Powers to detain people with mental health disorders in Northern
Ireland should be beefed up, according to a major inquiry
The inquiry was established to investigate how Brian Doherty, a
man with a severe personality disorder, came to abduct and kill
Doherty discharged himself from the Tyrone and Fermanagh
Hospital, against medical advice.
In May, Doherty was sentenced to life imprisonment for the
manslaughter of Hegarty, and to ten years for the kidnapping.
The inquiry team, headed by Professor George Fenton, head of
psychiatry at Dundee University, concluded the hospital did not
have the power to detain Doherty under the 1986 Northern Ireland
Mental Health Order, which does not cover personality
The 1986 order is the equivalent of the 1983 Act for England and
Wales, and the 1984 legislation for Scotland.
‘A review of “the order” is necessary to resolve the ambiguities
that this case highlights, to consider the merit of introducing an
additional category of mental disorder, namely severe personality
disorder, and a supervised discharge order,’ the report
The inquiry team said Doherty could have been detained under the
order if it had been considered that he presented a risk of causing
harm to himself or to other people.
But the senior registrar psychiatrist who assessed him on the
day he discharged himself did not find any likelihood of him
inflicting serious physical harm on himself or other people.
The report also identifies a number of weaknesses and
ambiguities in the provision of care that need to be addressed by
the Western Health and Social Services Board.
In a statement, the board accepted the criticisms made of some
of its care provision.
The report’s recommendations include a call to develop more
effective co-ordination between hospital and community services,
and it recognises the need to identify and develop care plans for
patients with severe personality disorders, as well as the review
of the Mental Health Order.