CW: Violence, bodily harm, mental illness
On 13 June 2023, Valdo Calocane fatally wounded Grace O’Malley-Kumer, Barnaby Webber and Ian Coates. At the trial, he pleaded not guilty to the count of murder based on insanity and is instead facing reduced charges for manslaughter. There are two elements here that I would like to address regarding how this case has been manipulated by the media.
Firstly, the overall image many news outlets present is that the court sees Calocane as not guilty of a crime he clearly committed. This is not true. For a killing to be considered a murder, it must fulfil 3 conditions:
- It must be unlawful – a soldier or a spy with permission to kill would not be considered a murderer.
- There must be intent to kill – so an act of self-defence or an accident would not be considered murder.
- There must be malice aforethought (the killing must be both premeditative and a conscious/ understood act) – excluding someone who killed someone whilst under the influence or if someone killed their partner in a jealous fit after witnessing an affair from murder.
The ruling of diminished responsibility argues that Calocane’s actions do not completely fulfil conditions 2 and 3, as due to his mental state he could not have had full intent or premeditation. Calocane has a long-recorded history of struggling with paranoid schizophrenia and no prior criminal background. In an episode in 2022, he tried to hand himself over to MI5, believing he was a public threat. He has been hospitalised twice in response to paranoid breakdowns and was released despite worries about public safety. It was also known that he had not been taking his medication. This shows a solid foundation for the claim of insanity, as suffering from an extreme episode of schizophrenic paranoia is not out of character. There is no evidence to imply that if of sound mind, he would commit the same crimes. This is what determines the manslaughter charge – a crime equally as serious but legally separate from murder.
Secondly, there seems to be a consensus that an insanity plea is a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Newspapers and tabloids seem to enjoy painting the picture that the legal system views Calocane as virtually innocent, and that he will soon be walking the streets again. Calocane, post-trial, will almost certainly spend his whole life in criminal asylums. His schizophrenia was ruled as ‘resistant to treatment’ – the court has shown belief that he will not ever re-enter society. In hospitals, detainees experience less freedom than even in maximum-security prisons as they are only released when a doctor determines that treatment has been wholly successful. This means Calocane’s charge is equivalent to life without the chance of parole.
Furthermore, reduced responsibility charges are important for the safety of other prisoners. Prisons in the UK do not have the facilities in place to cope with prisoners such as Calocane. If inadequately treated he will remain just as dangerous to those around him, whether guard or prisoner. This can have grave consequences. As someone with an interest in the legal system, I used to sit in the audience at court cases and observe trials. One case I witnessed was a prisoner on trial for sawing off the arm of another prisoner. He had initially sawn the arm from a young woman. He too struggled with paranoid schizophrenia but was sentenced to prison, not asylum. It was evident that he needed far more psychiatric help than the prison could offer, and this is what had led to the second maiming. In the trial both judges and nurses were criticised for their previous decision.
In such tragic cases, I completely understand that people feel outraged when a criminal appears not to be suitably punished. But the wider media understands this feeling too and sensationalises it in exchange for attention. Misleading headlines such as “The Nottingham Murderer who ‘Got Away with Murder’” reframe the ruling as an act of complete injustice when this is clearly not the case. Calocane has not ‘gotten away with’ anything and he will be facing appropriate consequences for his crimes, but engaging a viewer’s sense of morality is far more likely to entice readers than “court rules that sick man who did terrible thing will be treated”. I can’t help but wonder whether the call to review the charges is to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system or to appease a hungry and vicious media who are purposefully manipulating such a sensitive story. I worry that this review could create serious consequences placing more people in danger, just as I witnessed in the trial a few years ago.