28 February, 2010

A sad tale of schizophrenia

Christian Gillett had a long history of mental illness, developing from when he was about 14 years of age. It became obvious when he was in his late teens that he was suffering from schizophrenia. Over the years police had been called to his home on a number of occasions and in 1990 was admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital where he received medication.

In May 1991 19-year-old Christian attacked his mother with an iron bar, causing severe injuries. It seemed he was experimenting with acid, and was 'tripping' at the time. He was arrested by police and detained at Long Bay Jail where his diagnosis was confirmed, and he began taking Haldol. He was sentenced to a community treatment order through Mona Vale Hospital which required him to stay on this medication.

Mrs Gillett was no longer able to live with her son following the attack, but maintained close contact with both him and her husband Keith, who continued to live together in Surf View Road, Mona Vale. Keith was wheelchair-bound, being a double-amputee.

Late in 1997 it appears Christian began drinking regularly, and in April 1998 neighbour Natalie Rosa saw him running from his house just after 10:00am. At 10:18am ambulance officers at Narrabeen received a call summoning them to the Gillett residence. Police officers arrived first at 10:22am to find Keith lying on the floor behind his wheelchair, severely wounded. A mattock, which was lying a short distance away, was clearly the weapon that had been used. Keith had managed to make it to the phone to make a '000' call. He told police he had been attacked by his son.

Christian could not be found by police until he visited his mother's work at about 10:00am the following day, when they were able to take him into custody at North Sydney Police Station. The police conducted an interview with him, which was recorded, in which he was clearly delusional. He denied attacking his father, saying that it would be a horrible thing to do to a man he liked, so therefore he could not have been him.

Keith died ten days later in hospital during his recovery from the severe wounds.

When he first arrived at the jail he was described as "floridly psychotic" and it became apparent he was not taking his medication, in addition to drinking. He initially told doctors that he had no idea who hurt his father, and had no memory of the incident, but was sure he was not there at the time. Through interviews with his treating psychiatrist in jail, Dr Nielssen, it became clear that Christian had infact attacked his father. He had been hearing voices telling him that his father was planning to kill him. He told Dr Nielssen that he heard voices saying "Axe him". He was put back onto medication, and also anti-depressants to help him cope with the loss of his father.

Christian was initially charged with murder, but this charge was reduced to one of malicious wounding, as it was not entirely clear whether Keith died as a direct result of his injuries, or other medical complications. He pleaded not guilty, and a trial was held before a judge sitting alone, without a jury, at the request of the defence.

The judge was satisfied on the evidence that Christian inflicted the injuries upon his father. The real issue, of course, was whether he had a defence on mental illness. The psychiatrists called to give evidence at the trial agreed that at the time Christian wounded his father, he did not know what he was doing. And, if he did know what he was doing, he did not know that it was wrong, and that he should not have been doing it:

"He was aware of the nature and quality of his act but did not realise that the act was wrong, as he believed that his father was actually planning to harm him, and he was prompted by persuasive auditory hallucinations."

The Judge gave the 'special verdict' that Christian was not guilty by reason of mental illness, and ordered that he be detained in the Long Bay Prison Hospital under strict custody until he is considered fit for release.

In 2002 Christian was moved to the Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital, in a low-security cottage, as part of his preparation to be released back into the community. However he escaped from that facility in late 2002. He was considered dangerous and the public were warned not to approach him. He was eventually apprehended and returned to Long Bay Prison.


  1. This is very sad. I worked with Keith Gillett for many years, he was a pioneering underwater photographer, wrote many books and was considered an expert in marine life. I remember Christian as being a very nice boy, but that was well before he was found to be schizophrenic.

  2. I used to do graffiti with Christian, we knew him as "Seem", back in the mid to late 80's. Just saw that he passed away in March 2017. Rest in peace. Haro