The civil liberties response to Jack Straw's announcement has forgotten that for decades we have been sectioning mentally ill people who have not committed any offences. The NHS used to treat psychopathic disorder in a similar way, as evidenced by figures produced by Mr Straw after Michael Stone's trial.

He showed that in 1984, 14 per cent of all patients detained under the Mental Health Act were psychopathically disordered. Figures from the Department of Health reveal how much practice has changed - unofficially, it seems. At 31 March 1998 there were 12,684 patients detained in NHS and private facilities. Those with psychopathic disorder numbered 645. Of the total detained, only 1.3 per cent were being treated for psychopathic disorder in trusts.

So practice has indeed changed, but is it a change we should applaud and encourage? Or should we not congratulate the home secretary for seeing what a mess we have got ourselves into and for his willingness to do something about it?

Michael Howlett


The Zito Trust

London WC2