News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Mental health staff are anxious after murder of psychiatrist

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 09 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1056
  1. Christopher Zinn
  1. Sydney

    Police say mental health professionals in Australia are frightened of being attacked, after the murder of a leading mental health service administrator. At least one meeting of mental health staff has recently been held under armed guard.

    Detectives have widened their inquiries around the country and even overseas after the stalking and shooting four times in the back of Dr Margaret Tobin, aged 50, at her offices in Adelaide on 15 October.

    Dr Tobin, the director of the South Australian mental health services, was gunned down on the eighth floor of her headquarters after the killer got into the lift, along with Dr Tobin and two other people, on the ground floor.

    Police officers confirmed they were following up her career as a psychiatrist and administrator in hospitals in Victoria and as a former mental health director for southeastern Sydney before she moved to Adelaide in July 2000.

    ”The mental health communities here [Adelaide] and in Sydney are in fear,” said the officer in charge of the investigation, acting superintendent John McCaffrey. “There is nothing that stands out in her personal life as a possible reason for the murder.” He added that police were not aware that anyone else was at risk.

    A recent meeting of 40 delegates of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, of which Dr Tobin was a member, was shadowed by armed guards and police after the college instituted extra security.

    The Adelaide Advertiser reported last week (Nov 1, p 9) that a former psychiatrist, aged 46, had been questioned over her death by police, who seized two handguns for tests from his Sydney home.

    It said that the man, who is a registered gun owner, was deregistered as a psychiatrist in Sydney in 1998 and is understood to have previously made threats against Dr Tobin over the action against him.

    Police have said that the killer was sighted in the offices two and a half hours before the mental health chief was killed.

    A reported sighting of the bearded man, whose photofit image has been widely circulated, supports theories that Dr Tobin was stalked before her death.

    “We have police making inquiries for us in every state and also overseas,” said Mr McCaffrey.

    “The inquiry is going to be a long one, and we will continue our inquiries wherever the leads take us.”

    South Australian premier Mike Rann has ordered a review of security in all government offices and hospitals, in response to this shooting and the terrorist bombing in Bali.

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