Warning over toll of killings committed by mentally ill

Campaigners claim official statistics are misleading the public over the toll of murders committed by mentally ill people, as research suggested Government data did not record the true extent of the problem.

While random killings were rare, failing to address the issue properly could prevent lessons being learned, they said.

Research for a BBC documentary indicated there could be twice as many cases of people with mental health problems carrying out homicides than official statistics showed because multiple victims and killers who committed suicide were not always included.

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Film-maker Julian Hendy began studying mental health homicides in Britain following the murder of his 75-year-old father, Philip Hendy, in Bristol in 2007.

Prof Louis Appleby, who heads the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Health Problems (NCISH), said around 50 people a year who had been in contact with specialist mental health care in the 12 months before the incident were convicted of homicide.

Prof Appleby said: "The starting point for the confidential inquiry is conviction, so we focus on the perpetrators.

"For example, if somebody was responsible for a homicide in which there were multiple victims that would count as one incident from our statistics – so the 50 cases a year is perpetrators, not victims.

"And, of course, there is a small number of cases where a person commits homicide and then commits suicide so there is no conviction so those cases aren't included in our 50 cases a year."

Hendy investigated more than 600 cases of homicide by people with serious mental health problems, dating back to 1993, and concluded there were more than 100 incidents a year, compared with the 50 stated officially.

"This is a shocking statistic," he said. "What happened to my father was completely devastating and to think it is happening to 100 families in Britain each year is truly awful.

"It underscores the need for prompt and effective treatment for the small minority who are."

n Why Did You Kill My Dad? will be screened on BBC Two at 9pm tonight.