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Updated 01 March 2016

The Oscar trial witnesses: awful, pompous and condescending

Health24's CyberShrink, Professor Michael Simpson, yawns at the ridiculous, boring testimony at the Oscar Pistorius trial and, as a disabled person himself, strongly objects to the defence's attempt to create excuses for Oscar.

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I was so delighted when the wise judge threw out some of the ridiculous evidence presented by Prof. Derman, a pair of irrelevant e-mails which were transparently improper hearsay.

It seemed to be yet another sneaky manoeuvre by the Defence, as Mr Oldwage sprang into action the moment Nel objected, with a long, complex defence that must have taken hours to prepare, complete with an irrelevant couple of ancient case references.

Read: Oscar's defence continues to implode on itself 

They knew it would have to be challenged, and expected to win. But while a genuine expert is entitled to voice his own opinion, he can’t bestow the status of expert on lay-people and masseurs, just because it suits him.

Why I don't like Derman

A major problem with Prof. Derman is that he is obviously a close friend of Oscar, rather than an entirely objective and independent expert - they seem to have been pals.

I’ve had many patients and clients, but none have send me a message, bragging that they are in bed with a lovely woman.

Prof Derman’s evidence was awfully boring, almost pompous and condescending, like a medical school lecture, and almost totally irrelevant, sometimes to the point of being frankly ludicrous. He was like the club bore who corners you at the bar.

He is NOT a psychologist, or psychiatrist or a neurologist, and should not for a moment be accepted by the court as a true expert in those fields, or to make a diagnosis in these fields.

Just because he indulged in a very long period of self-praise and advertising, doesn't mean he’s anywhere near as important as he seemed to think (I’ve never met a Prof describing himself as having given a “seminal” lecture, which sounds rather messy) or that his opinions, especially outside his trained expertise, are important or valid.

Despite monotonous repetition of “fight or flight”, an old-fashioned concept he is milking to death, he is still failing to explain why, even if one sticks within this reductive, over-simplified model, Oscar would have chosen or fight and not flee, or to misinterpret a very ordinary domestic situation.

It certainly does not establish that he had no choice in the matter but to rush ahead and shoot.

A less temperate judge would have been challenging him throughout his lectures, asking the key question: “So what ?”

What was the relevance of research showing increased aggression towards disabled Londoners after the Paralympics?

Nobody was aggressive towards Oscar, who wasn’t in London, and had surely not been reading that research?

How silly was it that we were told about a woman who fought a polar bear to protect her babies, or reactions to frightening masks? Oscar had no babies, and no masks or polar bears were involved. What’s the point of discussing reactions to being attacked : Oscar was not attacked.

Read: How to stay calm when you have an attack of road rage

He may have imagined he was, when that was an unreasonable idea, and his response to it also unreasonable. That’s different. Most of what we heard was smoke and mirrors, with few mirrors and lots of smoke.

Does it make any sense that, according to the Dermanator, Oscar winces and ducks when at ceremonies he hears fireworks, yet his absolute favourite hobby is shooting very loud guns, at ranges where other people are doing the same thing, seemingly without wincing or ducking, indeed using it to relax when he can’t sleep?

As a disabled person I strongly object!

As a disabled person myself, I object strongly to the attempts by the defence to create false excuses on the basis of Oscar’s disability.

No disabled person, just because of their physical disability, is likely to unreasonably perceive threats which don’t exist, or to grossly and dangerously over-react to them.

We are being urged to think of Oscar wholly as disabled, with his choices determined by that.

But like me, he is far, far more than his disability, and not determined by it. This is especially cynical coming from a man who kept insisting on being treated exactly the same as any able-bodied athlete and even took sporting authorities to court to force them to allow him to compete in BOTH Olympics.

So, Oscar’s true message is “Treat me the same when it suits me, but if I shoot someone, don’t forget that I’m disabled.”?

Read: Does Oscar have an advantage

That argument doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Peet-ering out …. We started with an anti-climax.

Nel demolished the evidence of Peet van Zyl, OK, but yet again it was, in the American phrase, like shooting fish in a barrel.

He was so transparently trying to help Oscar and to avoid saying anything that might embarrass him, that nothing he did say was credible. His stammering when challenged confirmed this.

Similarly, the more often someone says “To be perfectly honest…” , “I honestly don’t remember…” the less convinced you feel that he is being frank.

Read: How to spot a liar

His main testimony was shown to have been selective, and disproved by evidence. People who live in glass houses, can’t stow thrones - you can’t effectively hide stuff while seeking publicity.

Headlines from the psych reports

Highly selective bits were read out by each advocate. Nel stuck to the psychiatrists’ brief report, which responsibly answered precisely the question asked by the Court.

These experts were unanimous that Oscar suffers from no mental disorder and did not at the time of the killing; he had nothing wrong with him which reduced his ability to know right from wrong or to act accordingly.

This is the essential finding, which makes all other speculation and fluff from the defence pointless.

Read: Who is nuts, Oscar, or his defence

And it makes Dr Vorster’s unconvincing diagnosis of general anxiety disorder (GAD) has now been rejected and must be ignored.

At most they found an "adjustment disorder", which really just means the person’s having discomfort in adjusting to their situation. Hardly surprising and wholly irrelevant.

Roux grudgingly acknowledged this but wanted to highlight the vastly longer report of the highly sympathetic psychologist, who wouldn't normally have been part of such a panel, and who went way, way beyond his remit, answering questions he flatly was not asked.

I find it impossible to rely on his diagnosis of severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder, which the panel of three psychiatrists somehow missed .

Where are the reports? More evidence gets hidden from the public

At the very end of the day, the judge was persuaded by Mr Oldwage to set another risky special precedent, when he asked her to ban any publication of the psychiatric reports other than what has been read out in court.

This is irregular, and not normal practice, and another instance of Oscar receiving special treatment.

Yes, of course, a medical report might contain some sensitive material, and though only the most crummy of journalists would misuse that, the court could have redacted the reports so as to remove anything genuinely delicate and not relevant to the case.

As a doctor, one should always warn any person you are assessing for a court report that there cannot be normal confidentiality and they should remember this in your discussions.

And, aware that the report can and should be made public, we make sure it is discrete about anything not entirely relevant to the case.

Any report to the court is supposed to become available and in the public domain. Otherwise, the public will not be allowed to know all of the evidence on the basis of which the court will make its eventual decisions.

Unwittingly, the court has allowed the defence lawyers to censor the information available to the public : this is an unhappy precedent.

It was deeply disappointing that Gerrie Nel, there to represent the public, said not a word, and did not object.

Read more:

Why Oscar was sent for 30 days observation
Oscar returns with a glut of witnesses 
Do you hope Oscar is innocent, or do you need him to be innocent
Inside Oscar's support group 

*Opinions in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Health24.com

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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