Sunday 9 July 2017

Nerd Church - Victims of the System

(Warning: this post discusses a child killing case from the UK committed by a mentally ill teenager, and issues surrounding this such as stigma and failings in mental health care.)

Diminished Responsibility is a defence in English and Welsh law.

It means that the person who has committed the crime is not in control of their own actions, and is usually used in mental health-related circumstances.

At the same time it recognises that there is some responsibility on the part of the person committing the crimes - if only that they did not take all reasonable precautions to prevent this or a similar situation from occurring.

A person who is not in control of their actions cannot commit murder.

They can kill. They can even assume some (again, key word - some,) responsibility for it.

But it's not murder; it's manslaughter.

Manslaughter, in English and Welsh law, is an offence which understands that there was no intent to kill, but that there were circumstances, which allowed the death to occur, which you were responsible for.

Diminished Responsibility is not a perfect system - but it's the best one we've got.

Diminished Responsibility allows the recognition that someone who genuinely believes that a seven-year-old girl is a robot is not in fully-functioning control of her actions. She's just not.

I'm not defending Katie Rough's killer.* I don't have to.

*(Link content warning: news report with details of Katie's death & her killer's mental state, inc. details of self-harm.)

There are millions of people with mental health problems who never commit ANY crimes. She should not have decided to take things into her own hands as she did.

But the law has already given her the defence she needs, and found her Not Guilty of Murder, but Guilty of Manslaughter on the Grounds of Diminished Responsibility.

She pled guilty to the latter offence via written communication to her barrister, when she appeared in court via video-link.

The prosecution accepted this. All of the medical experts accepted this. She is ill.

But the response from some members of the public shows just how very far mental health education still has to go.

Because baying for the blood of a severely mentally ill 16-year-old girl (15 at the time of the killing,) instead of asking questions about why SHE WAS NOT HELPED shows the worst of this country.

Her mental health had been declining for around a year.

From at least a month before Katie's death (going by the police statement after the verdict,) the killer had believed that various people were robots.

She was not given a full psychiatric assessment, despite being a patient of, and known to, mental health services.

But no, that's not why you're angry. You're angry because she was not charged with murder or (as I saw one Internet commenter preach) was not 'burned alive.'

The anger needs to be directed at a system that failed. A system that allowed one CHILD to become so unwell that she killed another.

Two girls were the victims here.

Because Katie's killer's life will never be OK again - through something she had no control over. And if she had had help, Katie would still be alive.

But no, people would rather blame a vulnerable child than the system that let things get this way.

And that's so very, very, sad.

Sorry that this week's post was a bit of a downer - but it's very much something that needed to be said.

Wherever you are, I hope you have an awesome day and bring a little kindness and light to this world.

Never give up on hope, 'cos hope never gives up on you. *Hugs*

Related Reading:


  1. We have a similar system in Canada and it's something that has sparked up quite a debate. I really like when crime shows talk about it because it adds information to the conversation and raises awareness on the issue of mental health and crime.

    1. Fair enough! (I really don't know what to add to that. Yay for me being socially awkward!)

  2. Ahh. You post some difficult topics often, and so I tend to kind of shy away from commenting. While I don't know about this case (haven't heard of it), I do think that mental illness needs to be explored better in society and in the laws we reinforce. But, I also think it's a scientific process that needs to be carried out. We need to marry science and knowledge with how we carry out laws.

    1. No need to shy away from commenting! I really don't mind what you say (Lord knows I'm awkward at commenting!) it just nice to know that someone's actually reading!

  3. I've been so used to the "not guilty by reason of insanity" in the US that I didn't even think there wouldn't be a similar figure in the UK so I'm surprised! I think that if (NGRI) or "guilty but insane or mentally ill" is successfully proven in court results in no jail time whatsoever the defendant being committed to a psychiatric facility. I'm not if it's like that in all 50 states though.

    1. Usually people who plead guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility here serve their sentences in secure hospitals - if they're stable, it might be a jail term though. If they're deemed to not be safe to return to the community, they are held in hospital beyond the sentence, until a doctor signs off.

      The UK version reasons that your hand was involved - it was not an accident, there was some willing participation on your part, or something which you could have done to prevent the death - but recognises that you were not in full control of your actions.

      Like I said, it's not perfect, but as far as I'm aware it's accepted a lot more readily as a plea than with cases where mental health is involved in the US.

      The sad thing about this case though is that the system didn't step in enough before Katie was killed. And I think that needs to change, drastically.


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