BBC Two documentary research reveals number of homicides committed by people with serious mental health problems in Britain could be over double those recorded by official statistics
Research for a BBC Two documentary has revealed that official figures could fail to accurately record the number of murders committed annually by people with serious mental health problems in Britain.
This new research suggests that the true figure is almost double the officially recorded number with approximately 100 such crimes committed each year.
Film-maker Julian Hendy spent nearly three years researching mental health homicides in Britain following the murder of his father, Philip Hendy, in Bristol in 2007.
The results can be seen in BBC Two’s Why Did You Kill My Dad? on Monday 1 March.
Hendy found that the discrepancy in figures recorded arises because official figures only count convictions of mentally ill perpetrators in England and Wales, not the number of victims throughout Britain.
Cases where there are multiple victims, or where the killer commits suicide afterwards, are under-represented (or don’t feature at all), and figures for Scotland are published separately.
Professor Louis Appleby heads the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by people with mental health problems (NCISH), which records cases in England and Wales.
He said: "There are about 50 cases a year, so that’s 50 people who are convicted of a homicide, who in the 12 months before the incident, were in contact with specialist mental health care. They account for about nine per cent of all homicide convictions.
"The starting point for the confidential inquiry is conviction, so we focus on the perpetrators. So, for example, if somebody was responsible for a homicide in which there were multiple victims that would count as one incident from our statistics – so the 50 cases a year is perpetrators, not victims.
“And, of course, there are a small number of cases where a person commits homicide and then commits suicide so there is no conviction so those cases aren’t included in our 50 cases a year.”
During the course of his research, Hendy investigated a sample over 600 cases of homicide by people with serious mental health problems, dating back to 1993.
As a result, Hendy argues that the official figures underestimate the true number of victims of the seriously mentally ill in Britain, precisely because they only count convictions for homicide by the mentally ill – not the number of victims.
* Multiple victims aren’t counted: for example, Daniel Gonzales was a mental health patient who killed four people in September 2004. In the statistics only one case was counted as there was just one conviction.
* Suicides aren’t counted: if a mentally ill person commits suicide after killing someone – as Steven Rankin and Khalid Peshawan did – they’re not counted in the official statistics because there was no court case and no conviction. It’s estimated there are around 30 such cases each year.
* The official figures are for England and Wales only – those for Scotland are collected separately. In Scotland, latest figures (for 2004) show there were 17 homicide convictions of people in recent contact with mental health services.
Hendy concludes that if all of these elements are taken into consideration the true number of homicide victims, killed by people with serious mental health problems in Britain each year, comes out at more than a hundred – almost a sixth of the 600 homicides recorded in Britain each year.
Hendy said: "This is a shocking statistic. What happened to my father was completely devastating and to think it is happening to one hundred families in Britain each year is truly awful.
"I know many mentally ill people are never violent but this underscores the need for prompt and effective treatment for the small minority who are.
“Mental health authorities should learn the lessons from such tragedies and a first step would be to include all the victims in the statistics so we can understand the true scale of the problem better.”
Tony Maden, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Imperial College London, agrees: "Too many people (including some mental health professionals) are dismissive of homicides by the mentally ill because they are relatively uncommon.
"In any argument about the figures we should never forget how terrible every one of these events if is for the victims’ family and friends. It tarnishes their lives forever.
“We who work in mental health cannot afford to be complacent. It is illogical and inconsistent to claim that an awareness of what can go wrong in treatment is stigmatising. Even one preventable homicide is one too many.”
Why Did You Kill My Dad? is a highly personal film documenting Julian Hendy’s journey to find out what happened to his dad and his attempt to uncover the true scale and cost of killings by the seriously mentally ill in Britain today.
During the course of the film, Julian interviews mental health experts – including Professor Louis Appleby, head of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide, and Tony Maden, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Imperial College London – as well as investigating similar cases across the country to uncover the scale of the problem.
Why Did You Kill My Dad? transmits on BBC Two on Monday 1 March 2010 at 9.00pm.
Notes to Editors
At the time of filming, there were no figures available for Northern Ireland. An official report into these cases is due later this year.
Latest Official statistics 2000-2005 from:
National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness – Annual Report: England & Wales, July 2009 (PDF). Table 8 - page 33
Information on what is and isn’t included in the official statistics is from:
Avoidable Deaths - Five Year Report of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness – December 2006 (PDF). Page 25
Official figures for Scotland from:
National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness
Lessons for Mental Health Care in Scotland, June 2008 (PDF). Figure 39, page 121
Julian Hendy is an experienced documentary film-maker who has been making factual programmes for more than 20 years.
He has made films for all the major British channels (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Discovery) and began on the First Tuesday programme (Yorkshire Television) which specialised in investigative and narrative documentaries.
He has made more than 50 films during his career including major investigations into arms dealers, chemical weapons dumps, international terrorists and war criminals.
He has made several films in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Philippines during conflicts, focussing on the civilian casualties of war.
His investigation into the 8,000 SS men who settled in Britain after the Second World War became a major international news story and sparked official investigations in Great Britain, Poland and Ukraine. The quality of his research was particularly praised by Scotland Yard.
His film Conquering Germany (Diverse for BBC Two), on how the Allies tried to create a democracy from a defeated nation, won a Royal Television Society award.
Julian has also made a number of films with people with mental health problems and the poor provision they usually receive.
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