BACKGROUND Tragic and high profile killings by people with mental illness have been used to suggest that the community care model for mental health services has failed.
AIMS To consider whether such homicides have become more frequent as psychiatric services have changed.
METHOD Data were extracted from Home Office-generated criminal statistics for England and Wales between 1957 and 1995 and subjected to trends analysis.
RESULTS There was little fluctuation in numbers of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide over the 38 years studied, and a 3% annual decline in their contribution to the official statistics.
CONCLUSIONS There are many reasons for improving the resources and quality of care for people with a mental disorder, but there is no evidence that it is anything but stigmatising to claim that their living in the community is a dangerous experiment that should be reversed. There appears to be some case for specially focused improvement of services for people with a personality disorder and/or substance misuse.