Wednesday, 6 March 2013


The subject of juries has come in for quite a bit of discussion recently as a result of the first Vicky Pryce trial and the now infamous ten questions they put to the judge. They were eventually discharged and a fresh trial ordered when unable to agree a majority verdict and raised questions as to their ability of being able to 'grasp the basics' concerning the issues involved. 

Of course we can never know what went on in the jury room as such deliberations must remain sacrosanct, but the measured view seems to be that the questions arose not from ignorance, but rather from some members exasperation and a valiant effort at trying to seek confirmation of the issues and therefore a decision. Obviously this was not to be and a re-trial is in progress.

I want to highlight a case where a jury has made a decision, but a deeply disturbing one in my view. As always, any discussion of a case without full knowledge can be risky, but the case of Nicola Edgington is truely shocking and one I simply do not understand. 

Most press attention has focused on the IPCC report confirming that police failed to deal correctly with this woman's numerous telephone pleas for help. As someone who had already been subject to a Hospital Order for killing her mother some years before, she was becoming desperate to be 'sectioned' because of her state of mind. In one call she reportedly said 'the last time I felt like this I killed my mother' and yet she was not assessed or detained. 

Tragically for everyone concerned, because this woman was not dealt with properly, she armed herself with a knife and committed two horrific attacks on random members of the public, almost decapitating one.

I think most people hearing the broad details of such a case would not require expert psychiatric opinion to confidently come to the conclusion that at the material time the balance of her mind was significantly affected by a severe mental illness and therefore how could she be found guilty of murder?

To most people, acceptance of a guilty plea to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and a Hospital Restriction Order would seem much more appropriate. But instead, astonishingly in my view, a jury convicted her of murder and the judge in summing up is reported as saying 'she should take full responsibility for her actions' and gave her a tariff of 37 years. 

The saddest and most worrying aspect of this case in my view is that in all probability she will at some point be transferred from prison to Special Hospital due to her psychiatric state. She needed treatment all along and if she had been dealt with correctly, a life would have been spared and another wouldn't now 'be doing life.'


  1. I too found this murder conviction and the judge's comments bewildering in view of her previous diminished responsibility for manslaughter and psychiatric history. One verdict saying she was mad, the recent one that she was bad. Seems to epitomises the, at times, fraudulent deliberations that underpin mental health diagnoses. In these situations I cannot see how the jury can do anything but accept the psychiatric assessments. I remember the notorious Peter Sutcliffe case and how he was convicted of murder, when it was plain that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. He went to Parkhurst I think and was then quietly moved to Broadmoor. Perhaps sometimes justice does not turn on the individual merits of a case, especially when there is some political or social necessity to make an example of someone, especially in notorious cases.

    On the risk management in this case, I do have some sympathy for the killer. She rang the emergency services three times, stating that she was in a dangerous frame of mind and believed she would harm someone. It is almost a damn Catch-22 when it comes to asking for help with a mental health need: if you ask to be detained it will be assumed you are manipulating the system and yet individuals with mental health issues are encouraged to look signs of risk in their behaviour!

    And on the culpability issue, as far as I know it is not commonplace for would-be murderers to ring the police three times and forewarn that you are likely to do someone serious harm. All the cicumstances suggest she was mentally unbalanced at the time of the offences and the verdict and sentence strike me as a travesty of justice.

    Failures in risk management – and there have been many – put us all at risk. Victims tend to be attacked at random. And any of us could be the next victim.

  2. Perhaps the jury felt, as many of us might, that the only way to prevent the defendant's early release to kill again on the grounds of incompetent medical assessments was to have her convicted of murder?

  3. Exactly. The criminal justice system stepping in to do what the mental health services failed to do.

    As for her not being assessed or detained - the police took her to hospital, the true failures (both to her victim and to her) happened there. See this blog for more insight....

    1. Thanks for the link to Mental Health Cop and I would suggest a visit to the site for a thorough discussion of the issues in this case.

      I still find it hard to understand why steps were not taken to contact the appropriate Approved Mental Health Professional for an assessment, irrespective of what transpired in attending at A and E. There must be force procedures for situations like this where there are grounds for feeling a mental health assessment is required urgently.

      Having said all this, Mental Health Cop is pretty well an expert in this field and must know what he's talking about. Most of my mental health experience dates back from my time on an EDT (Emergency Duty Team)placement back in 1984 and the days of Approved Social Workers.

      He's right about the fact that we're going to hear a lot more about this case in the coming months, not least the circumstances of Nicola's release from secure psychiatric treatment and if there was any on-going medical or other supervision.

      I'm still unsure if Nicola was subject to section or not and if she absconded or not? Finally, I'm not sure if the proper procedures were followed by the police or relevant mental health services in trying to get Nicola assessed.

      It's another matter entirely as to whether the criminal justice system handled this matter correctly or not - my feeling is that it most certainly didn't and the whole subject needs some urgent review.

  4. I am astonished that this case is blamed on the police. They did respond to calls and they did try to help the woman; she was actually taken to a hospital, which simply did not take care of her. The police had nothing on which to charge her and keep her locked up.

    The IPCC may have found that some box-ticking was not done completely according to procedure, but fundamentally, this was a failure of the hospital, not the police. Hospitals do have access to medical history of people in Britain, don't they? Do policemen have enough time to spend many hours at a hospital to wait until someone decides to do something about a patient that was taken in?

    And indeed, it is sad that a jury has to convict a mentally sick patient of murder, just to ensure that she will stay locked up, because the health care won't care.

  5. It is perhaps unnecessary for the police to carry out PNC checks on everyone they come into contact with. However, during one of her 999 calls she told the police:

    "I need for the police to come because I've had a nervous breakdown before and I killed someone."

    So, she tells the police she has killed someone before. Surely in light of this information the police should have carried out checks, not least in the interests of the safety of police officers. And had the police been in possession of this information it is likely this would have influenced how she was managed and it would perhaps have stimulated further inquires that would have identified her Mappa status. It may have also concentrated minds on sectioning. I understand that sectioning can be justified on two grounds: a danger to oneself or a danger to others.

    To identify failings in how the police (IPCC, para 208) regarding a PNC check is a reasonable observation. Likewise there were failings by the mental health services, though as for her being convicted of her murder because the jury lacked confidence in the mental health services is a perverse opinion.

    It is invariably the case in the tragic situations that opportunities to possibly alter the course of events are missed and they are usually missed because there are failures in communication between agencies and because individuals, with hindsight, could have been more conscientious of risks.