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Monday, July 19, 1999 Published at 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK


Psychopaths face indefinite sentences

Michael Stone went on to kill because he was deemed untreatable

Dangerous psychopaths could be locked up indefinitely even if they have not committed a crime, under government proposals released in July.

The BBC's Alison Holt: "A lot more work needs to be done"
But ministers say safeguards will be in place to protect their civil rights.

In a consultation paper - Managing Dangerous People with Severe Personality Disorder: Proposals for Policy Development, the government has put forward two broad options for dealing with people with severe personality disorder in England and Wales.

The proposals, out for consultation until the end of the year, are an attempt to close a legal loophole which allows dangerous psychopaths to walk free if they have served a sentence for a crime or are not considered treatable by psychiatrists.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw talking to BBC Breakfast News
The most well-known recent cases include Michael Stone, found guilty of murdering mother and daughter Lin and Megan Russell, peadophile Robert Oliver and Shaun Armstrong, convicted of killing toddler Rosie Palmer.

The first option involves extending the current system by giving courts the power to impose discretionary life sentences on a wider range of offences.

It would also provide new powers to remand psychopaths for specialist assessment.

[ image:  ]
There would be new powers of compulsory supervision of people with severe personality disorders and a stipulation that special units be set up in hospitals and prisons.

These could be run by the private sector, under the aegis of a central commissioning agency.

The second and most controversial proposal is for a new indeterminate sentence for people with a severe personality disorder.

Whether or not they had committed a crime, they could be locked up in special units to be released only when they were considered to represent no risk to the public.

The sentence would be subject to regular review and appeals.

Those released from prison could be recalled for assessment. The system would be managed by a special agency which was separate from the health and prison service.

Under both options, the courts' right to refer psychopaths for hospital treatment would be scrapped.

But the Home Secretary could still direct people to be transferred to hospital.

The government estimates there are between 2,000 and 2,500 people with severe personality disorder in England and Wales.

It says about 300 and 600 of these are deemed untreatable and are living in the community.

Home Secretary Jack Straw told BBC Breakfast News the government's aim was to stop people deemed a major risk to the public being at large in the community.


Psychopaths can currently be held in hospital under mental health legislation, but only if they are deemed treatable.

The medical profession is split as to whether severe personality disorder can be treated.

Judi Clements from mental health charity Mind: Up to 2,000 people could be affected
Mr Straw said it was "completely unacceptable" that at present the detention of some very dangerous people depended on the "random chance" of whether a particular psychiatrist believed their condition was treatable.

He said the psychiatric profession had gone "backwards not forwards" in recent years by reducing the number of conditions which were deemed "treatable".

Health Secretary Frank Dobson said the proposals would not affect "the overwhelming majority of people with personality disorder live well-ordered lives and pose no risk to the public".

He added that powers to detain people who had not committed a crime already existed under mental health legislation.

Mr Straw said: "The greatest human right is the right to life", adding that there had to be a "proper balance" to protect the public from dangerous people.

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