TRUE OPINION: Alleged “Sydney stabber” Mert Ney was apparently “known” to both the police and mental health services, but may have slipped in between the cracks writes Lois Lane.
The manner in which crime is reported in the media has a profound effect on the public consciousness.
For example, if someone is reported as being “known to police” then the connotation is they have a criminal history, however this may not always be the case. They may be just “known” but that term alone can exert a profound effect on readers, listeners and viewers; generating within many of them the assumption of pre-existing criminality.
Similarly, if an individual is reported as being “known” to mental health services it can also construct an impression they have a history of mental health problems. Being “known” to mental health services could mean either they do possess such a history, or, it could mean that they have been referred to the services perhaps once or a number of times for assessment and follow-up with a conclusion that there is no sign of mental health issues at the time of contact. Therefore, the restrictive aspect of the Mental Health Act cannot be applied as the individual does not fit the criteria.
In the case of20-year-old Mert Ney – who has been charged over the stabbing murder and assaults that occurred in Sydney’s CBD this month – a firestorm of innuendo and debate has been ignited over social and other media. A raft of assumptions have been made while others engage in the “blame game”. There are two distinct assumptions: one is that he was mentally ill and or had a history of the same, and the second assumption is a follow-on from the first. That is, some mix-up or communication breakdown between services led to this man being free to walk the streets to allegedly commit the terrible crime of murder.
Two psychiatric facilities have been implicated in a couple of media reports as being involved in this alleged communication breakdown or mix-up, however True Crime News Weekly understands that at this stage it is pure speculation.
It is believed the claims arose from phone contacts NSW Police allegedly made to the health service. Following this, the information was then re-fashioned and delivered by the police forces well-resourced media team into the laps of journalists. With the information then duly reported in a style that ignited a proportioning of blame. Suffice to say, these stories do nothing for the grieving families of Michaela Dunn and other victims. Nor do they add much to societal perceptions of how such a incident may be prevented in future.
It is important in this context to describe the Mental Health Act of this state.
The Mental Health Act of NSW outlines that in order to activate “forced treatment” it must be clear that after a sighting of the individual a suitably qualified clinician must be of the view that beyond reasonable doubt if the individual does not acquire treatment then they are in imminent danger to either themselves or other people.
The Mental Health Act also makes it clear that all “least restrictive” approaches to treatment need to have been considered and exhausted prior to completion of the document. In other words, a Schedule under the Mental Health Act should be the last resort.
Stabbing murder victim: 24-year-old Michaela Dunn (Image: Supplied)
The Schedule documentation can be completed by clinicians in community settings, however, in most cases when a Schedule is required the individual it applies to are refusing treatment and of course are of high-risk. Therefore, there is a specific section of the form that is to be completed if police transportation is needed. This is for the safety of the individual as it is for the staff who are not mandated outside of hospital settings to apprehend and physically restrain individuals and take them to hospital.
It is important to note that despite not being clinicians, any police officer can complete a “Police Schedule” as it is known that authorises them to transport an individual to the nearest psychiatric facility for assessment if there is a belief they have offended or about to offend due to mental health issues. This is a fact that not many people are aware of.
In addition, any GP or accredited person under the Act can also legally complete a Schedule.
It’s not just the sole responsibility of mental health services to ensure at-risk individuals be brought to psychiatric facility for a formal assessment. There are numerous pathways into the system that are seemingly underutilised.
The messages surrounding Mert Ney’s alleged mental state are confusing. His lawyer has indicated the defence will be conducted on the grounds of diminished responsibility due to mental health issues at the time of the offence. Yet his lawyer claims his client so far has been denied essential medication in custody except for Panadol. Ney’s sister meanwhile divulged to the media – after tv crews set up camp outside her family home for hours on end – that in the preceding week he was descending into insanity. But was that insanity due to explosive violence or escalating substance abuse?
Prison facilities should have their clinics staffed with psychiatric nurses and a medical officer should be accessible for all inmates. What seems curious is that even when treated for his injuries post arrest one would have thought Ney would also be subject to a full medical review, including a mental state one.
The legal test as it always has been is shaped in principle by McNaughton’s rule. In the context of Mert Ney’s defence, the task of his legal team is to establish beyond reasonable doubt that at the time of committing the alleged offences that he was suffering from a mental illness and due to that illness had little or no capacity to control his actions. In addition, they would seek to argue that due to suffering from that same mental illness at the time of committing the offences the illness rendered Ney incapable of making the distinction between right and wrong.
It is not common for a person to be found not guilty on the grounds of insanity though the Australian, NZ and UK courts appear to give it more considered deliberations than the United States. Over there, approximately only 1.5% of all murder cases have been tried successfully on the insanity defence. Little wonder the US prison system is bursting at the seams with seriously mentally ill inmates.
There has been an increase in hostility in recent years from some sections of the police service against mental health services which has spilled vicariously into media reporting of crime. But the Mental Health Act has always critically included the role police play; it has been there since the first incarnations of the Act.
The police feel it should not be their role but it always has been and unless there is some dramatic re-assignment of powers of apprehension, containment and even tools by which to accomplish this, that situation will remain the same. When asked about their willingness to hand over powers of apprehension, restraint, arrest and all the tools to go with it the Police usually refuse to relinquish those powers.
The reporting of the Ney’s alleged crimes have impacted on the public court of opinion and generated a blame game packed with speculation and innuendo. But we will never get a glimpse of the truth until it is unpacked in the judicial process and that is how it should always remain.