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The patient in the spider's web

In Sweden, Josefsson says, the idea that people with repressed memories of abuse could be helped was “an idea that belonged to the left wing”.

It began with an email describing a funeral, sent to a serial killer at three in the morning. Dan Josefsson wrote to Sture Bergwall – also known as Thomas Quick, Sweden’s most notorious murderer – to tell him that their mutual friend, the journalist Hannes Råstam, had been laid to rest.

“Everyone who is old enough to remember the Nineties remembers Thomas Quick. He was a household name in Sweden,” Josefsson said over the phone from Stockholm. “Children were scared of Thomas Quick – he was like the devil. It was like Hannibal Lecter, but for real, and in Sweden.”

Except, he wasn’t. Before Råstam died at his home in Gothenburg in January 2012, he had performed the most incredible feat of investigative journalism. He proved that the Swedish courts had convicted an innocent man of eight murders, and laid the foundations for Bergwall’s retrial and eventual acquittal.

As a result of that email, Josefsson, also a journalist and TV documentary-maker, found himself on the same path as his friend. Sture’s older brother Sten-Ove asked him to pick up where Råstam had left off. By this time the police investigations were well on the way to being discredited, but Sten-Ove felt that his brother’s experiences as an inmate of the Säter psychiatric hospital still warranted inquiry. How had Sture, a man with mental health and addiction problems who had been convicted of only minor crimes, ended up confessing to over 30 murders, some of them Sweden’s most talked-about unsolved cases?

Josefsson felt sure the answer lay with the secretive cabal of psychotherapists who had treated Bergwall. He was unusually well placed to find out. Before becoming a journalist, he had worked as an assistant nurse on a closed psychiatric ward and had since also written a book about the psychological model of “attachment theory”.

Bergwall became Thomas Quick, formally changing his name when he began confessing to murders he hadn’t committed. Josefsson’s narrative lays bare the atmosphere in the hospital where he was held.

It isn’t hard to understand how a vulnerable and addicted man could end up wanting to be “rewarded” with therapy by telling stories that his therapists found to be groundbreaking. Bergwall has since explained how he would research cold cases in newspaper cuttings when he went to the library on day release, and even that he drew inspiration for his “crimes” from Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.

The people who treated him were part of a circle surrounding a psychotherapist called Margit Norell, a well-known pioneer in the field in Sweden. Although she never treated him directly, she supervised and directed those who did, a shadowy yet vital presence in this extraordinary case. In Josefsson’s bestselling book The Strange Case of Thomas Quick, she emerges as the driving force behind the narrative, the spider at the centre of the web.

Norell was a proponent of the now-discredited practice of recovered-memory therapy, in which a patient is induced through hypnosis or dream interpretation to recall instances of trauma, frequently early-years sexual abuse, of which they previously had no recollection. In Sture’s case, it was the memories of sexual abuse that he “recovered” which were supposed to provide the motivation for his crimes.

“I’m convinced that she was acting in good faith,” Josefsson says. “She really believed everything she was teaching, but she was a fanatic. She had no sense of critical thinking at all, she despised scientific thinking . . . she was thinking with her heart, feeling her way. She was very much like a religious leader, I would say.”

Although Bergwall’s is undoubtedly the most high-profile miscarriage of justice resulting from this skewed idea of memory, he was far from the only one. It also became an intensely political subject. In Sweden, Josefsson says, the idea that people with repressed memories of abuse could be helped was “an idea that belonged to the left wing”.

“They sort of went astray; it became a madness in this country,” he notes. Writers such as Stieg Larsson, also a prominent left-wing journalist, were responding to this, he says. Works such as Larsson’s Millennium series, which deals with some of the themes in the Bergwall case, are a product of this trend. “It’s a crime story, but inside it there are left-wing critiques of society.”

It’s difficult to grasp from the outside quite what a grip the Thomas Quick case has had on the public imagination in Sweden. As Josefsson half jokes, to Brits, “everyone in Sweden writes crime novels” but the country itself is a model of social democracy in action. Yet this real-life thriller still holds the population in thrall. The 2013 film that Dan Josefsson made about the Quick case, and the role of the psychotherapists in it, aired to 1.3 million people when it was first shown in Sweden (a country of just nine million). “It was a very big thing,” Josefsson says.

On 30 July 2013, Sture Bergwall was acquitted of the last of the eight murders of which he had been convicted – the final step in what has been called the biggest ever miscarriage of justice in Sweden. He had ceased to be “Thomas Quick” over a decade earlier, withdrawing his confessions, refusing to co-operate further with the police and declining any further therapy. He now lives quietly in the far north of the country, though he is on Twitter and has written his own account of the extraordinary case. It will be published next year.

Caroline Crampton is head of podcasts at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The 18th-century Prime Minister

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.