Copenhagen

I doubt anyone could fail to be shocked about the terrible news from Copenhagen – three people killed and others seriously injured and critically ill after an apparently random shooting incident at the country’s biggest shopping centre.  Just as Copenhagen and Denmark were shining on the world stage hosting the start of the world’s best bicycle race, it’s been overshadowed by these terrible events.

Nothing but love and thoughts for all those affected, however they were.

I don’t know much about the background of the 22yr old man who has been charged with murder – none of us really do, but my attention was caught by a media summary of police responses about events —

“Copenhagen’s police chief Soeren Thomassen said officers don’t currently believe the attack was an act of terror. Those targeted were selected at random and the suspect was known to mental health services.”

This quote is from the BBC website who went on to explain the Danish courts had remanded the man for 24 days for psychiatric reports.  Important to emphasise, the above is obviously not a direct quote from Mr Thomassen himself but the media coverage does not appear to have quoted whole sentences or speech extracts from him, at least not as far as I can tell.  The Guardian emphasised police mentioning that the man charged “had received treatment for a psychiatric condition”.  Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while may know where I’m going with this:

CAUSAL / CONTRIBUTORY / COINCIDENTAL

Who is to say this is the explanation for events, so soon after the tragedy?  If they’re saying this so confidently, whilst putting distance from speculation it was a terror attack, I’ve no reason to question that the man must have had psychiatric treatment in the past.  But what’s the relevance at this point, just hours later?  Did his psychiatric condition cause the attack? – ie, was he delusional or psychotic and acting, for example, under command hallucinations where it may be that he’s found legally insane and not guilty precisely because of the extent and degree of his illness?  We don’t know yet, do we? – his psychiatric assessment has only just begun and has three weeks left to run.

Perhaps it stopped short of causing his behaviour: UK law and other jurisdictions allow what’s known as a ‘partial defence’.  Mental illness may have reduced culpability for serious offending, but not to the point where insanity can be proved and all legal responsibly negated – in English / Welsh law, we could expect to hear talk of ‘manslaughter by diminished responsibility’ in such a case.  The illness played a role – it was contributory – but it’s not the entire explanation.  And we don’t know yet, do we? – his psychiatric assessment has only just begun and has three weeks left to run.

Or it could be unrelated, legally speaking.  Plenty of serious offences by those of us who live with mental illness are not explained by health issues.  There are many examples of people with mental illnesses being convicted of murder and being held fully culpable, despite acceptance in the court proceedings they had an established mental health condition and required treatment.  Do you remember the case of Nicola Edgington in 2011? – guilty of murder and for all anyone knows, the Copenhagen attack could be legally similar, in terms of the relationship between a health condition and the index offence.  But we don’t yet, do we?! – his psychiatric assessment has only just begun and has three weeks left to run.

MENTAL HEALTH BILL 2022

So my major point is this: we’ve no idea what on earth the relationship is between someone’s mental health condition and any serious offending they’re accused of doing until they’ve been fully assessed and the court processes has run.  My contention is that police press releases where mental health is thrown out there without context (of which we’ve seen several and the Royal College of Psychiatrists once raised concerns) only end up reinforcing prejudice and stigma.  That said, pointing out that this is too quick out of the gate should not be taken to mean there’s no conversation to be had about the role of mental illness when serious offences are committed.  We know various problems exist ensuring people who may be known to be at risk of offending get appropriate support when they need it – I’m not disputing that for a moment and it’s an important discussion.  I’m as concerned as anyone that we don’t see enough of that discussion and you only need to look at the website of Hundred Families to see how important it is because lessons are frequently unlearned, as Julian Hendy has shown for many years now.

But within hours of events when little is known and basic processes have barely begun? – too soon, in my own view.

Unrelated to all of that, this case did make me think of the recently published Mental Health Bill 2022 – the first Danish court to deal with the defendant after being charged has remanded him for psychiatric reports.  As the law in England and Wales stands in 2022, that couldn’t happen here.  Magistrates courts, who deal with defendant e on first appearance, cannot remand for psychiatric reports.  This can only happen when defendants first appear at Crown Courts, several days later and we know this sometimes means people who could be acutely ill end up remanded to prison.  The draft Bill, if it receives Royal Assent, will change this and it would mean there could be a swift remand which would mean any treatment required could start at the first point of remand as well as meaning psychiatric reports to establish the nature and degree of someone’s condition could also begin to untangle this complex relationship:  was it causal, contributory or coincidental to the offence?

Important stuff – no matter the angle from which you view this.


Winner of the President’s Medal,
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award

 

All views expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation.
(c) Michael Brown, 2022


I try to keep this blog up to date, but inevitably over time, amendments to the law as well as court rulings and other findings from inquests and complaints processes mean it is difficult to ensure all the articles and pages remain current.  Please ensure you check all legal issues in particular and take appropriate professional advice where necessary.

Government legislation website – www.legislation.gov.uk