Forensic psychologist recalls time former arsonist ‘harpooned’ her in the stomach with a kebab stick

For forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes, being ‘harpooned’ in the stomach with a kebab stick by a former arsonist clad in a pink pinafore and rubber gloves was ‘only in the top 10 strange occurrences’ she’d had to deal with that year.

Having worked for over two decades with some of the most complex and challenging criminals, as well as victims of crime, her job has taken her to maximum-security prisons, police interview rooms and the wards of secure hospitals.

One of the UK’s best known forensic psychologists, Kerry’s previous book – The Dark Side of the Mind – was a Sunday Times bestseller. In her new tome, What Lies Buried, Kerry opens up the case files of nine of her most perplexing clients, revealing there’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to the roots of their disturbing behaviour.

The book opens with the kebab skewer incident, which took place at a forensic step-down project – a halfway house institution which helps people transition from medium and low secure psychiatric hospitals to a more independent life.

For forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes, being 'harpooned' in the stomach with a kebab stick by a former arsonist clad in a pink pinafore and rubber gloves was 'only in the top 10 strange occurrences' she'd had to deal with that year

For forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes, being ‘harpooned’ in the stomach with a kebab stick by a former arsonist clad in a pink pinafore and rubber gloves was ‘only in the top 10 strange occurrences’ she’d had to deal with that year

Kerry, who contracted at the facility, had just finished carrying out a psychological assessment on one of the residents – all male ex-offenders whose convictions ranged from murder, violent assault, rape and arson.

Having stayed behind to have dinner with the staff and residents – who took it in turn to wash up – she took her plate to the galley kitchen where Nigel*, ‘a shy and uncommunicative man with mild learning difficulties in his early thirties’ was on duty.

After setting her plate and cutlery down and thanking Nigel, whom she’d barely spoken to previously, he suddenly charged and plunged a chicken skewer into her stomach.

‘I can remember feeling sickened by how easily my body had been punctured… You didn’t need to be a maths genius to work out I had a full four inches of metal lodged inside my stomach. It had gone straight through the soft skin beneath my sternum, as if I were a piece of halloumi,’ she writes.

What Lies Buried by Kerry Daynes is out now

What Lies Buried by Kerry Daynes is out now

What Lies Buried by Kerry Daynes is out now

It’s telling that Kerry’s first reaction was not one of anger or even to sound the safety alarm on her belt (which she feared might have ‘spooked’ her attacker). Instead she calmly instructed Nigel to ‘go to his room’ before heading to the staff room to call an ambulance.

Having luckily escaped with minor damage, Kerry told how she was mercilessly mocked by her colleagues who subsequently nicknamed her ‘Donna’.  

Much of Kerry’s anecdotes are laced with dark humour, and you certainly get the impression that in her game, it’s a case of ‘if you didn’t laugh you’d cry’. 

As is the case with all of Kerry’s ‘subjects’ in the book, she delves into what motivated Nigel to unleash this unprovoked attack – and the reasons chime with the theme of the book, which is to never jump to conclusions.

It transpires that Nigel, who’d spent a large part of his childhood in care and struggled to express himself, had previously committed arson to enact change whenever he felt trapped and miserable in his situation. 

While at the facility, a gang of local men were using him as a ‘spice pig’ to test the safety of the drugs they were peddling. Desperate to move away from the dealers, he saw breaking the law as a ‘ticket’ to somewhere else, and ‘skewering’ Kerry did indeed see him transferred to a medium-secure hospital.

Much of the book focuses on Kerry’s dedication (and impressive ability) to read between the lines and cast aside prejudice, going beyond the question she is so often asked in her profession: ‘Are they mad or bad?’ 

Much of Kerry's anecdotes are laced with dark humour, and you certainly get the impression that in her game, it's a case of 'if you didn't laugh you'd cry'

Much of Kerry's anecdotes are laced with dark humour, and you certainly get the impression that in her game, it's a case of 'if you didn't laugh you'd cry'

Much of Kerry’s anecdotes are laced with dark humour, and you certainly get the impression that in her game, it’s a case of ‘if you didn’t laugh you’d cry’ 

She tells how she was attracted to forensic psychology because she wanted to help people and contribute to a world with fewer victims in it (as well as having a fascination with the ‘darker side of life’ and being a bit of a ‘nosy parker’).

In another chapter she recalls a time when she came into contact with a resident who lived in a small house at the back of the project with less supervision due to being considered low-risk. 

As a result he enjoyed certain privileges including entirely unescorted leave, during which he’d met a woman and engaged in a whirlwind romance.

It transpired that the man – Stuart* – had served half of a seven-year prison sentence for the manslaughter of his wife Natalie in 2005, whom he’d been married to for over 10 years and had claimed to love, even at the end when he hit her over the head with a shovel and stamped on her at their allotment. 

Stuart’s legal team argued he was a ‘doting husband’ who acted ‘out of character’ and ‘in the heat of the moment’ when he realised his marriage was in trouble. The judge appeared to concur, ruling he would regret his actions ‘for the rest of his life’. 

Kerry also discusses how the 'newsworthiness' of victims and perpetrators as well as their social status can often skew a case, comparing two young mothers both accused of harming their babies

Kerry also discusses how the 'newsworthiness' of victims and perpetrators as well as their social status can often skew a case, comparing two young mothers both accused of harming their babies

Kerry also discusses how the ‘newsworthiness’ of victims and perpetrators as well as their social status can often skew a case, comparing two young mothers both accused of harming their babies

He was convicted ‘by reason of provocation’ – dubbed the ‘nagging and s******g defence’ for murder when a ‘reasonable person’ flew into a passion. It was a legal definition that, as Kerry notes, has been ‘interpreted liberally in the case of men who kill the women in their lives’.

‘The notion of an otherwise psychologically unremarkable man who suddenly “snaps” and finds himself killing his allegedly hen-pecking, cheating and shrew-like partner while in the “red mist”… proved remarkably resilient, resulting in sympathy and leniency time and time again,’ she writes.

Kerry's previous book - The Dark Side of the Mind - was a Sunday Times bestseller

Kerry's previous book - The Dark Side of the Mind - was a Sunday Times bestseller

Kerry’s previous book – The Dark Side of the Mind – was a Sunday Times bestseller

After 20 years of campaigning, proposed changes to the ‘provocation’ defence – which saw it superseded by ‘loss of control defence’ – were published in 2008 and made law in 2010.  

Dissatisfied by Stuart’s notes at the facility, Kerry pushed staff to set up a meeting with his new girlfriend. Several weeks later the corpse of a dog (later identified as his partner’s) was dug up in the grounds.

When Kerry and a colleague delivered the sad news to Stuart’s girlfriend, she opened up about his controlling, possessive behaviour – which included taping a mobile phone to the wall of her living room to keep tabs on her and urging her to cut contact with her friends and loved ones. 

She immediately assumed Stuart was responsible for her dog’s death, after he felt ‘jealous’ of the attention she gave him, and admitted she’d been building up the courage to report his coercive behaviour. 

‘Paying more attention never killed anyone, but it could save a life,’ Kerry observes. ‘Domestic abusers can be likeable and attractive and are adept at appealing to our better nature. But if we make it our business to look closer and are prepared to recognise more than bruises and broken bones as indicators of life-threatening abuse, fewer women will die at the hands of men.’  

Kerry also discusses how the ‘newsworthiness’ of victims and perpetrators as well as their social status can often skew a case, comparing two young mothers both accused of harming their babies.

One was raised in poverty with no idea who her father was, abused by her mother, spent time in foster care, didn’t finish her education and fell pregnant at 16 to an older man who started hitting her and later their child. 

She began to crave the care she received while being treated in hospital and learned become an extreme medical deceiver. All her subsequent children were taken into care and she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder – a ‘sticky’ label that Kerry says excluded her from many mental health services allocated to those who are ‘ill’ not personality ‘disordered’. It acted as a ‘chain around her neck’ that followed her through future proceedings.

By contrast, a ‘polite’ young woman from a wealthy family who fell pregnant at university was found to be poisoning her son with antihistamine to induce illness so that she could ‘feel important’ in coming to his rescue.

She had previously tried to suffocate him with cling film, after the thought ‘just came to her’ while she was wrapping ham. When he ‘went floppy’ and stopped breathing she phoned 999 and began to resuscitate him. She insisted she was ‘disgusted’ with herself but had become ‘hooked’ on ‘feeling important for once’.

After her mother enlisted the services of a ‘flashy London legal firm’ and a private psychiatrist, she was diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome by proxy – now known as factitious disorder (a ‘helpfully obscuring’ label according to Kerry), and handed a two-year suspended sentence. 

She was ordered to attend the £100-an-hour psychological therapy her mother had arranged, with all future contact with her son strictly managed by social services.

‘When a mother feigns illness in herself or in her baby, there is always truth to be found among the lies,’ Kerry concludes. ‘Sometimes you have to look very closely, other times it is staring you in the face.

‘The unpalatable truths about how our class, sex and social acceptability have the power to define and defend us are not so difficult to see.’ 

One of the most peculiar cases is that of Frank*, who admitted to ‘killing’ a local car dealer by battering him around the head. When questioned by police, he told them he was a serial killer and asked them to tell his father. But when his story failed to match up, he was released and transferred to a psychiatric ward.

It later emerged that the car dealer hadn’t died, and told the police it was Frank who attacked him. Frank was pulled in for more questioning, and this time wore a T-shirt featuring a prominent serial killer, while accompanied by his father.

During his sessions with Kerry he rattled off facts about serial killers – but when later faced with the sight of blood, after a girl at the psychiactric unit cut herself in front of him, he freaked out, declaring he ‘hates’ blood and begged Kerry not to get any on him. Hardly a trait of a killer.

Kerry later discovered that Frank was raped at 14 by his stepmother, resulting in a child that was being brought up as his father’s. It was this revelation on the night of the assault on the car dealer which had seen Frank flee his home, placing him in the vicinity of the attack. He confessed to the ‘murder’, despite being not guilty, because he believed if his father saw him as dangerous, he wouldn’t fight him. 

Another man Kerry encounters, Michael*, killed a man at 17 and tried to stab another to death. Having pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, Kerry was called upon by the CPS to give her verdict on his mental state at the time of the attacks.

Michael’s attack was undoubtedly premeditated; he told the police he was looking for someone to kill that morning, carried a large kitchen knife and wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.

But what Kerry later discovers is that Michael – who had joined the Marines at 16 and gone on to become a rifleman in a Commando unit, but left because it ‘didn’t work out’ – was convinced he had to go through with his crime or else he’d be killed himself.

He heard voices which ‘wanted him to make a sacrifice’, and was convinced there was a tracking device implanted by Jihadists in his body, which was also instructing him to commit murder. There were even scars across Michael’s stomach where he’d tried to cut it out.

Despite Kerry finding Michael had a case for diminished responsibility, the CPS disagreed. Michael’s second attack – on a shopkeeper – had sparked a press frenzy over claims it was racially motivated. Years after he was found guilty and sent to a maximum security prison, Kerry encountered him yet again; Michael was still trying to ‘bleed out’ the device – just one of thousands of prison inmates struggling with severe mental health problems in, as Kerry puts it, an institution ‘ill-equipped to provide the level of support he needed’. 

What Lies Buried by Kerry Daynes is out now (Endeavour, £7.99) and available in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

*Names have been changed to protect identities. 

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