Psychiatry board claims impartiality

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Members of a psychiatric review board charged with evaluating a controversial insanity diagnosis for confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik believe they’re all impartial, even though one key member has been referred to as a “close friend” of one of those behind the diagnosis. Now the court has to agree.

Court administrators had themselves questioned the impartiality of the board (Den rettsmedisinske kommisjon – forensic medical commission) after it emerged that the psychiatrist leading the work on the Breivik diagnosis, Karl Heinrik Melle, is an old friend and colleague of Torgeir Husby. Now Melle is poised to evaluate the insanity diagnosis that psychiatrists Husby and Synne Sørheim declared after interviewing and observing Breivik over 36 hours during 13 meetings.

The diagnosis has set off a storm of criticism and debate because it means Breivik, who killed 77 persons in his July 22 attacks, may avoid a prison term and instead be committed to a psychiatric institution. Neither Husby nor Sørheim will comment on the criticism but Husby has said both he and Sørheim were in complete agreement on their diagnosis and had no doubts.

On Wednesday afternoon, the commission responded to questions about Melle’s impartiality and their own competence. “We maintain our earlier evaluation that the seven members of the commission, who themselves believe they’re impartial, remain so, and are capable of handling the report from Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim,” commission leader Tarjei Rygnestad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

The commission has forwarded that conclusion to the court, which will examine ties between Husby, Sørheim and commission members. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that Husby called Melle “a close colleague and one of my closest friends” in an interview in 2009. Now Husby claims he hasn’t seen Melle for five years and may have been misquoted two years ago. The two worked together in Trondheim from 1989 until 1994.

Meanwhile, the July 22 Commission investigating the emergency response to Breivik’s attacks is calling for help from the public in tracking the police response in chronological order. Commission leader Alexandra Bech Gjørv has asked anyone with photos or video taken during the time when Breivik was carrying out his massacre on the island of Utøya to share them with her group, claiming it can help them track the police reaction.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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