Life terms for mental patient who killed: Victim's daughter says care in community policy did not work

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The Independent Online
A MAN with schizophrenia yesterday received four life sentences at the Old Bailey for attacking three people - battering one to death - weeks after being released from a mental hospital.

Michael Buchanan, 29, a powerfully built kung fu enthusiast, was sent to prison - rather than to a psychiatric hospital - after it was decided he was not mentally ill under the terms of the Mental Health Act.

Buchanan was discharged from Shenley Hospital, Hertfordshire, in August last year after doctors were satisfied he would be supervised in the community, and take his medication.

But he was ordered to leave the hostel for homeless men in north London where he was living, after failing to comply with the conditions.

He slept rough, returned to his cocaine habit and a day later attacked a 70-year-old man, kicking him in the jaw and robbing him of pounds 65. He used a kung fu kick on a building worker who tried to stop him and escaped.

Two days later he set upon a retired policeman, Frederick Graver, in Harlesden, north- west London. He battered him with a piece of wood and stamped repeatedly on his face. Buchanan then took Mr Graver's car for a joyride, the court was told. His 54-year-old victim died in hospital.

Buchanan had attended a special school for maladjusted children and had a string of convictions for violence, the court was told.

He had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals by order of the courts on four occasions and had spent three months at Shenley before his release into the community.

Buchanan admitted the manslaughter of Mr Graver and taking his car, causing the pensioner grievous bodily harm and robbing him as well as assaulting the building worker.

Since he first appeared in court 'strenuous efforts' had been made by doctors and his lawyers to see whether accommodation could be provided in a special hospital, Judge Brian Smedley said.

But last month, Kieran Coonan QC, for Buchanan, said Ashworth Hospital on Merseyside had refused to provide a bed.

A doctor there had decided Buchanan was not mentally ill and if he had been at the time he killed the illness was short- lived and drug induced. The hospital would not reconsider its original decision, Mr Coonan told the court.

The judge told Buchanan there was 'a welter of evidence that you are suffering from paranoid schizophrenia' and would remain a grave danger to the public for a substantial time.

'Some (doctors) felt it would be appropriate you should be detained in a special hospital without limit of time. But that option is not open as Ashworth are not prepared to accept you,' Judge Smedley said.

'I can only use the powers I have to deter you and others from this sort of violent behaviour and protect the public.'

Outside court, Mr Graver's daughter, Alison, said: 'They certainly did not choose the right type of care in the community as it has not helped anyone - him or the community. If they took time to think about what they were doing, it probably could work, but it did not work today.'