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article imageOp-Ed: Madness is no excuse – the Paraskeva case

By Alexander Baron     Sep 6, 2011 in Crime
London - The ‘Morning Star’ is championing the case of a youth given a life sentence for arson; although Joe Paraskeva is indeed suffering from a mental illness, he has only himself to blame for his predicament.
This is another of those read ’em and weep stories; although this is a new interview, with the mother of the man concerned, Paraskeva was sentenced in April, and Linda Morgan has clearly been hawking her story around for anyone who will give her the time of day.
This case is not in the same league as cop killer Mumia, guilty murderess Linda Carty or Angel Face Foxy Knoxy, and unlike all of the above cases, Mrs Morgan is not attempting to deceive the public. She is though on shaky ground when she infers that mental illness should be a get out of gaol free card.
Although the facts of this case are sad, they are also non-contentious. Joe Paraskeva is now 20 years old, and was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder at the age of 16. This used to be called manic depression or simply mania, and is exactly what it sounds like. People who “suffer” from this affliction can have wild mood swings, sometimes extremely wild. In reality, this is something that affects most if not all of us to some degree; most people exhibit exhilaration when they win the lottery, become parents for the first time, or pass a humble driving test. By the same token, being fired, being let down badly by a friend, a death in the family...all these things bring us down. Needless to say, such mood swings are both rational and much more limited.
According to Paraskeva’s mother, “The worst day of my life was taking my son to hospital to be sectioned” adding “We had to coax him into the car on the pretence we were going somewhere nice. When he realised we were going to hospital he tried to jump out of the car.”
This appears to be the root cause of the problem; firstly she is talking about him as though he were a 4 year old child; secondly, there appears to be – and in fact is – an inability to face up to the reality of his condition.
Mental illness is a wide ranging blanket term that encompasses numerous complaints. If your neighbour told you her son was ill, what would you understand him to be suffering from? A cough? Mild influenza? Ebola virus?
Two or three hundred years ago, mental illness was all but unknown, certainly on the scale on which it is diagnosed and treated today. People who were totally gaga would have been shipped off to bedlam, chained to the wall and left to rot, or perhaps even executed as witches, but most ordinary people had neither the time nor the resources to be mentally ill, they just got on with it.
Nowadays, a case could be made out for branding most of us mad to some degree, certainly we’ve all done mad things. Although the word mad like the word bigot, etc, is also used as an epithet (ie don’t believe a thing this guy says – he’s mad), the word and indeed the imputation has lost much of its stigma. One might also ask if people who acknowledge their mental illnesses can be adjudged as ill in any meaningful sense. For example, it is well known that schizophrenics can experience powerful visual and audio hallucinations. But, if a schizophrenic realises he is experiencing hallucinations – that the little green man at the bottom of his bed has no tangible existence, and that when this ectoplasmic entity orders him to take a knife and stab his neighbour to death, he can simply say no – can that person be said to be truly mentally ill?
As stated, this appears to be the stumbling block with Joe, he refused to acknowledge his illness, or at least he was not prepared to take positive measures to combat it, because he stopped taking his medicine, due to unpleasant side effects like gaining weight. As a result of that, he developed paranoia, and at one point assaulted his sister.
He was sectioned, and at Homerton Hospital on October 4 last, “he tried to escape”, and the novel way he attempted to do this was?
“In a state of fear and panic he used a cigarette lighter and aerosol can in an unsuccessful attempt to burn the lock on the door to his room, shouting that he wanted to get out. Police were called and he was remanded in custody and later charged with arson.”
It remains to be seen why he had a lighter in his possession, but taken to the Crown Court, he pleaded guilty to arson, and was given a life sentence with a caveat that he cannot apply for parole for two years.
Arson carries a maximum life sentence for a very good reason; fires are very easy to start, not so easy to put out, and they can kill dozens or even hundreds of people under the wrong circumstances, but according to Linda Morgan “My son is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.”
No, your son is the victim of his own selfishness. To begin with, he should have taken his medicine. Setting fire to a door in a loony bin was another big mistake, and if he is so obviously mentally incapacitated, why did he plead guilty to arson instead of not guilty by some cop out defence?
His mother laments further that while he is in prison he cannot be compelled to take his medication. This begs the question, why should he need to be compelled?
“How can we have confidence in a justice system which condemns a young man suffering from a severe mental health disorder, who has no criminal convictions, to an indefinite prison sentence?”
Aren’t we forgetting the little matter of an arson conviction?
Having said all that, this is a tragic case, but many people who have far more serious mental health issues than Joe Paraskeva face up to their problems and not only live with them but manage to lead productive lives. Put crudely, he had his chances and he blew them. At the very least he will have to learn to manage his illness before he is released, which means in the meantime taking his medication. And resisting the temptation to set fire to his cell door.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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