't," added Mrs Close.