The Social Affairs Unit

Print Version • Website Home • Weblog Home

Use the buttons below to change the style and font size of our site.
Screen version     Print version:   
March 18, 2005

Cannibals, Psychiatrists and the CPS

Posted by Anthony Daniels

The recent conviction of Peter Bryan - who killed a man and ate his brain two years after being released from a secure psychiatric hospital for killing a young woman - has ignited much comment in the British press. Anthony Daniels - who has worked until recently as a prison doctor - argues that this case obscures a much larger problem: namely the frequent failure of the police and the CPS to prosecute psychiatric patients for crimes up to and including attempted murder. Why, asks Anthony Daniels, is it wrong to prosecute mad attempted murderers when mad shoplifters are frequently incarcerated for months on end without medical treatment?

Everyone loves a cannibal at a safe distance, of course. I once met a man who delighted to tell people that his own grandfather, a missionary, had been eaten by cannibals in Fiji. I believe there has long been a controversy in anthropological circles, of the kind in which intellectuals delight to engage, as to whether cannibalism ever really existed as an everyday phenomenon: the answer given probably depending on the anthropologist's fundamental belief or disbelief in the concept of noble savage.

But the story of the psychiatric patient who killed a man and ate his brains two years after being released from psychiatric hospital, where he had been detained for having brutally murdered a young woman while in a state of madness, and who killed a third time in the hospital to which he was sent yet again, is too horrible and immediate to us to be the subject either of jocularity or comfortably abstract debate. The story seems redolent of the state of urban and moral decay in the very midst of prosperity, and of the failure of various public agencies to protect us, that we all feel. And the very randomness of the killer's victims causes us disproportionately to feel under threat from some such attack.

One can already see in one's mind's filing cabinet the conclusions of the report that will inevitably follow from these events. There was a lack of communication between the various agencies and professionals charged with the man's care and supervision. Yet again agencies, professionals and individuals will be enjoined to impart their relevant knowledge to one another.

But hard cases make not only bad law, but probably bad social commentary as well. After all, failures and failings there will always be. Much criticism has been directed at the Mental Health Review Tribunal for having released the man despite contrary advice from, among others, the Home Office. But so long as there are such tribunals, however they are composed, there will always be errors. If we decided that people who kill in a state of madness are at some time to be released if they appear well, there will always be the possibility no, it will happen that a few among them will kill again. What we have to decide is whether it is better for ninety-nine cured killers to remain in custody than that one such killer should kill again. There is no indubitably 'correct' answer to this question, and I have little doubt that if we opted to keep all mad killers in custody forever, before long there would be protests at the injustice and expense of it - avoidable public expenditure is unjust.

Dramatic cases such as that of the cannibal killer occur but rarely otherwise, I suppose, they would cease to be dramatic. However, I should like briefly to draw attention to what, in statistical terms, is a much larger problem, though perhaps not very large in the scheme of things. It is the failure of the police, and of the Crown Prosecution Service, to understand, respectively, the law and the public interest. I refer to the frequent failure to prosecute psychiatric patients for crimes up to and including attempted murder.

When a psychiatric patient commits a serious and even dangerous crime, the police often argue that they can do nothing precisely because he is a psychiatric patient. They refuse even to arrest him, let alone detain and charge him. If pressed to do so, they will change their argument: they will say that they know from experience that the Crown Prosecution Service (known to them as Couldn't Prosecute Satan) will not prosecute, and that therefore all the work necessary to process an arrest and detention will be wasted.

Insofar as this is true, it is because the CPS argues that it is not in the public interest to proceed. The CPS is required to consider two matters before continuing with a prosecution: first, is there a reasonable chance of conviction, and second is it in the public interest that the prosecution should go ahead? The first question hardly applies: the evidence that the psychiatric patient has committed the offence is almost always overwhelming. But the second question seems to bring out the sentimentalist in the CPS: poor chap, he's ill, he couldn't help it, how can it be in the public interest to persecute him? Prosecution in such cases is persecution.

In fact, it is vital that there should be a legal record of convictions, not to wreak vengeance, but to establish a clear picture of escalating offending (if any). Furthermore, the law already allows for sufficient legal control over dangerous lunatics, if it were applied with anything like straightforwardness. We don't need more laws, give or take an amendment or two, we need competence and honesty in applying the ones we already have.

Needless to say, the failure to prosecute mad attempted murderers (or should I say attempted manslaughterers?) is not incompatible in the slightest with the incarceration for months on end, completely without medical treatment, of raving mad shoplifters. They turn up regularly. Doctors in prisons cannot treat prisoners against their will, except under the direst emergency, but there are no longer any places in hospitals to which they can be sent for treatment outside prison.

Thus, a giant apparatus of law enforcement and medical care, disposing of resources that would have made our ancestors gasp, has recreated the conditions of eighteenth century Bedlam in the prisons while failing to protect us adequately in the streets from the actions of mad axe-wielders.

This, surely, is emblematic of the current expansion of the British state, whose purpose is to give employment or disguise unemployment and provide a fund of loyal voters for political masters rather than to solve any problems that our society actually faces. This corrupt purpose is furthered by the inability of people any longer to think in a straightforward and honest fashion.

One sees in the convoluted and dishonest workings of the British public service the magnificent truth in Pascal's famous dictum: let us labour, then, to think clearly, for such is the foundation of morality.

Anthony Daniels is a writer and retired earlier this year as a doctor.

Comments Notice
This comments facility is the property of the Social Affairs Unit.
We reserve the right to edit, amend or remove comments for legal reasons, policy reasons or any other reasons we judge fit.

By posting comments here you accept and acknowledge the Social Affairs Unit's absolute and unfettered right to edit your comments as set out above.

The innovation of 'Care in the Community' some time ago has led to a great deal more crime in the community. As has the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service. How did anyone with a grain of common sense ever think that it would be otherwise? As for those who suggested that the way to deal with the small percentage of corrupt policemen who were responsible for 'miscarriages of justice' was to deprive the vast majority of policemen, who were not involved in corruption, of the right to prosecute day to day cases of street crime, were themselves surely not entitled to the privilege of Care in the Community: they should have been incarcerated in Broadmoor. Not least for handing over the job lock stock and barrel to a profession that has always had a much bigger percentage of bad apples than the police. Moreover, to staff the new service predominately with those who were not sufficiently competent to land a job in a private law practice or in corporate law was either (a) criminal madness or (b) deeply and cynically corrupt. As far as both madmen and bent lawyers are concerned, there now seem to be far more out than in, given all the Lewis Carroll manifestations of our criminal justice system.

Posted by: Frank Pulley at March 21, 2005 02:39 AM

About Cannibalism as a fact

My post on alt.folklore.urban

From: "rsscmh"
Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban
Subject: FAQ entry on Cannibalism
Date: 24 Jan 2005 14:05:57 -0800
Lines: 81

Version: 0.4.1 of the alt.folklore.urban FAQ includes:

Entries on cannibalism.

In the news today:

New findings change thinking on human sacrifices . . .

Sunday, January 23, 2005 Posted: 5:07 PM EST (2207 GMT)

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- It has long been a matter of contention: Was the Aztec and Mayan practice of human sacrifice as widespread and horrifying as the history books say? Or did the Spanish conquerors overstate it to make the Indians look primitive? . . .

For decades, many researchers believed Spanish accounts from the 16th and 17th centuries were biased to denigrate Indian cultures. Others argued that sacrifices were largely confined to captured warriors, while still others conceded the Aztecs were bloody, but believed the Maya were less so.

"We now have the physical evidence to corroborate the written and pictorial record," archaeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan said. "Some 'pro-Indian' currents had always denied this had happened. They said the texts must be lying." . . .

But there is no longer as much doubt about the nature of the killings. Indian pictorial texts known as "codices," as well as Spanish accounts from the time, quote Indians describing multiple forms of human sacrifice. . .

The dig turned up other clues to support descriptions of sacrifices in the Magliabecchi codex, a pictorial account painted between 1600 and 1650 that includes human body parts stuffed into cooking dishes, and people sitting around eating, as the god of death looks on.

"We have found cooking dishes just like that," said archaeologist Luis Manuel Gamboa. "And, next to some full skeletons, we found some incomplete, segmented human bones." . . .

For Lopez Lujan, confirmation has come in the form of advanced chemical tests on the stucco floors of Aztec temples, which were found to have been soaked with iron, albumen and genetic material consistent with human blood.

"It's now a question of quantity," said Lopez Lujan, who thinks the Spaniards -- and Indian picture-book scribes working under their control -- exaggerated the number of sacrifice victims, claiming in one case that 80,400 people were sacrificed at a temple inauguration in 1487. "We're not finding anywhere near that ... even if we added some zeros," Lopez Lujan said.

Researchers have largely discarded the old theory that sacrifice and cannibalism were motivated by a protein shortage in the Aztec diet, though some still believe it may have been a method of population control. . .


The FAQ entry begins by citing W. Arens "The Man-eating Myth:
Anthropology and Anthropophagy" (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979)and goes on to state that Arens showed "(quite successfully)" that the belief cannibalism was common in many cultures had been uncritically accepted, and careful examination of the evidence showed that it was very weak. Arens suggested that NO culture had EVER had culturally-approved cannibalism. The FAQ conceeds that "Since then careful archaeological work has strongly suggested that at least some cultures have had more than incidental cannibalism, but that it certainly was much less common that previously believed."

I am not (Thank God) a professional anthropologist, but every article I have seen on this subject in the 26 years since Arens book was published has adduced forensic evidence of human sacrifice or cannibalism. I doubt that Arens can be taken as much more than the first PC/Multi-Culti provocature anymore. The FAQ entry needs to be re-written by somebody who can give it a firmer basis in science.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 25, 2005 01:13 AM
Post a comment

Anti-spambot Turing code

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The Social Affairs Unit's weblog Privacy Statement