Calls for more transparency in Queensland courts amid controversy over Killer Instinct book
Kellie Paterson and Dale Dwyer, with a picture of Alan Dwyer who was killed in 2000. (ABC News: Brittney Kleyn)
‘Betrayal of victims’: former Queensland Health psychiatrist slammed over book details
The family of a Brisbane man stabbed to death by a criminally insane killer has called for more transparency in the state’s mental health justice system, claiming they were kept in the dark during the attacker’s court case.
It comes amid controversy over the Killer Instinct book published by former Queensland Health psychiatrist Donald Grant, which has distressed victims’ families because it contains sensitive information they were not aware of.
Eighteen years on from Alan John Dwyer’s death, his family remains angry about the lack of details they received during his killer’s trial.
Mr Dwyer was fatally stabbed at his Clayfield home in February 2000 after a dispute with a neighbour, who was later deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.
The killer was released after serving less than five years in custody.
Mr Dwyer’s mother Kellie Paterson praised victim support groups who helped her, but said for months the family struggled to gain access to information about the killing during the court case.
“It was disturbing we weren’t given any information before or after or anything, they just said he’s mentally unstable, he’s going to hospital, that’s all,” Ms Paterson said.
“It wasn’t a case of feeling protected … we were feeling, shouldn’t we know more about this?”
Sonia Anderson wants the Killer Instinct book pulled from shelves because it contains sensitive material about murder victims. (ABC News: Brittney Kleyn)
Mr Dwyer’s brother Dale said he felt the system favoured the killers over victims and their families.
“We had to find out only the brief things that the police told us, and they couldn’t tell us a lot when they went through the mental health system,” he said.
While Mr Dwyer’s death is not mentioned in Dr Grant’s book, Ms Paterson and Dale Dwyer said they were upset about the publication, which is now the subject of a complaint by Queensland Health to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
The book was partially based on non-confidential interviews Dr Grant conducted with killers while writing assessments for the Mental Health Court.
Sonia Anderson, the mother of one of the victims, said she was deeply distressed after learning of her dying daughter’s final words through the book — not through the court process.
Controversial book divides legal experts
Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O’Gorman said Dr Grant was not at fault for disclosing previously unreleased information in his book.
Mr O’Gorman said the sensitive details in Dr Grant’s court reports would have been made available to the Department of Public Prosecutions, who could have passed it on to the victims’ families.
“It shows a serious failure in the victims’ support services within the office of the DPP particularly,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“With very few qualifications, victims are able to access whatever documents they seek. But the system doesn’t leave it to the victims to have to go to a court or a government archive to find information. The system has a well-resourced victims support unit.”
Mr O’Gorman praised Dr Grant for “shining a light” on the workings of mental health courts, an area that received “little media exposure”.
But fellow legal expert and criminal lawyer Bill Potts said it was wrong for Dr Grant to publish and profit from information about mentally ill people without consent.
He said suppressions in the Mental Health Court were sometimes put in place to protect grieving families and unwell perpetrators.
While families could make applications to access detailed evidence, Mr Potts said such applications were “extraordinarily rare”.
Material often kept from release included photos of dead victims and graphic details of sexual assaults they had suffered.
“People often want to know details that will haunt them forever after,” Mr Potts said.
“There are some things which are best left unseen by people no matter what their views may be.
“On the other side of that there needs to be a balance, and where that balance lies has to be dealt with in each individual case.”
In Queensland there are dozens of victim support groups, including some that help families during the court process.
One of them is the Queensland Health-run Victim Support Service, which deals with the Mental Health Court. However its expertise does not extend to accessing psychiatric reports and court documents for families.
“They are unable to provide information to victims and families in relation to this material presented to Mental Health Court,” a Queensland Health spokesman said.
“Queensland Health Victim Support Service advises victims and families to access information they can attend Mental Health Court in Brisbane to listen to the cross-examination of the consulting psychiatrist during the Mental Health court hearing.”
Reports aren’t ‘easily accessed’, doctor says
Former Queensland Health psychiatrist Donald Grant’s book mentions details about the killing of Bianca Girven never made public. (ABC Conversations: Nicola Harrison)
Melbourne University Publishing and Dr Grant have defended the book, with the veteran psychiatrist saying families deserved “insight into why their loved ones were killed”.
“These reports aren’t easily accessed by families,” he said in a statement released this week.
“Changes to Mental Health Court procedures could form an important part of dealing with the grief and distress that violence causes in the families of victims.”
Ms Anderson confronted Dr Grant at a book launch in Brisbane this week and is calling for it to be pulled from shelves.
“I’m not just fighting for me, I’m fighting not only for the victim’s families. I don’t think someone who’s been deemed mentally unwell should be exposed like this by a psychiatrist,” she told the ABC.
Dr Grant later promised to donate a portion of the royalties earned from the book sales.
Queensland Health, Dr Grant’s employer until 2013, said the matter was a concern and “on the surface looks like a betrayal of patients, victims and their families”.
It has referred the matter to the CCC and to the Health Ombudsman after a request by Health Minister Steven Miles.
Dr Grant, through his publisher, did not respond to requests for comment after the referral.