Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998


Sarah Neal (1998) 'Embodying Black Madness, Embodying White Femininity: Populist (Re)Presentations and Public Policy - The Case of Christopher Clunis and Jayne Zito'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 4, <>

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Received: 16/10/98      Accepted: 18/12/98      Published: 31/12/98


This paper examines the representation of racialised and gendered bodies in relation to both the media and public policy responses to Christopher Clunis' killing of Jonathan Zito in London in 1992. Analysing written and visual media text the first section of the paper argues that dichotomous constructions between the dangerous black masculine body of Christopher Clunis and the vulnerable idealised white feminine body of Jayne Zito were drawn on to help make sense of the tragedy in a period in which public anxieties around mental health care were increasingly evident. The effectiveness of these representations can be seen in the setting up of the NHS Enquiry whose remit was to investigate the care and treatment given to Clunis by psychiatric professionals. The second section of the paper focuses on the ways in which the issue of race and the racialised body played a complex and contradictory role in both the findings of the Report and in determining the (inadequate) service that Clunis received once within the mental health care system

Keywords: Christopher Clunis;Jayne Zito;Media;Public Policy;Race and Gender.

Embodying Black Madness, Embodying White Femininity: Populist (Re)Presentations And Public Policy - The Case Of Christopher Clunis And Jayne Zito


In the afternoon of the 17th December 1992 Christopher Clunis, a young African/Caribbean schizophrenic attacked Jonathan Zito, a young Italian-American, who was waiting for a tube train with his brother on Finsbury Park station. Christopher Clunis stabbed Jonathan Zito three times in the face piercing his eye. As Jonathan Zito, fatally wounded, lay dying on the platform Christopher Clunis boarded a tube train which had entered the station during the attack and sat in a carriage. By now emergency services, underground officials and the police had begun to arrive on the scene. Christopher Clunis was arrested in the carriage in which he had originally entered immediately after the attack. The Whittington Hospital to which Jonathan Zito had been taken was unable to resuscitate him and he pronounced dead with the cause of death being given as "a stab wound to the head" ( Ritchie et al, 1994). Jonathan Zito's death and the circumstances which led to it were to dominate populist and policy debates around mental health care provision throughout the early and mid 1990s. Arguing that there is a correlation between how the media (re)presents and interprets particular events and public policy responses and interventions ( Gordon, 1990; Fiske, 1994; Gabriel, 1998) the paper has two key purposes. First, it examines the newspaper media coverage of Christopher Clunis' killing of Jonathan Zito, the high profile attention given to his wife, Jayne Zito and the media campaign to have the events surrounding Jonathan Zito's death investigated. Second, it analyses the place of race and the racialised body in the findings of the Report into the Care and Treatment of Christopher Clunis which was the published outcome of the six month NHS enquiry. The paper argues that the setting up of this enquiry was partly an outcome of media pressure for a formal investigation.

Central to the effectiveness of this pressure was the media's presentations of two of the key people (Christopher Clunis and Jayne Zito) involved in the tragic events of December 1992. Within the process of presentation it is possible to see how both Christopher Clunis and Jayne Zito were distilled into public (re)presentations of racialised and gendered bodies for 'to represent people is to represent bodies' ( Dyer, 1998: 14). These (re)presentations drew heavily on the binary constructions of the black[1] (particularly male) body as a symbol of (amongst other variables) primitiveness, danger and madness ( Young, 1994; Gilman, 1985; Pieterse, 1997) and the white (particularly female) body as a symbol of (amongst other variables) frailty, vulnerability and civilisation ( Ware, 1993; Dyer, 1998). While noting the historical context of this relationship the paper seeks to demonstrate its contemporary currency in public arenas: the media and social policy responses.


The relationship between the media, race, cultural myths and common-sense stereotypes has been extensively commented on elsewhere ( Hartmann and Husbands,1974, van Dijk,1991, Fiske, 1994; Campbell, 1995, Gabriel, 1998) and these debates do not need to be rehearsed here. Transported into the public (populist) gaze via the media it is the media coverage of the three interconnected events of Jonathan Zito's death, Christopher Clunis' trial, Jayne Zito and the campaign for a public inquiry and the "cultural meaning making" ( Campbell, 1995) that the media reporting gave these events that provides the focus for the primary data collection and analysis of the first part of this paper. In other words my task is to interpret the media interpretations of these events which took place between December 1992 and July 1993. I examined five newspapers - Daily Mirror, Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Guardian, Independent - for each of the three key moments - Jonathan's death in December; Christopher Clunis' trial in June 1993; Jayne Zito and the campaign for a public inquiry in July 1993. Commonality of the central themes which the media chose to highlight, in both the written and the visual text in its coverage of these events was my primary framework of analysis ( Soothill and Walby, 1991). The second part of the paper relies on documentary data drawn from a textual analysis of the Report into the Care and Treatment of Christopher Clunis ( Ritchie et al, 1994).

Early responses to Jonathan Zito's death

The initial media reaction to Christopher Clunis' fatal attack on Jonathan Zito was muted. Coverage of the incident in the following days (18th and 19th December 1992) newspapers was either non- existent (Guardian) or confined to a few brief paragraphs on the inside pages (Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror). While the headlines which lead this limited coverage offer some indication of the horror of Jonathan Zito's death ("Knife Death Terror at Tube Station Mail 18.12.92"; "Tube Man Dies in Knife Attack" Mirror 18.12.92) there are no names given and no pictures accompanying the accounts. Indeed, the relative absence of media interest between the 18th December until the end of January make it open to question as to whether Jonathan Zito, Jayne Zito and Christopher Clunis would have come to occupy a high profile place both within the public imagination and on social policy agendas. That all three names did become very familiar in these contexts and that by July 1993 an official enquiry into the care and treatment of Christopher Clunis had been set up by North East Thames and South East Thames Regional Health Authorities can be attributed to a combination of factors which became apparent to the media in the months following Jonathan Zito's death. The issues of race and gender, both coded and uncoded, lay at the heart of these factors:

Clearly the body in a variety of interpretations underpins these variables. The gendered, feminised body of Jayne Zito; the ultimately vulnerable body of Jonathan Zito; the racialised, dangerous body of Christopher Clunis and the sane/ healthy (public) body ever threatened by the mad /diseased (Other) body. The cogency of the combination of these themes, packaged by the media, resulted in a the NHS enquiry and six years later it retains a highly evocative place in populist and policy agendas. For example, whilst writing broadly in defence of the care in the community programme Professor Ray Rowden acknowledges both flaws in the implementation of the policy but highlights public anxieties about safety, "in recent years...high profile cases of killings by mentally ill people, most notably Christopher Clunis, have conspired to fragment consensus and undermine public confidence" (Guardian 9.3.98. my emphasis). Similarly in media reporting of the present government's decision to completely review the care in the community system it is the Christopher Clunis case which is consistently used as the primary example of the failure of the care in the community policy (see for example the front-page of the Guardian 25.7.98). The media's coverage of the Zito/Clunis story involved the articulation of a range of anxieties which, once passed through the post-colonial lens of race and gender, came together to offer a coherent framework of understanding. It is this process that the paper now examines.

Racialised and Gendered Bodies: Black Dangerousness

Within racialised and gendered discourses the black (male and female body) represents a number of fantasies which ambiguously veer between fascination and fear, desire and danger, attraction and repulsion ( Young, 1994; Nwekto-Simmonds, 1997). However the historically constructed link between the black male body and the notions of threat and danger has more overtly dominated white imaginations (see for example Butler, 1993). The rapist and the mugger are racialised folk devils which continue to stalk contemporary urban landscapes but more recently these have been joined by another folk devil - the violent schizophrenic. In the 1990s the potent fusion of insanity and blackness has secured a place within populist racialised discourses and the practices of various state- sponsored agencies such as the police and the psychiatric systems. For example, African-Caribbean and South Asian people are diagnosed with a major psychotic illness at five times the rate of the general population and 60% of black people enter psychiatric hospitals via Section 136 of the 1983 Mental Health Act compared to 10 - 15% generally ( Sashidaran,1994: 3)[3] . As a result Francis argues that in the late 20th century "madness has become synonymous with blackness" ( Francis 1993: 179) which echoes Gilman's assertion that "the mad black is the nexus at which all [white] fears coalesce" ( Gilman 1985: 136). This process has meant that discourses surrounding mental illness and dangerous/violent behaviour, as with discourses around immigration and law and order, evoke notions of race without directly identifying race ( Barker, 1991; Gilroy, 1987; Gillborn, 1995). Media coverage and interpretations of Christopher Clunis and his killing of Jonathan Zito occurred very much within this racialised process, effectively evoking race rather than explicitly naming race as the basis of an explanatory framework of the event.

As the story of the muddled and ad hoc care given to Christopher Clunis by the psychiatric services began to come to light the crucial question for the media became why was a schizophrenic with a past history of violence being cared for within the community. This was of course a legitimate question but it is not possible to divorce it from the wider social relations in which it is inevitably placed. Given this, what was significant in the media's presentation of this question was its formulation around and evocation of the concepts of freedom and imprisonment. For example the Daily Mail (29.6.93) devoted a whole page to the trial of Christopher Clunis and in an apparent echo of Jayne Zito headlined its coverage with "Why was he set free to kill my husband?" The sub-heading below the visuals accompanying this story continues the freedom theme "Widow's question as psychotic knifeman is locked away at last" (my emphasis). The concept s employed again by the Mail a month later when it detailed Virginia Bottomly's (the then Minister for Health) order for an investigation into the case: "Inquiry ordered into freed schizophrenic who killed musician" (22.7.93 my emphasis). For the Evening Standard (30.6.93) too, Christopher Clunis was the "killer who roamed free" (my emphasis). Similarly the Independent (19.7.93) used its front page to state "The tragic scandal of a schizophrenic killer that nobody stopped" (my emphasis).

In foregrounding the question of the freedom of Christopher Clunis rather than, or as well as, the question of the care and treatment he was receiving it is possible to identify an agenda which is actually questioning how a situation had arisen in which a large, young, black, mad, man had not been contained within either the mental health care or the criminal justice systems. In other words there is a certain degree of incredulity that is expressed in the media coverage which is not only about the failings of a psychiatric system to treat a severely mentally ill person but also about the failings of a psychiatric system to detain/contain an individual who visably embodied a traditionally percieved source of danger and meance in white imaginations.

The media used the concepts of size, blackness and madness to evoke the obviousness of Clunis as a social danger. It was this obviousness which fed directly into the expressions of incredulity as to Christopher Clunis' "freedom" and his being cared for in the community. For example the Independent devoted a complete inside page detailing its own indepth investigations of "events that led to a random killing" (19.7.93). The theme of the Independent investigation was that responsibility for Christopher Clunis was constantly transferred with little to no co-ordination between geographical areas, between doctors, social workers and psychiatrists. It is a theme which is reflected in its headline "Passing the buck until an innocent man died".

Importantly, Christopher Clunis' body is drawn for the reader at a very early stage of the article (second paragraph). Describing the scene at Finsbury Park tube station minutes before Jonathan Zito was attacked the article notes that "several passengers became alarmed by his size (he was more than 6ft tall and 18 stone), sloppy appearance and erratic, unnerving behaviour". Race is the unspoken variable here but a small head and shoulders picture of Clunis is located directly to the side of this information. Through a working of written and visual text the article immediately foregrounds the obviousness of Clunis as a threatening figure: large, black, disturbed. There is a colonial undertow within the language used to describe why Clunis alarmed passengers on the tube station platform - his physicality ("size", "sloppy appearance") and his demeanour ("erratic, unnerving behaviour") evoke notions of primitiveness, wildness and, ultimately, of the uncivilised. Similar themes are evident in the Mail's reporting of Christopher Clunis' trial. The Mail tells the reader how "eighteen stone Clunis, from North London, had been discharged from at least nine mental units over five years despite deteriorating psychosis and a long history of violence involving a fascination for knifes". Again it is possible to see here a fusion of physicality, insanity and danger which is connected to, and framed by, the notions of race. The suggestion or evokation of racially embodied black madness and danger is made via the incorporatation, as in the Independent, of the visual text. Placed significantly between photographs of Jayne Zito on one side and Jonathan and Jayne Zito on their wedding day on the other, a head and shoulders picture of Christopher Clunis stares solemnly out, directly above the sub-headline which identifies him as the "...psychotic knifeman"[4] .

What dominates the media coverage of the death of Jonathan Zito is the presentation of Christopher Clunis as a symbol which evokes historically based racial stereotypes relating to Otherness, insanity and social danger. For the media the issue is not only the inability of a mental health care system to protect the (sane) public from the insane but the inability of the mental health care (and criminal justice) systems to protect the public from such an obvious figure of threat and menace. For the media Christopher Clunis was much more than a severely mentally ill person in need of appropriate care which was not made available to him with ensuing terrible and tragic consequences. Placed within the public gaze Christopher Clunis operated within a racialised landscape in which he embodied, at a literal and at a symbolic level, post-colonial anxieties about blackness and madness.

Given this the high profile media campaign for a public inquiry into the care and treatment of Christopher Clunis has a duality to it. In part it represents legitimate concerns over the quality and competence of mental health care provision but in part it also represents a wider more complex raced agenda in which fear and fascination are central, "for the ill as well as the black have a fascination for Western culture" ( Gilman, 1985: 148). This duality is best illustrated in the visual illustration accompanying the Independent (23.7.93)'Comment' article headlined "Clunis: the wider failures" in which the psychiatrist for the defence in the Clunis case argues the need for a full public inquiry. This visual takes the form of a collage in which the three lines of repeated head and shoulders shots of Christopher Clunis, Jonathan Zito and Jayne Zito form the background to superimposed roughly torn newspaper clippings which scream a variety of headlines relating to mental illness, violence (rape, attacks, killings) and failures in mental health care policy. The seeming chaos of the illustration belies a coherent fusion of populist anxieties which blend concepts of race, gender, mental illness and safety. However, the extent to which Christopher Clunis, in himself, symbolised a nexus of white anxiety was also dependent on the representation of his antithes is - white feminine vulnerability. It is on the racialised body of Jayne Zito that I now focus.

White feminine vulnerability

The academic focus on whiteness has emerged as a relatively new area of analysis and although the analysis of whiteness has tended to come from the areas of gender( Ware, 1993: Frankenburg, 1993), class ( Roediger, 1991, 1994) cultural and lesbian and gay studies ( Morrison, 1992; Dyer, 1998; Davy, 1995) the unifying notion behind such the focus is an interrogation of the meaning of whiteness and the place of whiteness within ideas of race and racialised discourses. As Frankenburg crucially notes "any system of differentiation shapes those on whom it bestows privilege as those whom it oppresses. White people are raced just as men are gendered. And in a social context where white people have too often viewed themselves as non-racial or racially neutral it is crucial to look at the racialness of the white experience" ( Frankenburg 1993: 1). Similarly Dyer argues that "we may be on our way to genuine hybridity, multiplicity without (white) hegemony and it may be where we want to get to - but we aren't there yet, and we won't get there until we see whiteness, see its power, its particularity and limitedness, put it in its place and end its rule. This is why studying whiteness matters" (1997: 4). The work of theorists like ( Morrison 1992) and ( Said 1978) has examined the ways in which white discourses place the racialised (black) othered subject into a space which operates to emphasise the hierarchical difference with the white subject. However some caution is required when relocating the analytical gaze onto whiteness, especially when exploring representations of bodies which are constructed against each other. In other words care is needed to avoid invoking an analytical framework in which "whiteness is only white, or only matters, when it is explicitly set against non- white...whiteness reproduces itself as whiteness in all texts all of the time"( Dyer, 1997: 13).Solomos and Back warn too that "there is a danger of reifying whiteness and reinforcing a unitary idea of 'race'. In order to avoid doing this it is crucial to locate any discussion of whiteness in a particular empirical and historical context "( Solomos and Back 1996: 24).

Looking at the ways in which the media selected to represent Jayne Zito it is possible to see a process in which racialised bodies are placed (in visual and written text) so as to emphasise not simply the horror of what happened on Finsbury Park tube station but to also relate that horror to a historical and cultural hegemonic discourse whereby constructions of black masculine violent insanity/danger depend upon and revolve around white feminine vulnerability ( Ware, 1993). However, it is important to also see, in the of representations of Jayne Zito, a process in which whiteness is able to reproduce itself as whiteness without being "explicitly set against non-white" ( Dyer, 1997:13 ). For example, when the Evening Standard (19.7.93) covered the story of the failures of the mental health care and criminal justice systems to detain Christopher Clunis "A catalogue of blunders" the accompanying visual is simply a single large picture of Jayne Zito although the actual report has very little direct relevance to Jayne Zito.

In examining the configurations of both these processes what I became aware of as I read and re-read the media coverage in the six months following Jonathan Zito's death was, in many ways, the peripheral position which Jonathan Zito was allocated. While it is not unusual for such a shift in the public gaze from the victim to those that surround the victim and while there were certain factors which can be seen to encourage this shift - the failures to provide appropriate care and treatment to Christopher Clunis - this shift is significant in this particular context because of its relation to broader hegemonic discourses. For example, on the front page of the Independent (19.7.93) which bore the headline "The tragic scandal of a schizophrenic killer that nobody stopped" the written text is 'bookended' by two head and shoulders pictures on the left Jayne Zito and on the right Christopher Clunis. Not only is Jonathan Zito visually absent but what the visual text emphasises is the juxtapositioning, the antithetical positioning of the white subject and the black/non-white subject. This absence is again apparent in the same issue on the full page investigation Independent journalists conducted into the events surrounding Jonathan Zito's death. The written text is completely dominated by a head and shoulders photograph of Jayne Zito which covers at least a quarter of the page. While there are photographs of both Christopher Clunis and Jonathan Zito these are very small and buried within the text. Similarly in its full page coverage of the trial of Christopher Clunis the Daily Mail (29.6.93) uses three pictures to accompany the text, the largest of these is a photograph of Jonathan and Jayne Zito on their wedding day, next to this is a picture of Christopher Clunis and next to this is the third picture which is not of Jonathan Zito but of Jayne Zito. It is then the image of Jayne Zito that is repeated and thereby emphasised at a visual level. As Jonathan Zito is allocated a decentred position then Jayne Zito comes to occupy an increasingly centred location within the public gaze. This centred location is set explicitly against Christopher Clunis and inhabits its own place as a site in which the racialised gendered body is reproduced. For example after the trial the Evening Standard (30.6.93) ran a full page interview with Jayne Zito in the Caroline Phillips Interview (a regular feature in the Standard). Both the visual and the written texts (the outcome of the dialogue between two white women) reproduce a racialised (white) and gendered (feminised) body without any visual reference to Christopher Clunis. A large head and shoulders picture of Jayne Zito with the headline "I don't know who I am any more. I feel lost and exposed" occupies a significant proportion of the page. What is important to note here is the way in which Jane Zito's expressions of loss and grief are selected (and thereby highlighted) as headlines. The construction of these emotions as public statements of vulnerability and frailty works here to obscure Jane Zito as a pro-active figure[5] .It is in this same Standard article that the written text foregrounds what has only been supplied visually previously. The reader is told early on in the article of how "Jayne, whose courage has touched the nation, is beautiful, tanned and with long blonde hair". In this way the text provides an immediate connection between moral quality (courage) and a specific and idealised white beauty (tanned and blonde). In his discussion of whiteness, gender and cinematic and photographic lighting Dyer argues that "idealised white women are bathed in and permeated by light. It streams through them and falls on them from above. In short, they glow" ( Dyer 1998: 122). Blonde hair can be an important element in the construction of this glow which is as much about signposting internal moral superiority as it is a particular physical beauty. Indeed Dyer makes the point that these glowing constructions of white femininity draw on and evoke images of angels. That Jayne Zito was beautiful, compassionate and forgiving were crucial components in the media sense-making of the events surrounding Jonathan Zito's death. As with other white women who have, at various points in their lives occupied a high profile place in the public gaze (Elizabeth Hurley, Nicole Simpson Brown, Princess Diana) their beauty has been an important aspect of their raced whiteness ( Ware, 1993; Neal, 1998; Gabriel, 1998). Sadness and tragedy and moral dignity in the face of these all serve to further emphasise this specific form of feminised, idealised beauty. It is within these arenas that Jayne Zito, as a public body, worked perfectly: she effectively operated at the intersection between a specific, idealised beauty, moral superiority and tragedy. Just as Christopher Clunis symbolised the raced and gendered figure of fear in the white pschye so too Jayne Zito symbolised the raced and gendered figure of femininised vulnerability and dignity which also inhabits that same white pschye. Lurking at the heart of the media's use of these symbols are the older notions of the civilised and the uncivilised. These notions have been de-racialised and coded in order to operate in more contemporary discursive contexts. For example, the media's emphasis on Jayne Zito's compassion for Christopher Clunis and her knowledge of mental health care served to centre the notion of forgiveness in the face of savagery and thereby mined a neo-colonial theme of civilisation. So while Jayne Zito is the "dignified widow who bears no hatred" (Independent, 19.7.93) Christopher Clunis is the "psychotic knifeman" (Evening Standard, 30.6.93; Mail, 28.6.93) the "freed schizophrenic" (Mail, 22.7.93) and the "schizophrenic killer" (Independent, 19.7.93; Evening Standard, 19.7.96).

For the media the configurations of race and gender were grounded in ideas of masculinised black dangerousness and feminised white vulnerability. Dichotomously racialised and gendered bodies provided a platform from which the need to investigate not only the death of Jonathan Zito but also the care (and failed containment) of Christopher Clunis could be effectively and evocatively argued and transferred to the social policy arena. In other words it was the media's implicit racialisation and gendering of the events surrounding Jonathan Zito's death which was highly influential in creating a climate which necessitated a public policy response. For example it was the coverage in the Independent which had a direct impact on the eventual commissioning of NHS Inquiry. Indeed the newspaper is cited and acknowledged in the Report of the Inquiry: "at the beginning of our Inquiry we were greatly an article in the 19th July 1993 edition of the Independent Newspaper, which set out their investigations into the case" ( Ritchie et al, 1994:1). It is to the findings of this Report and particularly its engagement with the issues of race that the paper now turns.

The role of the racialised body in the findings of the Report into the Care and Treatment of Christopher Clunis

It is a indication of the inherent complexities and contradictions which surround the Clunis case that while the above discussion has offered a critique of the media's neo-colonial representation of racialised and gendered bodies this does not mean that the issue of race does not have a central role in understanding the death of Jonathan Zito. The combination of the facts that Christopher Clunis was clearly mentally very unwell at the time of his killing of Jonathan Zito, that he was a young African/Caribbean male and that a number of concerns had been raised as to the relationship between the mental health care systems and minority ethnic groups ( Lipsedge and Littlewood, 1982) created a situation in which the Inquiry could not credibly ignore a race dimension. The six month Inquiry had, at the very least, to be seen to acknowledge that they had considered whether race had impacted on the quality and the degree of psychiatric provision made available to Christopher Clunis.

The 146 page Report, the outcome of the Inquiry, focuses in intense detail on Christopher Clunis' involvement with mental health care services and systems in London from June 1987 to the time of the killing of Jonathan Zito in December 1992. ( Ritchie et al 1994) reveal a catalogue of serious concerns relating to the lack of continuity of care and to the absence of co-ordination between the various agents involved with Christopher Clunis over these five and half years: psychiatrists, social workers, housing and hostel managers and the police.

As Coid ( Coid 1994: 450) notes,

the enquiry observed a prolonged tendency to overlook or minimise violent incidents and a failure by a series of professionals to assess Christopher Clunis' past history of violence or to assess his propensity.

While the Report provides an unequivocal condemnation of the failings of both the mental health care systems and the agencies within these it is far more ambiguous in its treatment of the issue of race. There is a significant gap in the Report between its recognition of the possibility of race shaping the care and treatment of Christopher Clunis and a marked reluctance to engage with this possibility. The reluctance to interrogate the role that race played in the psychiatric services made available to Christopher Clunis is compounded by the Report's tendency to actively deny the importance of a consideration of race. For example, in the opening section of the Report Ritchie et al stress both their willingness and their unwillingness to recognise the relevance of race:

We have tried throughout our investigations, to keep a close eye on any evidence of prejudiced attitudes towards Christopher Clunis. We have asked witnesses for direct and indirect examples of racial discrimination which could have affected his care and treatment. We record that no example of prejudice or discrimination has become apparent to us save for the possibility of too great a willingness to accept that he abused drugs ( Ritchie et al 1994: 4).

The ironic contradiction of denying that race was a influential factor in the relationship between Christopher Clunis and the mental health care systems whilst acknowledging the racialised assumptions about his drug use aside, this paragraph provides an illustration of the simultaneous centring and decentering of the issue of race within the Report. The ambiguity in the Report's approach to race is highly significant given the extent to which issues of race did lie at the heart of Christopher Clunis' experiences of mental health care. The black body is a submerged theme that at certain points emerges as pivotal in determining the forms of care which Christopher Clunis received and the decisions made by mental health care professionals. The intersection between the issue of race and the black body and the mental health care given to Clunis emerges early in the Report:

accounts of Christopher Clunis frequently refer to his considerable height and powerful build. Yet he was very often referred to as a friendly giant, rather than a threat. The fact that he is articulate and well spoken has perhaps meant that he was not subject to racial stereotyping and preconceptions. On the other hand it was clear from all we have seen and heard that he was determined to pursue his own goals and he often actively resisted help. It is a feature of the case that we can find not one occasion when Christopher Clunis attended an out patient appointment. We recognise that it would be difficult for Doctors and Social Workers to counter such a combination of physical presence, verbal strength and fierce determination on the part of any patient. The added factor of his blackness may have contributed to the diffident manner in which some professionals treated him and may have caused them to defer against his best interests, to his own expressed wishes ( Ritchie, 1994)

In a direct echo of the media 'packaging' of Christopher Clunis, it is a racialised body that dominates the text of the official Inquiry here. Notions of size, strength and blackness combine to make an imagined body which can represent danger ('a threat') but which can also be rendered infantile and harmless ('friendly giant'). This duality in interpretation of the racialised black body clearly impacted on the manner in which mental health care professionals related to and assessed Clunis - he 'resisted' their help, it was 'difficult' to deal with him and, significantly, they were 'diffident' towards him. The attitudes of doctors and social workers towards Christopher Clunis appear to have veered between racialised fear and a desire not to label/pathologise a young African/Caribbean man with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. For example a doctor who saw Clunis at Belmarsh Prison were he was then being held on remand during May 1992 told the Enquiry that,

my immediate reaction to Mr. Clunis was that he was both of a size and a demeanour to make ordinary people a little bit cautious of him ( Ritchie et al, 1994: 59 my emphasis).

The presence of racialised fear a response to an encounter with the black body is again reflected in one of the key conclusions of the Inquiry when it notes that there was a recurrent tendency to,

postpone decisions or action when difficulty was encountered or perhaps because the patient was threatening and intimidating and possibly because he was big and black." ( Richie et al 1994).

However, it is important to note that Ritchie et al highlight repeatedly the apparent efforts of a number of different mental health care professionals not to diagnose Clunis as schizophrenic, as violent or potentially dangerous. For example, commenting on Clunis' discharge from a hospital before he had had any psychiatric assessment in 1988Ritchie et al ( Ritchie et al 1994) note that,

It seems to be an example of the desire not to stigmatise a patient or label him in any way as a violent or difficult person which it was felt might work to his disadvantage (1994).

Similarly, in an incident in 1989 in which Christopher Clunis rushed with a knife at police officers who were involved in removing him from his room in a hostel which he refused to leave and no charge was made against Christopher Clunis, Ritchie et al again observe that the absence of arrest "seems to be an example of a quite proper desire to divert the mentally ill from the Criminal Justice system, but was quite inappropriate in the circumstances" (1994: 22). They proceed to argue that, "the understandable desire to help him and perhaps not to stigmatise him was allowed to interfere with the process of law, which in our view was ultimately to Christopher Clunis' disadvantage" (ibid.).

It is then, significant, that neither of these approaches are ever examined in detail in the Inquiry despite their clearly crucial role in shaping the care and treatment which Christopher Clunis received from the psychiatric services. In the recommendations Ritchie et al ( Ritchie et al 1994)include only one brief section relating directly to the issue of race. Under the heading "Ethnic Minorities" this section makes three somewhat ambivalent points. First the authors return to their introductory point when they conclude that they did not come across any prejudice or discrimination in relation to Christopher Clunis and then again proceed to immediately contradict this in the same sentence with the acknowledgement that there had been "a willingness to accept too readily that he had a abused drugs" (1994: 126). Second, the authors state that they recognise the disproportionate levels of black people detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 although they cannot offer an explanation for this they note that "it is obviously important that young black males should not be typecast as suffering from schizophrenia unless the clinical indications warrant it. Similarly we suggest that clinicians and others who care for black mentally ill people should not be too ready to ascribe odd behaviour to the abuse of drugs" (ibid.) and the third and final point the Inquiry makes in relation to race is a "plea" that "young black people should be encouraged to become General Practitioners and Psychiatrists" (ibid.:130). The brevity and limited nature of these comments both act as indicators of the Inquiry's relegation of the issues of race to the peripheries of its investigations. The care and treatment of Christopher Clunis is a demonstration of the complexities and contradictions that surround the issues of race and racism within the mental health care systems in post-war Britain. Concerns about the relationship between minority ethnic groups and the various aspects of psychiatric services and between a constructed relationship between blackness and madness have been expressed by a number of commentators ( Lipsedge and Littlewood, 1982; Gilman, 1985; Francis, 1993; Sashidharan and Francis, 1993; Smaje, 1995, Law, 1996). The Clunis case does exhibit some of the "classic" dimensions of racism in the psychiatric system - he was regularly (mis)diagnosed as having drug induced psychosis; there was no attempt to contact his GP and very little attempt to contact and/or involve his family in his care indicating assumptions that Clunis would have neither of these "resources". However the Clunis case also demonstrates other, more complex, configurations of the relationship between race and mental health care. The apparent desire not to stigmatise or label Christopher Clunis as a paranoid schizophrenic on the part of professionals within the psychiatric systems can be interpreted (although it is not named as such in the Report) as (ill-conceived) anti-racist practice. In other words it is possible to see that at certain key points in Christopher Clunis' contact with the mental health care system there was a seeming professional unwillingness to diagnose and label another young, male, African-Caribbean as schizophrenic despite the actual severity of Clunis' mental illness. Race crucially mediated Christopher Clunis' experience of and treatment within the mental health care system, but this mediation occurred through a muddled and confused racialised framework which was constructed via racist and anti-racist practices. While anti-racist perspectives of psychiatric services have emphasised the domination of racialised notions of black dangerousness ( Francis, 1993) as the basis of psychiatric practice the actual care and treatment of Christopher Clunis to a certain extent militates against such an analysis and is an illustration of the complexities and contradictions which exist in relation to race in mental health care systems.


Within the public and populist gaze the death of Jonathan Zito, stabbed through the eye while waiting for a train in the heart of London on a December afternoon, represented one of the ultimate horrors of late 20th century urban life. Consequently the circumstances and figures surrounding this death were all transferred from the private sphere of grief and loss and relocated to a landscape in which particluar versions of racialised and gendered bodies were presented in order to make a (common) sense of events within the populist context. Within this process Jayne Zito and Christopher Clunis moved from private individuals to public symbols, to embodiments of racialised (feared) demons and racialised (revered) icons. The media's foregrounding of incomprehension at Christopher Clunis' 'freedom' effectively worked a de-racialised discourse in which the (angelicised) figure of Jayne Zito (rather than Jonathan Zito) was pivotal in order to off-set the extent of the (white) tragedy and to fuel the campaign for the circumstances surrounding it to be publicly investigated. Placed within a wider political context in which anxieties as to the proximity of madness via the care in the community policy (NHS and Community Care Act 1990) were being voiced, the media interpretations and representations surrounding the Clunis/Zito event acted to intensify the need for an official policy response which came in the form of the NHS Inquiry into the treatment of Christopher Clunis. It has been the findings of that Inquiry that emphasise the multiple complexities that have lain at the heart of the paper - the Report demonstrated that race did play a role in the Clunis/Zito tragedy - but this role was not in the racialised form constructed by the media which drew on and evoked colonial notions of the civilised and the uncivilised, the savage and the forgiving, the dangerous and the vulnerable. The role that race played was in the effects it had on the care and treatment given to Clunis within the mental health system between 1986 and 1992. Ritchie et al repeatedly detail the confused (racist and anti-racist) approaches of mental health care professionals to Christopher Clunis and it is the black body that is central to those confusions. On the one hand the Report revealed a labeling and interpretation of the black male body as threatening and on the other hand an avoidance of labelling and interpreting the black body as dangerous. We can understand that those racialised approaches were shaped by similar interpretations of the black male body as those evident in the media coverage. Crucially the attempts at anti-racist practice were also informed by these images but were differentiated by the desire to avoid those very same interpretations of the black body, irrespective of Christopher Clunis' mental health care needs as an individual. However the Report appears unable and/or reluctant to interrogate the meanings and consequences of these contradictions and confusions of practice in relation to the Clunis case specifically but also in relation to the issues of race within the mental health care systems more broadly.


1The term black is used in this paper to refer only to people of African and African/Caribbean descent.

2The term 'beautiful' is of course problematic. The concept of who and what is beautiful is not aesthetically neutral but socially constructed. Idealised versions of feminine beauty have been inextricably linked to whiteness both historically and contemporarily ( Ware, 1993; Young, 1996).

3Section 136 of the 1983 Mental Health Act allows the police powers to arrest anyone in a public place whom they deem to be a threat to themselves or others and compulsory remove that person to a psychiatric hospital.

4This image is reminicent of the media coverage of Winston Silcott after his (subsequently quashed) conviction for the murder of PC Blakelock in the mid 1980s. For example the Sun (20.3.87) used a head a shoulders picture of Winston Silcott with the caption "Face of Monster".

5Six years later Jayne Zito was the winner of the Politics and Public Service catergory of the Cosmopolitan magazine's 'Women of Achievement Awards' which described her as a "relentless campaigner for the mentally ill" (Cosmopolitan, May 1998).


I would like to thank Paul Connolly, Carol Vincent and the anonymous referees for their insightful suggestions and helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper


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