Thursday, 4 April 2013

The system needs to recognise psychopaths like Mick Philpott early on – and show no mercy

Mick Philpott was sentenced to life imprisonment this morning, which means that he’ll serve 14 years and 58 days before becoming eligible for parole. It’ll then be up to the parole board – representing the Therapeutic State - whether he is released. The problem with this is that although Philpott, having already proved willing to act on his twisted urges, should never be let out of prison, we have no guarantee that he won’t be allowed back amongst us some day.

I’m not howling for societal vengeance here (although I’m perfectly happy to do so). And I’m not saying that all criminals who attempt or actually commit serious offences should never be let out of prison: I believe that most human beings have the potential to see the error of their ways and to repent of their wickedness (although very few seem to). It just happens that Philpott is that strangest and most repellent of all human types – a psychopath. That means he was born without a conscience. The defining characteristic of a psychopath is an inability to empathise with other people, which manifests itself in colossally callous, selfish and often highly dangerous behaviour. As a result, they can kill, maim and torture without experiencing the slightest remorse. The only person whom the psychopath is able to feel sympathy towards is himself. (When one of his children was in hospital after the fire, Philpott and his wife chose not to sit with their dying boy, but left that job to relatives, and instead spent their time complaining that the hospital wasn’t feeding them, and arguing about what to order from a Chinese take-away. Only a psychopath – or some weak-willed wretch who has fallen under their snake-like spell – could possibly behave so grotequely.

The condition isn’t curable: chemical coshing and the threat of punishment might help prevent psychopaths acting out their desires, but they are incapable of changing  their view of the world. Their peculiar psychic wiring means that they are inherently unable to  repent. This means that, apart from incarceration or physical infirmity, nothing can guarantee that they won’t commit further crimes if allowed back into society. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fit  the Therapeutic State’s view of things, which presupposes that, as every human being came into the world as a blank slate, whatever is subsequently written on that slate can be rewritten by caring, compassionate, sensitive penaleducational and psychiatric experts. This, of course, is nonsense: the slate has all sorts of writing on it from the start, and much of it can’t ever be erased. It isn’t pre-ordained that the psychopath will commit evil, but once they have given way to their inner urges and revealed their true nature, there’s really nothing to be done but to recognise them for what they are, lock them up, and never, for one moment, think of setting them free again.

The religion which I profess to follow is based on the forgiveness of wrongdoing – after all, Christ is meant to have died for our sins. But the concept of repentance is also crucial to Christianity: in order to be forgiven, we must recognise that we have sinned, be heartily sorry for what we have done, and not repeat the sin. Unfortunately, the Therapeutic State seems so eager to forgive – after all, the act of forgiveness makes some people feel very, very good about themselves – that it either doesn’t require any sign of genuine repentance, or allows itself to be fooled into believing that the psychopath has indeed changed his ways, when all he’s doing is what comes naturally to him – manipulating normal people into believing he’s really just like them.

Philpott stabbed his ex-grilfriend 17 times in 1978 after she had ended their affair, and then stabbed her mother. The judge at Philpott's trial for manslaughter ruled that the previous crime – for which Philpott had served seven years in jail – was not relevant. Legally, the judge may have been on fiorm ground. But of course it was relevant – massively, crucially, overwhelmingly relevant, because it probably marked the moment when Philpott revealed himself to be a psychopath. If the system had been set up to recognise his true nature, and to act on that knowledge, he might have spent the rest of his life locked up in Broadmoor.

Of course, there are insuperable problems associated with locking people away forever on the basis of psychiatric assessments: before you know it, the State would be adding racist, homophobe, Gothophobe and Climate Change Denier to the list of those marked out for statutory permanent incarceration. And actually coming up with an absolutely infallible test for psychopathy strikes me as nigh impossible – after all, it wasn’t so long ago that psychiatrists were attempting to “cure” manic-depression by chopping out bits of sufferers’ brains.

In the meantime, two things could be done to make it more difficult for these potentially dangerous, twisted goblins to move among us with semi-impunity. First, the people who work within our social care and criminal justice systems need to forget all that rubbish about everyone being a product of their environment – if social workers, police, teachers, psychiatrists, judges and parole-board members were primed to recognise a psychopath when they saw one, it might help (apparently nobody within the system realised what Philpott was until six of his children died in a house-fire, despite many obvious warning signs).

Second, once the system has geared itself up to recognise psychopaths, those who work within the system need to be taught that mercy is not an option if the rest of us are to remain safe.

Third – and even George Osborne seems to have realised this – a system which takes money from normal, decent people in order to fund the chaotic, feckless, repulsive lifestyles of morally insane savages is itself morally insane.

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