`Hundreds of psychopaths on streets'

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POTENTIAL KILLERS are free to walk the streets because, like the murderer Michael Stone, they have a personality disorder that is incurable. The Government is now trying to close the "treatability test" loophole in the 1983 Mental Health Act, which means that people who psychiatrists consider incurable cannot be held against their will.

Majorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said yesterday that in the same area of Kent where Stone's victims lived, at least 12 other men with an extreme personality disorder are at liberty.

Hundreds of potential murderers are roaming the streets of the United Kingdom "waiting to be picked up by the criminal justice system," Mrs Wallace said yesterday.

The Department of Health and Home Office officials have been in discussions for six months to develop plans for new secure units to hold people who "are bad but not mad", said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.

The Home Office yesterday denied that the discussion had been prompted by the murders of Lin and Megan Russell. "The Government have been aware of a loophole for some time," said a spokesman. Details of the new plan will be released in the new year.

Mrs Wallace is calling for a "balance of rights" between society and those with extreme anti-social personality disorders, who are currently ending up in prison or in overcrowded mental institutions, neither of which are suitable, say experts.

Sane has a representative on the government committee examining ways of dealing with the problem.

Mrs Wallace believes a likely solution is a contract between the authorities and the person who is a danger both to themselves and society.

Severe anti-social personality disorders are usually long-term conditions that become a fundamental part of the psychopath's make-up and so areextremely difficult to cure.

Some experts believe that the disorder can be cured by discussing with patients their often harrowing early life experiences, but the Government's plan is more likely to concentrate on limiting extreme behaviour.

Stone asked to be admitted to a hospital just weeks before the killings, but overcrowded mental institutions feel unable to deal with the condition and he was turned away.

It is hoped that the new specialist units will overcome this problem. Contracts between patients and specialist mental health experts will enable psychopaths failing to take a full part in their therapy to be held against their will.

A contract to enter a detoxification programme for the drink and drug problems which psychopaths frequently develop (Stone was known to have used massive quantities of heroin) are thought to be an example of a type of contractthat could be used.

Fears about the civil liberties of individuals likely to be affected by any new legislation are pushed aside by campaigners who believe that those with anti-social personality disorders are as much of a danger to themselves as others.

Mrs Wallace said: "We must have some legislation to detain people who have become a serious risk to others. Once they have failed to abide by the contract which allows them to live in the community they should be recalled for risk assessment."

Some 70 per cent of menleaving prison are said to suffer from personality disorders, campaigners say. The vast majority of these would not be affected by the new legislation.