As a foundation we have campaigned tirelessly for a change in the law for those affected by domestic homicide and abuse, we are delighted by the statement today from our Prime Minister Theresa May that she plans to directly oversee a new law to ensure that victims are not let down by the legal system.
Quote from BBC News website:
‘The Domestic Violence and Abuse Act aims to address an inconsistency in the use of existing offences and measures.
Mrs May said tackling such abuse was a "key priority" for the government.
As home secretary, Mrs May introduced a new offence against controlling and coercive behaviour and domestic violence protection orders.
Domestic violence prosecutions and convictions have started to improve in recent years, and the prime minister said "no stone will be left unturned in delivering a system that increases convictions, and works better for victims".
Mrs May added: "Domestic violence and abuse is a life shattering and absolutely abhorrent crime.’
There were over 1.3m cases of domestic abuse last year and yet we know that many victims don’t report these crimes to the police, believing that nothing effective will be done, particularly after multiple times. We also know that less than 1% of perpetrators receive an effective conviction or help, free then to return to the family home to further traumatise the victim and their children. We are simply not doing enough to protect them.
The personal experience of Jo’s children, Diana (Jo’s Mother) and Hetti (Jo’s best friend) bear testament to this, they were let down by the legal system resulting in Robert Brown’s conviction of manslaughter despite the fact that he had already prepared a burial site for Jo.
We welcome the fact that ‘controlling and coercive behaviour’ has been highlighted, sadly in Jo’s case this stage of her relationship with her estranged husband became the trigger for her death, and despite escalating stalking and abuse no effective response from the law was available to her.
But despite many improvements in the law in recent years the effective application of those laws is not where it needs to be and inconsistent across the country. It is crucial that we raise awareness of these issues across society, focus on making our laws effective every time, and get to the point where victims get effective help earlier and improve their chances of long term recovery.
A key aim for the foundation is to transform the care, support and protection of children affected by domestic abuse and homicide. In the aftermath of these events, and through no fault of their own, the emergency services do not have the training to deal with these traumatised children. As a foundation this is something that we want to address.
But if we are ever to change things for the future, we must focus on our children. We know children who witness these crimes have a much higher likelihood of going on to be victims or perpetrators themselves. So getting them the right support early, is key as well as ensuring our schools give our children sensitive and effective learning on what constitutes healthy relationships and the effective of abuse.
In the case of domestic abuse children have mixed loyalties, you can view the video on our website which is filmed using actors but all quotes are from children that have been bereaved through domestic abuse.
We are working with the Anna Freud centre and Yale University to develop pioneering counselling for these young victims which has delivered exciting results in America and we hope to rollout across the country.
Donations to The Joanna Simpson Foundation fund legislative change, campaigning and awareness, and programmes to give children the help and support they need, working with trusted providers. We are making a difference but your donations will help to make this happen sooner , end suffering and ensure that more children go on to lead happy and successful lives.
On 14th July Dianna Parkes and Hetti Nanton were invited to join Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House for a reception that bought together campaigners, politicians, police, victims and high-profile ambassadors in the hope of raising awareness of domestic abuse.
After meeting Diana and Hetti at a visit to SafeLives in January and being moved by Jo’s story, The Duchess of Cornwall pledged to help victims, describing her and others as “some of the bravest women I have been privileged to meet…their silence was broken – but only after tragedy. I hope very much that today might mark a moment when we start to pull back that shroud of silence.”
At the event, The Duchess of Cornwall also told guests, including Julie Walters, Victoria Derbyshire and Alesha Dixon “Domestic abuse remains a hidden problem in our society. It is characterised by silence – silence from those who suffer, silence from those around them and silence from those who perpetrate abuse. This silences is corrosive: it leaves women, children – and men – carrying the burden of shame, it prevents them from speaking out about their abuse and it prevents them from getting help. And at its worst, it can be fatal.”
Working with The Duchess of Cornwall and those who attended the event, the Joanna Simpson Foundation continues to work to break the silence of domestic abuse and ensure children, so often the silent victims, get the right help.
Speaking after the event, Dianna said “It was wonderful to continue the conversation with The Duchess of Cornwall and to speak to such a diverse group affected by domestic abuse. Working together I truly believe we can change lives by ensuring victims and their families get the right support and care.”
It’s been a busy 2 weeks in the life of Helen, and all those around her.
In this time we’ve seen Henry put in permanent care of Rob, Helen’s mother is now a prosecution witness much to her dismay, and Helen pleaded not guilty on all counts (just!), but was refused bail. She now faces over 4 months on remand ahead of the trial in September, during which time she will also give birth.
What can we take from this?
Well first and foremost what you are seeing is the handling of Helen and her path through the criminal justice system as a perpetrator, not a victim. It would appear that few attempts have been made by the investigation team to understand the context of the attack. For them the facts are clear and Henry’s evidence is pretty black and white.
Not helped because Helen has been unable to give a coherent account. She is exhibiting very common symptoms of trauma – confusion and inability to recall events in a sequential manner. And there’s an interesting dynamic where, after a long period of coercive control and the knowledge that Rob has survived, she would appear to be understandably nervous to stand up for herself and recognise her own needs and identity. This is very common in victims of sustained coercive control. Spare one thought however for the scenario where Helen had been killed by Rob, the truth would never have been known and he would have had free reign to use a number of defences available to avoid a murder conviction.
We’re hearing little of Henry and how things are with Rob and his mother. Perhaps more worryingly we are hearing nothing of any support or therapy he is receiving, but listeners shouldn’t be surprised. This is a very real reflection of true life, where children are often the forgotten victims. Despite increasing evidence that early intervention can have a material impact on long term wellbeing and recovery http://www.eif.org.uk//wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Early-Intervention-in-Domestic-Violence-and-Abuse-Full-Report.pdf
It is my hope that in the waiting period leading up to the trial the programme takes the opportunity to showcase some of the examples of getting it right for children affected by these crimes – only time will tell.
So the story in Ambridge is evolving and continues to shine a light on the complex realities of domestic abuse, children, and the law.
Helen is struggling to give a full statement on the events of the evening where Rob was stabbed. Not only does she have to resolve this, but she will need to get to the stage where she can fully articulate the abuse she has been subjected to, and think hard about evidence she can produce to demonstrate it.
Not least of which because we’ve now heard Rob giving his own version of events. I mentioned last week of the scale of manipulation and deceit which the perpetrators of these crimes can present, and listeners are now hearing that first hand. Helen would be well advised to point her Barrister in the direction of Rob’s previous partner, whose evidence would start to throw a different light on his portrayal as a seemingly hard done by husband of a deranged wife.
And then we have Henry, clearly relieved to be reunited with his Father, we shouldn’t under-estimate Rob’s ability to manipulate the young boy. Some might be concerned about this given Henry is a witness. But at this stage a prosecution witness and therefore no constraint on his ability to have access to his father.
Rob appears to be laying the ground for a custody claim on the boy, with his suggestion in his statement that Helen is a danger to her child, citing events such as the scalding bath, which listeners know were manufactured by him.
Coercive control is a crime based on exhorting control over another. It is not uncommon for access to children after separation to be the vehicle for that control, where not only are victims subjected to intimidation by an abusive partner in the family courts, but women experience the desperation of being unable to protect their children from further abuse.
Encouraging then that the All Party Political Group on Domestic Violence this week published a report, supported by Women’s Aid, which highlights 7 ‘calls to action’, including the urgent need for an end to cross-examination of survivors of domestic abuse by their abuser in the family court, and expert safety and risk assessments in child custody cases. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/party-group-calls-for-end-to-cross-examination-of-survivors-of-domestic-abuse-by-their-abusers-in-the-family-courts
Finally, I wonder if listeners of the Archers might start to learn more about stalking, a crime which is horribly common when a victim of domestic abuse makes a decision to leave. In time one assumes Helen will find her way out of prison. If so we shouldn’t forget the chilling words of Rob when Helen said she was leaving him – ‘you’re mine, wherever you are I’ll always be there’; Perhaps a hint of things to come?
What have we learnt this week?
Its been a quieter week this week, with things starting to slowly settle back to normal, probably to the relief to those who listen to the programme to escape from real life.
There’s been some good news for Helen, as it looks as if she’s been found a well-renowned Barrister who specializes in ‘women’s issues’. This will be crucial for her. There appears to be little by way of concrete evidence of the abuse she suffered from Rob, and if the attitude of the investigation team is anything to go by, the prosecution are unlikely to put much effort into finding any. Helen will be well advised to meet her and agree to work with her.
We’ve heard this week that Rob is out of the woods. Only time will tell if that proves to be right. BUT spare a thought for Helen. She will know that if she ends up in court opposite him on a charge of attempted murder, he will use all his charm, manipulation, and manufactured concern for Helen, to further intimidate her and get the sympathy of the Jury. Indeed government guidance on the new laws of coercive control state “Perpetrators can be particularly adept at manipulating professionals, agencies and systems, and may use a range of tactics in relation to this offence.”
A scenario which also plays out on a daily basis up and down the country in family courts where abused parents battle to protect their children from abusers, but instead come out further traumatised and intimidated, with the prospect of the abuse continuing as a result of shared contact judgements. And an overwhelming sense of failure to protect their children.
We’ve heard little about Henry and how he is coping, except we know that he has not gone back to school this week because he is too distressed. We also know he is unlikely to be able to see his beloved mother in the foreseeable future because he is the key witness to the events that night. At this early stage the most important thing for him is to feel safe and secure with those caring for him. We assume that’s the case here. So often though these children are the center of battles between maternal and paternal carers, with the understandable anger and distress being felt by those families being played out in front of an already confused and traumatised young child. We believe there are about 200 children a year bereaved as a result of domestic homicide, and countless others suffering huge disruption in their lives after serious domestic violence. Whilst there are some amazing organisations out there who are ready to give them much needed support, it’s too often the case that they don’t get access to them, in part due to lack of awareness and in part due to the chaotic environment they are thrown into. Social workers do fantastic work but don’t all receive specialist training in the complex effect of these crimes to ensure the right decisions are made at the early stages to give the children the best chance of long term well being.
In the meantime Henry would do well to re-establish a routine and going back to school is his best way to achieve that in the short term. Lets hope this week sees Henry get back to his friends and the familiarity of school. This is going to be a long journey for this little lad.
What have we learnt this week?
This week we saw the otherwise safe and predictable world of The Archers turn into one of horror, trauma, and distress. After ongoing and escalating coercive control and violence, Helen stabbed her husband, Rob, ultimately triggered by her decision to leave and Rob’s display of aggression towards her young son Henry.
So what have we learnt?
Nobody would dispute the destructive relationship where Rob’s controlling behavior saw Helen pushed to the point where she decides to leave.
Children are often at the centre of this kind of abuse. And when the worst happens the trauma they experience is deeply complex. The immediate response of police and social services when someone is killed are really important. Henry was brought downstairs at the same time as his mother was taken, handcuffed, to a police car, and his father taken out on a stretcher. It was totally unnecessary for him to witness this scene, and another memory he will have to learn to deal with. How well are our front line professionals trained to get it right for children in these circumstances?
With Helen in custody, we get a glimpse into the difficulty of gathering evidence of coercive control, particularly in the context of a criminal investigation. New laws criminalising crimes of this kind came into effect in January this year. So often it goes on behind closed doors, with little concrete evidence and what there is might be labeled as hearsay. We also see a detective focusing on wanting to know whether Rob had been violent towards Helen and showing little interest in the reports of ‘mind games’. There are some amazing police teams up and down the country, but there is still so much more to be done to shift attitudes.
Helen has been charged with attempted murder, somewhat inevitably given the reports that she had said she wanted to kill him, and the evidence from little Henry that he had seen mummy stab daddy.
So what happens next? Helen’s father thinks that she may be able to claim diminished responsibility because of her mental health. Well I’ve got news for you, there is no such defence available for attempted murder. Her options are insanity (unlikely) or self defence. She may have a reasonable chance with this, IF she can provide enough evidence for it to be put forward to a jury, where the burden of proof would be on the prosecution. However, remember Rob would be testifying, and his charm and manipulation may be enough to swing the Jury. If found guilty, she could face a life sentence, and the best she could hope for is that a judge would take the evidence of abuse as mitigation to give her a more lenient sentence. But she would still be found guilty of Attempted Murder.
We’ve heard that Rob’s condition is worsening. Helen might want to start praying that he dies. Because although she would be charged with murder, she would have opened up to her two defences, diminished responsibility and loss of control (which used to be called provocation until a reform in 2009 specifically to protect victims like Helen). She could have a reasonable chance with either, although Loss of Control provides a number of forensics difficulties and isn't straightforward. If successful with either she would be convicted of manslaughter and an array of sentences, most likely a hospital order, which could see her released within months once her mental health is being successfully managed.
In the circumstances, bail must be an option. BUT whatever happens now she must get a good Barrister, who really gets the complexity of domestic abuse and coercive control. Poor understanding from her Barrister would be disastrous.
Meanwhile spare a thought for Henry. We’re hearing little of the support that the child or his grandparents is being offered. We also know that it is not uncommon for children who witness abuse to blame themselves. These thoughts will undoubtedly be preying on this young boy’s mind. Children bereaved through domestic homicide are so often the lost victims as they start the lifetime journey of recovery.
Chair Joanna Simpson Foundation
Children are often the forgotten victims of domestic violence and homicide, this video has been produced to demonstrate how this affects the children involved. Whilst the children in this clip are acting, the words that they use are direct quotes from children that have been affected by these crimes. Our research shows that early support and intervention helps the children, along with their carers, feel safe, secure and re-build their lives after these traumatic events.
The Joanna Simpson Foundation is committed to driving sustained investment into services that can improve the well-being of these children based on detailed research into their needs.
We are always looking for supporters and any help is welcome so if you can spare some time to help us run fundraising events, help with administration or book-keeping or becoming a sponsor please get in touch.
Thanks for watching
On 13th January Radio 5 ran a feature about how the CPS are letting down victims and witnesses, Dianna was interviewed by them to talk about her experience at the trial of Robert Brown who killed her daughter Jo.
Dianna talks about how the CPS handling of the trial was a catalogue of disasters and how through successful campaigning, in May 2014, she and the Joanna Simpson Foundation brought about the first ever legal guidance to prosecutors in cases of domestic homicide.
Dianna also speaks eloquently about Jo and the wonderful daughter, mother and friend that she was.
You can hear the full interview here
The Joanna Simpson Foundation is pleased to announce that it is making two Christmas donations;
£2000 will go to YourSanctuary, a Woking based charity who support people who are experiencing or have experienced domestic abuse through the provision of a 24 hour helpline, a community outreach service and two refuges, to directly support children affected by domestic abuse. A further £1000 will go to the Women's Aid Refuge on the Isle of Mann.
Hetti Nanton, Chair of the Board of Trustees at The Foundation commented; ‘In our first year we have raised £50,000 and the support from the local community has been phenomenal through being Maloney Budgens Charity of the Year, our Inaugural Ball held at Wentworth Golf Club at the end of last year and a luncheon hosted by Dianna Parkes, Jo’s mother at Portofino Restaurant on the Isle of Mann . This time of year is a particularly difficult time for these children so I am delighted to be able to make this donation to Your Sanctuary who are working directly with locally affected families every day.’
The funds will be spent on a number of initiatives including;
We are very grateful for the efforts of the staff and pupils at Hurtwood House School who raised a magnificent £900 for The Foundation, all of which will go directly to help those affected by domestic homicide and abuse.