There was a particularly interesting and unusual trial in London which finished today, into a very disturbing and tragic incident for all of those involved. It concerned the prosecution of Nicholas SALVADOR from north London. You will probably remember the incident, if not the name: he is the man who went on what some people have called ‘a rampage‘ in the Tottenham area of north London and who, after killing two cats, attacked and beheaded 82yr old Palmira SILVA in her own garden. It is, in many respects, just too awful to contemplate and I’m sure this period is difficult for those who knew and loved her. It is a credit to her that she is known to have tried to calm and reassure the man who killed her after she found him in her garden, when he was in obvious distress.
The facts in this case were not in dispute: it is accepted by the prosecution and by the defence that on 4th September 2014, Mr SALVADOR killed Mrs SILVA. It therefore raises the question for some of why was there a trial occurring if he admitted the attack? It was to do with his plea of insanity, comparatively rare in the English justice system and where it occurs, it is often accepted by the prosecution and there is no need for a trial. I have written about insanity in the past and in particular about the verdict not guilty by reason of insanity, so you can refresh your memory if it helps.
Mr SALVADOR was charged with murder and committed for trial at the Old Bailey. His options in this particular context were to plead guilty, not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. It is obviously accepted by everyone involved that he is currently fit to stand trial, which is sometimes an issue where defendants are suffering from a serious mental disorder and Mr SALVADOR has been described by one forensic psychiatrist already as being ‘as mentally ill as you can possibly be’. In essence, the prosecution declined to just straight-forwardly accept his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, insisting that he runs the insanity defence in court and that it is a matter for a jury to determine. I’m yet to work out from the media coverage why precisely the prosecution think this cannot just be accepted but there’s also the point that insanity being a legal concept, not a medical one, it is just ultimately for a court to decide.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
He was obviously very unwell – everyone agreed he was experiencing a serious psychotic episode at the time of the offence, so why did any of this matter? Well, there are various things that will differ, depending on whether the jury returned a verdict of guilty to murder and actual bodily harm (for an assault on a police officer during his arrest, which hospitalised the constable) or whether they accepted his plea, on the balance of probabilities, of insanity. Anyone convicted of murder gets life imprisonment as a mandatory sentence; someone found not guilty of any offence by reason of insanity will be sentenced to a hospital order, which can be a restricted hospital order if it is thought that the defendant poses ‘a serious risk of harm’ to the public as a whole.
If he was convicted of murder, he would first go to prison and then spend the rest of his life subject to restrictions by the criminal justice system – contrary to popular assertion, life does mean life because you remain on licence for life and subject to recall even if you are released from prison. Prison still allows for a period in hospital because the Mental Health Act affords for convicted prisoners (s47) or remanded prisoners (s48) to be transferred to hospital, if necessary. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, he will go straight to hospital to remain there indefinitely. A restricted hospital order can remain in force indefinitely and some patients will end their days as a detained inpatient; others may be released if they are assessed as being suitable for discharge. To ensure that discharge decisions are based upon proper risk assessment and multiple opinions, the Secretary of State for Justice has a role to play in overseeing and then authorising the recommendations by doctors. It is the Doctors who are restricted by a restricted hospital order, not the patients.
Finally, what is the difference between not guilty by reason of insanity and guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility? Essentially, the former is a successful argument that someone was so mentally unwell that they are entirely beyond criminal liability for the act done. In the latter case, they are not quite so profoundly beyond liability that they still end up convicted of a homicide offence, albeit one which recognises the role that their mental ill-health player in the act.
It took the jury forty-one minutes to determine that Nicholas SALVADOR was not guilty by reason of insanity which means he will be hospitalised indefinitely under a restricted hospital order.
The video below does not contain footage of the offence, but of the pursuit to arrest SALVADOR by the Metropolitan Police officers who already knew the nature of the incident. The judge has recognised their bravery in court, quite rightly. More importantly, is the permanent impact that this incident has had on Mrs SILVA’s family.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.