Lives of the fellows

Peter Duncan Scott

b.13 June 1914 d.6 August 1977
CBE(1974) MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BChir Cantab(1939) DPM(1944) MD(1947) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1971) FRCPsych(1971)

Peter Scott was the second son of Walter and Jennie Scott. His father was the owner of Ansell’s brewery near Hereford, and his older brother John subsequently managed the business. Peter was born in Birmingham, educated at St Cuthbert’s preparatory school in Malvern, at Bromsgrove School and at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, taking his clinical training at the London Hospital.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the Navy and served in destroyers. He had originally intended to become a surgeon, but on becoming shore based, it is said as the result of unmanageable seasickness, he joined the naval psychiatric service, where his great talents emerged. After the war he became registrar at the Maudsley Hospital, and after a period at Runwell Hospital, joined the staff of the Maudsley, where he stayed until his death after a short illness at the age of 63.

For some fifteen years he was psychiatrist to the London remand home for boys, and treated young delinquents in the children’s department. During this time he wrote hundreds of reports to court, and developed his pithy, penetrating style of description and his reluctance to use technical terms. When dealing with adult offenders exclusively in later life, he always saw the child and adolescent which the adult had once been, and developed his outstanding talent for analysing the forces which led to personality development and were accessible to treatment.

He was first and last a clinician, tirelessly devoted to the needs of the individual patient. Although he read widely and was always interested in theories and classifications, he never allied himself with any particular school. This no doubt explained his great pleasure and skill in teaching from the individual case, in which the unique and the general could be discussed and analysed. His clinics were always very popular and the students fully involved.

His own diagnostic categories, painfully evolved from his experience of the young, and applied to homosexual offenders, murderers, shoplifters and the like, were highly original, realistic, and expressed in non-technical language. He wrote relatively little but his publications were models of compression, originality, and penetrating observation, and were very influential.

Scott did nothing to promote his own reputation, which built up in ever widening circles of colleagues, administrators, and judges. His advice was sought on many commissions and government working parties — the Ingleby committee on the law relating to young offenders, on the special hospitals, on the organization of the prison medical service, the advisory council on the penal system, the Aarvold subcommittee on dangerous offenders, and many others. On such occasions he offered his advice frankly, in a quiet and unassuming manner, and left it to others to accept or reject it. He never campaigned publicly or privately to get his views accepted more widely. He was, for example, passionately convinced that the National Health Service should take over the work of the prison medical service. When this was rejected by the Government and a compromise plan evolved to set up ‘joint appointments’ to the health service and to the prison service, he accepted the first of these between the Maudsley Hospital and Brixton prison, and did his loyal best to make it work satisfactorily, though it ultimately failed.

His advice was sought in many controversial situations, of which the best known was his advice on the conduct of the Spaghetti House and Balcombe Street hostage-taking sieges. His advice to temporize and restrain those who believed in an immediate use of force was successful, and earned the gratitude of the Commissioner. The technique of managing such incidents, here and abroad, owes much to his influence.

Personally, he was quiet and reserved and permitted few to become intimate. He was devoted to his wife, Lilian, and two daughters. He was deeply interested and expert in bird-watching, in carpentry, bricklaying and other ‘do-it-yourself activities. Beneath his modest manner he had great decisiveness and self-confidence. He listened carefully to the views of social workers and psychologists, but rarely needed advice, and once he had made up his mind about an offender or a policy kept to it with great determination. Apart from his evident compassion for offenders and endless work on their behalf, his most endearing quality was loyalty. He never criticized a colleague, and without ever being fulsome or insincere would say nothing unless it was a favourable comment. As one of the editors of the British Journal of Criminology he tended in the same way to point out the virtues of papers submitted, even when they were inadequate for publication. He was equally loyal to society in believing firmly that compassion did not mean sentimentality, and that the psychiatrist’s role was to help the offender to come to terms with society as it is, and not as it should be.

He will be remembered chiefly as a brilliant teacher who left his mark on a whole generation of post-war consultants. At the time of his premature death, from an extremely rapidly growing glioma, he was acknowledged as the foremost forensic psychiatrist of his time.

TCN Gibbens

[, 1977, 2, 646, 777; Lancet, 1977, 2, 415; Times, 12 Aug 1977]

(Volume VII, page 519)

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