Don’t Lock Away The Mentally ill, Begs Abi’s Mother

The mother of stabbing victim Abigail Witchalls has spoken out against plans to lock up mentally ill patients who pose a danger to the public.

Professor Sheila Hollins, one of the country’s leading psychiatrists, said it was wrong to detain anyone in a mental hospital unless they were there for treatment.

She made her plea as peers prepared to debate the controversial Mental Health Bill drawn up in response to a succession of murders by schizophrenics and others with severe mental illness.

The Bill would allow their enforced detention, even if they have committed no crime.

Mrs Witchalls was stabbed in April 2005 as she walked with her 21-month-old son. She was left close to death and remains severely disabled.

Police believe her attacker was a psychotic drifter, Richard Cazaly, who killed himself a week later.

Cazaly, a 23-year-old landscape gardener, was a heavy drinker and used cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis. He suffered ‘ hallucinations, delusions, confusion, disorganisation and paranoia’.

A report said that drugs may have triggered an acute attack of schizophrenia before he attacked Mrs Witchalls. Her mother, who is president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said yesterday: ‘Of course we are very concerned about public protection but this is supposed to be a health Bill and in a health Bill you would expect there to be some health benefit to people who are treated or detained compulsorily.’

Professor Hollins added on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘I am very concerned about the victims but it is balancing the victims and the patient.

‘I think the idea that somehow this Bill is going to prevent homicides and violent assaults is a mistake.’

She added: ‘In some ways there is a possibility that by increasing stigma associated with mental illness we will actually deter people from coming forward.’

Remarkably, Professor Hollins did not disclose to listeners that she is Mrs Witchall’s mother. Nor did the programme’s interviewer mention his guest’s personal involvement with one of the most notorious attacks by a mentally disturbed individual.

In the past, Professor Hollins has said Cazaly’s suicide was the ‘real tragedy’ in the case because he died as a result of the ‘ mindaltering drugs’ he was using.

Her views yesterday were opposed by another mother whose daughter was stabbed by a mentally ill attacker.

Wendy Robinson’s daughter Georgina, a 26-year-old occupational therapist, was knifed to death in an acute psychiatric unit by a paranoid schizophrenic.

The killer had been repeatedly discharged from hospitals despite making threats of violence.

A report into the murder said the law was inadequate and recommended new powers to force mentally ill patients to take medicine. Such powers are included in the Mental Health Bill.

Mrs Robinson told Today: ‘A lot of people are not picked up, they are not taken in and treated before something goes wrong.

‘I do think there needs to be an added part of the law where they can actually take somebody in, section them and look after them.’