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Domestic homicide: Eight warning signs

A woman with an outstretched palm in front of her facce

Domestic abuse is one of the biggest social issues affecting women and children in the UK today. Crime+Investigation is #HereForHer with our charity partner Refuge to help End Abuse Against Women.

On Sunday 22nd April 2018, Hollie Kerrel, a 28-year-old mother of three was brutally killed in her kitchen, by her husband, Chris. Her murder is the subject of Murdered by my Husband: The Hollie Kerrell Story. The documentary aired on 25th November, launched Crime+Investigation’sEnd Abuse Against Women campaign.

The campaign, which aims to educate, engage and fundraise around the issue of domestic abuse against women throughout 2020, launched on the international day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, designated by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness of the women around the world who are subject to rape and violence, and how the true scale and nature of the issue is often hidden.

Police receive a domestic abuse call every 30 seconds and two women are killed by an ex or current partner every single week in England and Wales alone. According to police officer turned criminology expert Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, who has conducted a study on domestic homicide, 80% of victims who have been murdered by their partners are women and most of those perpetrators are male.

Dr Monckton-Smith used the campaign Counting Dead Women to study 372 killings in the UK. During her research, she discovered that almost all of these cases followed the same eight-stage pattern. Or to put it more chillingly, they all followed a ‘homicide timeline’.

The first stage is a pre-relationship history of stalking and abuse. In fact, this was the one stage of the eight that wasn’t always followed, but this was usually only when perpetrators had never had a relationship before. It was the case for George Appleton, who murdered his ex-girlfriend Clare Wood in 2009, strangling her in her home and setting her on fire. Appleton had a history of violence against women and had been jailed twice (he told Wood it was for motoring offences). The murder led to the introduction of ‘Clare’s Law’ in 2014: a scheme designed to protect potential domestic abuse victims by allowing them to request information from the police about a partner’s past.

The second stage sees a fast escalation of the relationship, when it quickly develops into something serious. Rosie Darbyshire had only been with Ben Topping for a few weeks, but in that time, her family said she had ‘changed’. She was found dead in the street a month into their relationship. Topping had savagely beaten her with a crowbar. He, too, had a history of violence. After she had received warnings over social media about him, Darbyshire had requested information about Topping’s past under Clare’s Law, but the information can take up to 35 days to process and she was killed only 11 days later. Her family are now campaigning to change the law, so the information is provided within 48 hours of the request.

Next, comes coercive control, something that came into the news after Sally Challen was released from prison after killing her husband, Richard, with a hammer. For the 31 years of their marriage, Sally Challen had been the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of Richard, who had systematically humiliated, assaulted, threatened and isolated her from her friends and family. In 2019, Sally was granted a retrial, her sentence was reduced to manslaughter and she was released for time served, having spent over nine years in prison.

The fourth stage is a trigger that threatens the perpetrator’s control, which could mean anything from financial difficulty to a break up. It was the latter that prompted Thomas Griffiths to murder 17-year-old Ellie Gould. Her death came the day after she had ended their relationship, saying she had felt ‘suffocated’. She had told her friends Griffiths hadn’t taken it well and the following day, he left school to confront her at her house. He stabbed her over 13 times with a knife from her kitchen. Andrew Case, on the other hand, was facing insolvency when he murdered his wife and children and had been ordered by a court to pay back his creditors. He slit the throats of his wife and children and hanged himself.

Stage five is escalation, when the perpetrator’s control tactics are increased. This could mean they threaten suicide or start stalking their ex. Michael Strudwick was described as a ‘jealous man’ who was threatened by his girlfriend’s relationship with her late partner. He claimed she had been trying to stop him from attempting suicide when she was shot in the face and killed.

Then there’s a change in thinking: the perpetrator starts considering their revenge or even murder. Vernon Holmes was so jealous of his ex-girlfriend Alison Hunt’s new partner, he planned her murder. He told his current girlfriend not to try to contact him, so he wouldn’t be traced, dressed in dark clothes, a cap and gloves and drove to Hunt’s house, parking round the corner. He then knocked on the door and when she answered, stabbed her 18 times on her doorstep.

The penultimate stage is planning, as the perpetrator sets up his attack. For Ashley Martin, who had recently seen his relationship with Jay Edmunds end, this meant buying a hunting knife and a Bear Grylls lock knife, binoculars, a fishing line, a camping stove and gas, batteries, a torch, a 20 litre jerry can and waterproof matches. He hired a van and drove to the house Edmunds was sharing with an ex-boyfriend, Billy Hicks. Once there, he broke in, stabbing Hicks in the heart and setting the house on fire. All three died in the blaze.

The final stage is homicide, as was the case for Hollie Kerrel.

Talking to the BBC, Dr Monckton-Smith said, 'We've been relying on the "crime of passion, spontaneous red-mist" explanation forever - and it's just not true.'

It’s hoped that her work, which features in Murdered by my Husband: The Hollie Kerrell Story, will help prevent further domestic violence and murders. Now we know the pattern, we can recognise and stop it before more names are added to the dead women list.