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16th Feb 2024 | by: admin

Valdo Calocone and the sad casualties of his ‘voices’

By Femi Olugbile

In the early hours of the 13th of June 2023, in Nottingham, England, a 32 year old man named Valdo Calocone, came up behind two nineteen year old students walking along the street and attacked them with a knife, stabbing both of them to death. He moved to a hostel nearby and attacked the caretaker, a 65-year-old man, killing him. He jumped into the caretaker’s van and sped up the street, deliberately running into three people on the sidewalk, and inflicting serious injuries on them.
Eventually he was overpowered by the police and arrested.
On Thursday 24th January this year, after a prolonged court hearing, he was sentenced to a ‘Hospital Order with Restrictions’, under Sections 37 and 41 of the UK Mental Health Act of 1983. The implication of this is that he will be detained at a high-security hospital for treatment, and will not be released ‘until the Secretary of State for Justice or a First Tier Tribunal assesses that he no longer poses a threat to the public’.
A lot about the case of Mr Calocone has drawn the chagrin of many among the British public. He has left many families devastated by the loss or injury to their members, out of the blue and without any provocation. The three citizens he ran over with the van will carry grievous injuries all their lives.
On another level, he has left the profession of Psychiatry, which is a difficult-enough occupation at the best of times since virtually everybody is society is a potential patient, scratching its head, not in bemusement, but in the delicate effort to draw fine lines of distinction between the different artificial pigeon-holes into which it has labelled mental disorders, and the nuanced consequences and complications that may occasionally arise from them. So delicate was the assessment of Mr Calocone’s mental health condition, and so important was the need to ensure that the medical advice was perfectly right that three different top-of-the-line forensic psychiatrists were invited to see the man and decide if he was victim or villain, or something in between. The police had to get it right, knowing there would be a public backlash if they were seen as ‘soft’ on a ‘criminal’. Did he, or did he not, have ‘Mens Rea’ – the capacity to form an intention, in this case to murder three people and cripple and disable three others? Or did he have ‘Diminished Responsibility’, which would imply he knew what he was doing but was impelled to carry out his actions by some overweening circumstance or compulsion? If the latter was true, he could not be tried for Murder, but only for Manslaughter, a lesser charge. That, it turned out, was what eventually happened.
Mr Calocone was careful and intentional as he came out of his hiding place in the early dawn, crept up behind the two young students in the street, and knifed them to death. But he was also acting under the direction of voices which told him his family members would be in jeopardy if he did not kill those people. He believed he was being controlled by external forces, and had once gone to the offices of M15, the UK internal security agency, to tell them to stop controlling him. On another occasion, he had gone to his parents’ home and sat in his car outside all night, afraid to go in, fearful some terrible catastrophe was about to befall his family.
In the eyes of the family members of the deceased, Valdo Calocone has got away with murder, literally. They are also aggrieved with the police over their failure to act on an arrest warrant that had been issued before the incident, because of some incidents of assault against some fellow workers at Calocone’s workplace, and against mental health staff who were meant to be supervising his mental health care in the community.
Valdo was born in 1991 in Guinea-Bissau. His family moved to Madeira, Portugal, when he was three years old, and from there to Lisbon. They finally emigrated to the UK in 2007.
Valdo first showed signs of mental illness in 2019 while a student at the University of Nottingham. He told people he believed he was being spied upon by M16, and that his family was in danger. He eventually saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed medication, but he did not take the medication or attend follow-up.
The real impact of occasional sensational and colourful stories such as that of Mr Calocone, who has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, is that it plays into a primordial view that the mentally ill should be isolated and separated from society, and that they are ‘dangerous.’ . Every sensational incident sets back several years of dedicated work on the part of mental health workers and advocates to reduce stigma against the mentally ill. It is a regular advocacy line that most mental illnesses are in the nature of Anxiety, Depression, and other non-psychotic problems, and that psychotic conditions in which a person loses touch with reality and behaves strangely are a small minority. It is also true that even among people living with psychotic illness, it is very rare indeed to have anyone show unprovoked violence or be justifiably classed as ‘dangerous.’ Rare, but it happens.
In Nigeria, the challenges of how to balance the demystification and de-stigmatisation of mental illness with a realistic acceptance that occasional cases such as Valdo Calocone will occur, and society must not over- or under-react in managing them, should be one of the focus areas in a necessary dialogue between the mental health profession, the Justice system, and the Police, in the light of the recent enactment of a national Mental Health Act.
As can be seen from the still simmering outrage in the UK over Mr Calocone, no society has yet devised a perfect formula for managing, and judging, disturbances of the mind, or dealing with its occasional fallout.

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