BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife


9:10 am - December 4th 2012

by Sian Norris    


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Hot on the heels of the Daily Mail re-branding stalking as romance, the BBC reported yesterday that tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife before killing himself.

I honestly cannot think of another situation where tributes would be paid to a man who committed a violent crime.

The police describe how the man, who was the leader of the council, shot his wife and then himself. But this doesn’t seem to be the news story. The news story instead is about the tributes made by councillors, colleagues and neighbours to the man who:

typified what’s good about the town and the district of North Norfolk

It’s a story about how the flag on the council building is flying at half mast, how despite ‘being from different parties’ he was ‘always very good to deal with’, how he was a ‘good public servant’ who was ‘respected across the political spectrum’.

No-where is it really mentioned that by shooting his wife, this pillar of the community murdered a woman.

It seems that it’s only when crimes are committed against women does the media try to mitigate it by assuring us that – apart from in his relations to his wife – the man with the gun was a ‘good guy’.

On the Yahoo report on the former story, one of the commenters says:

Probably another domestic incident gone wrong

It’s a telling comment. It’s not murder, it’s a domestic incident gone wrong. That’s how this story can so easily be re-framed, to be one about how tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife and then killed himself. It’s just another example of how our culture refuses to acknowledge what violence against women and girls looks like. 

It reminds me of the man who killed his wife and only got eighteen months because his actions were ‘out of character’ and he led a ‘respectable and successful life’.

The deaths of the women became subordinate to the story of the man. The way the media reports violence against women matters. It has an impact on all of us women. 

This year, according to the OneinFour Twitter feed, 104 have lost their lives as a result of gender based violence. 

If you can, please make a donation to WomensAid and Refuge, so no more women lose their lives to men. Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

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About the author
Sian Norris is an occasional contributor. She is a Bristol based writer who likes to write short stories and muse on feminist debates.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Crime ,Equality ,Feminism

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Reader comments


it’s this kind of reporting, that diminishes blame for a violent crime against women, that then has an impact on juries finding violent men guilty, on judges handing out sentences to men who kill their wives. This has a real impact. Every time a man is violent to a woman, and the media reports it as a crime of passion, of jealousy, or a retaliation because ‘she took his kids’ or ‘she left him’ or she was ‘nagging’, then that media is victim blaming, and it’s a victim blaming culture that means we have a 6.5% conviction rate for rape, for example. The way the media reports violence against women matters. It has an impact on all of us women.

It might have been murder, or it might have been a suicide pact. We don’t know yet, so why speculate?

‘We don’t know yet, so why speculate?’

…said s/he, speculatively.

I assume you’ve got some inside, non-released information, that this was murder? Otherwise it’s just speculation on your part that this wasn’t a suicide pact, a tragic accident, or manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.

You may well be right – in fact it’s likely that you’re right – but I’m going to guess that you don’t know and that you’ve jumped to a conclusion to support your point. Also I don’t know why you’re singling out the BBC on this, or attempting to draw an inference by mentioning a tenuous link to the Daily Mail, as a number of newspapers this morning are reporting on the comments made by others on this incident.

I may well be wrong and there may have been a history of violence in the relationship, but from the available information you have taken a sad and tragic story and decided that it is about violence to women. If she had killed him and then killed herself would it still be gender based violence? If the man had been gay and killed his partner would it be a story about violence to men? Of course it wouldn’t. From the available evidence this isn’t a story about gender based violence, it’s about a PERSON who killed their partner and then themselves, it’s a story about mental health (and possibly about access to guns).

Violence against women is an important issue, but shoehorning this story (with the current information) into that category just makes you look misandristic and as such is counter productive to your very worthwhile aims.

@5

‘f she had killed him and then killed herself would it still be gender based violence? If the man had been gay and killed his partner would it be a story about violence to men? Of course it wouldn’t. ‘

Of course it would have been.

@ no it wouldn’t. It would have been relationsip based violence. The gender of the people involved is irrelevant.
And until we know more we can’t even say that about this case. It could be about the relationship, he could have been abusive, but it is also possible that SHE could have attacked him and he shot her in self defence then turned the gun on himself in guilt, he could have accidentally shot her while cleaning the gun and then killed himself. We just don’t know.

The usual moronic right wing trolls trying to play this off as a suicide pack confirm what the author of this piece is saying.

But in jackboot Britain there are certain rules. 1 Men in uniform are to be worshipped. And they are never to be convicted in courts for what they do on duty. And in the very rare cases they are convicted the sentence will be overturned in weeks. Usually following right wing media hysteria.

2 The family unit is never to be questioned. No matter what crimes are committed within it. The family is good, The stranger is bad. Hence stranger danger stories. Media love a killing by a stranger, but most stories of child killed by family member is not given the same relish of coverage.

3 Woman must always be subservient to their man. Must not embarrass their man, and if they are beaten probably deserve it. And if respectable man, nice middle class man, right sort of politics kills wife. She probably is to blame. And if man does not kill himself, and stands trial expect male judge to be very understanding and give short sentence.

This is what passes as the free press today. Very misogynistic. But it is as old as Adam and Eve.

ADC – as he shot her in the garden as she was running away it’s not likely to be a suicide pact.

I thought this was a really odd report to be honest full of praise for a man who had just taken a shotgun and ended someone else’s life and then his own.

I’m actually relaxed about the idea that good people can do bad things, particularly in times of stress or depression, so am not morally offended by the idea that people don’t want to demonise him – but there was a conspicuous absence of people praising her, mourning her, regretting her passing which did give the appearance that their lives were of different values.

Since when was killing someone in a suicide pact not an act of homicide?

In cases like this – where apparently loving family members kill their partners and/or children and, usually, themselves – we have to make a choice. In the absence of proper evidence, either we can choose to understand the incident as the result of an evil *MURDERER* just deciding to *MURDER* someone because that’s what evil *MURDERERS* do; or we can choose to understand the incident as the tragic outcome of an acute mental health crisis suffered by a basically decent person.

It’s just not true that only in a case of a man killing a woman would we ever hear the killer spoken of in positive or sympathetic terms. Women who kill their children are often spoken of in similar terms, because we understand that their actions are most likely the result of an acute mental health crisis and not just cases of *MURDER* plain and simple.

Assuming it would be wrong to just think the best of women and the worst of men on principle, which would involve making a whole bundle of sexist assumptions about the relative fragility of the female mind etc., shouldn’t we see this trend as a positive sign of changes in our understanding of and attitude to mental health issues?

@ GO
Thank you, that’s what I was trying to put across.

@ Sally
In answer to your points
1. No – and irrelevant to the case
2. No – and besides the media loves a parent kills child story.
3. No -but ok yes if you think the daily mail is a reality based paper.

Good article on a shocking subject, Sian. This story is almost incredible, except that as pointed out, it’s just a more blatant instance of a general tendency.

14. Robin Levett

@Jim #9:

there was a conspicuous absence of people praising her, mourning her, regretting her passing which did give the appearance that their lives were of different values

You obviously hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest:

Mrs Johnson had worked at Cromer’s Homebase store since it opened four years ago.

Her family said they were “devastated” by the loss of their “wonderful daughter, aunt and sister”.

In a statement they said: “She was so bubbly and full of life, she adored her family and has been tragically taken from us. She will be very sorely missed.

“Please leave us to grieve in peace at this sad time.”

Derek Houlston, whose garden backs on to the couple’s home, said: “She was bubbly and really friendly. We used to see her walking her dog.

“He was always very friendly, too, but we saw him doing his paper round – which she got him to do to keep fit – on Saturday and he seemed really depressed.

“I said hello but he just kept his head down and didn’t respond.

“It’s really sad because they seemed like such a lovely couple.”

I’m with GO. It may be that this was a viciously evil act committed by a woman-hater; it may also be that this was the outcome of mental illness disturbing the balance of his mind. But the fact that we have the usual “s/he seemd like such a loving wife/husband/pillar of the community that we would never have expected this of him/her” story hardly seems to me to be an expression of any kind of misogynist agenda.

11

Is there any evidence that there were mental health issues? The problem with seeking to explain this incident (sadly not isolated) in pathological terms merely reinforces the association generally made between murder and madness, which is totally false.

More than half of female homicides are committed by a partner or ex-partner, very few by those with a mental illness. There may be a case for arguing that domestics are different (not my view) but let’s leave the psychiatric diagnosis to the psychiatrists, and there is no mental illness that creates a propensity to murder one’s spouse as a symptom.

@ 15

totally agree.

So she was bubbly, and the last time his neighbors saw him, he was depressed. Smacks to me of man, having problems, for whatever reasons. Can’t cope ,decides to end it all, but has to take his wife with him.

Quite common when men decide to end it all, and very selfish. A lot of men still view their wives as their property. What ever made him depressed, he has no right to murder his wife. The idea people are paying tributes to him is bizarre.

With the economy heading for triple dip, and the Chancellor deciding on ever more austerity, even though it is making things worse, I expect there will be more stories like this.

There will indeed probably be more cases like this, but it probably has more to do with the pseudo-sociological political excuse-making for murder-suicides over the past decade or so, largely with respect to ‘suicide’ bombing. ‘Suicide’ bombers have been portrayed over and over as ‘desperate’ people, ‘driven to it’ rather than selfish creeps who are prepared to murder innocents in order to reap rewards in heaven, their real motivation. Any selfish idiot who decideds to kill himself and his family for quite different reasons will still have picked up on this softening – so long as you kill yourself, you’ll get quite a bit a bit of sympathy even if you kill a load of actual innocents with you. It’s a cry for help, supposedly.

And, as in this case, they are overwhelmingly conservative men. Why they have so many ‘understanders’ on the liberal-left side of the spectrum is one of those perverted political quirks.

19. Richard Carey

I don’t think the point that is trying to be made about domestic violence is helped by pinning it to this case.

Also, it would be good if the left-wing types were a little more consistent when it comes to crime and punishment. There are many scandalously low sentences for serious crimes, involving a range of offences.

Also, it would be good if you lot extended your liberalism to the gun laws. Then women, who are usually physically weaker than men (by size, weight etc., not in other ways, I know), would be able to defend themselves very effectively.

20. the a&e charge nurse

On the plus side homicide (England & Wales) have almost halved compared to a decade ago – while some say violence against women is about 4%, or even less (same rates of violence against men).
http://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/27/

With regard to this specific case are people saying a decent person can’t make a terrible mistake, or that if they are guilty of a total lack of judgement then it invalidates any redeeming qualities they might have had, or that such redeeming qualities should never be mentioned again?

@15 – according to aunty’s report one commentator described Keith Johnson as ‘depressed’ a hint that his mood might have been a factor prior to the shooting.

I’m sorry, but I find this article mean-spirited and pathetic.

This appears to have been some sort of tragic incident born out of mental health problems and you feel compelled to turn it into fodder for some ideological quest.

Don’t do this.

22. Man in the Street

The man may well have been mentally ill and you’re making capital out of his illness. Shame on you. Mental health issues are still a long way behind women’s issues it seems.

@ 11 & 16

My point was precisely that *in the absence of evidence* about mental health issues, motive, past history of violence, or anything else, all we can do is decide (provisionally) whether to think the best or the worst of the killer in cases like these.

Maybe there’s a stronger case for coming down on the side of ‘think the best’ in some cases rather than others; e.g. if women who kill their children and then themselves are almost always mentally ill, but men who kill their wives and then themselves seldom are, that can’t be ignored.

I don’t know. Maybe people who kill themselves after killing a loved one are typically among the 10% of suicides who are not mentally ill. Maybe convicted killers are typically not among the 70% of prisoners who have two or more mental health disorders. But surely there’s a real enough chance that mental ill health was involved that we might want to remember the guy as something more than a murderer.

Two more important points:

“The problem with seeking to explain this incident (sadly not isolated) in pathological terms merely reinforces the association generally made between murder and madness, which is totally false.”

Depends what you mean. Of course most mentally ill people are not murderers or criminals, but it does not follow that a high proportion of murderers or criminals do not have mental health issues. They do, and in *that* sense clearly there *is* an association between criminality (presumably including murder) and mental health problems.

“there is no mental illness that creates a propensity to murder one’s spouse as a symptom.”

Of course – no more than there is a mental illness that creates a propensity to kill one’s children as a symptom. Still, when mothers *do* kill their children, we rightly seek to understand their actions in light of any mental health issues they may have. We wouldn’t (I hope) rush to condemn a mother with severe postnatal depression who killed her children as just a child-hating murderer.

Oops – that should have been @ *15* and 16.

“The man may well have been mentally ill and you’re making capital out of his illness. Shame on you.”

Thanks for proving the author of this piece correct. The shame is on the man who shot is wife. But typical misogynistic trolls always show their true colours.

” I’m sorry, but I find this article mean-spirited and pathetic.”

Not half as mean spirited as the man who shot his wife. And not as pathetic as the men who want to defend him. But thanks once again for proving the author correct.

An article like this is an excellent way to attract and reveal the true misogynistic tendencies in your right wing troll. Very inadequate beings.

26. Chaise Guevara

Really, we’re doing this? Even assuming that it was murder, and that he was in a sound frame of mind, I frankly prefer this kind of reaction to when someone commits a terrible crime and all the locals who liked him rewrite their memories: “Never trusted him. Always something funny about that one.”

Yes, one person leapt to the conclusion that it was accidental, just like you (who probably know the people less well) assume it was murder. If someone I liked did something terrible, I’d probably hang on to the hope that it wasn’t a bad as it sounds. And I seriously hope I wouldn’t lie about having liked him.

“It reminds me of the man who killed his wife and only got eighteen months because his actions were ‘out of character’ and he led a ‘respectable and successful life’.”

A second cherry-picked anecdote, in which you offer no criticism of the court’s decision. Courts have to take things other than the reaction of reactionary feminists into account when sentencing. What were the reasons for this person getting a short sentence? Has something similar sometimes happened to women who kill their husband? What is the actual average sentence for wife-slaying, when we leave the attractive anecdotes alone?

Sian, you’re a good contributor and I enjoy your posts, but if you can weave a society-wide controversy out of every incident then you’re not being reasonable. Right now you’ve argued yourself into condemning the media, in effect, for not lying about the news.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ Jim Jepps

“but there was a conspicuous absence of people praising her, mourning her, regretting her passing which did give the appearance that their lives were of different values”

Robin’s queried whether this is true, and I didn’t see the coverage myself, but if it is, I’d suggest it’s because “community mourns possible wife-killer” is man bites dog, whereas “community castigates possible wife-killer” is dog bites man.

I remember a story from a while back about a guy who had lost it and murdered his family. One of the neighbours quoted went out of their way to say something like “He’d always been a decent guy, so I don’t want to see you reporters saying that he was a monster or anything like that.” That compassion, that humanity, quite honestly lifted my spirits for the rest of the day. The idea of being offended by it would never have crossed my mind.

@ Robin Levett

“You obviously hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest”

Just wanted to give you 10 cool-points for that reference.

@15. steveb: “Is there any evidence that there were mental health issues?”

It appears that Mr Johnson intentionally shot himself. Does that not suffice as indication of mental illness?

I’m genuinely astonished by the lack of human understanding in the OP and a handful of comments. I find it hard to counter them with rational arguments.

@18. Lamia: “Any selfish idiot who decides to kill himself and his family for quite different reasons will still have picked up on this softening – so long as you kill yourself, you’ll get quite a bit of sympathy even if you kill a load of actual innocents with you. It’s a cry for help, supposedly.”

I agree completely that anyone who kills members of their family or friends or random people during a suicide “mission” is acting repugnantly. But I can’t presume any motive other than selfishness whilst mentally unbalanced. My instinct is to ask what went wrong or can anything reasonably be done to prevent a reoccurrence. Sensible questions can be raised without acting heartlessly.

Sally, I am no ‘right wing troll’. I’m a liberal leftie who deplores the tendency of the right-wing ‘string ‘em up’ brigade to condemn anyone who commits a crime as being just plain evil, a monster, etc. I would deplore it in the case of a woman who killed her child and then herself, on the basis that she may well have been a loving mother in the grip of some terrible mental health problem, and I deplore it here for just the same reason.

30. Chaise Guevara

@ Richard Carey

“Also, it would be good if you lot extended your liberalism to the gun laws. Then women, who are usually physically weaker than men (by size, weight etc., not in other ways, I know), would be able to defend themselves very effectively.”

Without commenting on the gun issue as a whole, I don’t think you’re going to sell it off the back of a tragedy made possible by the presence of a gun.

@27. Chaise Guevara: “Robin’s queried whether this is true, and I didn’t see the coverage myself…”

Robin was quoting from the BBC story mentioned in the OP. BBC link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-20577126

The kind words about Mrs Johnson were delivered in the story before those about her husband to which Sian objects.

32. the a&e charge nurse

[25] nobody is trying to defend the deed – just entertaining the possibility that Keith Johnson might not have been a woman hating monster.

Giving consideration to the character of the killer (man or woman) is tantamount to approving of what they have done in your book?
Maybe you think all murderers are the exactly same, or is it just de’menz you disapprove of?

Chaise, it wasn’t a cherry picked anecdote. it was an example of when a judge handed down a very short sentence to a man who killed his wife by hitting her on the head, & justified the sentence by saying he was ‘respectable & successful’.

In my original post it went into more detail about that, didn’t realise it had been cut. Original post also had more detail about the impact media reporting has on juror/public attitudes to vawg.

19

Please explain why you don’t think this case has anything to do with ‘domestic violence’, the woman was his wife and, judging by the figures up to May this year, she is likely to be the latest of over one hundred women who have died at the hands of a partner.

You have obviously not looked at the number of domestic deaths in the USA caused by guns.

20
Come on AandE, you know the term ‘depression’ is now being used to cover anything from melancholy to being pissed-off.
Other than post-natal depression and puerperal psychosis when do clinically depressed people turn to homicide?

21
No ideological pursuit here, blaming mental illness for every act that we find repulsive has become a national sport.

28
Suicide is usually associated with mental illness but not always (see Durkheim on different types of suicide) but we are talking about homicide here.

36. Richard Carey

@ Chaise,

‘I frankly prefer this kind of reaction to when someone commits a terrible crime and all the locals who liked him rewrite their memories: “Never trusted him. Always something funny about that one.”’

Indeed.

‘I don’t think you’re going to sell it off the back of a tragedy made possible by the presence of a gun.’

You may have a point.

37. Chaise Guevara

@ 33 sian

“Chaise, it wasn’t a cherry picked anecdote. it was an example of when a judge handed down a very short sentence to a man who killed his wife by hitting her on the head, & justified the sentence by saying he was ‘respectable & successful’.”

I sorta flinch at the idea of “respectable and successful” being used as a reason for leniency. Nothing to do with gender politics for me, more the class issue: “the privileged should continue to be privileged” is what I’m hearing there.

However, I know that wasn’t the full justification, because you also said that his actions were described as “out of character”. There are such things (from a lay perspective, I’m no psychologist) as moments of madness. And – not as an accusation, as a simple statement of fact – you have an interest in presenting this story a certain way, because you want to highlight attitudes about VAGW. I can’t imagine that was the entirety of the judge’s words; there may be other reasons I haven’t been told about. I recall it being widely reported that a man was allowed to stay in Britain because of his cat, and all that.

Finally (although see my response below), it is definitely a cherry-picked anecdote. That too is a statement of simple fact, not a judgement. It’s a single example (an anecdote), and you’ve selected it (cherry-picking) because it sounds especially outrageous. If 18 months was the average sentence for wife-murder, or even a typical sentence for “respectable” types, you would have said so. What you’re describing is an extreme case. Don’t tell me that you had in front of you three wife-murder cases, one with a short sentence, one with a medium sentence, and one with a long sentence, and you rolled a dice to choose which one to mention. You chose it for impact.

“In my original post it went into more detail about that, didn’t realise it had been cut. Original post also had more detail about the impact media reporting has on juror/public attitudes to vawg.”

This might mean I’ve misjudged your article; I assumed I was responding to the entire piece. So apologies if I have done that. I know Sunny edits articles, I know he’s not very good at it, and I should have borne that in mind. So if there’s stuff in the original that makes a difference, I’m aware I might have to retract my initial response, plus everything after “Finally” in my previous paragraph in this post.

Thanks for a polite and considered response, by the way.

38. Chaise Guevara

@ 31 Charlieman

Thanks. That puts things in a better perspective.

@ 36 Richard

Heh, a case of “pick your battles” perhaps.

For the record, I’m against gun legalisation in the UK (although probably against banning them in the US), but I don’t see the pro-gun side as a bunch of violent nutcases. I think there are moral and pragmatic arguments on the pro-gun side. I just feel that, in this country, the pragmatic stuff is so far in favour of keeping them banned as to outweigh everything else.

Oh and the way society views violence against men by women isn’t problematic?

Ie if a woman murdered her husband because he was unfaithful plenty of people would say he deserved it, including many men!

40. Chaise Guevara

@ 35 steveb

“Suicide is usually associated with mental illness but not always (see Durkheim on different types of suicide) but we are talking about homicide here.”

If people with a mental illness have a higher-than-average chance of committing homicide, or people who commit homicide have a higher-than-average chance of having a mental illness, then homicide is associated with mental illness. And that appears to be the case. What’s more, it’s extremely logical that it should be the case as some mental illnesses make you act irrationally, or make it harder to control your emotions, or make you react more emotionally than average, or (if we count psychopathy as mental illness) mean you essentially lack any moral considerations at all.

I think (might be wrong) that misrepresentations of mental illness are something that pisses you off quite strongly, and if so I salute you for it. But that doesn’t mean we should shy away from actual negative facts about mental illnesses. Nothing I just said above, or anything else I’ve read on this thread, comes close to “murder’s all down to mental illness”, let alone “mentally ill people are probably murderers”.

@35. steveb: “Suicide is usually associated with mental illness but not always (see Durkheim on different types of suicide) but we are talking about homicide here.”

It appears to be a homicide-suicide combo, which is unusual and always horrific.

For the sake of argument, let’s ignore people suffering from terminal illness who end their lives by suicide. That could be defined as rational choice.

A quick Google search will throw up the suggestion that 90% of suicide victims display diagnosable mental health problems. There may be some juggling by mental health practitioners in that figure. Whether it should be 75% or 95% is unimportant. The point is that X% of suicide victims will not appear to be ill or not have shown extraordinary symptoms. Depression is normal.

People who commit homicide-suicide may come from the (100-X)% (ie people who provided a clue about a problem) or from X% (normal looking citizens).

What are we to do? I dunno much more than look and learn. These are freak events and we don’t know much about them. We probably know more about serial killers but that is because scientists and criminologists are paid to analyse them.

Homicide-suicide is about destroying self and about destroying something else in the world. It is not comparable with most cases of domestic violence or murder.

42. Richard Carey

@ steveb,

“Please explain why you don’t think this case has anything to do with ‘domestic violence’”

I didn’t say that. The general point of the OP seems to be about societal attitudes to domestic violence and that it isn’t taken seriously. That may or may not be the case, but the comments of some friends and acquaintances of the couple indicate only their shock and sadness at the event, and not, as far as I can tell, any underlying misogyny.

“she is likely to be the latest of over one hundred women who have died at the hands of a partner.”

Women have a right to defend themselves, and they should not be denied the means to exercise this right, as they are now under current legislation. If every one of those 100 women had been armed and trained in its use, how many would be alive today? No one can say, but it certainly would have changed the odds.

Good piece Sian, and yes, as ever the coverage of this case is almost exclusively focused on what a good guy the murderer was.

I live about 20 miles away from Cromer, so as you can imagine, my local media has been full of this for the past few days. Last night a journo from one of the local papers tweeted about how they’d been working extra hard last night to produce a “five page killings special!” in time for today. Thankfully they’ve now deleted the tweet, and today’s front page announcement about the five page coverage turned out to be a tad more respectful than the tabloidesque tweet suggested it would be.

But the five pages did include a photo gallery – which mainly consisted of four big pictures of Keith Johnson in his mayoral chain of office, and just one of Andrea Johnson.

The front page of the paper, the Eastern Daily Press, screams “Why did he shoot her dead?” which I find slightly bizarre……

@38. Chaise Guevara: “For the record, I’m against gun legalisation in the UK (although probably against banning them in the US), but I don’t see the pro-gun side as a bunch of violent nutcases. I think there are moral and pragmatic arguments on the pro-gun side. I just feel that, in this country, the pragmatic stuff is so far in favour of keeping them banned as to outweigh everything else.”

I’ve suggested a gun thread to Sunny in the past and he thought it a valid topic for LC. If anyone proposes a thoughtful post, I’m sure he will consider it. Sunny gave space for Tim W to deliver a UKIP broadcast during the 2010 elections, for instance.

But it is time to shut up about gun legislation and think about mental health, about families who struggle to understand how somebody close to them committed a dreadful act.

45. Robin Levett

@CG #27:

Just wanted to give you 10 cool-points for that reference.

I’m relieved someone picked it up…

@43. Cath Elliott: “The front page of the paper, the Eastern Daily Press, screams “Why did he shoot her dead?” which I find slightly bizarre…”

Do you think Mr Johnson’s act were normal?

47. So Much for Subtlety

I honestly cannot think of another situation where tributes would be paid to a man who committed a violent crime.

How on Earth can you say that? If he blew up half a dozen squaddies and their horses in Hyde Park he would have memorials all over Northern Ireland. A good chunk of the Leftist blogosphere would go weak at the knees for him too.

It seems that it’s only when crimes are committed against women does the media try to mitigate it by assuring us that – apart from in his relations to his wife – the man with the gun was a ‘good guy’.

Well that is not true. If a wife murdered the husband, the media would go nuts to prove it was his fault. We even have laws that say women can kill their husbands with all but impunity. They just have to say they were in fear of domestic violence or something.

It’s just another example of how our culture refuses to acknowledge what violence against women and girls looks like.

Is it? A domestic murder is actually different from a random stranger killing someone. A spouse contributes to the crime in some way. That is not to say he/she is always to blame, but someone who is walking down the street when someone else randomly shoots them in the back of the head is a victim in a unique way. After all, if the boot was on the other foot and a wife killed her husband after years of domestic violence no one would be saying that we need to focus solely on the murder.

It reminds me of the man who killed his wife and only got eighteen months because his actions were ‘out of character’ and he led a ‘respectable and successful life’.

Yes but that is part of the refusal of British courts to jail anyone for anything. It would not take me long to find a case where some feral youth stomped some old person to death and got 18 months because they were otherwise gainfully employed or something. If you want to call for harsher sentences, by all means. But let them be across the board for all victims of crime, not just for women.

48. Robin Levett

@OP:

It reminds me of the man who killed his wife and only got eighteen months because his actions were ‘out of character’ and he led a ‘respectable and successful life’.

Even ths account you cite doesn’t support your claim.

One obvious factor is that he wasn’t convicted of murder, but manslaughter. It is true that you say “killed”, rather than “murdered”, but your lack of explanation clearly suggested you intended “murdered” to be understood.

Another inaccuracy is that he was found to be acting in (grossly excessive) self defence; a fact you don’t mention, but which clearly figured in the sentencing decision.

One final point; is it really your view that a judge sentencing a criminal should disregard the criminal’s previous record?

@45. Robin Levett: “I’m relieved someone picked it up…”

Don’t get smug, Robin! Otherwise you’ll have to live your life followed by country music with even worse stories of despond.

50. Robin Levett
51. Robin Levett

@Charlieman:

Did I mention I’m also a fan of Leonard Cohen; from before he got cheerful?

52. Richard Carey

@ Charlieman,

“I’ve suggested a gun thread to Sunny in the past and he thought it a valid topic for LC. If anyone proposes a thoughtful post, I’m sure he will consider it. ”

Interesting challenge.

“But it is time to shut up about gun legislation and think about mental health …”

Oops, sorry. Carry on.

Charlieman

Do you think Mr Johnson’s act were normal?

Good god no. I think it’s just really badly worded: it kind of implies – shooting her would have been understandable, but why did he have to shoot her dead? I’m probably just being pedantic…..

54. Chaise Guevara

@ 44 Charlieman

“I’ve suggested a gun thread to Sunny in the past and he thought it a valid topic for LC. If anyone proposes a thoughtful post, I’m sure he will consider it. Sunny gave space for Tim W to deliver a UKIP broadcast during the 2010 elections, for instance.”

Did he, now? Either didn’t see that or forgot. That’s pretty cool of him.

“But it is time to shut up about gun legislation and think about mental health, about families who struggle to understand how somebody close to them committed a dreadful act.”

You’re right, we’re tangenting.

@53. Cath Elliott: “Good god no. I think it’s just really badly worded…”

No fret, Cath. I rarely send the cavalry ahead to trample over innocent bystanders.

“…it kind of implies – shooting her would have been understandable, but why did he have to shoot her dead? I’m probably just being pedantic…”

That is the homicide-suicide aspect that we cannot understand; we may be bonkers but we are not bonkers enough to hurt people. Or we try not to do so.

Homicide-suicide is extraordinary; it does not happen very often and must be analysed separately from domestic abuse.

56. Chaise Guevara

@ 48 Robin

“One obvious factor is that he wasn’t convicted of murder, but manslaughter. It is true that you say “killed”, rather than “murdered”, but your lack of explanation clearly suggested you intended “murdered” to be understood.

Another inaccuracy is that he was found to be acting in (grossly excessive) self defence; a fact you don’t mention, but which clearly figured in the sentencing decision.”

Ah. Thanks for clarifying that. Sian, if you’re still on, this is the sort of thing I’m talking about. Did you not think it relevant that he was acting in self-defence?

57. Chaise Guevara

@ 43 Cath

“Good piece Sian, and yes, as ever the coverage of this case is almost exclusively focused on what a good guy the murderer was.”

“As ever”? Are you serious? Our press and society demonises killers, in the sense that they turn them into inherent monsters rather than the fucked-up human beings they tend to be. It’s true that some get sympathy or even support, but in general, men who murder women are not among them.

Remember that recent murder case of a young woman where the landlord was in the frame for awhile? The press went to town on him, presenting him as this creep when he was only a suspect. He was later exonerated. The mob was out with its torches, looking for someone to attack and humiliate.

I understand that you and Sian are pissed off. I’m pretty pissed off myself at this attempt to twist empathy, pretty much the only thing that makes life worth living, into something dark to do some opportunistic political point-scoring. But no matter how annoyed any of us get, there is no legitimate value in lying about reality to generate outrage.

@57. Chaise Guevara: “Remember that recent murder case of a young woman where the landlord was in the frame for awhile?”

Aah, Christopher Jefferies, who didn’t look right and who looked like a press victim. Thankfully, he will survive this intervention into his life. Christopher Jefferies is a lucky man. Christopher Jefferies knows that he shouldn’t need to be lucky.

I’m trying to imagine that someone I know and like, who’s always seemed like a decent enough bloke, suddenly and unexpectedly does something terrible like this.

And then the press come along to ask me about it. What would I say? Probably something like… “I can’t believe it. He always seemed such a friendly chap. I’m just… shocked.”

But if I do say that, then I’ve just payed TRIBUTE to a man who MURDERED a WOMAN. What a monster I must be.

60. Chaise Guevara

@ 58 Charlieman

That’s the dude. “The Strange Mr Jefferies”, if I remember the headline correctly. Hey, remember how we’ve all been discussing whether the media needs regulating…

It’s all too easy to cherry-pick things from a person’s life to make them sound weird or scary. The attitude shown towards that guy by the media is utterly fucked up. Something needs done. A random, innocent man, without media clout of his own with which to defend himself, demonised for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I could also bang on about Colin Stagg yet again, but that was mainly a police problem.

@60. Chaise Guevara: “It’s all too easy to cherry-pick things from a person’s life to make them sound weird or scary. The attitude shown towards that guy by the media is utterly fucked up. Something needs done.”

No laws need to be changed. I presume that Christopher Jefferies is an old fart liberal. I presume that Christopher Jefferies can get on with his life if the people who screwed up a bit of it know how to apologise.

@60. Chaise Guevara: “A random, innocent man, without media clout of his own with which to defend himself, demonised for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Christopher Jefferies was a plain citizen with good friends. Just good friends.

63. TIGERDARWIN

Don’t you know if they are decent upstanding members of society it is a traged, if they are not then it is a gruesome murder.

It is sad, this is happening too often.

When the morning news brings news of such things I often spill my tea as such men, some mudering their children, ARE DESCRIBED AS LOVING FATHERS.

Having said this I think the govt needs to act with a advertising campaign in a ‘feel suicidal campaig’- there are people to talk to’

It can pay the advertising costs.

Fact is all Sian has done is take one news story and held it up as an example of how all reporting of violence against women is like this.
In reality the media holds up murderers of women mostly as evil scum. And even The Sun features regular piecies about domestic violence.
Of course Sian will ignore this as she just wants to believe the media hates women.

65. the a&e charge nurse

Sexism IS institutionalised when crimes are committed – but in favour of women from what I hear (in the form of so called positive discrimination when sentencing)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/7995844/Judges-told-be-more-lenient-to-women-criminals.html#

Discrimination is certainly the order of the day in the US – a study by Sonja Starr (assistant law professor at the University of Michigan) found “men are given much higher sentences than women convicted of the same crimes in federal court”.
“Men receive sentences that are 63% higher (on average) than female counterparts”.
Starr also found that females arrested for a crime are “significantly more likely to AVOID charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted”.

I’m am not sure if sentencing patterns are significantly less punitive for man than women in the UK (when found guilty of comparable crimes) but the torygraph report (above) suggests that this is the sort of trend that should be promoted here?

66. Chaise Guevara

@ a&e

I dunno. That’s not a very clear article, and it reads suspiciously like they’ve taken a statement along the lines of “Don’t worry if you find yourself passing shorter sentences on women on average, as this will happen naturally due to their circumstances” and turned it into “Let them off light for being women”.

If we reduce sentences due to mental health issues, and more female criminals have mental health issues, and the average sentence for women is lower as a result, that is in fact fair.

40

Wait a minute, the only suggestion that this man was depressed was a comment by someone who briefly passed him in the street and apparently ignored him. It’s laughable that so many people have jumped on this ‘diagnosis’, no experienced psychiatrist could possibly recognize any mental dysfunction from this encounter. Moreover, those suffering with serious clinical depression, to the point that they do not know what they are doing, are usually in an almost catatonic state and unable to carry-out suicide never mind homicide. There are several cases of homicide carried-out against family members where the defendant has pleaded depression in mitigation, but have been found guilty of murder on the basis of evidence from expert witnesses, which indicates that such a diagnosis is not congruent with what is known about the defendants’s behaviour. Kraig Kahler, who murdered 4 family members in 2009, is a good example, google his name to read several quite good articles detailing the reasons for the judgement.

41

Totally agree, this is a more reasoned approach, the cases of homicide and suicide are very rare, however, nobody ever suggests that the 9/11 killers were depressed. Although it may be argued that they had an over-riding cause, this can be the case on an individual level as well as within any particular focus group. Could this woman have had an affair, for example. This is all speculation but I do get pissed-off, as Chaise suggests, that any repulsive act gets labelled as being determined by a mental illness. It’s also totally false to believe that a person with any diagnosis of a mental illness automatically has no agency and cannot premeditate an action. Our prisons are full of people with a diagnosed mental illness whereby it was judged that the illness did not determine the crime.
And unfortunately, the killing of a partner/children and then suicide, in cases where there has been a history of domestic violence, and the woman has tried to leave, do happen. Look at the Raoul Moat case, he didn’t have any diagnosis, moreover, neither was there any speculation that he might have, I would suggest that most of our value judgements determined the difference between his case and the one quoted in the OP.

@Chaise

The notion that this man had a mental illness is similar to the example you give about Stagg and Jefferies, initially value judgments were made about them and without knowledge of the full facts.

68. the a&e charge nurse

[66] “If we reduce sentences due to mental health issues, and more female criminals have mental health issues, and the average sentence for women is lower as a result, that is in fact fair” – I am not arguing that more women should be sent to jail, I am asking if men with similar mental health problems are being discriminated against (on the basis of gender) is this fair ……. assuming it is happening in the first place?

69. Chaise Guevara

@ 67 steveb

“Wait a minute, the only suggestion that this man was depressed was a comment by someone who briefly passed him in the street and apparently ignored him.”

I didn’t say he was depressed. I don’t think I mentioned depression or the man in question in that post at all. I was responding to your general implication that mental illness is not associated with homicide, which I find doubtful.

“The notion that this man had a mental illness is similar to the example you give about Stagg and Jefferies, initially value judgments were made about them and without knowledge of the full facts.”

You’ve got this about-face here. The suggestion that he may have had a mental illness was made in the face of Sian’s automatic treatment of him as an evil monster, undeserving of kind words after his death. It was Sian who, by implication, jumped to a conclusion without knowledge of the facts. (At least, that’s how she comes off in the version of the article above, which she tells me has been cut without her sign-off.) I haven’t seen anyone respond and say he must have been mentally ill, just floated the possibility, which in the circumstances is extremely reasonable.

You need to stop conflating suggested possibilities with claimed facts when it comes to mental illness. It just leads to you straw manning everyone.

70. Chaise Guevara

@ 68 a&e

” I am asking if men with similar mental health problems are being discriminated against (on the basis of gender) is this fair ……. assuming it is happening in the first place?”

Of course it’s unfair, but I’m not going to accept it’s happening on the basis of a Telegraph article that has all the hallmarks of creative misinterpretation.

71. the a&e charge nurse

[70] the judges say ‘equality’ harms women (when it comes to sentencing) – p6-11 to 6-13.
http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Training/2009_etbb_6_gender.pdf

72. Chaise Guevara

@ 71 a&e

No they don’t, unless I’m missing something. The line I’m looking at blames a “misplaced conception of equality”, which could be a different thing entirely. In fact, that’s my reason for suspecting that the judges are warning against trying to equalise male and female sentences, as this could lead to things like childcare being overlooked. The section is not exactly clear though.

Worth mentioning that it also includes this:

“These differences highlight the importance of the need for sentencers to bear these matters in mind when sentencing. However, this is not to say that men with sole care of children should be treated differently from women with sole care of children, nor that a man with a mental health illness should be treated less favourably than a woman with the same mental health illness.”

73. the a&e charge nurse

[72] “misplaced conception of equality” – indeed, Chaise, a phrase worth thinking about.

We could say ANY case should turn on specific circumstances rather than the characteristics of a large population (men vs women).

The judges say “many women offenders experience a range of entrenched and complex problems, including poor mental and physical health, financial hardship, substances misuse, homelessness and abuse” (p6-11).

Now correct if me I am wrong but surely these very same factors already apply, overwhelming to the vast majority of the male prison population?

In fact isn’t the identikit male offender from a dysfunctional family, living in a deprived area who has failed in education, and masks inner feelings of anger and frustration by self medicating with various drugs …… these problems may be exacerbated by a propensity toward mental illness, or there may be background of learning difficulties?

Remember 95% of the prison population is male and;
27% of people in prison have been taken into care compared with 2% of the general population.
47% of male prisoners and 50% of female prisoners ran away from home as a child compared with 11% of the general population.
29% of prisoners reported experiencing emotional, sexual, or physical abuse as a child.
42% of prisoners had been expelled or permanently excluded from school.
63% of offenders who had been expelled or permanently excluded from school were reconvicted for an offence within a year, compared with 44% of offenders who were not.
http://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/files/Particularly%20Troubled%20Families%20Final.pdf

74. Chaise Guevara

@ 73 a&e

Agreed. In fact, it’s the report’s penchant for talking about people as large demographic groups, when criminals are sentenced one at a time, that’s making it difficult for me to understand it. I simply don’t see how these demographic trends could be useful to a judge sentencing an individual.

It doesn’t help that page 12 lists what it describes as “differences”. Of the five bullets, two show female prisoners being different from the general population (seems irrelevant), two show them being different from male prisoners (relevant), and one simply states the average jail sentence for women (not actually a “difference”).

I’m at a loss to say what you’re meant to take from this section, but I’m certainly not confident that it’s “all else being equal, women should get lighter sentences”.

69

@37 you introduce the term ‘moments of madness’ and @40 you appear to be associating this particular action with mental illness because you appear to believe that mental illness is more associated with both homicide and suicide. But I am not just singling you out as someone who is contemplating whether the act may have something to do with mental health or indeed temporary cognitive dysfunction.

What is niggling is that the number of females killed by a partner or ex-partner are pretty constant, around 50% per year. However, homicides carried-out by people with mental illness are very few, and yet despite this there seems to be an objection about labelling this act as ‘domestic violence’ and placing it under a ‘mental health category’ when in fact women are much more likely to be killed by a ‘normal man’ than by someone with a mental illness. And as far as I can see, Sian did not mention the term ‘evil monster’.

Although nobody knows the facts, as you state, what we know is that this was the killing of a spouse, so we know that it can be placed within the loose label of ‘domestic’. As this killing was violent, we can infer that it was domestic violence. That’s not to say it was not the first act of violence. What we cannot say is whether this was and act driven by a mental illness.

68
My wife works with and has a keen interest in women who suffer from domestic violence. She tells me that for years womens’ groups had been arguing that women who kill abusive partners should not be categorized as being ‘mentally ill’ and should be tried on the basis that the homicide was a rational response to the situation. Similarly, men who kill their partners, and who have a long history of violence against the woman, should not be able to plead ‘diminished responsibility’.

But ultimately every case is different, and even if there is a diagnosis of a mental illness, this does not mean that the mental illness had any influence on the behaviour.

76. Chaise Guevara

@ 75 steveb

“you introduce the term ‘moments of madness’ and @40 you appear to be associating this particular action with mental illness because you appear to believe that mental illness is more associated with both homicide and suicide.”

“Moments of madness” is not a medical term and does not refer to mental illness. I would describe a crime of passion as happening during a moment of madness. I’m not sure what you mean when you say I’m “associating” this action with mental illness. If admitting the possibility of a connection counts, then yes I am. If you mean I believe it was caused by mental illness, then no I’m not.

“What is niggling is that the number of females killed by a partner or ex-partner are pretty constant, around 50% per year. However, homicides carried-out by people with mental illness are very few”

These facts say nothing about each other that I can see.

“and yet despite this there seems to be an objection about labelling this act as ‘domestic violence’ and placing it under a ‘mental health category’”

Okay, this is category confusion. The act could be domestic violence AND mental health related, or not. Labelling it as DV does not mean it is not related to mental illness, and vice versa.

“when in fact women are much more likely to be killed by a ‘normal man’ than by someone with a mental illness.””

So?

“And as far as I can see, Sian did not mention the term ‘evil monster’.”

I know. But the OP expresses anger at the BBC for broadcasting the fact that people said nice things about the guy. As far as I can see, Sian is condemning the BBC for failing to demonise this man. This carries the implicit assumption that he SHOULD be demonised. It’s this assumption I object to – and which seems to get a free pass from you even as you straw man me and others to pretend we are claiming that mental illness was the cause.

“Although nobody knows the facts, as you state, what we know is that this was the killing of a spouse, so we know that it can be placed within the loose label of ‘domestic’.
As this killing was violent, we can infer that it was domestic violence.”

Agreed.

“That’s not to say it was not the first act of violence. What we cannot say is whether this was and act driven by a mental illness. ”

Why do you keep telling me what I already know, as if I don’t know it, when I’ve never claimed other than this and in fact have clarified that I am in agreement on the matter? It’s very unreasonable of you.

76

OK, apologies if I have misunderstood your position.

78. Chaise Guevara

@ 77 steveb

Cheers and no worries.

@ 75 steveb

“homicides carried-out by people with mental illness are very few”

Of course, but what *proportion* of people who commit homicide are mentally ill? Is it lower than the 70% of prisoners who have two or more mental health disorders? How about people who commit homicide and then suicide? Are they typically not among the 90% of suicides who are mentally ill?

“women are much more likely to be killed by a ‘normal man’ than by someone with a mental illness”

Given what we know about the mental health of convicted criminals in the prison system, this seems unlikely. Do you have the figures on this?

“What we cannot say is whether this was and act driven by a mental illness.”

Exactly. We don’t know. As such I don’t feel I’m in a position to flatly condemn people for speaking well of someone whom they knew and whom they think must have gone through some sort of mental health crisis to end up committing homicide. I would feel exactly the same way about people paying tribute to a mother who killed her children and then herself.

(I’m not saying there are no differences between the two cases – I’m sure far more wives are killed by mentally well men than children are killed by mentally well mothers. But it still seems wrong, in any given case of the killing of a wife by a husband, to just assume that the killer must be a wholly despicable person who should on no account be spoken of in positive terms by people who knew him.)

80. Robin Levett

@steveb #75:

However, homicides carried-out by people with mental illness are very few

In the UK, in absolute terms, perhaps. As a proportion of those convicted of murder, not true. It seems that about 10% of those convicted of murder and manslaughter in the UK suffer from schizophrenia; and that includes all killings, not just domestic killings. That figure is reasonably typical of Western Europe, albeit slightly on the low side, (but stay away from schizophrenics in Copenhagen – the figure is 20% there).

Compare the rate of schizophrenia in the general population which, according to ONS, is less than 1%.

As a proportion of those who then kill themselves? There’s an American literature review (Murder-Suicide: A Review of the Recent Literature – 2009) that coems up with figures for the proportion of homicide/suicide prepetrators with depression between 38% and 65%.

http://jaapl.org/content/37/3/371.full

Bear in mind that the UK studies also show that the proportion of killers with mental illness falls as the homicide rate rises, and that the USA is the murder capital of the Western World.

79 GO

My position is the same as your own with regard to the possible shock of being informed that a close friend had killed his wife and then committed suicide. However, my responses have been to comments made associating this behaviour with mental health problems without even knowing the facts. And this is not just confined to some posters on this thread, blaming repulsive acts on mental illness has become a default position, nobody ever questions this assumption.

Even within your post you assume that the men who kill their partners have been in the prison system and then by virtue of association, could be mentally unwell. Once again, the default position draws you to the act being influenced/determined by mental illness.

I have not stated that the killer was despicable and we do not know if he had a mental illness, however, it appears that the assumption is is either madness or badness, in fact there are other explanations:-

Miligram (1963) carried-out one of the best know experiments in psychology in which he was able to get volunteers (students) to deliver an electric shock powerful enough to kill a person. Of course, those volunteers did not know that the person was not given a shock but was acting. The results of this experiment changed the way we perceived those people who gassed women and children in the German death camps. It also illustrated that people can commit atrocious and repulsive acts without being ‘bad’ or ‘mad’ given certain conditions and environments.

80
It’s never a good idea to conflate the figures of one country with another, however, as I have stated on several occasions (not just this thread), because someone has a diagnosed mental illness it does not mean that if they carry-out a crime, it is influenced by the mental illness. This is why you will find that some people who have committed a crime and that the mental illness is assessed as determining/influencing the behaviour, they will be sent to a secure forensic hospital for treatment. You make reference to those convicted of murder, this tells you that the mental illness was not the determining factor because the verdict would be manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

@67 I made reference to the Kraig Kahler case, he killed four members of his family, Kahler did have mild depression but his defence argued that he had severe depression which rendered him incapable of knowing what he was doing and he could not remember anything of the incident. He was found guilty and sentenced to death because of the evidence of an expert psychologist who was able to show that if that was the case he would not have been able to have carried-out the murder. Maybe you should read about the case which goes into much more detail than I can give on a blog.

The thread you give also points-out that there are other reasons for homicide-suicide other than mental illness eg spousal, which relates to the topic of debate.

82. Chaise Guevara

@ 80 Robin

While there’s no doubt in my mind that the mentally ill are over-represented among suicides and murder-suicides, I should point out that in both cases there’s a chance that nobody can figure out why the person did it, so it gets marked down as “well-hidden mental illness”.

83. Robin Levett

@steveb #81:

You make reference to those convicted of murder, this tells you that the mental illness was not the determining factor because the verdict would be manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Nope; I make reference on the one hand to those convicted of murder and manslaughter, and on the other to homicide/suicide perps.

In any event, it is only manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility if the accused was suffering from a mental illness which substantially impairs his mental responsibility for his acts, omissions or involvement. (I have defended an attempted murder charge where my client had diminished reponsibility…). That leaves one the cases where the mental illness had a substantial effect, but did not so impair the accused’s mental responsibility.

As a totally irrelevant aside, the right’s darling, Tony Martin, eventually had his murder conviction replaced by manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility; self-defence was simply not a runner. More interestingly, the two-strike proposals this week would have seen him inside for life, not the 5 years he eventually got.

84. domestic extremist

@47: “If he blew up half a dozen squaddies and their horses in Hyde Park he would have memorials all over Northern Ireland.”

That was warfare, not domestic violence. You know, like bombing Dresden or Vietnam, or invading Iraq.

@ steveb

“blaming repulsive acts on mental illness has become a default position, nobody ever questions this assumption.”

‘Nobody ever questions’ the assumption that mental illness is to blame for the actions of rapists, child killers, people who assault the elderly in their own homes, etc.? Sorry, but this just isn’t true. ‘FACE OF THE MONSTER WHO…’ stories surely outnumber ‘TRIBUTES PAID TO MAN WHO…’ stories by hundreds to one. But insofar as greater awareness of mental health issues is mitigating the tendency automatically to demonise people who commit crimes in the absence of any evidence about motive, mental health, history of violence etc., I’m inclined to think that’s a good thing.

“Even within your post you assume that the men who kill their partners have been in the prison system and then by virtue of association, could be mentally unwell.”

Sorry, I’ve left myself open to misunderstanding here. The assumption I was making was not that these men have been in the prison system themselves, but that the incidence of mental health problems among people who have committed such crimes and *not* been convicted and imprisoned is likely to be similar to the incidence of mental health problems among people who have committed such crimes and *have* been convicted and imprisoned.

I don’t want to overstate the likelihood that the killer in the case *was* mentally ill. I just think it’s a real enough possibility that we shouldn’t flatly condemn people who knew him for speaking well of him and remembering him as something more than ‘that wife murderer’.

I’m just trying to be consistent in my own attitudes here. I have been heartened to see, in recent cases, the media make room for sympathetic comments about women who have killed their children – as here, for instance:

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/police-given-24-more-hours-to-question-mother-of-babies-killed-in-wandsworth-tragedy-7736747.html

I can hardly then protest, *without knowing anything more about the man, the circumstances, etc.*, at the similar approach in this case.

83

However, you are clearly aware that having a mental illness does not automatically diminish responsibility for committing crimes such as murder, you still wish to pursue the idea that the man in the OP may have had a ‘mental illness’ which may mitigate his actions, and with no evidence whatsoever.

I can understand that if you are defending a person against a crime such as murder, it would be beneficial to argue diminished responsibility, certainly Ian Huntley’s defense went down that road. The downside is that is it just reinforces the ‘madness equates to badness culture’. Part of my brief is to find accommodation for mental health patients who are being discharged into the community, guess how hard this can be as specialized accommodation is getting scarce and we now have to turn to the private sector to attempt to fill the gap?

85

Have you got any evidence about the incidence of those imprisoned and those who are not? As I have already stated, those with a mental illness, where it has been determined that it substantially contributed to the crime, are placed in forensic services, therefore, looking at the prison population is pointless. I would further point-out that those people, with a mental illness which seriously diminishes their responsibility, quickly become know to the services and are usually detained in the forensic services without actually having committed a serious crime. One exception is drug-users who steal to feed a habit and where this can escalate into something more serious.

And as I have already pointed-out, I am not criticizing the comments made about the man, I am responding to the automatic notion that he had a mental illness without any evidence other than a comment about a brief encounter with an acquaintance.

87. the a&e charge nurse

[86] yes, agree with that – comments about mental state are purely speculative in this case, and neither does a history of mental illness invalidate capacity.

Saw this in the gruniard today.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/dec/06/soldier-stabbed-children-killing-himself

@ steveb

“I am not criticizing the comments made about the man”

In which case we’re talking past each other. Sorry.

Nothing I’ve said about mental illness is supposed to amount to more than a prima facie case that it *may* be appropriate for people who knew this man to speak well of him, since they *may* be right in (apparently) judging that his killing of his wife and subsequent suicide must have been the result of a mental health crisis that diminished his responsibility. I’m not suggesting that we’re in a position to be confident that he *was* mentally ill, and to a degree that diminished his responsibility; I just think it’s wrong of the OP to condemn people who knew him and who view these events in those terms for ‘paying tribute to a murderer’.

89. Robin Levett

@steveb:

you still wish to pursue the idea that the man in the OP may have had a ‘mental illness’ which may mitigate his actions, with no evidence whatsoever.

I’m sorry? Are we still talking about the man in the story? The one who shot himself? That one? You don’t consider that suicide is an action that might lead to legitimate questioning of the mental health of the act-or?

89

Upthread somewhere I spoke about different types of suicide although it is often associated with depression. The irony is, that when a person has severe depression to the extent that they lack capacity, they are in a near catatonic state and would be unable to carry-out a homicide followed by a suicide. Once again, I will refer you to the Kraig Kahler case and the expert witness testimony. Also the thread A&E makes reference to @87 outlines the tragic consequences of what can happen when people become angry. This may also have happened to Raoul Moat.

To extend this, although it goes slightly OT, there are many interest groups which are looking towards eliminating the idea of madness v badness and seeking to see such actions as rational and not based on the idea that certain behaviours are carried-out because of some spontaneous, out of control action. There are several groups, mainly in the USA, who are attempting to argue that suicide is an individual choice, ie, the individual decides.

91. Robin Levett

@steveb #90:

Once again, I will refer you to the Kraig Kahler case and the expert witness testimony.

Would you please refer me to the expert testimony?

In the meantime, I would refer you to the literature review I mentioned above.

91

I have already replied to this, the term ‘depression’ is not an absolute term there are degrees, moreover, the diagnosis is more often than not carried-out post the event. Reflecting on an action which concludes in wiping out your family and/or finding yourself in prison with a possible death/life sentence is likely to cause depression.

A person with severe depression to the extent that it has seriously affected cognitive reasoning and renders them without capacity is absolutely no suicide risk whatsoever.

I suggest that if you are likely in the future to defend criminal actions where depression is present, instead of a literature review, you would do well to read the literature on depression.

@Sian

Apologies if I appear to have hi-jacked this thread, IMO, this was an act of domestic violence, and until we know more information, the mental state of the man is pure conjecture. FWIW, I do not believe that if he had suffered with depression, it was certainly not to the extent where he was not responsible for his actions.

94. Robin Levett

@steveb #91:

I suggest that if you are likely in the future to defend criminal actions where depression is present, instead of a literature review, you would do well to read the literature on depression.

I’d actually instruct a consultant psychiatrist to consider the specific facts of the case and render an expert opinion…

In the meantime, if the literature suggests that something approaching half of murder suicides were clinically depressed, I would argue that that provides far more than conjectural grounds to suggest that an individual murder-suicide may have been mentally ill.

#90:

there are many interest groups which are looking towards eliminating the idea of madness v badness and seeking to see such actions as rational

Would it not be more sensible to work from the facts forward rather than from the desired conclusion backward?

94

Yes, of course you would employ a psychiatrist, you wouldn’t, for example, ask an acquaintance of the person, or indeed do a literature search would you? And, I will repeat again, depression has degrees, the literature search you allude to does not indicate the degree of depression. As a matter of interest, do you think the 9/11 bombers were clinically depressed?

I certainly do not understand your final paragraph, I have merely reported that certain groups consider suicide to be a personal choice and a rational choice.

96. Robin Levett

@steveb #95:

I have merely reported that certain groups consider suicide to be a personal choice and a rational choice

Indeed. But while they are entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts. It is a question of fact, not opinion, whether a (potential) suicide is mentally ill. That certain interest groups have decided ab initio that suicides are not mnentally ill is putting the opinionated cart before the factual horse.

I don’t really agree with your cart/horse analogy homosexuality was considered a mental illness as well as a crime, it was eventually re-classified.
There is research showing that suicide (once considered a crime) does not particularly need the individual to be irrational or not of sound mind, certainly there is much debate about those with physical illness and mental capacity having the right to assisted suicide, this can already be accessed in Switzerland.

98. Robin Levett

@steveb #97:

homosexuality was considered a mental illness

And? What exactly is the relevance of that? No-one is saying that suicide is a mental illness.

The evidence however shows that there is a far higher proportion of depressives amongst murder/suicides than in the general population. Unless you are going to argue that depression is not a mental illness – good luck with that – that necessarily means that more murder/suicides are/(were) mentally ill than in the general population. The level – of the order of half of all those convicted of murder/suicides – in turn means that the fact that someone has murder/suicided is a good indicator that they may have been mentally ill; one in two murder/suicides was.

99. Robin Levett

Correction to #98:

of the order of half of all those convicted of murder/suicides

should read:

of the order of half of all those who committed murder/suicides

for obvious reasons…

98,99

The level- of order of half of all those who committed murder/suicides – in turn means that the fact that someone had murdered/suicided is a good indicator that they may NOT have been mentally ill, one in two murder/suicides WASN’T.

And then when we factor in cases such as Kraig Kahler, where it was determined that his depression did not contribute to the actions, the correlation between homicide and mental illness is even weaker.
Of course, if you are referring specifically to ‘murders’ rather than homicide (to include manslaughter) it is less obvious that there is any meaningful argument that mental illness should be treated as a possible risk. And indeed, as I have already stated upthread, you are far more likely to be killed by someone who does not have a mental illness.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Mikey Smith

    Fair point. Weird and unpleasant. RT @libcon: BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife http://t.co/CKJu4uAU

  2. Dave Harris

    RT @libcon BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife http://t.co/oqJNAR27

  3. Simon Robinson

    BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/ZtNFkct4 via @libcon

  4. Jolene

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  5. Jenni

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  6. Nadia Kamil

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  7. Daniel

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  8. Paul Murray

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  9. Hayley Green

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  10. Jason Brickley

    BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife http://t.co/EWGdyqyW

  11. Gail McDade

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  12. Steve Mosby

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  13. Nuala Bugeye

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  14. John Dougherty

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  15. Amber Moore

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  16. Hajar Wright

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  17. Leslie R. Woodhouse

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  18. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife http://t.co/1nIvZ3Fh

  19. Avid Reader

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  20. Beyond Gdn Leeds

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  21. Ian 'Cat' Vincent

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  22. BrightonOasisProject

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  23. Abortion Rights

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  24. H Jo

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  25. Sailor Jerry

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  26. Phoenix DK

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  27. Panda Géant

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  28. JK

    Today's early morning "What the fuck?" http://t.co/qNNNQRMv

  29. Richard

    "the death of the woman becomes subordinate to story of the man" via @libcon http://t.co/QuGR7aLk

  30. Dan Maguire

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  31. Zbigniew G

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  32. James Hamilton

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  33. katylady

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  34. Shell Shocked

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  35. Mark Clapham

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  36. Kim Blake

    MT @sunny_hundal: BBC, how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/KYmKk0vS

  37. Wildwalking pleb

    MT @sunny_hundal: BBC, how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/KYmKk0vS

  38. Jane Willmott

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  39. thrillho

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  40. Apple Teeth

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  41. Sonya Thomas

    RT @psychoticlynx: MT @sunny_hundal: BBC, how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. http://t.co/JHt4Jca2

  42. Jonathan Morris

    When the 'form letter' glowing political tribute turns out to be inappropriate: http://t.co/0edz7EH7

  43. Sam Dodsworth

    Domestic violence in the media: forgetting the "murder" part of a murder-suicide. http://t.co/c70K7HMk (via @Abortion_Rights)

  44. sianushka

    commenters are proving all my points in my lib con article. quelle surprise! http://t.co/brLLQVQX

  45. Janet Graham

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  46. nicky clark

    RT @psychoticlynx: MT @sunny_hundal: BBC, how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. http://t.co/JHt4Jca2

  47. lucy

    BBC reports on tributes being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/i8fQiFno via @libcon

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    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  49. Nick Andrew

    This is awful: http://t.co/bHdkGfPo [tributes for man who murdered his wife]

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    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

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    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

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    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

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    RT @psychoticlynx: MT @sunny_hundal: BBC, how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. http://t.co/JHt4Jca2

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    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

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    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

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    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11

  58. sianushka

    @LeedsBookClub @anywavewilldo http://t.co/brLLQVQX – it's the same post but shorter

  59. Eleanor Saunders

    in case you didn't think the world was swollen with misogyny like a rancid tumour: http://t.co/0HKqxnOM

  60. Hannah

    in case you didn't think the world was swollen with misogyny like a rancid tumour: http://t.co/0HKqxnOM

  61. supercasio

    in case you didn't think the world was swollen with misogyny like a rancid tumour: http://t.co/0HKqxnOM

  62. Jerry Hall

    BBC report mentions how tributes are being paid to a man who *murdered* his wife. @sianushka understandably angry: http://t.co/Tizpwj11





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