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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Stone case could prompt law change
Michael Stone graphic
by BBC News Online's Chris Summers

Under proposed new legislation people like Michael Stone, who suffer from anti-social personality disorders, would be detained even though the condition is considered untreatable.

Stone has been convicted for the second time, of the murders of Lin and Megan Russell and the attempted murder of Josie Russell.

His conviction at his first trial in October 1998 helped highlight the need for a review of mental health legislation.

Psychopathic traits
Charming and plausible but prone to compulsive lying
Easily bored; seeking instant gratification.
Unable to understand other people's needs or feelings
Lacking in remorse
In the months and years before the murders in July 1996 Stone came to the attention of the mental health authorities.

In 1994 he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act at De La Pole Hospital in Hull but doctors there decided he was not mentally ill.

He was on probation throughout 1995 and early 1996 and saw health and social workers around the time of the killings but never did anything to raise their suspicions.

West Kent Health Authority immediately referred the case to an independent inquiry after the first trial, chaired by Robert Francis QC.

Michael Stone
Stone's personality disorder was untreatable
The authority said the inquiry into Stone's care and treatment was "well advanced" and provisional findings were with the commissioning agencies.

"However the inquiry panel will not complete their work until a further opportunity has been offered to Mr Stone to discuss his treatment with them. He has not so far taken up their invitations.

"Once the inquiry report is finalised, the agencies will take a view on what can be published and when, taking all matters into account including the fact that the legal process including any appeal must first be complete.

"It would not be appropriate for the agencies to discuss any matters related to the inquiry with the media at this time."

But chief executive Ruth Carnall pointed out that it was not a case where someone had been released from care when he should not have been.

Untreatable condition

She said the law as it stood - and still stands today - did not allow doctors to detain Stone.

Although Stone had a severe personality disorder and was considered dangerous, his condition was untreatable so he could not be detained under the current Mental Health Act.

His condition was exacerbated by his tendency to drink large amounts of alcohol and consume drugs, including heroin.

Mrs Carnall said Stone was a classic "psychopath" who was incapable of feeling guilt or empathy and was resistant to treatment.

Last month, after two years of consultation, the government unveiled plans for a radical shake up of the mental health system.

One of the proposals contained in Health Secretary Alan Milburn's White Paper was for new orders which would allow people such as Stone, who have severe personality disorders, to be detained.

At present only those who are considered treatable can be "sectioned".

Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn has unveiled plans for new detention orders
This includes schizophrenics, those suffering from paranoia and other conditions, all of which can be treated or controlled with medication or therapy.

But under the new legislation - which would replace the Mental Health Act - people such as Stone with "anti-social personality disorders", commonly known as psychopaths or sociopaths, could also be detained indefinitely if considered a danger to the public.

The home secretary would have power to direct people already serving a prison sentence to undergo assessment and treatment.

The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) believes the proposals are draconian.

'Where do you draw the line?'

Dr Alec Buchanan, editor of the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, said many in the profession were worried about their status changing from doctors to jailers.

"Where do you draw the line? Is it our job?" he said.

Anselm Eldergill, a solicitor and expert in mental health law, told BBC News Online the government was in danger of "medicalising" anti-social behaviour.

He said: "This is not a mental problem. It's a social problem. It's to do with genes and also upbringing.

"There is absolutely no medical evidence of any defect in the brains of psychopaths."

Anselm Eldergill
Anselm Eldergill: "This is not a disease"
Mr Eldergill said the proposed law change would not make much difference to the situation on the ground.

He said: "Doctors still won't want these people - who cannot be treated - to take up beds in their hospitals, beds which could be used for people who are schizophrenic or suicidal."

Mr Eldergill said many psychopaths go through life committing anti-social behaviour but no serious crimes and it was impossible to predict those who were a real threat to the public.

He said: "Nobody is yet able to predict who will commit these offences."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said they were hoping to push through the legislation before the current session of parliament ends in November 2002.

She told BBC News Online: "We have received back the necessary consultation from the White Paper and are just waiting to see if we can get the necessary parliamentary time to introduce this legislation."

She conceded that, at present, there was nothing to prevent a repetition of the attack by someone who, like Stone, could not be detained under the MHA.

But she said: "It's out of our hands."



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