One piece of news mental health trust directors dread above almost any other is that of a homicide by a local service user.

Contrary to popular myth, this is not an increasing occurrence, but for many of those who have to deal with such an event, it can be a career-defining moment.

The main advice I would offer, based on my experience, would include the following points:

Remember the victim There will be overwhelming internal pressure to retreat to a defensive position. But to do your job properly, you have to demonstrate that you understand the bigger picture. Even when services have been demonstrably faultless, you will still be put to the sword if you are seen to have been disrespectful to the victim's family.

Don't say things just to keep the press happy Do not get fixated with any one audience. Loose talk can be excessively costly and if staff feel they are being scapegoated, the price that your services will pay will be far worse than a few nasty headlines.

Ensure the internal investigation is fearless Your nightmare is that issues might come out in court or in the media that you did not know about and which throw a different light on the incident. The no-blame principle is vital, but it should not be mistaken for a no-hard-questions principle.

Track the case The English court system will often take many shies at the coconut before the case concludes. The court hearings are in public and will often be attended by the media - you really need to know first hand what is said at these hearings.

Preparation, preparation, preparation While the case is sub judice, the media will be restricted in what it can say. But as soon as there is a verdict, the gloves are off. Have your lines ready. Produce an internal question-and-answer briefing that covers all the worst-case scenarios. Be inclusive in your preparations, and think multidisciplinary and multi-agency.

If you can offer reassurances that you have conducted a good investigation and that you are serious about learning lessons, you have a chance of convincing reasonable people that your trust is not all bad. Unreasonable people are a different audience.

Never underestimate the ability of the press to print what fits its opinion, regardless of the facts On one occasion, an independent inquiry report was to be published, but an evening newspaper was upset that my organisation would not give it an advance copy.

Imagine our surprise when we saw the early editions of that paper with a report on the findings of the inquiry, published before the report was available to the media.

It had printed as fact what it felt should be the outcome of the inquiry, naming a number of people as being at fault. The actual report said nothing of the sort.

And did the newspaper retract or apologise? Come, come, reader - this is not a fairy story. I now no longer believe even the football scores printed in that particular publication.