Information about how and when patients abscond from acute psychiatric wards may provide important clues to effective prevention strategies. This paper reports relevant findings from a large scale study of absconding conducted in the East End of London. In contrast to the findings in previous studies, the vast majority of absconders left from the ward directly, mostly via the front door. Some were known to be at risk of absconding, and although more than half had declared their intention to leave, they still succeeded in getting away. On some occasions they circumvented locked or guarded doors, or special nursing observation. Shift handovers were a peak time for absconds, possibly due to decreased nursing surveillance of the ward. Most absconds occur during the first few weeks of admission, and most absconders simply went home and engaged in normal, everyday activities. The findings indicate that physical security measures alone are not a sufficient answer to the problem of absconding, and nurses need to work harder to develop supportive alliances with patients.