Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 20

Paul Farmer, chair, Mental Health Alliance

The case of Peter Bryan is a tragedy of the highest order, but it must not be allowed to cloud our judgement about and stigmatise the many thousands of people with severe mental illnesses who live safely in their communities.

This is an appalling case. It is right that there should be an independent inquiry to establish what went wrong and what could be done to avoid such cases in the future.

But until an inquiry is complete, we must not make unjust assumptions that could put the 500,000 British people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia at risk of being deprived of their liberty or being excluded from the rest of society on the basis of a small number of tragic cases.

What we do know, from the inquiries that have taken place into previous homicides by people with mental health problems, is that we do not need a draconian new law.

That would just drive people away from services and create yet more bureaucracy for staff. Laws alone cannot ever take all risk out of the system.

Instead we need a properly resourced mental health care system that listens to patients and carers when they ask for help, that offers effective care and support when it is needed, and that can make the best risk assessments possible.