I’m just sitting here watching a BBC documentary, Madness In The Fast Lane. It’s a horrifying look into the psychotic behaviour of two sisters from Sweden.
In 2008, the pair were caught on camera struggling with motorway police. In horrifying footage, we see both women run into oncoming traffic. One gets hit full force by a lorry, having her legs shattered from the waist down. The other waits until the police are distracted and rushes into the path of a car. She’s thrown into the air and crashes to the ground. Despite the damage to the car, this sister, Sabina Ericksson gets up after being attended by a policewoman and runs to the other side of the motorway, threatening to cause mayhem on that side of the road too.
This takes up the first half-hour of the programme. And rightly so. It’s an unbelievable tale – two women seemingly attempting suicide on the motorway at the same time. The officers on the scene were convinced the pair were under the influence of drugs, and considering the bizarre scenes at the roadside, you’d be inclined to agree. Watch the footage here.
However, what’s even more shocking is that a couple of days after the incident, Sabina is released from custody. She manages to ingratiate herself with two men who agree to help her find her sister in hospital. But at some stage during their brief acquaintance, Sabine loses control again and fatally stabs a man in the chest.
Shockingly, at her trial for the murder, the prosecution accepts a plea of manslaughter with diminished responsibility. The psychiatric experts claim that Sabina is now fully recovered and a low risk to the public. Naturally, the family of the dead man feel cheated, and question how – given the extreme behaviour she was initially arrested for – she came to be released from custody after just one day.
It was a chilling tale, but later in the programme, it served to illustrate just how difficult it is to administer justice in cases of mental illness. Does diminished responsibility absolve the perpetrator of the crime, or do the relatives deserve just regardless? In Ericksson’s case, it’s not so clear cut – the day after the motorway incident, Sabina appeared to the police officers who were handling her to be totally normal. Yet less than two days later she’d committed a murder.
The argument was that during her time in custody, she’d been exposed to a number of medical professionals, yet sent off because she didn’t constitute a danger to the public. And the same holds true with a fixed term sentence – when she’s released, is there a risk that Sabina Ericksson will be a danger to society once again?
Maybe in five years’ time, there’ll be sufficient evidence that Ericksson has stabilised. But I’d have liked to think that her release would have been dependent on psychiatric reports and monitoring. After all, she served one day in jail for the motorway pandemonium she caused, and is currently in the midst of her sentence for manslaughter.
What’s the feeling out there – is this a typical case? Should we be asking for more stringent vetting of mentally ill people who’ve killed or been violent in the past?