20 September 2023

Chief Psychiatrist reviewing circumstances surrounding ANU stabbings and the alleged attacker

| Claire Fenwicke
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police on ANU campus following alleged stabbing

Four people were injured during the incident at the ANU on Monday (18 September). Photo: Joanne Griffiths.

The ACT Government has advised its chief psychiatrist is reviewing the “individual circumstances” around the stabbings at the ANU earlier this week.

Alex Leonard Ophel is accused of being behind the incident, which has left two women in hospital with knife wounds. Two men were also injured after they were allegedly attacked with a frypan.

Ophel was previously found not guilty by way of mental impairment following two trials after attacking several people with a baseball bat on the ANU campus in 2017.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury explained the Chief Psychiatrist had been brought into this matter at the specific request of the government.

“We are limited in the way we can talk about the individual [allegedly] involved, but the Chief Psychiatrist will be able to look at the circumstances, both in the lead-up to this matter and how this individual [allegedly] came to be where he was at the time of the incident,” he said.

“That will give us a clear view of the circumstances and whether there are any matters that are systemic beyond the individual circumstances of the person [alleged to be] involved.”

Mr Rattenbury said the government was particularly interested in determining how Ophel was able to make his way to the ANU campus and the decisions made up to that point.

“[We’ll also] consider whether the safety provisions that were in place around this individual were met and if there are any systemic issues that arise from the circumstances,” he said.

Due to the ongoing criminal investigation, Mr Rattenbury could not confirm whether Ophel was still being supervised under the Mental Health Act 2015 or, if he was, what supervision requirements he had to adhere to.

The government has advised it would convene a dedicated working group to action any issues identified as a result of the Chief Psychiatrist’s review.

READ ALSO Man arrested for 1999 murder of Irma Palasics after ’24 years of pain’

The Chief Psychiatrist, assisted by the ACT Care Coordinator, is responsible for administering and monitoring the use of the Mental Health Act 2015.

They’re also in charge of monitoring and improving the delivery and standard of mental health care in the Territory, monitoring the treatment and care of patients, conducting inspections and investigations and setting out the functions of delegates and mental health officers.

No timeline has been given for the completion of this review, but it’s expected to take a few months.

The Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Minister for Mental Health received a briefing this morning from the Chief Police Officer and officials from Canberra Health Services.

Mr Rattenbury said police were also investigating the circumstances around the attack.

It’s understood the university and police had no indications the campus could be a target before the incident on Monday.

READ ALSO Investigation launched after mentally impaired killer dies at health facility

The Chief Minister also met with ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt this morning, where security has been increased.

Despite what has occurred, Mr Rattenbury wanted to assure ANU students and the community that the campus was safe.

“Canberra is a very safe city … [this] is a very rare incident for the ACT,” he said.

“We don’t believe there is any ongoing risk to the university.”

A range of mental health support services are available to Canberrans:

  • Lifeline is a telephone crisis support service available by calling 13 11 14
  • Mindmap is a mental health portal for people under 25, available by calling 1800 862 111
  • Safehaven is a free walk-in centre available to anyone in the ACT. No Medicare card is required. The clinic is open from 3 pm to 10 pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and is located at 56 Lathlain St, Belconnen.

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Canberra has selfish and dangerous people who ignore the risks and harm they cause to others, just like any city. The risk to the public here is greater due to the unavailable and unresponsive police force, except in places where crime is common and obvious like Civic. Lighting is poor in many parts of the ACT and there are few people walking around at night, as most are home or in their cars, which leaves those pedestrians without help when needed. The criminally dangerous people driving on our roads harm other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians but are mostly unrestrained as they know the chances of being caught are low.

psycho the police were there in 20 minutes. What do you expect? That they be hiding in the bushes and jump out in case of random stabbings on the street?

I just can’t seem to get my head around your response psycho. You seem to be off on a tangent somewhere and have a mistaken belief that Canberra has significant crime levels and is a dangerous place to live. Not to mention your seemingly very low opinion of Canberrans.

You claim that Canberrans are selfish and dangerous people who ignore the risks and harm they cause to others. You seem to assume that crime is greater in Canberra due to the lack of police action. You seem to claim that this is because of the poor lighting in many parts of Canberra and few people are walking around at night because most are at home or driving. But you suggest motorists are the real culprits and are criminally dangerous as they harm other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and know their chances of being caught are low.

Enlighten me!!

The criminals in this city all live in public housing because our jails are full. Why do we keep building more social housing and attracting more undesirables to this city while the rest of us get crippled by rates?

Great. Build more public housing for these types of people rather than using our jails.

Well statistically it is pretty safe but Canberrans tear their hair out reading about crimes committed by people with a history of community order and bail breaches.

Sexual assault rates are high whilst arrest and conviction rates are very low.

Tom McLuckie5:59 pm 20 Sep 23

I see the Attorney-General is still selling the furphy Canberra is a safe city. For who? On the roads? For those broken into and assaulted? For those raped whose perpetrators get community service?

My thoughts go out to you daily Tom; I have never met you or Matt but there isn’t a day that I don’t drive along Hindmarsh and think of what tragedy unfolded there.
Straight out of the Rattenbury/Barr playbook a complex and lengthy investigation will be launched here that will be quietly released years from now when most of us have forgotten about the event.
Apparently the rights and safety of known offenders are far greater than the rest of society, in fact I can’t think of single investigation in recent years that has been met with genuine consequences.

Canberra being a safe city is a furphy Tom McLuckie? There is no city safer than Canberra to live in. I have grown up and raised children here. My family have contributed to and helped build this city. I love Canberra and would not live anywhere else.

You are a recent arrival and chose to live in this city. Your comments blaming politicians for assaults and rapes is shameful!

I trust our politicians and the justice system to do their jobs. Of course some decisions of our justice system are seen as a donkey and we question them. That happens everywhere.

This ANU incident is isolated and occurred on a very safe campus and city!

Tom McLuckie7:52 am 21 Sep 23

I’ve lived here 16 years Jack D. Recent arrival indeed. Oh what a rose tinted world you live in Jack. So as an outsider, do you believe I should not have a voice and only people like you who “built” this city are entitled to an opinion? I’ve paid my rates, taxes and contributed for over 11 year to community sports so have been every bit as much a member of this community as you. 10 years of DEFUNDING police and appointing ever lenient judges has not made this a safer place and denying the issues with recidivism (we have been nation leading in this regard for years) is not going address the problem. When we have a minority party with 13.5% of the primary vote dictating justice policies to the majority, it’s demonstrates the flawed Hare-Clarke system of governance in the ACT.

Cant agree more with what Tom has said. i hope you never have to suffer from the crime in Canberra Jack and then hope for justice, only to sit back and watch the offender walk away with community service or some other slap on the wrist. how dead set heartless of you. “oh it hasnt happened to me so it must be all made up” what a great attitude to have. better get back to shining Barrs boots Jack or whatever it is you do for him.

Tom McLuckie10:24 am 21 Sep 23

If Jack D wants to meet me at Woden Cemetery I can point out the 4 graves of children killed by repeat criminals on our roads, all within the last two and a half years. They are all buried within 100 meters of each other. Then he can tell them what a safe city it is and how the government and politicians ignoring the evidence is not shameful. The pitiful response by the Government and JACS to the Dangerous Driving Inquiry recommendations is testament to the head in the sand approach tolerated by painted on “progressives” like Jack who cannot tolerate any evidence that is contradictory to their own blissful delusions. I don’t have that luxury.

Oh dear Jack, you really are blinkered about this city, its justice system and its politicians due to your personal bias and your narrow experience, having not lived in other safer places.

ANU campus is notorious for sexual assaults on a very frequent basis with students raising these issues repeatedly, but nothing much happening beyond denial and comments that they’re taking action even though the assaults have not diminished. Lighting is poor and it is very uncomfortable late at night unless you’re a big strong person or in an area where there are lots of people.

Police presence and responsiveness in this city is worse than anywhere else I’ve lived and I’ve lived in many cities and towns in Australia and overseas. The lighting in many parts of Canberra is very poor, with few people around if you needed help. Everyone is in their cars, not walking around unless there’s an event on. People act criminally in this town knowing that they’re unlikely to get caught. People often don’t report their problems (so numbers of offences appear lower than they are) as people know the response is likely to be unpredictable or slow, unenthusiastic and to provide little support to the person harmed.

It doesn’t take long for all these ignoramuses to get all worked up and make up all sorts of wild accusations and mistruths without even knowing me. psycho, tell me the last time someone was assaulted and stabbed on campus in the ACT? You accuse me of having a narrow world experience. I have spent a number of years working in Sydney and Canberra as well as attending university in this city. I also worked at a university. Sexual assaults are not isolated to the ANU but campuses around the world. That does not make Canberra an unsafe city to live in.

I note your comments Tom McLuckie. You have become the self appointed face and champion for law reform in the ACT. You have an aggressive and unlikeable way of advocating for change. You have undermined public officials in the media. You have also ridiculed my opinions in your previous posts because I expressed views contrary to yours.

I do not share your opinions for an uncompromising tough on law approach to law enforcement. As I have previously said, I trust our legal system to do its job. I may not always agree with those decisions. What justice system in the world is perfect?

My family has also suffered grief and loss with the death of a dearly loved family member, taken way too young.

I am also a strong advocate for law reforms. In fact, some of the public faces out there advocating for changes are friends of mine. They have also lost children tragically. They have been advocating for changes in their own measured and dignified ways. This includes in the media and pressuring our government for drug law reforms and improvements to mental health access. I also agree with many of their opinions and advocacy.

I will turn down your proposal for a tour of the Woden Cemetery to view children’s graves. It is an odd way to make a point and seems pretty sick to me!

Tom McLuckie5:34 pm 21 Sep 23

One of those graves is my son’s, the other is Lachlan Seary’s in Matthew year group from McKillop killed by a drugged up, drunk crim on Monaro, and the other two are the graves of the young girls left to die by the recidivist youth offender on Monaro. And in regards to an unlikeable way – thanks. If you find it unlikeable I must be doing something right.

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