Lawrence Suspects' Interview: `Key indicators of violence' obvious

Body Language
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The Independent Online
I HAVE interviewed over 150 convicted violent men and last night's programme revealed five individuals with key indicators of violence.

First off was the very obvious point that they had been part of a gang engaged in anti-social behaviour from a young age - almost all violent teenagers were anti-social children. As Gary Dobson put it: "We were a group of little bastards. Rascals, lovable rogues. I never said we were angels."

But the most striking evidence was their repeated belief that they were the victims, not perpetrators of violence. A paranoid belief that their violence is in self-defence is an absolutely classic indication of the cast of mind found in offensively violent people.

When he was asked why he had spat in the face of a bystander and lashed out at others, Neil Acourt replied: "It was in self defence. Someone gobs in your face, what do you do? I'm a natural defender, I fight fire with fire."

His brother James was asked repeatedly why he carried knives. Initially he replied: "I don't know." Eventually he offered the following reply: "Protection, I suppose, is the only answer."

This belief system is typical of violent men. The most common comment preceding a violent city-centre incident is "what are you looking at?". In many cases the person to whom this is addressed is "looking" at nothing, but that is not how the assailant sees it. His paranoid fantasy is that the victim poses a threat, is humiliating or being critical.

Experiments on violent psychopaths show that they are much more likely to attribute malign intentions when confronted by mildly annoying situations than non-psychopaths - in other words, they are more paranoid. That this paranoia starts in early life has been proven by similar experiments on boys. Young males were asked questions about motives in a number of seemingly neutral situations, such as: "Another boy's ball bounces towards you and hits you in the face - did he mean to hurt you?" Aggressive boys were much more likely to assign malign intentions and to say they would react to such situations with aggression.

It was clear that these five men formed a sub-culture of violence, using knives and racism, to bring power and excitement to their otherwise insignificant selves. But most dangerous of all, they genuinely believe they are the victims when launching their assaults. Maybe they once were victims in their schools or childhood homes, but in believing that their victims are a threat which must be met with even greater violence, they are murderously deluded.

Oliver James

Clinical Psychologist