Fear and 'myth' of mentally ill killers
by David Brindle
PUBLIC fear of random killings by
care-in-the-community patients is based on myth, according
to an official study which shows that people are much more
vulnerable to attack by strangers who are not mentally ill.
The research for the Government, to be published today,
suggests that one in six killers suffers mental illness. But their
victims are almost always family members, typically partners.
People who have had recent contact with psychiatric
services are responsible for about one killing a week, taking
account of all types of homicide, but some 20 a week
The research, on an unparalleled scale, was ordered in
response to mounting public anxiety over so-called
care-in-the-community killings. Concern rose sharply after
the highly-publicised death in 1992 of Jonathan Zito at the
hands of Christopher Clunis.
Mr Clunis, who was acutely ill with schizophrenia, stabbed
his victim at a London Underground station after selecting
him seemingly arbitrarily.
The research, carried out for the Department of Health by
Manchester University, indicates that such attacks are rare.
People are almost three times more likely to be killed by a
stranger who is not mentally ill than one who is.
A team at Manchester's school of psychiatry and behavioural
sciences has been collecting details of all suicides or
suspected suicides in England, and all cases involving
conviction for murder, manslaughter or infanticide in England
The study will last at least five years, but a progress report
will be released to coincide with a mental health debate in