Assessment by Kenneth Byrne

“Julian Knight - The Hoddle St Massacre” 

Assessment by Kenneth Byrne

Assessment by Kenneth Byrne


The following is the professional opinion of forensic psychologist Dr Kenneth "Ken" Byrne, 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 Byrne - a practicing psychologist since 1972 - examined Knight on seven occasions in Pentridge Prison's H Division during the period 16 th May 1988 - 22 nd September 1988. He also interviewed Knight's father and mother. During his examinations of Knight - which totaled 12 hours of interviews - Dr Byrne conducted diagnostic interviews and administered a battery of psychological tests. These tests being the following: the projective Rorschach Ink Blot Test, the Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test (the Bender-Gestalt Test), the projective Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and Achromatic and Chromatic House-Tree-Person Drawings tests. Dr Byrne's official opinion was contained on pages 18-20 of his written report. On the 28 th October 1988, in the Supreme Court of Victoria, Dr Byrne testified under oath as to his opinion in relation to Knight [Ref: Transcript of Plea: pages 63-73] .


Julian Knight clearly fits the diagnostic criteria for Anti-social Personality Disorder, and this is considered the most accurate diagnosis. There is no indication of any underlying psychosis or schizophrenic condition. His claims of having had a delusion that Clifton Hill was being invaded can more accurately be understood as a fantasy, and as such does not represent a departure from reality. Put another way, Knight may have imagined something, but was clearly able to distinguish the difference between his own imagination and external reality. Therefore, his claims that he committed these shootings because he thought that he was participating in a war should be disregarded.

Within the sub-group of people who commit mass murder, Julian Knight can most accurately be seen as the "Pseudo Commando". These individuals are usually described as loners, tend to be suspicious and mistrustful, and frequently feel everything which does not go their way to be an injustice. These people tend to build up an increasing level of anger, and finally explode. The frequently seen fascination with guns and other weapons often reflects an underlying wish for power over those who are seen to be heaping injustice upon him. Sometimes, the deterioration in self-control is accompanied by a psychotic breakdown and irrational delusionary thinking [Ref: P.E. Dietz 1986, R.G. Rappaport 1988] .

In the 8 months prior to the shootings he endured an extremely high degree of stress. This included three significant rejections;

(1) not receiving a response from his biological mother in South Africa,

(2) being discharged from the Royal Military College, and

(3) being "dumped" by his girlfriend.

The overall effect of these events is that Julian Knight was significantly depressed on the day in question. This depression caused painful feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, helplessness and hopelessness about his future. His long nourished dream of becoming a soldier was clearly impossible.

This man's basic personality style is to be an "Injustice Collector". That is, he frequently feels that he has been wronged by others, with little insight into his role in bringing this about. Due to his self-centredness, he frequently feels unique and superior to others. These two personality traits together led him to feel enraged about the losses he had endured and to feel justified in his rage. This may also have tapped into painful childhood feelings when he may have felt that he did not fit in. This could easily have stemmed from his awareness that he had been adopted, and the inherent feelings of rejection and low self esteem which frequently accompany such knowledge.

It is impossible to say with any real precision what went through Julian Knight's mind just before he opened fire on innocent civilians. One can only advance reasonable hypothesis based on the data available.

With this caveat in mind the following seems plausible: He had endured a series of painful disappointments, and felt like a victim, helpless to defend himself against others rejection. If he did have a fantasy just before the shootings, this feeling tone is probably reflected in his picture of Clifton Hill being invaded, as the city would of course be helpless and easily overpowered. As is his style, he saw these events in a self-centred way, and brought no insight into his own behaviour in the situation.

As a consequence of his depression, and his glamourized fantasy of death in combat, he probably planned to either provoke the police into killing him, or to take his own life. It is unclear why he decided to surrender in such a way that his physical safety was protected. The shootings in all likelihood represented, using his words "a pay-back on everyone".

Regarding the prediction of future dangerousness, the following may be said. Mental health professionals are frequently called upon to give opinions about future dangerousness. The research in this area indicates clearly that this is an extremely difficult area, and far too often, professionals error by overpredicting future dangerousness. As Mr Knight will no doubt face a long period of incarceration, it can only be said that it is impossible to give any reasoned opinion about the likelihood of his dangerousness upon release. This will have to be evaluated as the time for possible release approaches. Clearly, his record of behaviour while in prison will provide a very useful source of data.

This case can be contrasted with that of Dumas [Ref: R v Dumas [1988] VR 65] , in which the defendant suffered from brain damage. This condition was considered to enhance the likelihood of future violence.

In people who have difficulty with impulse control, and impairment often further inhibits their ability to exert appropriate self-control. In the vast majority of cases brain damage is irreversible. By contrast, Julian Knight does not suffer from brain damage. Intellectually he is in the Very Superior range. These factors, together with his youthfulness suggest the possibility that, with increased maturation and the passage of time, he may be able to learn from his mistakes and overcome his personality difficulties in the future.

Dr Kenneth Byrne
Clinical and Forensic Psychologist

Honorary Lecturer
Department of Psychological Medicine
Faculty of Medicine
Monash University
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Licensed Psychologist
State of Pennsylvania, USA
Certified School Psychologist
State of New York, USA
41 Queens Parade
Clifton Hill Vic 3068
Tel: (03) 9482 2277
Fax: (03) 9481 3024


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