| 5.4°C Dublin

expert view Psychiatrist Dr Richard Taylor: 'You can still find humanity even amongst the people who have committed terrible crimes'

Psychiatrist gets into the minds of terrorists and serial killers

Close

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Taylor has written a new book

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Taylor has written a new book

Eamon Lillis told gardaí he couldn’t remember killing his wife Celine Cawley

Eamon Lillis told gardaí he couldn’t remember killing his wife Celine Cawley

Dr Taylor has worked with radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza

Dr Taylor has worked with radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza

/

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Taylor has written a new book

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Taylor knows what it's like to get inside the mind of a murderer, having worked on more than 100 bloody cases.

His job isn't about solving who committed an awful crime but instead focuses on getting to the bottom of why the person did it.

He's met everyone from psychopaths and serial killers to terrorists and torturers over the course of his 26 years in the field, but the London-based forensic psychiatrist told the Sunday World he finds "humanity even amongst people who have done terrible things".

His career has taken him from looking into a case where a law student stole a book, to a US Federal case where a man was charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

His new book The Mind of a Murderer, which was released this week, explores the psyche of these evil criminals to find out why they kill.

Dr Taylor said he met many Irish people based in the UK as part of his work and one of his cases was that of an Irishman who decapitated his victim.

"He was a lovely chap," said Dr Taylor. "I looked after him for many years and he was great."

The comment was not meant as a joke.

Dr Taylor has dealt with patients involved in crimes related to mental illness who have gone on to receive treatment and live productive lives in society without harming anyone.

"We do get patients, known as experts by experience, who have done well and have gained insight and they come back to a secure hospital and run groups and help out the guys at the beginning of their journeys. That is one of the most satisfying things about the job," he says.

Dr Taylor was drawn to forensic psychiatry after working in an emergency department treating assault victims and wondering what the back story was behind the crimes.

"I was curious to know what was going on," he says. "In psychiatry, it's an hour-long assessment, minimum, and somebody's life story is the backdrop to whatever problem they have. It's a privilege really. You learn about somebody's whole life narrative in order to make sense of whatever difficulty, whether it's depression or psychotic breakdown or whatever. I guess that attracts some doctors and not others."

Breakdown

The aim of his work is to try to get to the bottom of someone's mental state and find out whether or not they are criminally responsible.

He has been involved in high-profile cases, including that of Abu Hamza - the hook-handed radical Muslim cleric who was the Imam of Finsbury Park Mosque in London and who is now serving life in the US for a string of terror offences.

Close

Dr Taylor has worked with radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza

Dr Taylor has worked with radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza

Dr Taylor has worked with radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza

He was also involved in the case of serial killer Anthony Hardy, known as the Camden Ripper, who murdered and dismembered at least three and possibly up to nine victims in London in the 2000s before dumping body parts in bins.

Hardy is serving life for the murders of Sally White (38), Bridgette MacClennan (34), and Elizabeth Valad (29).

Other cases have really stuck with Dr Taylor, including that of a man who murdered his father and set him on fire before putting a meat thermometer into his stomach.

"There is a chapter where I deal with amnesia. It's very common. About a third of people arrested for serious offences report - at least initially - that they can't remember doing it.

"We often have to deal with amnesia, and there is a chapter all about it in which I describe the case of a man who set fire to his victim and it's pretty distressing and dramatic. That case is the backbone of the case about memory loss and it's pretty instructive."

Irish killers have regularly claimed amnesia when first talking to gardaí, including Eamon Lillis who beat his wife Celine Cawley to death in Howth, Co. Dublin, in 2008. Lillis initially told gardaí he must have blacked out around the time of the killing when his story didn't add up.

Close

Eamon Lillis told gardaí he couldn’t remember killing his wife Celine Cawley

Eamon Lillis told gardaí he couldn’t remember killing his wife Celine Cawley

Eamon Lillis told gardaí he couldn’t remember killing his wife Celine Cawley

He was later convicted of manslaughter.

"There's another chapter on women who have been abused who turn on their abuser. It's a big issue how they are dealt with in the courts. Domestic violence is very common and most victims are women - but occasionally they may turn on their abuser."

In the UK, one such case involved a woman called Sally Challen, who murdered her husband by hitting him 20 times with a hammer.

Ireland has seen similar cases, such as that of Jackie Noble, who served 14 years of a life sentence after being convicted of getting a hitman to murder her partner Derek Benson after years of abuse.

Dr Taylor also ended up involved in terrorism cases.

"The cases in the terrorism chapter include Islamic extremism and extreme right-wing terrorism cases. By the time I got to do terrorism cases I was at the most serious end of the spectrum," he says.

Dr Taylor has been attacked a few times by patients but said psychiatric nurses tend to bear the brunt of attacks.

"I have had a few assaults but nothing serious. I've been slapped in the face, punched in the back, chased down a corridor by a man with delusions but generally nothing serious."

Dr Taylor said diagnosing disorders through his professional life can lead to him spotting traits in people he is not diagnosing.

"The classic thing is a narcissistic colleague who, when they want something from you, they're all over you like a cheap dress with praise and 'how are you?' but the next week they blank you in the corridor.

"If someone does that you start to think 'ah we've got a pattern here'.

"We don't like to diagnose without properly assessing but as a psychiatrist you do pick up on traits in people if you do interact with them on a regular basis," he reveals.

Charm

Dr Taylor pointed out that some people with psychopathic traits end up as murderers while others make a killing in the corporate world.

"Somebody with psychopathic traits who has a terrible life experience may end up becoming a murderer and somebody else with psychopathic traits who has a good education can end up in the corporate world or even politics.

"If you're glib and have superficial charm you can get your way and if you're callous and don't have empathy it can be adapted to the corporate world."

Dr Taylor said while there tends to be a lot of attention on serial killers and financially motivated murder, there is a predictable pattern to the number of each type of murders each year.

"What I've tried to do in the book is give people a broader understanding to what leads people to murder and what are the different patterns.

"Every case is individual but there are patterns and I hope at the end of the book people will have a sense of that.

"Although these crimes are terrible I also hope that people get a sense that you can find humanity even amongst people who have done terrible things."


Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Sunday World


Privacy