Harman `put pressure on psychiatrist'

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The Independent Online
AN EMINENT psychiatrist claimed yesterday that Harriet Harman, the former cabinet minister, improperly put pressure on him to release confidential case notes on a patient who had fantasised about killing her.

John Masterson, a violent and disturbed man who has spent a large part of his adult life behind bars, told his psychiatrist, Dr Jane Marshall: "I go to sleep at night and think of killing her."

Dr Marshall promptly informed a senior colleague, Professor James Edwards CBE, the consultant in charge of Mr Masterson at the Maudsley Hospital in south London.

Professor Edwards told the Central London County Court yesterday: "I was in a very awkward situation. I have a responsibility to my patient but I think I had a responsibility as a citizen and a responsibility to Ms Harman," he said.

After a consultation with Doctor Paul Bowden, a forensic psychiatrist, who expressed grave concerns about the patient's violent past, he agreed that Dr Marshall should warn the Peckham MP - a partial breach of confidentiality. Professor Edwards said there was no evidence that Mr Masterson suffered from a psychotic illness and that, although he felt he presented a "significant potential danger", he had not expressed an overt threat.

At a later meeting with the police and Ms Harman, Professor Edwards said he had been acutely aware of the MP's "evident anxiety" and was sympathetic to her position.

"She said it was my ethical and legal responsibility to release the [patient's] notes. She said I should not be influenced by [my solicitor]. I was a little bit uncomfortable. I didn't think it was her job to tell me I should not take advice from my very specialist lawyer.

Professor Edwards told the court that he believed it had been agreed with the police that there was not sufficient evidence of a threat to bring charges against Mr Masterson.

Earlier he explained why he had waited for almost two weeks to elapse before informing the MP about his patient's violent fantasises. He said: "I was concerned but I was not at panic stations," adding that if he had felt that there was an immediate danger he would have "acted with greater speed and determination. It is inconceivable that I would sit around if there was a threat to any member of the public."

He explained that Ms Harman had been plainly "terrified" but it would have been improper for him to use the Mental Health Act to restrain Mr Masterson.

"I took the view I had a responsibility to Mr Masterson. We had a duty to care and treat him. I thought it was entirely proper that we should treat this man for his sake and I thought it was in society's interest," he explained to the court. The notes were never handed over.

On Thursday the jury heard claims that the Labour MP had pressured police into collecting evidence against the ex-convict and "had a go" at them after being told there was no evidence to charge Mr Masterson with making threats to kill.