Letter: Hunt the `nutter'

Sir: Your report of the study by Taylor and Gunn (6 January) shatters the myth that more people are dying at the hands of people identified as mentally ill. According to Home Office figures, the absolute number of such homicides fell between 1957 and 1995 .

So much for the simplistic soundbite "community care has failed", and the clamour for ever more confinement and coercion which appears to have overwhelmed the Government - which has put public safety before care in relation to mental health priorities.

Another study might be interesting, namely of the trends over time of the amount of publicity given to each of these sad deaths. I suspect this would find an astonishing rise over the last 10 years or so - but why? A homicide in the 1960s was no less horrible than one in the 1990s.

I suggest the answer is simple - good old-fashioned bigotry. Pressure groups campaigning about homicides by people with mental health problems are given a hearing because we want to hear them, because in the last few decades the "mentally ill" have "moved out into the community" (that is, former detainees have begun to be acknowledged as equal citizens).

In past centuries we had witches, Jews or blacks for officialdom to scapegoat. Is it now the turn of "nutters" and "psychos"?


Consultant in General Psychiatry

Shipley, West Yorkshire