Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Necessary Monster

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Necessary Monster

Article excerpt

As long as Ian Brady lives, he serves a useful function for society, argues Lisa Downing - as a convenient cultural repository for evil.

As I write this piece, doctors are struggling to keep serial killer Ian Brady alive. For more than 10 years, the "Moors Murderer" - who, with his partner, Myra Hindley, killed at least five children between 1963 and 1965 - has campaigned from the psychiatric hospital in which he is confined to be allowed to die. He has pursued this end just as tirelessly as Hindley, who died in prison in 2002, campaigned for her release.

Brady has found himself squarely in the public eye in recent months owing to three events. In July, he was taken from Ashworth to Fazakerley Hospital, following a seizure that prevented him attending a mental health tribunal regarding his application to be allowed to die. In August, Winnie Johnson died - the mother of Keith Bennett, the only known Moors victim whose remains have not been recovered. And Johnson's death came only days after the arrest of Brady's mental health advocate Jackie Powell on suspicion of "preventing the burial of a body without lawful exercise", after she allegedly refused to disclose the contents of a letter from Brady revealing the whereabouts of Keith's body that was to be passed to his surviving family in the event of Brady's death.

While some of the victims' relatives have spoken out about their desire for Brady's death, it is instructive to reflect on the meaning of the very determined unwillingness on the part of the authorities to let Brady die. (He has been force-fed during the course of his more-than-decade-long hunger strike, and was resuscitated using a defibrillator after his heart stopped for seven minutes, it was reported on 7 October.) The concerted effort to keep Brady alive parallels metaphorically the longevity of the perhaps unconscious cultural function that he continues to serve, some 46 years after his trial, as a collective figure of hate.

The fact that Brady and Hindley killed children rendered them the "most evil" of murderers. Public hatred accrued especially to Hindley, as a woman and therefore doubly deviant in having transgressed both the legal prohibition on killing and the social edict that women shall protect children. This hatred has passed to Brady in the wake of Hindley's death. The recent documentary broadcast on Channel 4, Ian Brady: Endgames of a Psychopath, sets Brady up as a Machiavellian figure, taunting Johnson from his hospital bed with the secret knowledge he possesses - the location of the remaining grave - and thereby exercising the power of manipulation over others that is meant to be the sole motivation of that rare type of psychiatric personage, the psychopath. …

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