In the grips of mental illness, sufferers can experience dark delusional thoughts and hallucinations which to them are very real. When such mental illness manifests in teenagers, uncovering a diagnosis and an effective course of treatment can be a complex and difficult task. This week in Yorkshire, England, a 16-year-old girl has pleaded guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility after the murder of 7-year-old Katie Rough just days before her 8th birthday.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is believed to have been suffering from severe mental health problems over the 12 months prior to the murder on 9 January 2017, problems which were being actively investigated but no diagnosis had yet been made.

7-year-old Katie Rough

7-year-old Katie Rough

While there have been many horrific cases of children committing murder and killing other children, few involve the severity of mental illness which seems apparent in this tragic case. On the afternoon 9 January 2017, a teenage girl made a 999 call informing the operator that 7-year-old Katie Rough was dead. While police tried to trace the call to pinpoint her location, a call came in from Katie’s mother reporting her 7-year-old had not returned from primary school and had been missing for 45 minutes.

At the same time Katie Rough’s mother was frantically reporting her young child as missing, the 15-year-old teenager was found in the street by neighbour Peter Mills in Woodthorpe in York holding a blood-stained Stanley knife. “She was distressed, covered in mud and had a blood-stained right hand,” he reported. She told Peter Mills that Katie Rough was dead and asked him where she was. Minutes later Mr. Mills found Katie lying in a nearby playing field with devastating injuries. As police and paramedics arrived at the scene, Katie’s parents, who had been told by the police operator there was an incident in the field, also arrived and witnessed the terrible injuries their daughter had suffered. “I saw her injuries and I knew she was gone,” Alison Rough later told BBC News.

Katie had large deep slashes to her neck and torso and was rushed to the local hospital who, despite their best efforts, were unable to revive her. A post-mortem revealed that the wounds Katie received were serious, however, they were not the cause of her death. She had been smothered, restricting her airways and preventing her from being able to breathe. In the days following Katie’s death, police discovered disturbed and macabre drawings inside the teenager’s bedroom alongside a note in her handwriting which read, “They are not human, they are not real”.

The teen was arrested and charged with murder and possession of an offensive weapon, appearing via video link at a hearing in February 2017 and pleading not guilty to both charges. On the first day of her murder trial at Leeds Crown Court on 3 July 2017, prosecutor Graham Reeds QC accepted a guilty plea to manslaughter by diminished responsibility after telling the court that the teenager had been suffering from delusions and she had killed the young girl to ‘test whether or not she was a robot.’

dark portrait

The circumstances of this tragic murder are still being investigated and the presiding Judge has adjourned the case requesting further mental health reports. The decision on whether the teenager, who is now 16-years-old, should be detained in a hospital setting due to her mental health state rather than youth custody is still to be made alongside her sentencing.

A number of news outlets have reported a history of mental illness presenting in this teenage girl, an illness that was still under investigation at the time of the murder. The Guardian reports that the teen ‘self-harmed and liked to talk about death’ and that she had been having ‘delusional and bizarre thoughts for months and had been self-harming since Christmas 2015’. The Telegraph reports that initial assessments in 2016 had suggested the teen may have been suffering from “emerging schizotypal personality disorder”. Nicholas Johnson, QC, acting on behalf of the teenager told the court this month, “She is an extremely troubled and damaged teenage girl with a significant history of mental health issues of increasing severity in the months leading to these events.”

 “She developed an interest in the macabre, lost most of her friendship group at school and starting harming herself with a blade and was very upset and reporting suicidal thoughts.”

The teenage girl responsible for the murder of Katie Rough cannot be placed in the category of an ‘evil’ child despite her brutal actions. While the act of murder can never be excused, she is an adolescent who now has a long road ahead of her in gaining control over her mental health and living with what she has done and the pain her actions have caused.

The funeral of Katie Rough

The funeral of Katie Rough held at York Minister on 13 February 2017.

The devastation for the family of Katie Rough, a young innocent child simply on her way home from school who met such a violent death cannot be imagined. A young girl who should have had her whole life ahead of her was instead laid to rest at the York Minister in a service led by the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu. “We’re living day by day. We will see a future eventually I think but right now it’s all in the moment,” Katie’s father Paul Rough said. “We’ve always got the memories though.”