Labour health team criticises Sun front page on murders by "mental patients"

A spokesperson for Andy Burnham tells The Staggers that the paper's headline is "a disgraceful reinforcement of the stigma against those with mental illness".

At the start of a week in which press standards will come under scrutiny again (the Privy Council will meet on Wednesday to decide whether to approve the industry's proposed system of regulation or that backed by Parliament), the Sun has shamed itself with its front page today.

The paper's headline reads "1,200 killed by mental patients", a shock figure (printed in blood red) created by compiling 10 years' worth of data and perfectly designed to encourage further prejudice against mental health sufferers. In reality, since around a quarter of the population experience mental health problems each year, the number of murders committed by patients is disproportionately low. Around 95% of homicides are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with a mental health problem, but you wouldn't know that from the Sun's headline. The greatest threat that sufferers pose is to themselves; 90% of those who die through suicide experience some form of mental distress. 

Labour's health team rebuked the Sun on Twitter last night and a spokesperson for Andy Burnham told me:

This is a disgraceful reinforcement of the stigma against those with mental illness. The paper will face serious questions on Monday. Archaic attitudes still define our approach to mental health - we must challenge them.

In addition, Alastair Campbell, who is campaigning for better public understanding of mental health problems, wrote on Twitter: "Will the Sun tomorrow do exclusive investigation on numbers killed by what they would call 'normal people'?"

He added: "Constant media linkage of violence and mental illness leads to violence against the mentally ill rather than by them."

Copies of the Sun on February 13, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

A Liberal revival could do Theresa May real damage in the south.

There's life in the Liberal Democrats yet. The Conservative majority in Witney has been slashed, with lawyer and nominative determinism case study Robert Courts elected, but with a much reduced majority.

It's down in both absolute terms, from 25,155 to 5,702, but it's never wise to worry too much about raw numbers in by-elections. The percentages tell us a lot more, and there's considerable cause for alarm in the Tory camp as far as they are concerned: the Conservative vote down from 60 per cent to 45 per cent.

(On a side note, I wouldn’t read much of anything into the fact that Labour slipped to third. It has never been a happy hunting ground for them and their vote was squeezed less by the Liberal Democrats than you’d perhaps expect.)

And what about those Liberal Democrats, eh? They've surged from fourth place to second, a 23.5 per cent increase in their vote, a 19.3 swing from Conservative to Liberal, the biggest towards that party in two decades.

One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.)

It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for 

As Sam Coates reports in the Times this morning, there are growing calls from MPs and ministers that May should go to the country while the going's good, calls that will only be intensified by the going-over that the PM got in Brussels last night. And now, for marginal Conservatives in the south-west especially, it's just just the pressure points of the Brexit talks that should worry them - it's that with every day between now and the next election, the Liberal Democrats may have another day to get their feet back under the table.

This originally appeared in Morning Call, my daily guide to what's going on in politics and the papers. It's free, and you can subscribe here. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.