Lives of the fellows

Trevor Charles Noel Gibbens

b.28 December 1912 d.27 October 1983
CBE(1977) MRCS LRCP(1938) MB BChir Cantab(1939) DPM(1946) MD(1947) MRCP(1966) FRCPsych(1971) FRCP(1974)

Trevor Gibbens was the eighth son of a civil servant. Two of his brothers became doctors, but medicine was not in fact Trevor’s first choice as a profession and it required the persuasive powers of Edward Glover and Sir Cyril Burt to steer him in that direction. He was educated at Westminster School and went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he began to read history, but later switched to medicine. He did his clinical training at St Thomas’s Hospital.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Gibbens was at the Maudsley Hospital, but as soon as it became possible, he was commissioned in the RAMC. He was posted abroad with the British Expeditionary Force, but as a consequence of the military debacle on the Continent of Europe, he was taken prisoner. He was directed to a prisoner of war camp where his job was to look after Russian prisoners. He decided to escape and, accompanied by a friend, made a gallant attempt to do so, but was recaptured when within an ace of success. He was severely punished for his pains and kept in solitary confinement for six weeks. He was later transferred to a British POW hospital.

There can be no doubt that his experiences as a prisoner of war, and as an escapee, had a profound influence on him and were in no small measure responsible, not only for the way his subsequent career came to be shaped but also for the deep, and lifelong sympathy he felt for the underdog. It was in fact the notes he kept of his clinical experiences in the POW hospital, where he had to cope as best he could with prison psychoses, that were to serve later as the basis of his MD thesis.

On his repatriation after five years in captivity he was appointed MBE for his outstanding services to the troops in Germany. Then, for a time, he served at Larbert POW rehabilitation unit and, after demobilization, he was appointed as registrar at Hammersmith Hospital.

In 1946 Gibbens resumed his psychiatric training at the Maudsley Hospital. In 1948 he was awarded a Nuffield travelling fellowship which allowed him to visit forensic institutions and prisons in the USA. On his return from the States he was appointed senior lecturer in forensic psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry located at the Maudsley Hospital and, in the goodness of time, he was the obvious choice for the chair of forensic psychiatry when it was established at the Institute. This post he held with distinction from 1967 until his retirement in 1978 when, sometime later, he was appointed emeritus professor.

Trevor Gibbens, in the course of his long career, was actively engaged in a host of research projects all of which bore his personal stamp of originality, thoroughness and academic integrity which earned him universal respect: he was without question the outstanding academic forensic psychiatrist of his day. Of his major research projects mention must be made of his surveys of Borstal lads, of cruel parents, and of the clients of prostitutes, and his study of shoplifting, all of which are classics in their own right.

But his interests and work spread far beyond the purely academic field: his services, nationally and internationally, were in constant demand and willingly given. He was, for example, a member of the Streatfield Committee in 1958, and a member of the Royal Commission on Penal Reform from 1964 to 1966. In 1967 he served as president both of the British Academy of Forensic Sciences and of the International Society of Criminology. For three years, from 1972 to 1975, he was a member of the Parole Board. In addition, he acted as adviser to the World Health Organization, the Probation and After-Care Advisory Board, and to the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency. He was vice-chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform from 1975 until his death. He was promoted CBE in 1977.

In 1950, Gibbens married Pat Mullis by whom he had three children: a daughter who qualified as a doctor, and two sons. For a man as deeply committed as he was, Gibbens found comfort and relaxation with his family in his home in Dulwich, and latterly in his cottage in the Dordogne.

Trevor Gibbens left his mark on British forensic psychiatry, a mark as indelible, indeed, as the mark he made on the minds and hearts of those of us who were privileged to know him and to learn from him.

HR Rollin

[Brit.med.J., 1983, 287, 1636; Lancet, 1983, 2, 1262; Times, 8 Nov 1983]

(Volume VII, page 208)

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