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Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK


Psychopaths face law reforms

Donald Dewar: Law will be changed if necessary

Scotland's ministers are considering a change in the law after a sheriff ruled that a man who killed his neighbour with a Kalashnikov rifle could be freed from a secure hospital.

Sheriff John Douglas Allan granted psychiatric patient Noel Ruddle an absolute discharge. The case fell under a legal loophole that allows such patients to walk free if their disorder cannot be treated at an institution.

[ image: Noel Ruddle: Freed on appeal]
Noel Ruddle: Freed on appeal
It is believed up to a dozen other inmates at Carstairs Hospital in Scotland are considering similar appeals.

Speaking after the sheriff's ruling, Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar, said an ongoing review on the sentencing of serious offenders with personality disorders was well advanced, and would take the case into account.

"Ministers will consider urgently with their legal and policy advisers the effects of this judgment.

"If it is necessary to change the law in the light of this judgment ministers will do so."

In England and Wales, a similar review is under way following the cases of 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.

A consultation paper - Managing Dangerous People with Severe Personality Disorder: Proposals for Policy Development, includes a controversial proposal for a new indeterminate sentence for people with a severe personality disorder.

Special agency

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.

Support available

Mr Dewar stressed that everything was being done to provide support for Mr Ruddle in the community in the aftermath of the judgment.

"The relevant agencies have worked together with Mr Ruddle to prepare him for the possibility that the sheriff would agree to his appeal.

"Support is available to him today and we understand that he is continuing to take advantage of it."

'Chills the blood'

The SNP's shadow Justice and Equality minister Roseanna Cunningham described the decision as "appalling".

"The first requirement of the criminal justice system must be the protection of the public and it is appalling that this man is able to walk free on the back of a legal technicality," she said.

Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie called for emergency legislation to protect the public.

He said: "This is a horror story which chills the blood."

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