Dunblane 'copycat' theory divides experts

Experts were divided yesterday over claims that the Tasmanian massacre may have been triggered by global TV and radio coverage of the Dunblane shootings in March.

Dr Guy Cumberbatch, senior lecturer in applied psychology at Aston University, described as "uninformed and disgraceful" the suggestion by the FBI's chief psychiatrist, Dr Park Deitz, that Martin Bryant's murder spree was a copycat killing.

"To state that TV coverage of Dunblane is behind what happened in Tasmania is absolute nonsense. This man is simply speculating on what was going on in the mind of Martin Bryant. He doesn't know.

"There is no place for this kind of psychiatry," said Dr Cumberbatch, an expert on violence and the media.

However, Dr Deitz's remarks, were supported by Dr Harry Jacobs, executive officer for the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists. He said: "People are very suggestible. This kind of TV coverage puts shooting in everybody's mind, in your mind, in my mind. If one is a bit paranoid the idea is implanted."

He said he would like to see less "instant sensationalism" in the reporting of such events and a more sober approach.

Dr Deitz put forward his controversial theory in the United States, suggesting that Bryant may even have been consciously trying to beat the number of victims killed by Thomas Hamilton in Dunblane.

In a parallel argument, critics in the US also claim that the cult movie Natural Born Killers has triggered a number of copycat murders.

Dr Deitz said: "Presumably what happened was this man was sitting in Australia watching the emotional television pictures from Dunblane and more than the mourning parents he saw people vowing to change policy and ban dangerous weapons."

"He probably thought to himself, 'I am as powerful as he is. The world needs to know my suffering and feel my rage'."

Consultant clinical psychologist Susan Hope-Borland said she believed there could be a link between TV coverage and later killings. "If something is brought to someone's attention then it becomes more salient in their mind - it increases their range of options."

However, Dr Cumberbatch said that while the link between TV coverage and later killings was theoretically possible, there was simply no evidence of the "clusters" of massacres which such a connection would cause.

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