Assessment by David Sime

“Julian Knight - The Hoddle St Massacre” 

Assessment by David Sime

Assessment by David Sime


The following is the professional opinion of forensic psychiatrist Dr David Sime, which was contained in a written report prepared by him on the 26 th October 1988. In addition to examining the video, audio and written evidence relating to Knight's case, Dr Sime - a practising psychiatrist since 1952 - examined Knight on six occasions in Pentridge Prison's hospital and in H Division during the period 25 th August 1987 - 14 th October 1988, with these examinations totalling 12½ hours of interviews. Dr Sime's opinion was contained on pages 33-37 of his written report. On the 28 th October 1988, in the Supreme Court of Victoria, Dr Sime testified under oath as to his opinion in relation to Knight [Ref: Transcript of Plea: pages 36-62] .


I have noted Julian Knight's history and background in some detail. He is a young man of well above average intelligence who would have the potential intellectually and academically to cope with university or a career as an officer in the army.

On the other hand, history taking indicates a personality profile of emotional instability as a youngster and which has led to major problems of adjustment in the past. He was, for example, either expelled from, or pressed into resigning, from two schools in the course of his secondary education. Latterly he was of course to leave the Royal Military College at Duntroon after being pushed into resigning. The problems leading to his leaving the two schools noted seem essentially to have related to authority adjustment problems and playground fights, together with a tendency on his part to over-react.

Whereas his problems at the schools could possibly be argued as part of a high spirited personality, his problems at Duntroon had very serious overtones. On the other hand these were all situations of implied rejection.

Certain other patterns of behaviour and rejections can also be traced to his pathological sensitivity to rejection. This may have its origins in his adopted status and then later to the break-up of his adoptive parents' marriage when he was about 12 years of age. In relation to the latter, there was subsequently to be a deterioration in his academic performance and it was about this time he seems to have become somewhat of a problem child at school. In relation to the former, he was to set out to try and trace his real parentage and was able to trace his real mother in South Africa. However, there was a final implied overall rejection when he was unable to make contact with her latterly.

Apart from the implied rejection from having to leave the three institutions he also had major problems in the handling of rejection by girlfriends, and indeed this type of rejection could lead to explosive outbursts with a measure of violence in his behaviour. There appears to be a fundamental pattern of reaction by key figures in his environment. These rejections were also accelerated by a low tolerance for stress.

His forced resignation from Duntroon as a failed, rejected and disgraced soldier, has particular significance in the setting of his overwhelming ambition from early childhood to become a soldier. Knight's whole life appears to have revolved around things military and he seems to have hadan abnormal obsession in relation to this. He was to study military manuals and would avidly read about all the significant historical military events. He collected "thousands of toy soldiers" and he had a fantasy life which was completely absorbed with identifying himself into every conceivable battle situation. From simple observations such as looking out of a window he would constantly daydream himself into these situations. In the setting of childhood games, he would act out warrior situations in the setting of war games, bush stalking and tracking games. When he reached the point of having an air-gun at the age of 12 he and a friend on occasions would shoot at cars and trains, fantasying ambush situations as they did so.

In relation to the Hoddle Street shootings he stated that he had fantasized an invasion of the Clifton Hill area on several occasions prior to this event.

He was clearly fascinated by guns, both as a child, and as an adult. In the setting of his army training he was to become very proficient in their usage. All the guns in his possession were licensed, and this could have relevance to the attempts by the government now to restrict the licensing of guns. He was highly trained in their usage through Army Cadets, the Army Reserve and at Duntroon. When he started firing that night in Hoddle Street he would have been responding to this training by going into an automatic military mode.

According to his father, Julian Knight also had very strong feelings of justice and fairness and this may have some relevance to his reactions in school and at Duntroon. I have noted his inability to cope with the games playing of "bastardization" at Duntroon and the escalation of his emotional reactions which were eventually to lead to the stabbing incident. There is no doubt that when he left Duntroon he was additionally in a very highly stressed and emotionally fragile state and he was depressed. This stress reaction was to build up even further in the setting of his attempts to come to terms with his life again and in the setting of the total collapse and disintegration of all his life's ambitions.

Of particular significance to his final emotional explosion in relation to Hoddle Street was the breakdown of his car which he was trying to sell in the setting of owing within the region of $7,000. There was then a final rejection by the barmaid at the hotel where he was drinking and ruminating about his problems.

I have noted Knight's contention that following this at the hotel he had a vivid fantasy that Clifton Hill was being invaded and that it was in this setting that he rushed off to get his guns and started the shooting sequence. Any argument that Knight was to trump up this fantasy to justify his subsequent behaviour is in my view untenable in the setting of my extensive examination of Knight.

I formed the view that he undoubtedly did have this fantasy. The problem is not that this did not occur, but rather whether or not at this critical time fantasy and reality were so interwoven that it had reached the level of a delusional state of mind and a state of "temporary insanity".

The alternative considerations, in my view, lie between an acting out of the fantasy in an emotionally destabilized state, with or without hysterical dissociation, a response to a delusion and a situation of "temporary insanity", or that Knight is a cold blooded psychopath acting out his aggression without moral feeling.

In relation to the delusional consideration there is the question of whether or not Knight is a latent schizophrenic and that a manifest illness will appear at a later stage. Literature suggests that this type of situation can occur.

Whilst I would accept that there are indications of a serious personality disorder here the pattern of his previous behaviour is out of keeping with the behavioural background of aggressive psychopathy as indicated by Henderson, and indeed in the setting of my own experience from examining a large number of individuals in the past who would come within this category.

I have explored the literature in relation to these considerations and the nearest diagnostic consideration from their studies is that Knight represents a group of individuals who would be referred to as a pseudo-commando. Individuals who come within this category are argued as committing their acts after long deliberation. In Knight's case, whilst there are these indications of fantasying situations, this does not appear to be at a level of deliberate pre-planning of action. However, there are certainly features of the pseudo-commando in respect of his fascination for guns and weapons, his tendency to become over-suspicious of others, his tendency to over-react to this with a paranoid component being present, and indications of a tendency to explosive violence on other occasions.

I have also discussed the phenomenon of "amok" and again Knight exemplifies some of the features of this condition. It is argued that if the amok phenomenon takes place with a clear memory for events, then the diagnosis is more likely to be that of a schizophrenic illness, whereas if there is amnesia for the event then it is more likely to be an hysterical phenomenon. I felt there was some indication of hysteria present in Knight's case in the setting of my observations of him in the re-enactment video when he appeared to be behaving in an automatic dissociated type of way, but with, on the other hand, a clear recollection of events. Be that as it may there is no doubt that

Knight is yet another example of this type of unusual phenomenon.

On the balance of probabilities, I would personally favour the following:

  1. At the material time Knight was in a state of extremely acute stress and with major ingredients of depression being present.
  2. I would also argue that he was in an abnormal state of mind with reality and fantasy so mixed up that it is not possible to determine now whether or not he was responding to a delusion or to a fantasy.
  3. I am also of the opinion that it is not possible to determine at this juncture whether or not Knight is pre-psychotic and with the possibility of a schizophrenic illness developing later.

In relation to his subsequent history in prison following the event Knight was to become even more depressed and at times suicidal, but this has now settled down and he is not overtly psychotic and certainly he is fit to plead.

In response to your request for advice on the concept of diminished responsibility as it would obtain in a jurisdiction where this defence was available [England, Scotland, New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory], I am in a position to discuss this consideration from practical experience in the setting of a major part of my forensic experience having taken place in the United Kingdom. Whilst I am personally of the opinion that a diagnosis of "temporary insanity" could be considered here, and thus for example in the UK, there could be arguments for and against this consideration as a defence on the grounds of psychiatric illness. In practical terms, however, it is unlikely that it would make much difference in disposal beyond the alternatives of imprisonment versus incarceration in a special hospital such as Broadmoor [Institution for the Criminally Insane].

In the final analysis my view is that Knight's case represents an amok phenomenon and at the material time he was in an abnormal psychiatrically disturbed state of mind, but that this was of a temporary nature and he was beginning to recover from it about the time of his surrender. It is Knight's contention that when he stood up in a supposedly peaceful surrender in actual fact his expectation was that there would be a fuselage of fire and he would be killed. I am unable to argue one way or the other in relation to this consideration.

It is not really possible at this juncture to give a firm prognosis for the future. In my view there is still the possibility of the later development of a psychotic illness, but on balance I would not expect this to take place. Predictions on future dangerousness of an individual so close to the event is not really possible and the best position for making this judgement will be in several years time. In relation to this consideration I should say that I have examined a number of individuals charged with homicide many years afterwards and for the purpose of parole considerations. In these cases I have noted a number of them who have stabilized very significantly during the course of their imprisonment. This could well be the case here.

Dr David Sime
Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist


Level 2
The Medical Centre

517 St Kilda Road
Melbourne Vic 3004
Tel: (03) 9867 7731
Fax: (03) 9866 3624

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