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IT'S A CRACKER

03-10-2006

The Stirrer's resident psychologist Dr Mike Drayton welcomes the return of TV's top psychologist, Cracker - as portrayed by Robbie Coltrane.

Did you see Cracker the other night? A terrific story about a Manchester copper and ex-soldier who began bumping off Americans.

Cracker is a well written well acted and gripping drama, Robbie Coltrane's superb portrayal of a clinical psychologist is spot on (as anyone who knows me will testify). But for me it's more than that because it is one of the few programmes of its type that goes beyond the detective stuff and stops to ask why? Why do some people do terrible things?

When an act of violence is committed we see only the final sometimes dramatic act, not the years of history, the drip drip drip, that lead up to that act.

Fitz helps us to understand why a person feels driven to kill and what has happened tothem to make the act of violence the only option they can see. As Fitz said in tonight's episode, “I can understand why you killed, I don't condone it but I can understand".

Understanding is not the same as forgiveness.

Tonight's story was about an ex-soldier, now a policeman who had been traumatised by many tours of duty in Northern Ireland. The final straw was when two of his mates were killed in front of him and he was powerless to help.

He developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), getting flashbacks of the incident. He wanted to kill himself but couldn't.

In his mind, the people responsible for all the deaths in Northern Ireland and later in Iraq, was the US and US foreign policy. He knew that Americans paid for most of the IRA's weapons -the weapons that killed British soldiers. The US had started an illegal war in Iraq in which British soldiers were being killed. He took his revenge on an American comedian telling jokes about Iraq in a comedy club.

He was a murderer but he was also a man who probably wouldn't have killed if he had not been grossly traumatised during the course of his work.

This story had a lot of personal relevance for me because I have treated many people who have suffered PTSD due to their jobs. I have seen fire-fighters, police officers paramedics and soldiers who have been psychologically damaged by the type of work they do. Of course that is the difference between drama and real life because most traumatised people don't go on to harm others but usually harm themselves in one way or another.

Last week the report of into the killings of Megan Russell and her mother Dr Lin Russell was released. I remember the case very well because I was the psychologist who treated one of the leading members of the investigation team.

She did her job in an exemplary fashion and finally gave evidence that helped to convict Michael Stone. After the case ended and things settled down she went through hell. She would experience flashbacks and nightmares about the murder scene. Her relationship was affected as she threw herself into working long hours to distract herself from the memories. She became very depressed. I saw her for about three months. She was a very sensible and level-headed woman who made an excellent recovery.

Hearing that news report early in the morning when I was dozing in bed troubled me and brought back memories of the terrible things she had told me about.

That episode of Cracker showed very vividly how trauma and traumatic memories endure. I thought I'd forgotten about the case of Megan Russell, but that news item brought back those memories images of what my patient had told me, and those memories still upset me.

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