Why man with mental illness branded a ‘nuisance caller’ says he should not have been locked up

Bruce Kirrage suffers with mental health problems and was sent to prison for bombarding the emergenc

Bruce Kirrage suffers with mental health problems and was sent to prison for bombarding the emergency services with calls. He says he feels failed by the system and there should have been more help Picture: Andrew Fitchett - Credit: Archant

When Bruce Kirrage looks back at the newspaper article reporting his crime he is horrified - the drawn face staring out at him unrecognisable to the man he is today.

The exclusion zones where Bruce Kirrage has been ordered not to enter. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

The exclusion zones where Bruce Kirrage has been ordered not to enter. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary - Credit: Archant

The episode - however brief - had a negative impact on his attempts to get better and he feels failed by an uncaring system that had little option but to lock him up.

Mr Kirrage, speaks calmly and with humour about the most horrific period in his life, when suffering from acute mental illness added to by a depression triggered by the death of his father, he was sent to prison.

The 66-year-old of Fellows Drive, Bradwell, pleaded guilty to charges of harassment, malicious communications, and persistently using a public electronic communications network for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to another.

He admitted calling the emergency services for inappropriate reasons, and being verbally abusive and threatening.

He also caused anti-social behaviour whilst attending his GP surgery and the James Paget Hospital and was handed a Criminal Behaviour Order banning him from certain places for five years, which he says would be too expensive to challenge in court.

He spent a month in prison last year - a period he describes as "absolutely horrible."

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During his short sentence he was given little support and was assaulted by another inmate who also seemed to be struggling.

Delays in giving him medication did not help and the impact was shocking. There were days when he didn't want to wake up.

"I should not have been there," he said.

"I screamed and yelled most of the time. A man in that state should not be sent to prison.

"I did not know what I was doing and mental health services were slow to pick up on it.

"I needed to be sectioned. I was irrational and did not know what I was going to do next."

Mr Kirrage, an author, has suffered with mental health problems since his teenage years, and has been variously diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Recently doctors have suggested they could have been caused by encephalitis which he contracted as a young child in Singapore as a complication of measles.

Running a temperature of 105 he was lucky to have pulled through, the only treatment being dunked into a bucket of ice.

Although it is hard for him to remember exactly, he had his first serious episode at 15 when his father insisted he came off his meds to see how he did.

He spent a year in an adolescent unit unravelling.

And at 17, Mr Kirrage was forced to come off his medication by his father - sparking a year of struggles.

They culminated in a spell in an adult offender's institution.

For long periods of his life he has chugged along without incident working as an anaesthetic technician for many years, marrying, and raising two sons.

Being unwell meant irrational behaviour that bewilders him in hindsight.

In the year leading up to his conviction things were not going well.

He had moved to Bradwell to be near his brother and struggled to make friends.

Trying to find the right combination of drugs that would work for him was hit and miss - mostly miss - and he became highly anxious and desperate.

Looking back he has no understanding of why he behaved how he did and finds his challenging actions difficult to describe.

"The things I did were totally irrational," he said.

"I broke up some furniture in my house because I could not get to the drawer and drove them round to St Catherine's House and dumped them on the drive.

"I did crazy things.

"I had wooden doors in my house, there were a number of them in the garage, and I put them on a metal bed on a metal frame and put a white sheet over them.

"I have no idea why. It is very difficult to understand.

"At the time I felt anxious and very, very worried and with that comes aggression and that is the worst feeling because you do not know how to control yourself.

"It has been with me since I was 15.

"But there is no compulsion in me to be a criminal. There is a big difference between being mentally ill and a criminal.

"I was not aggressive with the police, my upbringing was to be law abiding, but it was harsh. They were hard on me.

"I was ill but the police do not have it in their remit to deal with this.

"I was irrational, I did not know what I was going to do next.

"In my mind I would not hurt a fly.

"It is something I will never cure."

A year on he is regaining control of his life and rates his mental health as 9/10.

The community at Bradwell church and the odd fishing trip have been an oasis of calm as he regains control, as has his writing.

One of his books The Wizardry of Women, published in America, poetically puts into words how he felt at his worst, produced during his darkest times when he was working 20 hours out of 24.

"There have been times when I've gone to bed and thought 'I don't want to wake up.' But when I do I think 'Oh well I might as well live this day then,'" he added.

'Lack of data'

A briefing paper produced by the Prison Reform Trust reported that 2,000 prison places per year could be saved if some short-term prisoners who committed offences while experiencing mental health problems were given appropriate community sentences.

Quoting from an independent review, conducted by former Home Office minister Lord Bradley (The Bradley Report, 2009), it said there should be services to identify and, where appropriate, divert people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and other support needs away from the criminal justice system and into treatment and care.

It also reported that 26pc of women and 16pc of men said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody.

Meanwhile 25pc of women and 15pc of men in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis - the rate among the general public is about 4pc.

Self-inflicted deaths are over five times more likely in prison than in the general population.

However, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) found that concerns about mental health problems had only been flagged on entry to the prison for just over half of these people.

The report says there is insufficient data to identify how many people are remanded in custody pending a psychiatric report, how many are assessed as having a mental health problem, and how many are so unwell that they require transferring out of custody for treatment.