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By Andrew Levy
February 6, 2009
Edward Belben bludgeoned his father to death and attempted to murder his mother
A teenager bludgeoned his father to death with a hammer and crowbar weeks after a GP prescribed him the controversial anti-depressant Prozac.
Edward Belben, 15, battered his father Gary at least 30 times with the weapons before plunging a knife into his head.
He then attacked his mother, Tanya, 43, with the bloody crowbar and stabbed her in the face with some scissors before she managed to escape.
Belben, now 17, was today convicted of murder and attempted murder after a jury heard he had fallen in with a ‘bad crowd’ and started taking a cocktail of street drugs including cannabis, cocaine, crack cocaine and amphetamines.
But during the trial the court was told two GPs ignored national guidelines when prescribing him anti-depressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which have been linked with a range of side-effects including suicide and violence.
Belben was given Citalopram by one GP, Dr Imran Ramjan, even though its use with under-18s was banned in 2003.
When the schoolboy complained of feeling in a ‘dream-like state’, another doctor at the practice, Teresa Thomas, put him on daily 20mg dose of Prozac – the only SSRI still allowed for children – despite warnings that 12-18-year-olds should start on 10mg.
Belben was also not given any psychiatric help prior to taking the drugs, contrary to National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance in 2005 that pills should not be the ‘first line’ remedy for depression in under-18s.
Describing his mental state in the lead up to the attack, he later told a psychiatrist: ‘I didn’t feel real.’
Gary Belben was battered to death by his son, who then plunged a knife into his head
The GPs who prescribed the drugs could now face a fitness to practise hearing in front of the General Medical Council, which has the power to suspend them or strike them off.
Mental health charities yesterday warned many GPs still routinely hand out SSRIs because of a shortage of mental health experts in the NHS.
A spokeswoman for Sane said: ‘GPs are often in the unenviable position of only being able to offer drugs, given the lack of therapists in many regions across the UK.’
Bob Russell, the Lib Dem MP for Colchester, called for an investigation ‘to see whether lessons can be learned’.
Chelmsford Crown Court heard how Belben started hanging out with a group of friends, including girlfriend Keyley Matthews, who was two years his junior, and taking drugs.
He began turning up late for school, getting into fights and self-harming before being diagnosed with depression in 2007.
In September that year he was given Citalopram but switched to Prozac in November after complaining of the side-effects.
On December 17, the teenager attacked his father, a 59-year-old mechanic, at the family home in Colchester, Essex.
Prosecutor Martyn Levett(CORR) said: ‘The defendant took the hammer and hit him on the top of the skull, fracturing it, and then with either the hammer or crowbar or both continued to hit him on top of the skull about 30 times.
‘The skull fractured so seriously bits of brain fractured off onto the weapons and also the defendant’s clothing.
‘After using the weapons to kill the man, experts believe the defendant then plunged the carving knife into his brain.’
Belben – whose older brother Rob, 19, is in the RAF, and sister Jo, 20, is a university student – then attacked his mother, a nursery school worker, who managed to escape and raise the alarm.
Edward Rees, defending, said: ‘The prescriptions of these SSRIs for adolescents is guarded with guidelines, most of which were not followed by GPs in this case.’
Consultant clinical pharmacologist Dr Andrew Herxheimer(CORR), who examined Belben, said: ‘The most striking thing he told me was… “a sudden thing came up in my head and I had to do it”.’
Explaining Belben’s emotions could have been ‘blocked out by obsessive thoughts’, he added: ‘If he was in the grip of that thought that he had to kill Gary Belben, then having arranged to do it there was nothing else to be done.’
Dr Herxheimer said the adverse side-effects of SSRIs were vastly under-reported.
In one study, carried out on people without depression, up to one in 20 suffered adverse effects, including ‘turbulence of emotions and compelling thoughts’.
In 2006, research revealed 40,000 children were still taking the drugs – with half having received no psychological support.
Wimpole Road Surgery refused to comment yesterday due to ‘confidentiality issues’.
The local primary care trust, North East Essex NHS, also declined to discuss the case.
The General Medical Council said a ‘serious or persistent failure to follow guidelines’ could put a member’s registration at risk.
A spokeswoman added: ‘It could result in a hearing to decide whether their fitness to practice had been impaired.’