Othello Syndrome

In my Criminal Law lectures I have been studying Diminished Responsibility and one of the defences that has interested me the most is Othello Syndrome.

Othello Syndrome-The delusion of infidelity of a spouse or partner. The Othello syndrome affects males and, less often, females. It is characterized by recurrent accusations of infidelity, searches for evidence, repeated interrogation of the partner, tests of their partner’s fidelity, and sometime stalking. The syndrome may appear by itself or in the course of paranoid schizophrenia, alcoholism, or cocaine addiction. As in Othello, the play by Shakespeare, the syndrome can be highly dangerous and result in disruption of a marriage, homicide and suicide.

There has recently been a case where a woman paid a hitman £10k to shoot her ex-fiance because he begun seeing her best friend, her ex-fiance was left paralysed. Was she that overcome with jealousy she wanted him dead? Or was it a case of “if I can’t have him, no one can”?

In the case of R v Vinagre (1979) the defendant became very suspicious that his wife was having an affair with a policeman. He became incredibly jealous, though there was no evidence to suggest his suspicions were well founded, and stabbed his wife to death in a frenzied attack in which she suffered 34 wounds.

One of the psychiatrists told the court; “The case would seem to hinge on whether indeed Mrs. Vinagre was being unfaithful to her husband by having sex relationships with the plain clothes policeman Michael. If there was no such liaison then the possibility of a jealous spouse or Othello syndrome may be raised whereby the accused became so overwhelmed by his jealous suspicion that after having not slept the night before and only two hours that morning, later that day after a violent argument with his wife he attacked her with fatal consequences. On the other hand if there is evidence that his wife was indeed unfaithful, then it would be difficult to offer the same psychiatric defence. A good deal will therefore depend on the evidence of the Court as to whether his wife was, as he claimed her to be, the victim of his pathological jealousy.”

Vinagre served a seven year prison sentence on the grounds of Diminished Responsibility.

However, it is quite frightening what people will stretch to when they have been hurt, I’m sure that most of us have felt like killing our ex’s or current partners, it is normal to fantasize about that, but to carry it out is obviously a criminal offence. There has to be a borderline between the fantasy and reality, unfortunately, there are some people who will carry out the fantasy without thinking of the consequences, which will certainly, result in a murder or manslaughter charge.

 

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