FORMER heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno was last night receiving treatment at a mental hospital after being taken from his home by paramedics.

A police source said officers had assisted in removing the father-of-three from his home near Brentwood, Essex, under the terms of mental health legislation.

He was transferred into the care of a local mental health NHS trust.

Essex police would only say: ''We have been assisting ambulance crews to remove a patient from an address near Brentwood.''

The source added: ''The patient is Frank Bruno. It is my understanding that he has been sectioned.''

He said Bruno was believed to have been taken to a London hospital.

Eyewitnesses said shortly before 7pm that Bruno was driven away from his home in an ambulance with its lights flashing and escorted by two police cars.

It is believed that police and paramedics had been at the address for some hours.

Bruno, 41, has gone through a painful divorce from his wife Laura - he estimates that it has cost him about £5m.

Concerns have been growing for his health in recent months following his increasingly erratic behaviour. He has reportedly been seen dancing naked in his garden, riding his bike barefoot and directing traffic.

There have also been reports, which he has denied, connecting him with steroids and cocaine. In a radio interview last month, he said he was over the worst having had a spell in the Priory clinic because he had been under "a lot of pressure and a lot of stress".

He said: "I went to the Priory because I couldn't understand how I could lose so much money through lawyers, through solicitors, through accountants and through people."

The interview on Radio 5 Live then veered into unusual territory as Bruno continued: ''I've had a lot of people in my house, a lot of mugs and a lot of creeps, but I've had a lot of good people and I'll stick with the good people I know.

''It's jealousy and power and money.

"They're trying to turn me into the English Mike Tyson, but I'm not the English Mike Tyson, I'm the English Frank Bruno I always was.''

He said: ''I'm a prisoner in my own home. Just let me chill in my own home.''

Bruno lifted the WBC crown when he out-pointed Oliver McCall at Wembley Stadium in September 1995. Of his 45 professional fights, he lost only five, to James "Bonecrusher" Smith, Tim Witherspoon, Lennox Lewis and twice to Mike Tyson.

Beyond the ring, he endeared himself to the British public with his self-mocking comedy appearances dressed in women's clothing.

For Comic Relief in 1986, he dressed up as a panto dame to play the part of Juliette to Lenny Henry's Romeo in a strange re-enactment of Shakespeare's balcony scene.

The performance was littered with Bruno's catchphrase, "know what I mean, 'Arry", which he coined in post-bout interviews with the BBC commentator Harry Carpenter.

Since retiring in 1996, he has struggled to find a role for himself. He has been a regular in pantomime and in the Great North Run, which he has completed ten times. He has done charitable work to help people in Africa and the West Indies.

He has set up a security company, developed an interest in motor racing and become a Disc Jockey - in April, he hosted an evening on the Tuxedo Princess moored at Newcastle's Quayside and visited Durham University.

But he has spoken recently of making a boxing comeback, despite the eye injury which appeared to have ended his career.