Thursday, September 10, 2009 

The prime mentalist is back.

Have you missed the glitz and glamour of politics over the summer?  The spirited debates, the back and forth, the agreeing to disagree, the rapier wit of the finest of their profession, crushing their opponents with humour whilst also making serious substantial points?  Or have we just all been waiting for Peter Mandelson to get in trouble again for going on someone's yacht?

The old cliche or witticism, depending on your view, is that politics is show-business for ugly people.  The difference surely is that while show-business might be viewed as a game, politics is the ultimate one.  The two do now though overlap more and more: Bono gets up on his soapbox while Gordon Brown rings Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell to make sure that Susan Boyle is "OK".  Politics has always shared the bitchiness which is inherent in celebrity culture, and smearing is old as the delusions which both grandeur and power bring.  Margaret Thatcher was a mad old bat; John Major tucked his shirt into his underpants and was the ever gray man; Tony Blair was a liar and messianic, both of which more than had an iota of truth in them; and now Gordon Brown, formerly accused of being autistic and of various mental disorders, is said to be taking one of the MAOI class of anti-depressants.

According to who?  Supposedly, as always, these rumours have been circling Westminster, and it takes one "brave" individual to finally give voice to them, of course much easier in these days when you can say whatever you like about anyone on this glorious interweb and someone will inevitably believe it regardless of any evidence.  That person was John Ward, who has his legion of sources and naturally the psychoanalysis to back it up.  Since he first posted on it, it's been picked up by "The Mole", Simon Heffer, Matthew Norman, who should really know better, and now finally by Guido, who demands to know who will ask Gordo about his drug addiction, since if it's on the internet it simply must be true.  John Harris' piece in today's Graun also seems to be an indirect response to it, but is far too kind to come out and play with the rumours.

It's tempting to not give any credence whatsoever to these stories and to ignore them completely, but seeing I'm writing this mess I've obviously decided otherwise.  It's also equally easy to point out that even if true, Brown is hardly the first politician, let alone prime minister to suffer from mental health problems, and that others have dealt superbly with their demons whilst in high office.  There's also the fact that if you weren't under severe strain while prime minister, especially considering the far from benign conditions which Brown has faced over the last year, if not two years, then there's probably something wrong with you anyway.  There is however also an argument to be made that if true, then the public deserves to know, even if fraught with difficulties.  It's only too obvious from the comments of most, including Guido, that there is still severe prejudice and a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to mental illness, as ably illustrated by his continued use of Brown as a clown with a legend which includes the word "bonkers".  Arguably, there was a case when David Blunkett was still home secretary and suffering from something approaching severe depression as a result of his relationship with Kimberley Fortier that he could have be "unfit" to hold such a high post of office.  Yet equally clearly it's apparent that the only person who should be able to make such decisions and offer such advice would be an actual psychiatrist; if Brown is taking MAOIs, then he doubtless has been prescribed them by one.  If he considered that Brown could not continue in his job as a result of his illness, then he would have told him so, just as that doctor would have told anyone else that they should consider taking time off in the same circumstances.  This doesn't seem to be the case.

There is however also a case to be made that this is politics of the very worst kind.  It wasn't so long ago that newspapers were outraged, disgusted and so deeply deeply shocked by the smears which err, they printed, from private emails between Damian McBride and Derek Draper.  These were rumours, as many accepted, which had been swirling around Westminster.  Nonetheless, it was a disaster for Brown, there were allegations that Brown had to have known, as well as other ministers in close proximity to McBride, which individuals later had to apologise for after legal action was taken.  Only on Monday did Guido deliver to McBride a writ from Nadine Dorries for comments which were allegedly made about her in the emails.  Four days later and the exact same person is indulging in what are almost certainly also libellous claims were they to be proved to be unfounded.  If I were McBride and Draper's legal advisers I would suggest that they argue that Dorries doesn't have a reputation to be libelled, but whatever you think of Brown's tenure as prime minister, a case can at least be made that he does.

All this comes just as there actually is genuine politics to be discussed for a change, and after a month in which the Conservatives have been common consent been piss-poor, not helped by Daniel Hannan or by their "Broken Britain" week, highlighted by Chris Grayling's claim that some parts of the country were as bad as the Wire.  The economy seems to be improving, there is no real plot against Brown, despite what Martin Kettle thinks, and the left finally seems to be realising that there's still something to fight for.  Instead we're back to the sewer.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009 

Gun control and school shootings.

While I tend to be for the most part as socially libertarian as you can get, one of the things I tend to disagree with the actual libertarians on is gun control. One of the undoubted major reasons why gun crime in this country is for the most part incredibly rare, especially when compared to other countries is thanks to the draconian nature of our laws; you could argue that we've never been major gun lovers over the last century in any case, and that we've never had the sort of constitutional protection like in the United States which has encouraged mass gun ownership, but it's almost certainly a factor as to why we thankfully haven't experienced the school shooting massacres that the US has become notorious for and which Germany experienced its second of today. True, the Dunblane massacre, alongside the Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings is one of the most well-known, but that doesn't really count as it wasn't committed by either a student or former pupil who had only recently left.

Sadly, I do however think that it's only a matter of time until we do experience our own version, which is why triumphalism or sneering at other countries' problems and policies, and especially putting it down to some sort of moral decay, societal problems or a nation's history is incredibly unhelpful. The key thing that has to be stated is that all of these massacres are essentially copycat crimes: media coverage and especially sensationalism does nothing whatsoever to help them from being repeated. Some of those who launch such shootings will do it on the spur of the moment; the majority however will have almost certainly been planning their attacks for some time, and the warning signs may well have been there. What I wrote after the Virginia Tech massacre seems worth repeating:

There have always been serial killers, murderers and terrorists, but never before have young men and teenagers in such a short space of time carried out such wanton acts of carnage against their own peers in the corridors of their schools. The easy availability of such lethal weaponry plays its part, but it doesn't explain why this epidemic has erupted in such a way, especially in the last decade. Teenage angst, alienation, mental illness and a thirst for revenge against both perceived and actual slights help us to understand why, but they don't tell the full story. These may be extroverted suicides, as [Lionel, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin] Shriver also argues, and Oliver James seems to concur, but there are thousands who kill themselves and who want to end it all without taking dozens of others with them. We have to examine whether the pressures being put on children everywhere to succeed whatever the costs, especially in a dog eat dog world which seems to grow crueller and nastier by the year, and where failing and even being "different" is worthy of ridicule is helping to contribute to the malaise which is afflicting youngsters, even if very few of them are going to slaughter their classmates as a result.


I don't have the solution or the answer, but if there is one thing that perhaps would help, it would be for more understanding both for those who suffer from mental ill-health and more attention to be given to those who do suffer from their own private demons while young. It just might prevent more re-runs of the current grieving than is necessary.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008 

Going lower than ever thought possible.

Out of all the joys that the internet has brought us, the ability for those with a tendency for hypochondria to self-diagnose themselves via the easy availability of the symptoms for every disease known to man is one of the lesser benefits. Even worse though is those who then take these self-same symptoms and rather than diagnosing themselves, attempt to pin the diseases and disorders on others, especially those involving mental health. This level of sub-Freudian projection is contemptible enough when it's directed against celebrities and others in the public eye, but when it enters political discourse it represents something resembling a new low in gutter-sniping.

Witness then Guido bringing the question completely out into the open, behind the witless low-level building up of the idea which has been going on for several months now. Gordon Brown, fairly and simply, is quite possibly bonkers. The evidence presented for this is weak beyond belief. It amounts to around three things: that Brown was labelled "psychologically flawed" long ago by Blair's briefers during one of the internecine battles between TB and GB; that Brown has been acting strangely, apropos an article by that man noted for his own completely rational and inoffensive behaviour, Bruce Anderson; and lastly, that even by the standards of a politician he's been making increasingly bizarre statements. To this you could add the pathetic diagnoses by the green ink brigade of autism, or Asperger's syndrome.

You don't have to have even the slightest medical training to treat such facile, shallow nonsense with the contempt it deserves. It ought to be remembered however though that this isn't just the imaginings of the usual suspect squad of bloggers getting ever more drunk on their own delusions of grandeur: George Osborne joked when asked by Mary Ann Sieghart whether his own knowledge of dinosaurs when a child was "faintly autistic" by saying "we're not getting into Gordon Brown yet"; and for a while it almost seemed to be Conservative policy to treat Gordon Brown as weird, hence Cameron's description of him as "that strange man in Downing Street".

To give these claims the sort of scrutiny which they don't deserve, we're for a start dealing with highly conflicting descriptions of what Brown genuinely is like. While some may class him as a Stalinist or a control freak, others have talked of his mildness, even warmth in private, and have been disillusioned by his failure to show this in public. Even if we take at face value the stories of Brown's rages, almost all delivered, incidentally, by either Blairites or those predisposed against Brown, of the smashing of mobile phones and otherwise, they don't even begin to be explained by mental illness or autism: rather, this is a person under intense pressure and stress, reacting at times in ways which he doubtless instantly regrets. It might be someone not enjoying the job which they so coveted, but it is not even slightly abnormal, let alone descending into mental ill-health.

More than anything, this perhaps comes down to what you regard as the qualities that a politician should always have on display. We seem increasingly to want our politicians to always be presentable, to always instantly know what to do, and at the same time to be incredibly open with everyone. In short, we never want them to put a foot wrong, be off-message, or be consumed with anything other than constant public service. This, more than anything, is what is currently delivering us identikit politicians, overwhelming upper-middle or upper-class, with next to no experience other than from within political parties, all of whom look more or less the same and indeed, offer more or the less the same. They can deliver a speech brilliantly, pretend to empathise, emerge as brain-shatteringly normal or at least act like it, and pass the barbecue test, but none of this qualifies them in the slightest to actually run a country. Surely we ought to have learned this lesson by now, whether by the examples of either Bush or Blair, yet we seem more than ever to lap up the spin we so profess to detest while railing against the outsider, the abnormal, those who don't seem to fit in.

Surely the greatest example of how you don't always need to be of complete sound mind, even if you are, when in a position of such authority is Churchill. Everyone is aware of his life-long battle with depression, of the "Black Dog" as he called it, yet its effects did not prevent him from serving as arguably the greatest prime minister this country has ever had.

This is not of course to suggest that Brown is on anywhere near the same plain as Churchill; he quite obviously is not. Yet the whispering about his own mental ill-health, completely unsubstantiated, is designed to put the final nail in his coffin, to ostracise him completely, to persecute him for daring to be anything other than he really is. The political reality Brown has to face is that he never forced his hand early enough to force Blair out when he could still have averted Labour's apparent inexorable decline. However much some want to pin all the blame solely on his shoulders for the economic weather we are now facing, the main opposition party cannot even begin to explain what things it would have done differently to Labour, or what it would have cut or not funded to the same extent as that as Brown did. He has chosen the entirely wrong policies to pursue since becoming prime minister, such as 42 days detention and the expansion of the school academy system, not to mention the 10p tax rate debacle, but there is no evidence whatsoever, indeed, some to the contrary, that another leader would do any better. The Conservatives are heading back to power, but if they or their cyphers think that they'll earn any kudos for descending to the politics of the sewer, lower even than that which New Labour has at times sunk, then they are certainly sorely mistaken.

Lib Con - The 'Gordon Brown is insane' meme

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Thursday, April 19, 2007 

A secular "martyr".

When Lionel Shriver, author of a novel on a child that becomes a spree killer, wrote on Tuesday that "[A]nonymity is the last thing most of his fellow campus shooters have sought" she didn't know just how quickly Cho Seung-hui was posthumously going to prove her right. Proving beyond doubt that Cho's subsequent rampage was planned in advance, his "manifesto" as NBC termed it, last night appeared on the network news channel in all its unedifying, blood-spattered ignominy.

He wasn't the first to try to justify his actions in such a way, nor will he by any means be the last. Most notoriously, and most like an actual manifesto, Theodore Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, wrote a 35,000 word paper entitled the "Industrial Society and Its Future", which both the New York Times and Washington Post published, out of concern that further bombings would take place otherwise, and out of the hope that his writing style would help him to be identified. His brother recognized his prose, but not before a professor from the University of Wisconsin stated that:

It's good prose. The sentences flow well into one another, the paragraphs are coherent. The Unabomber even knows how to punctuate, and that's a very rare gift.

Cho's own message from beyond the grave bears little resemblance to the Unabomber's own verbosity. It soon becomes apparent, even from viewing the few parts made available from the full 28 video clips, that Cho was almost certainly influenced by those other martyrdom tapes which we've seen over the last few years, even though radical Islamist ideology appears to have played no part in his actual thinking. For that's what this most definitely is: a martyrdom video, albeit a secular one that makes clear his own inadequacy, insecurity and twisted reasoning. Some of his monologues more than reflect the reasons given by suicide bombers for their own atrocities, only with added profanity:

I didn't have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run. It's not for me. For my children, for my brothers and sisters that you fucked. I did it for them.

We can't say for certain just what Cho was suffering from, as a doctor diagnosed him back in 2005 with depression, but the severe form of it seems most likely. Apart from the above speech, which he seems to have motivated himself up for, in other clips he appears apathetic, speaking in a monotone, as if crushed by the world. He was however obviously planning for this event, and the reference to the two teenagers who carried out the massacre at Columbine, the 8th anniversary of which is tomorrow, will ignite speculation over whether it was in fact meant to happen tomorrow in a further "tribute" to them; the first shootings seeming out of place, especially as it was probably more down to luck and a failure of communication than anything else that he wasn't caught before he went on to kill 30 more students and teachers, his aim almost certainly being a mass killing spree.

While NBC is now coming in for heavy criticism for broadcasting extracts of the "manifesto" it was "lucky" enough to receive, it's perhaps better that it came out now rather than later, only to reignite the misery and pain suffered by those who lost loved ones for a second time. While it's been dealt with in the sensationalist style most associated with American TV news, one of the presenters tastelessly referring to it as "a legacy to NBC", it's doubtful if he'd chosen another network that they would have treated it any differently. The contents most certainly are sensational, even if it needn't be dealt with in a such a way. While Shriver argues that these massacres are all copycat crimes, and she has more than a point, it's difficult to criticise the media's coverage, other than for the way it's predictably demonised a man who seemingly could have been intercepted and treated well before he reached the point of no return. His two short plays especially, which have been described as disturbing, instead seem adolescent, puerile and attempts at dark humour which fail due to their stilted nature, and if they're meant to be frightening as some say, then there's a lot of people out there who should never go near the writings of say, Peter Sotos or even Chuck Palahniuk.

Dismissing him in this way seems part of the way of avoiding the questioning of modern culture itself. There have always been serial killers, murderers and terrorists, but never before have young men and teenagers in such a short space of time carried out such wanton acts of carnage against their own peers in the corridors of their schools. The easy availability of such lethal weaponry plays its part, but it doesn't explain why this epidemic has erupted in such a way, especially in the last decade. Teenage angst, alienation, mental illness and a thirst for revenge against both perceived and actual slights help us to understand why, but they don't tell the full story. These may be extroverted suicides, as Shriver also argues, and Oliver James seems to concur, but there are thousands who kill themselves and who want to end it all without taking dozens of others with them. We have to examine whether the pressures being put on children everywhere to succeed whatever the costs, especially in a dog eat dog world which seems to grow crueler and nastier by the year, and where failing and even being "different" is worthy of ridicule is helping to contribute to the malaise which is afflicting youngsters, even if very few of them are going to slaughter their classmates as a result.

The one thing that's for certain is that it will happen again, and next time the killer will most likely be trying to topple Cho's macabre record. Cho has spilt his blood, and to a certain subculture he probably will be a martyr. Most kids will grow out of it, but it's hard to predict who won't, and even then if they'll try their own luck at infamy, succeeding in one thing even if they failed at everything else. I don't have the solution or the answer, but if there is one thing that perhaps would help, it would be for more understanding both for those who suffer from mental ill-health and more attention to be given to those who do suffer from their own private demons while young. It just might prevent more re-runs of the current grieving than is necessary.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007 

The building of a moral panic.

Following on from coverage last month of the conviction of Tom Palmer for murder, today's Daily Mail appears to be attempting to raise the stakes in the growing hysteria about the ill-effects of "skunk" cannabis.

This latest case concerns 17-year-old Ezekiel Maxwell, a paranoid schizophrenic who stabbed grandmother Carmelita Tulloch 7 times in an unprovoked and motiveless attack. The Daily Mail claims that he had been smoking cannabis
and skunk since he was 14, as well as taking cocaine.

As is nearly always universal in these supposed cases however, the evidence is by no means clear cut. Maxwell himself claims that he started to hear voices after smoking the drug. It's quite possible that smoking skunk could have triggered or exacerbated his apparent descent into schizophrenia, but we have to take into consideration what else was happening in his life at the time, as well as whether the illness would have developed if he hadn't been smoking cannabis. The Daily Mail article provides few details about his family life, other than the fact that he was additionally "obsessed" with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. We also don't know just how "heavy" his use of skunk/cannabis was; a Torygraph report mentions that the psychiatric reports simply say that they believe his condition was exacerbated by heavy use of skunk.

Somewhat buried in the Mail article is a fact that is probably far more of an explanation for the murder. Last June he had been referred by his GP to his local mental health team, who had prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. His case had been reviewed four times, and was due to be considered again the day after he stabbed Tulloch to death. Maxwell had not taken his medicine for two weeks. Countless previous cases of paranoid schizophrenics committing violent acts have documented the dangers of sudden stopping in the taking of medication, often being found to be the trigger or the explanation for changes in behaviour. It was only after handing himself in that he was definitively diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, something that had been missed in his previous sessions with the psychiatric team.

Also worthy of mention is his "addiction" to Grand Theft Auto. The Mail mentions that Carl Johnson, who you play as in GTA:SA carries a knife, which is true. You can also carry an AK-47, a chainsaw, a pool cue, a samurai sword, grenades and countless other guns as well. As the game progresses you can also pilot a US fighter jet and shoot down other planes on exercises, but that doesn't really enter into what Maxwell did quite as well. The prosecution also states that Maxwell had been playing the game almost exclusively in the months before the murder. This doesn't necessarily suggest that he was obsessed with it: GTA:SA is a lengthy, time-consuming game. It took me around a month to "complete" the in-game missions, and then afterwards you're given free-reign to roam a vast area modeled on Los Angeles in the early 90s, where much of the repeat playing fun comes from.

There's no denying that the GTA series of games are violent, but it's up to you how you play it: hacking down/shooting everyone on the streets not only draws the attention of the police, but also rival gangs. The character you play as only tends to kill in the game as revenge; it's not a bloodthirsty gore fest, however the media would like to paint it. The game also has an 18 certificate for a reason: Maxwell, being 17 at the time of the murder, shouldn't have been playing it.

The whole highlighting of GTA is reminiscent of how violent horror films were often blamed or linked to murders during the 80s and early 90s. The Sun in one case reported of how "mad Michael", the killer in the Halloween series of films had "talked" to a paranoid schizophrenic and told him to kill. That Michael Myers in the films is a mute escapee from a psychiatric ward didn't enter into it. How Maxwell's own lawyer described it is thus:

"The game allows the player to take on the role of a criminal in a big city. This persuaded him to stab someone. He was powerless to resist."

Just how much Maxwell was genuinely influenced by playing GTA is again unclear. The reports by his psychiatrists have not been properly presented in their write-ups by either the Mail or the Telegraph, so we have to rely on what was produced in court by both his own lawyers and the prosecution. The prosecution says that he believed he was Carl Johnson, and his own lawyer that he "powerless" to resist the voices in his head. One has to wonder whether if he'd been taking his medication these thoughts would have become so overwhelming and irresistible.

While the Telegraph focuses more on GTA, the Mail goes overboard with the references to skunk. It says this case highlights the dangers of skunk: it rather highlights the danger of smoking cannabis while not taking prescribed anti-psychotic medicines poses. You have to wonder whether the mental health charities commenting on the case are also doing more harm than good -- the more cannabis gets the blame the more "normally" developing mental illness gets swept under the carpet. Statistics may well be useless, but it ought to remembered that 1 in 4 will suffer from some form of mental ill-health during their lifetime. We also have to remember just how the Mail and others are building a wave of hysteria over cannabis when the evidence for the massively increased potency of cannabis is itself simply a myth, as the ever-excellent Ben Goldacre set out in a recent Bad Science column. It was also only a couple of weeks ago that the Lancet presented its own detailed investigation into the actual harm posed by various drugs: it unsurprisingly found that heroin and cocaine (especially crack) are by far the most dangerous, while ecstasy and cannabis were less relatively harmful than both alcohol and tobacco, findings which are examined here by Transform.

As with the Tom Palmer case, skunk may indeed have exacerbated Maxwell's descent into schizophrenia. This however shouldn't be used to build a wave of panic over brain-meltingly strong weed that's inflicting mental illness on our teenagers when there is absolutely no evidence to support such a thing. Instead, the apparent failings both in the treatment of Maxwell, and his own failure to take his prescribed medicine are buried while his quite possibly incidental "addictions" to both skunk and GTA are over-hyped. The threats from all drugs are relative: we only have to see town centres at the weekend, another favourite of the Daily Mail, to see that binge drinking is far more destructive than cannabis is. Instead, perspective is thrown out in the window in the rush to scare middle England into yet more worry about just what their children are doing.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007 

Drugs! Blades! Death!

The brutal murders of Steven Bayliss and Nuttawut Nadauld by Tom Palmer were almost a wet dream come true for the tabloids (and other media). Obsessed with knives! Addicted to skunk! Watched a movie about a serial killer stabbing his victims to death repeatedly in the days before the murders!

How much any of those things actually influenced the murders is open to question. Sentencing Palmer, the judge told him the most likely explanation for his behaviour was "a sudden and lethal explosion of anger, although what caused it remains something of a mystery". The whole addiction to skunk and developing schizophrenia defense was the one actively pursued by Palmer's lawyers. The psychiatrist who has been treating Palmer since his arrest himself said that cannabis had exacerbated Palmer's descent into mental illness, but that it was not the cause.

Indeed, Palmer's family background itself may hold just as much light for why he eventually came to murder two of his friends for no apparent reason. Even the Daily Mail is forced to admit that:

[But] they did report that the 20-year-old has a family history of breakdowns, nervous disorders and even schizophrenia

This isn't to dismiss out of hand the effects of strong cannabis and the links between those who smoke it and go on to develop psychosis. Those who already have a family background of mental illness, or who have in the past suffered from mental ill-health are those most at risk from habitually smoking the drug. As with any other drug, teenagers, with their minds still developing, are better off leaving well alone at least until they're 18. The risk posed however is far more slight than that which the media has tried to present. At the weekend, the Independent on Sunday claimed it had got it wrong in campaigning for the decriminalisation of cannabis, leading Transform to fisk the arguments of the Sindie into oblivion.

One friend, giving evidence, gave further insight into his mindset just before the murders. He had carved swastikas into his stomach, which ought to be enough for anyone to realise that he needed to talk to someone, and urgently. We're not told of his relationship with his family, but it seems bitterly ironic that his father is apparently a nurse at Broadmoor.

His so-called obsession with knives is also open to question. The Daily Mail's article does its best to hype this up, then's forced into admitting:

He had access to weapons and knives through his interest in outdoor activities and sport - hobbies which appear to have begun innocently enough, but by the time of the killings he was proficient in several martial arts and kept stocks of practice equipment in his bedroom.

It appears then that he good excuses for having knives, and that it was only with his mental health apparently in decline, with paranoia levels rising, that he started carrying them.

Which leaves us with his other "obsession", horror films. His favourite, according to both the Sun and the Daily Mail, or at least the one he watched in the days leading up to the murders, was the Last Horror Movie. Here's the Sun's take:

The court had heard Palmer was obsessed with violent horror films. His favourite was The Last Horror Movie, in which a serial killer videos himself slitting throats.

The 1982 movie also features a gory beheading.

Just a slight problem with this. The Last Horror Movie was made in 2003, and as far as I'm aware, as I own the DVD and have just flicked through it to be reasonably sure, there's no beheading. Sure, there is at least one throat being slit, someone's set on fire while tied to a chair, and he feeds the cooked flesh of his victims to his friends and family amongst other things, but there's no beheading.

The Last Horror Movie is in fact more a pitch-black comedy than it is a horror film. Taking its lead from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Man Bites Dog, it's one of those films on the edge of the genre that make the viewer question their own complicity in watching the carnage associated with stalk and slash. The whole plot itself is ridiculous, as the protagonist, despite leaving mountains of evidence, is never caught. The conceit is that this is a slasher film that's been taped over by some lunatic (or rather not a lunatic, as he claims convincingly that he isn't mad) with his own graphic home video, and that his next victim is in fact you for not turning it off. Compared to the glut in gory horror now coming from America, exemplified by the likes of the Saw series, the Devil's Rejects and Hostel, it's on a whole different intellectual plane, and I would of thought not been too appealing to someone more interested in blood and guts than in the whole debate about what role horror films play in the modern consciousness.

The case sparked warnings about the dangers of gruesome DVDs and using skunk. Labour MP Martin Salter said some horror films were “practically snuff movies”.

Would this possibly be the same Sun newspaper that was last week giving away a free horror film DVD every day? Indeed, one of the films it gave away (Evil Dead, banned in the aftermath of the video nasties moral panic, was only classified by the BBFC on video in 1990, and then with nearly 2 minutes cut) was one it along with the Daily Mail lambasted in the 80s and early 90s as being responsible for general moral decay and for warping the minds of children. As for Mr Salter's daft comments, there are films that are practically snuff movies, but they're the ones currently being produced by jihadist groups as propaganda, not the ones that Hollywood and independent film makers in this country are making.

We may well never find out exactly what caused Palmer to kill his two friends on that day. All the evidence however suggests that he had suffered a slow descent into depression and psychosis, even if neither had became fully developed. Skunk may indeed have exacerbated this, as the psychiatrist said, but it seems unlikely that it was the sole cause. More does need to be done to teach youngsters that cannabis is not risk-free, as the head of Rethink states, but then neither are cigarettes or alcohol, with some evidence suggesting that it poses far less of a risk than either. As ever, an apparently unexplainable act of murderous violence has been blamed variously on drugs, horror films and obsession with knives, when none of these in actual fact come close to making clear what actually happened. It's easier to do than instead realise that the warning signs may well have been there, and simply weren't noticed.

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