Lifting the lid on patients who kill

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Esseen
Detective Chief Inspector Neil Esseen
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The Evening Post today lifts the lid on the number of mental health patients who go on to kill.

Figures show 15 people under the care of Lancashire Care Foundation Trust (LCFT), responsible for mental health services in the county, killed in the last 10 years, leaving a toll of 16 victims.

Nine were in 2011 – the highest number in a year out of organisations that responded to a Freedom of Information request to trusts around the country.

Julian Hendy, whose father Philip was murdered in the street by a mentally ill stranger in Bristol, formed charity to support families bereaved by people with mental health problems, and campaign for professionals not to “underestimate” the scale of the issue.

Today he said: “We are frequently told such killings are rare, with the implication we shouldn’t worry too much about them – but plane crashes are rare and when they do happen, like mental health homicides, they are always catastrophic.

“Some charities estimate around a third of mental health murders could have been avoidable which means five people’s lives were potentially taken needlessly. That is unforgivable.

“We need to open up a rational and balanced debate that considers the thorny problem of the liberty of patients who need more intensive treatment alongside the safety of the public.”

LCFT said it would not confirm or deny whether anyone had been in contact with their services.

Instead, the Evening Post matched up tragedies to dates they provided relating to killings over the past decade, with help from police and a charity.

It attempted to obtain independent reports into each of the cases, which are usually publicly available on a national health website, but NHS England was only able to provide three.

The trust said it did not have copies of the reports to pass on and that more recent probes were still ongoing.

Some grieving families have told the Evening Post the refusal to rule out if or how their loved ones’ killers were connected to the trust has “left them in limbo”.

Marion and Jimmy Embley, whose son Kenneth was murdered by his partner’s 16-year-old daughter Sophie Holbrook in 2005, learned there could be a link when the date of his death corresponded to a date given by the trust.

She said: “I’m shocked and disgusted that we were never told of this.

“We have a right to know if our son’s killer was a mental health patient.

“She’s getting on with her life with a flat, and support, while we are stuck in limbo.

“It’s ironic that she got the help she needed after she did what she did. Ken and his partner Sue tried to get help for her from social services because she was being violent to her mum and he cared about Sue being hurt.

“If she was already on the trust’s books why wasn’t she getting the help she needed before Ken’s death? We have many questions.

Around 50 murders a year nationally are committed by mentally ill people, according to the National Confidential Inquiry into Homicide, though this has remained stable since the 1950s.

Health chiefs say this proves ‘care in the community’ has not increased the risk to the public.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of the national charity Rethink Mental Illness, says: “It’s really important when talking about sensitive issue like this, that we keep the real risk in perspective. Ninety-five per cent of violent crime is committed by people who do not have a severe mental illness.”

Bosses at LCFT said in 2011 only four patients involved in nine deaths were “directly” under their care – five having come into contact through services such as substance abuse support or counselling.

It said a large scale reduction in inpatient beds during the last 30 years was not a factor.

However, the figures emerge as the organisation faces an expansion in services which has seen its caseload triple to around 64,279 people, combined with the delayed effect of the recession, which sees more people experiencing mental health issues.

Professor Max Marshall, medical director, said the sheer number of Lancastrians accessing services could in future have an adverse impact on rates of mental health related homicides and suicide.

He says: “It has not happened – but it could.

“We’ve been funded to provide these additional services, but obviously the more people we see the bigger the risk somebody might go on to commit suicide or homicide, so it means we have to be very vigilant about our risk assessment processes and about learning from incidents.

“When you look at the figures one year stands out, but there are several years when there were no homicides and most other years the numbers were very small.

“We know there are always a proportion of homicides in people with mental disorders. LCFT covers a large part of the country so it wouldn’t be unexpected. Nine is obviously is unusual and was not repeated in 2012.”

He added: “These numbers include people who have any contact with services as well as people directly under the care of them.

“When we look at 2011 and how many are people were directly under the care of mental health services, the number actually comes down to four.

“The trust is not complacent about this. Four is far too many – any is too many.”