Ursula and Sabina Eriksson
Ursula and Sabina Eriksson (born 1967) are Swedish twin sisters who came to national attention in the United Kingdom in May 2008 after an apparent episode of folie à deux (or "shared psychosis"), a rare psychiatric disorder in which delusional beliefs are transmitted from one individual to another, which resulted in a series of bizarre incidents on the M6 motorway and the subsequent killing of Glenn Hollinshead of Fenton, Staffordshire. There was no evidence that drugs or alcohol were involved in the incidents on the M6 or the death of Hollinshead.
The twins had been in Ireland before travelling to England and boarding a coach for London at Liverpool. Their odd behaviour after exiting the coach at a service station on the M6 – including not allowing the bags they were clutching to be searched – caused the driver not to allow them back on the coach. The two were later seen on the central reservation of the M6. When Highways Agency Traffic Officers arrived to assist the women, they ran across the busy motorway. Ursula managed to dodge traffic - Sabina was first struck by a SEAT Leon.
Shortly after police arrived, the women again ran onto the motorway and were struck by oncoming vehicles, a Volkswagen Polo hitting Sabina and a Mercedes-Benz Actros lorry crushing Ursula's legs. Sabina suffered a serious head injury that left her unconscious for several minutes. When Sabina regained consciousness, she refused medical aid and attacked a police officer, at which point she was arrested. Appearing calm, although a bit "odd", as she was processed by police in Stoke-on-Trent, she was therefore released from custody. Shortly afterward she was taken in by Hollinshead, whom she later stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack. She was pursued running from the scene and arrested in hospital after jumping from a bridge onto a busy trunk road, later pleading guilty to manslaughter with diminished responsibility. She was sentenced to five years imprisonment and released on parole in 2011.
Incidents in England
The sisters left their home in County Cork at 2am on May 16, 2008.
In Liverpool, at 8:30am on 17 May, Saturday, the twins went into St Anne Street Police Station to report concerns over Sabina's children. At midday the pair boarded a National Express coach to London. A police report stated that the twins suddenly disembarked from the coach at Keele services, a motorway service station, as they were not feeling well. The driver of the coach, however, said he left them at Keele services after becoming suspicious of their behaviour. He noticed the twins clinging tightly to their bags and did not let them re-board because they refused to let him search their bags for illegal items. The manager of the service station was informed and, also feeling suspicious of the pair, called the police. Officers arrived to talk to them but left after deeming the women harmless.
Running onto the motorway
As seen on closed-circuit television cameras, the pair began to walk down the central reservation of the M6 motorway before attempting to cross the motorway, causing chaos to the traffic and picking up minor injuries in the attempt. Their elder brother claimed in a Swedish newspaper that his sisters were fleeing from maniacs who were chasing them. Highways Agency Traffic Officers attend to the incident, and Police Officers were called to help assist. Along with the police came a small television crew who happened to be filming Motorway Cops with one of the officers. Sabina later told an officer at the police station, "We say in Sweden that an accident rarely comes alone. Usually at least one more follows – maybe two."
Standing on the north direction hard shoulder of the motorway, just north of Three Mile Lane (52°59'38.84" N, 2°18'15.44" W), the police spoke to a Highways Agency Traffic Officer appraising them of the situation when, without warning, Ursula ran into the side of an oncoming Mercedes-Benz Actros 2546 articulated lorry traveling at around 56 mph. Sabina then followed her into the road and was hit by a Volkswagen Polo traveling at high speed; both survived. Ursula was immobilized as the lorry had crushed her legs. Sabina spent fifteen minutes unconscious.
The pair were treated by paramedics; however both women resisted medical aid, fighting and screaming at the paramedics and police officers. Sabina shouted "They're going to steal your organs" and Ursula told the policemen restraining her "I recognise you – I know you're not real".
Sabina got to her feet, whereupon a policewoman attempted to persuade her to stay on the ground and receive further medical attention. Sabina instead struck the officer and crossed the central reservation again, running into traffic on the other side of the motorway. Emergency workers and several members of the public caught up with her, restrained her and carried her to a waiting ambulance, at which point she was sedated. Ursula was also taken to hospital where she stayed for weeks. Sabina appeared less deranged and more calm and relaxed in police custody.
The killing of Glenn Hollinshead
On 19 May 2008, Sabina was released from court without a full psychiatric evaluation having pleaded guilty to trespass on the motorway and hitting a police officer. The court sentenced her to one day in custody which she had been deemed to have served having spent a full night in police custody. Leaving court she began to wander the streets of Stoke-on-Trent, seemingly attempting to reach her sister in hospital, carrying her possessions in a clear plastic bag given to her by police.
At 19:00, two local men spotted Sabina whilst walking a dog on Christchurch Street, Fenton. One of the men was 54-year-old Glenn Hollinshead – a self-employed welder, qualified paramedic, and former RAF worker. The other man was his friend Peter Molloy. Sabina appeared friendly and stroked the dog as the three people struck up a conversation. Although friendly, Sabina appeared to be behaving oddly and this odd behaviour worried Molloy. Sabina asked the two men for directions to any nearby bed and breakfasts or hotels. Hollinshead took pity upon her and instead offered to take her back to his house at Duke Street, Fenton. Sabina accepted the offer and the three walked to the house, as Sabina told the men how she was trying to locate her hospitalised sister.
Back at the house her odd behaviour continued; most notably she offered the men cigarettes, only to quickly snatch them out of their mouths as the men smoked them, claiming the cigarettes to be poisoned. She was also carrying multiple mobile phones, as well as a laptop. She appeared to be paranoid and constantly looked out of the windows; this behaviour caused Molloy to assume that she had run away from an abusive partner. Shortly before midnight Molloy left the two, and Sabina stayed the night in Hollinshead's home.
The next day, 20 May, Hollinshead called the local hospitals in order to locate Sabina's sister Ursula. At 19:40, Hollinshead came outside of the house to ask a neighbour, Frank Booth, for tea bags. Frank said he would get the tea bags once he had finished washing his vehicle, and Hollinshead went back to his home. One minute after returning inside he staggered back outside to the neighbour and told him "she stabbed me", before collapsing to the ground. Sabina had stabbed him five times with a kitchen knife and Hollinshead died from his injuries. Sabina fled the premises and the neighbour dialled 999.
Sabina's flight from capture
Sabina ran out of the house with a hammer, periodically hitting herself over the head with it. A passing motorist, Joshua Grattage, saw this extraordinary behaviour and decided to tackle her in an attempt to take control of the hammer. While wrestling with Grattage, Sabina took a roof tile out of her pocket and struck him on the back of the head with it, stunning him temporarily.
By this time paramedics had found her and gave chase. The pursuit was ended at Heron Cross when Sabina jumped from a 12-metre (40 ft) high bridge onto the A50. Having broken bones in the fall, she was taken to hospital. On 6 June 2008 she was arrested while recovering at University Hospital of North Staffordshire, and was later discharged from hospital on 11 September, at which point she was charged with murder.
Garry Hollinshead, brother of the man killed by Sabina, was critical of the justice system which he viewed as enabling Sabina to kill his brother.
"We don't hold her responsible, the same as we wouldn't blame a rabid dog for biting someone. She is ill and to a large degree, not responsible for her actions. But her mental disorder should have been recognized much earlier."
"I do question the criminal justice system for allowing somebody like this to be let out when she is capable of committing such a crime. Her mental condition should have been properly assessed after what she did on the motorway and the experiences the police had. Her mental disorder should have been picked up prior to her being let out in to the community... [Glenn] saw Eriksson in distress and was just trying to help. He wasn't slow in coming forward to help somebody in distress. It was in his nature. He was trying to help. He would help anybody. If he saw a fight in the street and a guy was losing he would help."
Sabina Eriksson was charged with murder on 11 September 2008, the same day she was discharged from hospital in a wheelchair. The trial was scheduled for February 2009, but was adjourned after the court encountered difficulties in obtaining her medical records from Sweden. The trial was then scheduled to start on 1 September 2009.
Sabina Eriksson pleaded guilty to manslaughter with diminished responsibility on 2 September 2009. At no point during her interrogation or during the trial did she explain her actions, only replying "no comment" to extensive police questioning. Both the prosecution and defence claimed that Sabina was insane at the time of the killing, although she was sane at the time of her trial. The defence counsel in the trial claimed that Eriksson was a "secondary" sufferer of folie à deux, influenced by the presence or perceived presence of her twin sister – the "primary" sufferer. The court also heard that she had suffered from a rare psychiatric disorder which made her hear voices, but could not interpret what they said, as well as an alternative theory that she had suffered from acute polymorphic delusional disorder.
The plea of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was accepted at Nottingham Crown Court on 2 September 2010. Sabina was sentenced to five years in prison. Having already spent 439 days in custody before sentencing, this left her first eligible for release in 2011. In prison she turned to Christianity.
Justice Saunders concluded that Sabina had a "low" level of culpability for her actions.
I understand that this sentence will seem entirely inadequate to the relatives of the deceased. However, I have sentenced on the basis that the reason for the killing was the mental illness and therefore the culpability of the defendant is low and therefore the sentence I have passed is designed to protect the public. It is not designed to reflect the grief the relatives have suffered or to measure the value of Mr Hollinshead's life. No sentence that I could pass could do that. It is a sentence which I hope fairly measures a truly tragic event.
Justice Saunders also said that:
[Sabina was] suffering from delusions which she believed to be true and they dictated her behaviour. It is not one of those cases where the defendant could have done something to avoid the onset.
Many questions were left unanswered, and Detective Superintendent Dave Garrett stated that "the reasons for the two events may never be truly known or understood but the taking of Glenn's life was a violent and senseless act".
- Madness in the Fast Lane is the BBC documentary, first broadcast on BBC One on 10 August 2010, which brought the story of Sabina and Ursula Eriksson and the killing of Glen Hollinshead into the public consciousness. The footage on the M6 motorway of the two women jumping into the passing traffic had previously been broadcast on Motorway Cops, but this was the first time the rest of the story had been told.
- A Madness Shared By Two 2012, David Cann ISBN 0956848915
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