Moors murderer Ian Brady appears in public at 'right-to-die' hearing

Brady wants to be allowed to move from psychiatric hospital to prison, where he hopes to starve himself to death

Moors murderer Ian Brady began a legal attempt to prove that he is sane in the hope that he will be discharged from the secure psychiatric hospital where he is incarcerated and sent to a high security jail so he can starve himself to death.

The 75-year-old, who hasn't appeared in public since he was photographed on Saddleworth Moor in 1987, appeared at a mental health tribunal at Ashworth hospital in Merseyside, where he has been on hunger strike for 14 years, wearing dark glasses and with a feeding tube hanging out of his right nostril..

Brady wants to "have control over the manner and timing of his death", the tribunal heard, its proceeding relayed via videolink to a court in Manchester. He believes he will not be force-fed in an ordinary jail, unlike in Ashworth, a high security psychiatric hospital.

Despite the passing of years, he was clearly recognisable as the nonchalant killer whose sneering pose in a monochrome mugshot became one of the defining images of the 20th century. His hair, now grey, was swept back into the same teddy boy style fashionable when he lost his liberty in 1966. His skin looked sallow but smooth, his brow unlined as he bent over a desk, scribbling reams of notes.

Now as then, there was no sign of remorse. The tribunal heard he considered his crimes not to be abnormal but "an existential exercise, personal philosophy and interpretation". Forensic psychiatrist Dr Cameron Boyd, who along with a judge and another expert, will decide whether Brady is fit to serve out his sentence in prison, said Brady's view on his crimes was that "his behaviour was petty compared to politicians and soldiers in relation to wars".

Glasgow-born Brady is likely to give evidence during the eight-day tribunal. But on Monday his voice – gravely after decades of smoking the cigarettes he has often bemoaned have failed to kill him, but with his Scottish accent still intact – could be heard only briefly at the start of the hearing, discussing procedural issues with the judge. Occasionally he appeared to be talking to himself, and his lawyer gestured to him at least twice to be quiet.

Brady and partner Myra Hindley were responsible for the sexual torture and murder of five children in the 1960s. Hindley died in prison in 2002 after gaining an open university degree and becoming "intelligent, well educated and cultured", according to her prison files.

But Brady has spent the last 28 years in Ashworth, having been sectioned under the mental health act in 1985. On Monday he was described as a difficult patient who was "hostile and contemptuous" of the hospital regime, spending most of his free time in his room writing letters and watching TV.

He has been diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia but the tribunal heard Brady claims he feigned mental illness after observing psychotic patients while held in jail – specifically when working as a cleaner in Wormwood Scrubs prison in London.

Dr Adrian Grounds, a forensic psychiatrist appointed as an independent witness to the tribunal, said Brady was not schizophrenic or depressed but instead suffered from a "severe personality disorder characterised by superiority, self-centredness, contempt, hostility".

Brady's wish was to control his own demise, believing that he would not be force fed in jail, the tribunal was told. "I think essentially what he wants to have control over the manner and timing of his death. I'm not sure there is an imminent suicide risk," said Grounds. Brady "was of the view that he couldn't be force fed in prison in normal circumstances", Grounds added.

Grounds, who has interviewed Brady 10 times between 2003 and March this year, said Brady knew he would never be free. "He has no hope of release. He is realistic about that. Although he would like a better quality of life in the future he knows that that will not happen. He thinks in prison he would be more free to end his own life in his own way and to control that than is possible in hospital."

The notion that Brady should be able to chose how and where to end his life is understandably controversial. John Ainley, a solicitor who acted for Winnie Johnson, the late mother of Keith Bennett, whose body has never been found, has said his client "took the view that [Brady] did not give her son and the other children he murdered any choice and consequently he should not be able to control his own fate."

However, the judge, Robert Atherton, said at the outset of the tribunal that he had no authority to ask Brady where he had buried Bennett. The hearing would proceed in a relaxed a manner as possible, he said, explaining: "One must not underestimate the tension that is felt by any patient that faces a tribunal in any hospital, and this is no different from any other case in this regard."

Doctors disagree whether Brady should remain in hospital. Grounds noted that Brady had not received any treatment or medication for psychotic illness in over a decade and just took medication to help him sleep.

"If he had a significant chronic mental illness it's just not consistent to leave him untreated," said the doctor, adding: "I think it is simply inconceivable that as he is now Mr Brady would be assessed as showing a degree of mental illness that warranted detention in hospital for treatment."

But doctors within Ashworth claim Brady is schizophrenic, having observed him "muttering to himself" in his room from time to time. But Grounds said Brady justified this as simply him "responding to what's on television, exercising his vocal chords".

Ashworth clinicians also observed Brady listening to "white noise" through headphones as he was fed through a tube. They initially thought he was "blocking out auditory hallucinations", said Grounds, but Brady insists he was just "blocking out the extraneous noises of the ward".

Eleanor Grey QC, representing Ashworth Hospital, which opposes any bid to transfer Brady to prison, said there had been concerns since 1967 that Brady had been suffering from psychotic symptoms, possibly since his teens. Grounds agreed with Grey that there was evidence that Brady concealed his condition, which had worsened in the years before he was transferred to hospital from jail. 

Brady and Hindley were responsible for the murders of five youngsters in the 1960s. They lured children and teenagers to their deaths, with victims sexually tortured before being buried on Saddleworth Moor above Manchester.

Pauline Reade, 16, and John Kilbride, 12, disappeared in 1963. Keith Bennett was taken on June 16, 1964 after he left home to visit his grandmother; Lesley Ann Downey, 10, was lured away from a funfair on Boxing Day 1964; and Edward Evans, 17, was killed in October 1965.


Helen Pidd, northern editor

The GuardianTramp

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