Objective: The only systematic studies of attacks on public figures come from the USA. These studies de-emphasize the role of mental illness and suggest threats are of no predictive value. This study re-examines these questions through a study of attacks on European politicians.
Method: All non-terrorist attacks on elected politicians in Western Europe between 1990 and 2004 were analysed.
Results: Twenty-four attacks were identified, including five involving fatalities, and eight serious injuries. Ten attackers were psychotic, four drunk, nine politically motivated and one unclassifiable. Eleven attackers evidenced warning behaviours. The mentally disordered, most of whom gave warnings, were responsible for most of the fatal and seriously injurious attacks.
Conclusion: A greater awareness of the link between delusional fixations on public figures and subsequent attacks could aid prevention. Equally importantly, recognition would encourage earlier intervention in people who, irrespective of whether they eventually attack, have delusional preoccupations which ruin their lives.