From the photos of a murder victim that made her sick to why she believes some terrorist killers during the Troubles may have been psychopaths, forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes on her career... and her NI roots
Ahead of her appearance at the Open House Festival in Bangor, the true-crime expert tells Una Brankin about how she copes with those chilling encounters
Kerry Daynes has seen the most gruesome crime scene photographs in her 20 years of working as a consultant forensic psychologist. She has met murderers, rapists and child molesters. And outside of work, she has been terrorised by a rebuffed and angry stalker/extortionist, who became obsessed after her appearances on Faking It, the Channel 4 series on lying and deception.
But it's the very first images Kerry saw of a murder victim, a young girl with learning difficulties, which she cannot erase from her mind. Having hidden his victim, the murderer had taken a series of Polaroid photos of the decomposing body in various sexualised poses.
Kelly was assigned to the case, similar in nature to the crimes of necrophiliac US serial killer Ted Bundy, while she was working in prisons early in her career. The photographs made her physically sick.
"I have seen some evil acts such as this, but I don't believe in evil as such as a concept," she says. "I was brought up Roman Catholic, but I don't subscribe to anything - I've seen too much. I'm a scientist; I don't believe in gobbleddygook.
"And I don't understand the fascination with Ted Bundy. I mean, there are women who have his teeth marks tattooed onto their thighs! The basis of his crimes was sexual deviancy, not an evil possession. I do find it odd that he's some sort of sex symbol.
"That's crime porn coming into play. I couldn't tell you the name of one of his victims. People have to stop glamorising him."
Loquacious and forthright, Kerry (44) will be discussing her fascinating book The Dark Side Of The Mind: True Stories From My Life As A Forensic Psychologist, with journalist Yvette Shapiro at Bangor's Studio Theatre on Tuesday, August 13, as part of the Open House Festival. It's her first time in Northern Ireland and she hopes to meet up with her cousins in Lurgan, her mother Mauvereen's birthplace.
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Mauvereen moved to Manchester as a child and went on to become a successful Irish dance tutor at St Hilda's Irish Dance School in Northernden.
"The family name is Toland - my grandmother became a single mother after marrying a soldier, who it turned out was already married to someone else," Kerry explains. "It wasn't easy to be a single mother in Lurgan in the 1940s, so she moved to Manchester when my mum was seven.
"She remained entirely single after that. I obviously come from a line of strong, independent women, and you only have to look at me to see I'm Irish with this red hair and pale skin. My mother always said I have a cabbage-and-bacon face. But I wasn't any good at Irish dancing. I learned, but I'm totally uncoordinated."
In The Dark Side Of The Mind, Kerry recalls going to her "classic Irish Catholic matriarch" grandmother's house to watch John Wayne films with her uncle John, a war hero whose medals are on display at the Imperial War Museum. The films instilled in her a clear-cut sense of good versus evil, and after a "comfortable and uneventful" childhood, she went to Sheffield University in 1992 to study psychology and law.
She qualified as a forensic psychologist in 1995, shortly after the trial of the child-killers of two-year-old James Bulger, when then Prime Minister John Major was taking a tough stance on crime (prison numbers have since almost doubled from 44,000 in 1992 to 87,000 in 2018).
On her first visit to HMP Manchester as a student, 20-year-old Kerry was greeted by a lascivious chorus of miaows. She drew similar attention at 24, while training in a secure hospital unit, from a one-eyed sexual-sadist murderer by the name of Maurice, who began his criminal career by flashing. During one lunchbreak Maurice - who was in his 80s - approached the unsuspecting Kerry from behind and popped his glass eye into her tomato soup, sending her shrieking out of her seat.
She met equally vile types in the maximum security Wakefield Prison, which detains terrorists. She agrees a percentage of those who killed during the Troubles could have otherwise been diagnosed with psychopathy, a mental disorder beyond their political extremism.
"Psychopaths can use a political agenda, absolutely, to justify their violence and to manipulate people on a religious or political basis," she says. "But, although some offenders show the traits of psychopaths in the crimes they commit, that doesn't always mean they are a psychopath. I specialised in violent sexual offenders, so I didn't deal with anyone connected to the Troubles, but in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, those offenders were released for the good of society as a whole.
"Some people got away with terrible deeds, such as the awful tit-for-tat murders, that warranted much longer sentences, but we don't come up with the best solutions for society when we're angry."
She links the popularity of the classic Hitchcock film Psycho to the overuse and misconstruing of the term psychopath. The medical definition of psychopathy is a "mental disorder in which a person manifests amoral and antisocial behaviour, shows a lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, expresses extreme egocentricity, and demonstrates a failure to learn from experience and other behaviours associated with the condition".
In other words, they lack empathy. But they're not all killers.
Kerry says: "There's a very high percentage of psychopaths in society but only a tiny percentage of them commit crimes. They're doctors, businesspeople, lawyers, politicians."
She adds: "Labelling someone a psychopath is actually unhelpful, but people are fascinated with extreme human behaviour. In reality, you have only a very, very small chance of being killed by a psychopath. And the biggest danger for women comes from their partners, in their own homes, not out on the street."
A pacey, colourful read, The Dark Side Of The Mind is described as "both unforgettable and unputdownable" by Professor Dame Sue Black, the Scottish forensic anatomist and academic. The author deliberately shied away from gory detail in the book, unwilling to join the ranks of purveyors of "true-crime-porn".
"There's too much of that and it's used to titillate," she asserts. "I wanted to tell the day-to-day truth of my job - which has no similarities at all with TV's Cracker (played by Robbie Coltrane), by the way. People say to me: 'Ooh, you don't look like the Cracker type at all'. I'll take that!
"He was a fat Scottish alcoholic and that series was set in 1992 or something like that. There is still this stereotype of forensic psychologist and criminologists as male, but the vast majority are women. And you won't find me tramping all over crime scenes (like Cracker) or grabbing people by the scruff of the neck in police interview rooms.
"I might advise and watch a live interview, but that's the height of it."
The lack of co-ordination Kerry mentions has been linked to her Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear characterised by a sensation of feeling like the world is spinning, ringing in the ears, hearing loss and a fullness in the ear. She is currently recovering from aural surgery before embarking on a whirlwind of public appearances to promote her book.
"I've terrible tinnitus anyway, but it feels like I've been poked in the ear with a knitting needle at the minute," she laughs. "The tinnitus is just something you have to learn to live with. It doesn't affect my job. I still do training with the police, particularly with stalking cases, and I write court reports, but I don't work in secure hospitals now. Had enough of that.
"I'd like to do more TV work. Faking It was great fun for me. It allowed me to talk about real psychology, body language, deception, lying and all that. The thing is, I did three series of it, and anyone who watched that will know I'm an expert in lie detection. So, I might be staying single!
"That's not because of my job, though. I'm just picky. My friend is married to an Irish guy; she says I need to get one. Maybe I'll find one when I'm mooching around in Bangor or Lurgan, meeting my cousins. I've only ever had contact with them on Facebook."
After her terrifying experience with a stalker who was suspected of killing her cat and scrawling 'Jill Dando' on her garden fence, Kerry bought two dogs for protection in her home in Manchester after she took him to court. He stopped the stalking after being issued with Crown Prosecution Service warning in 2016.
"The dogs are a godsend - I got them after the stalking because I felt unsafe in the house. I always had cats before, but dogs are one of the best forms of protection and I like walking them, although they have arthritis and can't go too far.
"I live close to the beautiful Cheshire countryside, lots of greenery and wildlife. Life is complicated for most of us and it's important to get back to nature. Even a few moments walking in nature is good for the head."
She mentions going for meals with friends and trips to the cinema, but she won't watch crime dramas - on the big or small screen.
"I see enough crime - I have to look after my own mental state," she laughs. "When that Line Of Duty was on, everyone was asking me: 'Who's H? Who's H?'. And I hadn't a clue.
"I like programmes about plastic surgery and Say Yes To The Dress. It nearly killed me having to sit down and write a book at the dining room table - I only had a few months to finish it and now I have to promote it. I just hope that it helps show that there's a huge need for reform in the criminal justice system.
"The roots of crime are in poverty and lack of opportunity and resources. The criminal justice system is in a mess because those issues are not being addressed. Higher sentencing isn't the solution."
Despite the serious subject matter, Kerry's sense of humour and Irish gift-of-the-gab filter through in The Dark Side Of The Mind.
"I think people will be really surprised by the humour in the book," she concludes. "You can't survive without humour in this job I didn't want the book to be very dark and horrifying. There are actually some uplifting moments in it.
"I didn't write it for other psychologists; I wrote it as if I was just talking to a friend. I hope that comes across at my talk in Bangor. It feels like I'm coming back home, in a way. I'm sure I'll get a warm welcome."
Kerry Daynes is in conversation with journalist Yvette Shapiro at the Space Theatre, Castle Park Road, Bangor, on Tuesday, August 13, at 8pm as part of the Open House Festival. For further information, visit openhousefestival.com. The Dark Side Of The Mind by Kerry Daynes is published by Endeavour, £16.99