Category Archives: homicide

Sinister side of Harley Street

Waste of everyone's time

Waste of everyone’s time

In 1960, the doctor-barrister John Havard’s The Detection of Secret Homicide came out, while in 1962 the schoolteacher-novelist Anthony Burgess published A Clockwork Orange, about adolescent violence.

The two themes are combined, Dalrymple writes, in Pamela Hansford Johnson’s An Error of Judgement (1962), in which the patient-narrator consults William Setter, a Harley Street specialist, about

simultaneous pain in his right shoulder and the back of his left knee. Setter tells him he could have a cardiograph if he wanted but this would be a waste of everybody’s time. Having paid his four guineas, the patient-narrator is reassured and feels better. Payment is a wonderful placebo.

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Get over it


starts a club in Soho where he acts in a Mephistophelean manner to bring strangely assorted people together in a discussion group. He decides to give up medicine in the middle of his career, which was certain to have ended in a knighthood.

Johnson’s novel

casts light on the prescribing habits of the time. When the narrator’s mother-in-law dies, Setter prescribes Dexedrine for the narrator’s wife to help her get over her grief quicker than the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association can say depression.

Setter prescribes phenobarbitone three times a day for a young man called Sammy Underwood,

That'll quieten him down

That’ll quieten him down

presumably to quieten him down, for Sammy is not epileptic.


suspects Sammy of being responsible for the kicking to death of an old inebriate woman.

Sammy is guilty and confesses to Setter,

who comes to the conclusion that Sammy is so lacking in remorse, contrition and conscience that he is likely to do it again. So for the public good and because he has always enjoyed inflicting harm (it is one of his reasons for having gone into medicine in the first place), Setter decides to kill him.

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Just what the doctor ordered

Sammy complains of insomnia

and Setter suggests that he ask his own doctor for some sodium amytal to help. He then suggests a small bottle of brandy to be taken with the pills just to make sure he gets a good night’s sleep, though with the stern warning that Sammy should take no more, absolutely no more, than four-fifths of the bottle.


secret homicide goes undetected.

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Care in the cockpit

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 08.00.24Amok-runners have rights, too

Amok, according to a recent account,

is found almost exclusively in men between the ages of 20 and 40. The incidents are characterised by frenzied attacks with kris, pedang or lembing. The assaults are often directed at family members or friends, then extended indiscriminately to others. Whether or not preceded by unusual behaviour (depression, brooding, sakit hati), amok occurs as a sudden outburst resembling a hyperstartle reaction, and amok-runners typically declare amnesia for the duration of the incident. The majority of amok-runners are killed during attempts by others to restrain the murderous rampages; those taken alive may be subjected to execution, imprisonment or institutionalisation in a psychiatric facility.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 08.08.23These penalties may breach the human rights of amok-runners. ‘Care in the community’ or ‘care in the cockpit’ may be preferred. (In the Germanwings case, there may have been a greater fear of an accusation of discrimination against the mentally disturbed than of the crash of an aircraft, Dalrymple points out.)

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 08.11.36Who are we to exclude amok-runners from the cockpit? Who can blame them if, under the pressure of discrimination, they lock themselves in? Large numbers of people have died, but we have the consolation of knowing that we are part of a society that is appalled by the discrimination suffered daily by amok-running pilots and by other downtrodden groups, such as passengers who happen to be Islamist terrorists. Our society, if we are to call ourselves civilised, must be prepared to act to correct these injustices. To adapt slightly what Dalrymple has written about surgeons:

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 08.16.34Social justice is social justice, and not good flying. The achievement of such justice requires that we all be prepared to make sacrifices for it: a mass murder is a small price to pay for the satisfaction of knowing that commercial airline pilots are demographically representative of the population as a whole.

What makes young blacks kill each other?

It is a painful subject, writes Dalrymple, and it is

very human to avoid subjects that cause pain and require moral courage to address. Most of us opt for the easy life, the life in which even our thoughts are slogans, preferably slogans that in some way advance our careers.