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Forensic Research Group


About Us

The Forensic Research Group explores the complex relationship between mental disorders and crime. We use a developmental lifespan perspective to understand the aetiology and development of this relationship, using epidemiological, cognitive psychological and neuroimaging research methods.

The group is led by Nigel Blackwood and Deirdre MacManus, both clinical academics in forensic psychiatry. Our clinical work in forensic services takes place in the Criminal Justice System (police stations, courts, prisons) and in secure forensic services within SLaM. We teach the next generation of academics and clinical academics in the MSc in Forensic Mental Health and the iBSc in Forensic Psychiatry, Criminal Behaviour and Law.

Group meetings take place on the first Wednesday of each month at the IoPPN (timetable/ meeting alerts via @forensicrg)

Research interests & projects 

Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychopathy 

Study 1. The Neurochemical Basis of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychopathy

Our first study on the neurochemistry of ASPD and psychopathy will examine the role of oxytocin, a neurochemical involved in social behaviour. In our study we will investigate the effect of oxytocin on ASPD and psychopathy using a range of measures. We will use functional MRI to show how oxytocin, given as a safe nasal spray, effects abnormal brain patterns of emotion recognition and decision-making in these groups. We will also look at other measures, including neuropsychological tests and structural and resting brain scans. Our study is funded by the Wellcome Trust, a world leader in funding cutting-edge neuroscientific research.

Domestic violence and abuse in the military

Study 1. The impact of military life on relationships and the experiences of and barriers to help-seeking among 
those who have perpetrated or experienced DVA. 

Qualitative interviews will be conducted with military personnel (serving/ex-serving), who either reported being a perpetrator or victim/survivor of DVA, to examine their perspective of the impact of military service on their relationship, support available and attitude to help-seeking for violence within the relationship. This study is funded by the Welccome Trust.


Study 2. Domestic violence and abuse among spouses and partners of military personnel.

Qualitative interviews will be conducted with spouses/partners of serving or ex-serving military personnel who have been victims/survivors of DVA by their military partners, to explore the factors that impact on their relationship, the risk of DVA within these relationships and help seeking behaviours.


Study 3.  Investigating the prevalence and risk factors for DVA perpetration and victimisation among serving and ex-serving military personnel compared to the general population.

Data from phase 3 of King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) cohort study of the health and well-being of  the UK Armed Forces will be used to estimate the prevalence of and risk factors for self-reported DVA in the past year, both perpetration and victimisation, among both serving and ex-serving personnel. The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey will be used as a general population comparison group. 


Study 4. Responding to domestic violence perpetration and victimisation – attitudes, experiences and practices of professionals within the UK Armed Forces. 

Qualitative interviews will be conducted with health/welfare staff working with serving and ex-serving military personnel to explore attitudes to DVA and to examine how it is identified and managed.


Study 5. Expert consensus on required changes to policy and practice in prevention and management of DVA among serving and ex-serving personnel.

A Delphi methodology will be used to generate expert consensus on good practice in the prevention and management of DVA among UK military personnel.

Fitness to plead

Fitness to plead

This project aims to refine our understanding of fitness to plead and address the implications of the Law Commission’s proposals. It aims to determine what the prevalence of unfitness to plead in defendants facing criminal trials would be if those proposals are adopted; the underlying psychiatric and sociodemographic factors that impact on unfitness; and how unfitness should be reliably identified and assessed. 

Development of a Structured Assessment Instrument for assessing fitness to plead to be used in research and clinical settings - A Conceptual and Empirical Study:

1. Conceptual analysis of Fitness to Plead. 

Ethical analysis will be carried out in collaboration with the Essex Autonomy Project to explore how fitness to plead should be conceptualized, focusing on the roles of autonomy and decisional capacity.

2. Quantitative study: the prevalence of mental disorder and unfitness to plead at Magistrates.

We have finished recruiting 500 defendants facing criminal charges at Magistrates’ Court to estimate the prevalence of mental disorder and unfitness to plead in criminal defendants. We will also explore the clinical and demographic factors associated with an increased in risk in being unfit to plead in this group.

3. Qualitative study: where should the threshold for unfitness to plead be set?

We are in the process of recruiting a range of professionals (legal, clinical, academic) to form a focus group to further explore the concept of fitness to plead.


  Our Team

                              Nigel_Blackwood   Deirdre_MacManus
                                        Dr Nigel Blackwood                       Dr Deirdre MacManus    
                                      Clinical Senior Lecturer                     Clinical Senior Lecturer  
                                         Forensic psychiatry                            Forensic psychiatry     
Hannah_Dickson   Hannah_Dickson   John_Tully
         Dr Hannah Dickson                           Dr Penny Brown                                Dr John Tully
                  Lecturer                                 Wellcome Trust Fellow                           Wellcome Trust 
    Clinical forensic psychology                                                                          Clinical Training Fellow


Current grants, fellowships, and program grants come from: the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Councilthe Department of Health (NIHR), the European Union, Forces in Mind Trust and Help for Heroes.


Media activity 

Psychopathic criminals learn differently from punishment cues 
CBC News 
Psychopaths Have Distinct Brain Structure, Study Finds
Hufffngton Post
Nigel Blackwood explains antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy
and what his team’s new brain-scanning study has revealed. 
The Lancet  (Podcast)
Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil
The Independent
Violent soldiers: interview with Dr Deirdre MacManus
ITV News
Soldiers more likely to be convicted of violent offences, report reveals
The Guardian
'You don't ever get over it': meet the British soldiers living with post-traumatic stress disorder
The Guardian
Welfare reform; Crime in the Armed Forces
BBC Radio 4


Follow us on Twitter @forensicrg


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