Letter: Unknown killers

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Mr Young ("Killers at large", letter, 18 January) seems to believe that psychiatrists have supernatural powers to predict human behaviour and consequently he saddles them with a responsibility they cannot sustain. His belief is a delusion common among the public.

In truth, although psychiatrists come into contact with many potentially dangerous people, they are unable to predict whether or when a given person will commit an act of violence.

One known important factor which increases the likelihood of criminal behaviour, including apparently irrational violence, is the use of illegal drugs. However, it is still impossible for a psychiatrist, or anyone else, including close relatives, to predict when a person will take a drug and in what circumstances the drug will induce a state of inclination towards violence.


Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director

Pembury Hospital, Mental Health Services

Tunbridge Wells, Kent