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Presumed dangerous

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 31 July 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:326
  1. Geoff Watts, freelance medical journalist

    Visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists' website ( and you find an anxious message: “Urgent call to members. Managing dangerous people with personality disorders.” It goes on to explain that, as members may know, the Home Office and the Department of Health have put forward proposals for the detention of people who have no criminal convictions but who are judged to have an antisocial personality disorder. Members of the royal college who read the Sun will certainly know what this is about. The edition of Tuesday 20 July carried a crisp, six word headline: “600 psychos to be locked up.” By way of explanation, it carried the subheading: “Swoop on maniacs before they strike.”

    You don't have to be a fan of tabloid journalism to recognise its strengths The person who wrote those headlines had managed, in just two phrases, to capture both the content of the government's proposed action and its justification. Nor do you have to be especially cynical to imagine that this saloon bar message, …

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