A man suspected of being involved in Huddersfield’s worst-ever mass murder has been arrested in Pakistan: Erasing male violence against women and girls

Shahid Mohammed a  man suspected of being involved in Huddersfield’s worst-ever mass murder has been arrested in Pakistan, the  – so far local – news tells us.

Almost 13 years ago, In May 2002, 8 people1, spanning three generations of one family, were killed and three others escaped, after petrol was poured through the letter box of a house, in Birkby, Hudsdersfield.  The house had been destroyed by the time fire engines had arrived, just four minutes after neighbours had called them upon hearing the windows smash as petrol-bombs were thrown. The youngest killed was a six-month-old baby, the oldest 54.

News of the arrest of Shahid Mohammed immediately caught my attention. Like the killers and their victims, I’m from Huddersfield. I was living and working there for an organisation that ran women’s refuges at the time of the fire.

Three young men were arrested shortly after the incident.  The following year, Shaied Iqbal was convicted of eight counts of murder whilst Shakiel Shazad Amir, and Nazar Hussain were convicted of manslaughter. Shahid Mohammed had also been  arrested but ran away whilst on bail.

What I haven’t seen in the news reports is an analysis of sex.  All those charged in connection with the murders were male, as is Shahid Mohammed.  That seven of the eight victims were women or girls seems to have evaded anyone’s notice. Every report has included the names of the dead, those who escaped and those charged. All but one of them, their visiting grandmother, were born and grew up in Huddersfield. Their names tell us that they were of south Asian descent.  I wish I could believe that the omission of mention of the race of both victims and perpetrators meant that this was not seen as important, that it was a reflection of a society where people are valued equally, but I don’t.  The names say enough, the names tell us ‘other’, the names tell us Muslim.  But the lack of mention of sex fails to locate this act within the context of men’s violence against women and girls.

We need to name male violence against women and girls. Identifying trends and making links is important, it helps us to identify causes and therefore – where there is the will – the potential to find solutions and create change. Men’s fatal violence against women and girls crosses boundaries of race, religion and culture but immediately when race or religion is a factor in violence, it is identified. Why isn’t it the same with sexist and misogynistic murder? Could it be that it is only when the primary aggressors are those acting against, not reinforcing the dominant ideology, that the majority make links?

1 Tayyaba Batool, 13, Rabiah Batool, 10, Ateeqa Nawaz, 6, Aneesa Nawaz, 2, Najeeba Nawaz, 6 months, their mother Nafeesa Aziz, 35, and their uncle Mohammed ateeq-ur-Rehman, 18, their grandmother, Zaib-un-Nisa, 54.

 

Building the UK’s First Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed by Men

Femicide Census Logo

As far as I know, already this year, 10 UK women have been killed by men, they range between 25 and 67-years-old, the men who allegedly killed them between 27 and 75.  10 more women to add to the 126 killed in 2012, the 144 killed in 2013 and the 150 killed in 2014.  Between 2012 and 2014,  I counted and shared the names of 410 women. And now the count for 2015 begins.

Three years after starting I started recording the names of UK women killed by men, it’s with a mixture of pride, deep sadness when I think of women whose lives have been taken by men and feminist anger at the continued onslaught of male violence against women, that I’m looking forward to the launch of the Femicide Census:  Profiles of Women Killed by Men at a conference in London on 12th February.

The conference will bringing together family members of women who have been killed by men and a range of speakers to support the continuation and future development of the census, including me; Polly Neate CEO of Women’s Aid; Professor Jill Radford feminist activist and academic who co-edited Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing; Dr Aisha Gill co-author of ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence; and Frank Mullane, Director of AAFDA (Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse.

The Femicide Census has been developed through a partnership between Women’s Aid and me, with support from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Deloitte LLP. We intend it to be an important tool, enabling us to monitor fatal male violence against women and provide data to help analyse and reduce the number of women killed by men.  It’s a growing and evolving project currently providing detailed data on femicides in England committed since 2009.  If we don’t name and reveal the extent of men’s fatal violence against women and the various forms it can take, we will never be capable of a thorough enough analysis to reduce or end it.

I spoke to Tracey McVeigh from the Observer about why I started Counting Dead women and why The Femicide Census is important.  Claire Colley spoke to family members of three women who were killed by men.  You can read the piece here.

Title: Building the UK’s First Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed by Men
Time & date: 10:00 to 16:30, 12th February 2015‪
Venue: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, 65 Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 1HS
Cost: £25 per delegate, £20 for Women’s Aid members. No charge for delegates who have lost a family member or friend to femicide.
If you’d like to come along you can book a place here

Killed by their sons

In 2014, 15 UK women were killed with their son named as primary suspect:

  1.  30 Jan 2014: Karen Wild, was found dead through stabbing. A 22-year-old man, said to be her son, Lian Wild, was charged with her murder.
  2. 12 Feb 2014: A woman who cannot be named for legal reasons was found dead in Bow, London. A 15 year old boy, thought to be her son, was charged with her murder.
  3. 21 April 2014: Malgorzata Dantes, 54, and her husband Leszek were stabbed to death. Their son Kamil Dantes was charged with their murders.
  4. 9 May 2014: Tamara Holboll, 67, was found dead with multiple stab wounds following a fire at her home.  Her son, Peter Holboll, 44, was charged with her murder.
  5. 31 May 2014: Barbara Hobbis, 79, was strangled by her 58-year-old son, Geoffrey Hobbis.
  6. 3 June 2014: Yvonne Fox, 87, was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Her son, Paul Fox, was charged with her murder.
  7. 4 June 2014: Margaret Evans, 69, was beaten to death. Her son, Alun Evan, 32, was detained under the mental health act.
  8. 7 July 2014: Quoi Chang, 50, and her husband Pin Chang, 58, were both stabbed to death in their home. Their 23-year-old son, Carl Chang was charged with their murders.
  9. 19 September 2014: Dorothy Brown, 66, and her husband Paul Brown, 73 were stabbed to death. Their son Timothy Brown, 46, was charged with their murders.
  10. 30 September 2014: Catherine McDonald, 57, was found dead. She had been stabbed and asphyxiated. Her 27-year-old son, Alex McDonald, was charged with her murder.
  11. 11 Oct 2014: Maria Mayes, 67, was stabbed to death.  Her son, Stuart Mayes, was charged with her murder.
  12. 18 Nov 2014: The body of Valerie Davison, 59, known locally as Jane, was discovered. Initially her death was thought to be unexplained but her son Charles Davison, 38 was charged with murdering her sometime between 3-17 November.
  13. 12 December 2014: Carol Ruddy, 54, and her husband Eric, 64, were found with serious injuries at their home. Their son Martin Ruddy, 28, was charged with their
  14. 22 December 2014 was the last day that Carol-Anne Taggart was seen alive. Her body was discovered on 12 January 2015. Her son Ross Taggart, 30, was charged with her murder.
  15. 31 December 2014: Sandra Brotherton, 60, was found stabbed to death.  Her 29 year-old son was arrested on suspicion of murder and detained under the mental health act

In addition, one woman was killed by her grandson, one by her step-grandson and a third woman’s stepson was charged with her murder:

  1. 11 Feb 2014: Clara Patterson, 82, and her son Ray, 61, were found dead. Their grandson/son was found guilty of manslaughter and detained indefinitely.
  2. 18 June 2014: Una Dorney, 87, was found dead in the care home in which she lived. Her step-grandson, Ryan Guest, 33, pleaded guilty to her murder.
  3. 1 November 2014: Ann Cluysenaar (Jackson), 78, was found dead. Her stepson, Timothy Jackson, has been charged with her murder.

Men’s violence against women: ‘Miss World’ is part of the problem

The bodies of Maria Jose Alvarado, 19, and her sister, Sofia Trinidad, 23, were found almost a week after they disappeared after being seen leaving a party near the city of Santa Barbara, in Honduras.  Maria Alvaro was due to fly to London this week to compete in the Miss World competition as Miss Honduras.  Plutarco Ruiz, Sofia’s boyfriend  has confessed to killing both women, allegedly because he was angry and jealous after seeing her dance with another man.

Men’s violence against women is a cause and consequence of sex inequality between women and men.  We need to make the connections between the objectification of women and violence against women.  While women are seen and judged as decorative objects judged by sexist beauty standards and simultaneously as men’s possessions, women and men can never be equal; and as long as we have sex inequality, we will have male violence against women.  The ‘Miss World’ competition is part of the problem. 

Honduras has the sixth highest rate of femicide in the world, a woman is violently murdered every 18 hours, 245 women were killed in the first six months of 2012, over 3000 women killed in a decade. 

And yet  femicide – the systemic killing of women because they are women – rarely makes the news.  If it does, it is usually because, as in the case of the murder of Maria Jose Alvarado​m the woman herself is seen as newsworthy. Across the world, hundreds of women are violently killed every day.  So far this year, in the UK, at least 131 women have been killed through suspected male violence. Ordinary women killed by ordinary men, violence so ordinary that it is rarely front-page news.

Stacey Hyde: A frightened 17-year-old

Stacey Hyde

In April this year, John Butler, 62, went to the flat of his former partner, Pauline Butler, 61, and stabbed her.  In his trial, Butler told the court that he couldn’t remember how the knife had ended up in his hand and that he had fallen after she had pushed him, causing him to accidentally injure her. The court heard that Pauline Butler had previously threatened him with a knife.  Of course, being dead, she wasn’t able to challenge his version of events.   Pauline had been found with a number of knife wounds to her neck, chest and back.  As judge, Mr Justice Edis pointed out, had Butler not wanted Pauline to die, he would have called an ambulance, rather than remove and wash the knife, take her dog to his home, drink a beer and smoke a cigar. Butler was found guilty of manslaughter, not murder, due to loss of control, and sentenced to jail for seven years in jail.

Sybil Sibthorpe was 80 years-old in May, 2012, when she was found in her garden with “significant” head injuries after being beaten by her former tenant Lee Grainger, 41.  Grainger pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was sentenced to 12 and-a-half years. According to the judge, Grainger was “a significant danger to the public”.

Adrian Muir, 51, killed Pamela Jackson, 55, by beating or kicking her head with such force that she suffered fractures to her skull and bleeding to her brain. He then drove over 120 miles before digging a grave in moorland and burying her with a bunch of flowers in a Tesco carrier bag. Muir initially denied murder and claimed he had been framed.  He posted fake entries from her Facebook page suggesting she was still alive. It took police more than two months before they found Pamela’s body in May 2013.  Muir’s fingerprint was found on the carrier bag inside her grave, and a CCTV camera caught him cleaning the back of his car in a supermarket car park.  He later claimed that she had attacked him, “like a bloody devil”.  Muir was jailed for 18 years, not for murder, but manslaughter.

Felipe Lopes, 26, had a six-year police history of violent assaults on women before being jailed for 12 weeks in 2012 after tracking down and assaulting an ex-girlfriend whom he had previously stabbed. Within two weeks of his release, in January 2013, he had beaten 23-year-old Anastasia Voykina to death with a hockey stick. Before he killed her, neighbours had called the police to her flat on two occasions, because, they said, his attacks on her were so severe, the building was vibrating. Judge Richard Marks said to Lopes: “There is no doubt in my mind you intended to kill her. You are and will remain for an indefinite time a significantly dangerous man, particularly to women.” Lopes pleaded guilty to manslaughter, not murder, on the grounds of diminished responsibility because of his mental health problems.  He was jailed for a minimum term of seven years and three months.

Like Filipe Lopes, Vincent Francis had a history of violence against women.  In court it was alleged that he had assaulted his girlfriend, Holly Banwell, at least 27 times. Some of the assaults had been overhead by neighbours; it was also alleged that he had attacked a previous partner.  On 4 September, 2009, Holly  had been out with her 17-year-old friend Stacey Hyde, they  had then gone back to the flat that Holly and Vince Francis shared.  Stacey remembers waking up to hear Holly screaming but not what happened next.  A 72-year-old neighbour told police that she saw Francis trying to swing Stacey  around by her pony tail while her friend Holly looked on, screaming.  Holly Banwell called the police, telling them “…my boyfriend is beating my friend… I need the police ASAP”.  On the recorded call she is then heard saying “they are fighting”, before screaming “Stacey has a knife and has stabbed him”.  Stacey was sobbing when the police arrived, she told them “he tried to kill me…I had to help Holly…he was going to kill her…I thought he would kill me…”.

In March 2010, at the age of 18, Stacey Hyde was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  While awaiting trial she had been given well-intentioned but misguided advice from other prisoners affecting her responses in court and possibly, consequently, how she was viewed by the jury. The law has been changed since then too, so that loss of control caused by fear of serious violence can now be taken into account, but this wasn’t an option at the time Stacey was convicted.

Stacey is due in court to appeal her conviction on Thursday and Friday this week, the 13th and 14th November, 2014.  Since her conviction, new evidence has emerged about her mental health, for example that she had ADHD at the time of her offence, and in addition, other psychiatric diagnoses resulting from a difficult childhood.  If Stacey’s appeal is accepted, her conviction for murder will be overturned for one of manslaughter.  She has already served five years and it is possible that she will be released from custody.

Trials for murder and manslaughter are complex. Each with their own particular circumstances and it is right that those circumstances are taken into account.  I’m sure there are many reasons why Stacey’s case can’t be directly compared to those of the men I’ve mentioned above, and yet: Unlike 62-year-old John Butler who claimed he’d been attacked by Pauline Butler before he stabbed her, or 51-year-old Adrian Muir, who claimed Pamela Jackson attacked him before he beat her head and fractured her skull, a 72-year-old neighbour had witnessed Francis attacking Stacey, and Holly Banwell called the police telling them that he was beating her.  Also, unlike Muir, she didn’t lie her way through a two-month police investigation.  Like 41-year-old Lee Granger, who killed 80-year-old Sybil Sibthorpe, at 17, she was half the age of the man she killed.  But a 17-year-old young woman – in fear of her life and that of her friend –  killing a 34 year-old-man, cannot really be compared to a 41-year-old man,  described by a judge as a risk to the public,  bearing a grudge against and beating to death his 80-year-old former landlord.

Stacey was 17, legally a child, a child with a history of mental health problems and experience of sexual violence, when she killed 34-year-old Vincent Francis, a man with a history of perpetrating violence. Her claims of being assaulted by the man she killed are not unverified. She is not a risk to the public. She did not lie and deny her actions though the investigation.  She did not try to hide a body. Unlike John Butler, Lee Grainger, Adrian Muir, Filipe Lopes and many men who have killed women since she killed Vincent Francis, Stacey Hyde was found guilty of murder, not manslaughter. Stacey has never denied that she killed Vincent Francis, but she wasn’t a murderer, she was a child, a frightened child.

 Please support Justice for Women in their fight for justice for Stacey Hyde.

Why the hierarchy of dead women and girls?

Like anyone else, I was saddened to wake up to the news that a body has been found in the search for 14-year-old Alice Gross, and that her disappearance has now become a murder inquiry; similarly, I felt sickened to hear about the rape and  murder of 23-year old Hannah Witheridge, just two weeks ago.

But since Alice went missing – and in addition to Hannah – at least ten other UK women have been killed through suspected male violence.  Why don’t we all know the name of Leighann Duffy, 26, stabbed to death in Walthamstow? What about Glynis Bensley, 48, who witnesses said was pursued by two masked men on bikes before she was killed? Perhaps some people will recall the name of Pennie Davis, 47, found dead in a field, stabbed as she tended her horse.  What about Serena Hickey, Dorothy Brown, 66; Nicola Mckenzie, 37; Davinia Loynton, 59; or Lorna McCarthy, 50?

The murder of 82-year-old Palmira Silva who was beheaded in London was also front page news this month, but few were aware that she was the third woman to have been beheaded in London in less than six months, after  Tahira Ahmed, 38, in June and  Judith Nibbs, 60, in April. Was this simply because beheading is big news at the moment due to the murders of David Haines,  James Foley and Steven Sotloff?

The killer of 15-year-old Shereka Marsh, shot in Hackney earlier this year, was found guilty of manslaughter this week.  Did we all mourn the 15-year-old school-girl, described by teachers as one of their “shining stars”, on course to sit 10 GCSEs this summer?  Wasn’t being accidentally shot by your boyfriend also big news, also international news, this month?

Men’s violence against women and girls, systemic, connected, has killed at least 11 dead UK women this month.  At least 111 UK women have been killed through suspected male violence so far this year, 111 women in 272 days is one dead woman every 2.45 days.

Older, black, usually but not all, killed by men they had known and loved – their husbands, boyfriends, ex’s and sons (8 women have been killed by their sons this year, 13 last year, 16 the year before) – why don’t we care so much about these women? Young, white and blond, killed by a stranger, hold the front pages – but don’t bother to make the connections with other women killed by men; talk about anything, immigration, terrorism, tourism, guns and gangs – talk about anything except male violence against women and girls.

Innocent Victims? Isn’t that just another way of blaming women and girls for men’s violence?

The phrase “innocent victim” has re-emerged to describe Sabrina Moss – a 24-year old teacher who was shot dead in London as she celebrated her birthday in August 2013 – in British bastions of judgemental conservative journalism The Daily Mail and the Express.

It’s a phrase that came in to my consciousness when it was used to describe 16-year-old Jane MacDonald who was murdered on 26 June 1977 by being hit on the head with a hammer three times and stabbed in the chest and back around 20 times. When her face-down body was turned over by police, they found a broken bottle complete with screw-top embedded in her chest.  She was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe and was the fifth woman of thirteen that he is known to have killed.  Before her, there had been 28-year-old Wilma McCann, beaten with a hammer and stabbed to death in October 1975; 42-year-old Emily Jackson, beaten with a hammer and stabbed 52 times with a screw-driver in January 1975; Irene Richardson, 28, beaten with a hammer and stabbed and slashed with a Stanley knife in February 1977 and Patricia Atkinson, 32, beaten and clawed with a hammer and also stabbed, in April 1977.  Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson and Patricia Atkinson had not been described by the press as innocent victims.  Why? Because Jane MacDonald was the first woman known to have been murdered by Sutcliffe who was not in prostitution.  Sutcliffe himself shared this belief that prostituted women were less worthy than none prostituted women.  In his confession, referring to Jane MacDonald, he said

“The next one I did I still feel terrible about, it was the young girl Jayne MacDonald. I read recently about her father dying of a broken heart and it brought it all back to me. I realised what sort of a monster I had become. I believed at the time I did it that she was a prostitute.”

and

“When I saw in the papers that MacDonald was so young and not a prostitute, I felt like someone inhuman and I realised that it was a devil driving me against my will and that I was a beast.”

Leaving aside Sutcliffe’s failure to take responsibility for his actions –  blaming them on being driven by the devil, not his own violent misogyny –  the implication is clear, that beating and stabbing four prostituted women to death was something less than monstrous. He became a monster when he killed Jane, not when he had killed Wilma, Emily, Irene and Patricia.

This week, Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he killed.  State prosecutor Gerrie Nel refered to Pistorius as causing “the death of an innocent woman” and again referred to him being “convicted of a serious crime of killing an innocent woman.”  Of course, Reeva Steenkamp, in comparison to Pistorius was innocent, but surely that is almost always the case when comparing murder victims to their killers.    If not innocent, what are they? Guilty? Or perhaps somehow complicit in their own death?

Despite attempts at law reform, some women’s complicity in their own murders is still implied indeed enshrined  in British law.  Academic Adrian Howe has looked at infidelity in the sentencing of men convicted of intimate partner homicide.  She points out that  “For over 300 years, criminal courts have regarded sexual infidelity as sufficiently grave provocation as to provide a warrant, indeed a ‘moral warrant’, for reducing murder to manslaughter.”  and that whilst “ ‘sexual infidelity’ was expressly excluded as a trigger for loss of control in the new loss of control defence laid down in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009”, “sexual infidelity still has mitigating prowess” in diminished responsibility pleas, as does men’s ‘distress’ if they kill a partner who is in the process of leaving them.  This ‘distress’ could just as easily be described men’s entitlement, or their rage that their partner has the audacity to reject them and move on.  A woman’s murder is somehow less heinous, deserving a reduced plea of manslaughter or a reduced sentence, if the court accepts that something that she did contributed to a man’s choice to kill her.

Dead women get no opportunity to defend their character; but even if they could, it should not make a difference.   Victims of violence should not be graded according to their worth, the balance would inevitably be tipped to discredit those not deemed to be ‘good’ women according to a scale reflecting class-biased and sexist values of what a woman should be.  We can see this when we look at the justice system and men’s sexual violence against women.  Women are not equal in the eyes of the law. The concept of ‘lady-like’ behaviour controls, judges and stratifies; acceptable/respectable standards of woman or girlhood align with middle-class standards of conduct and appearance.  Catharine MacKinnon argued  that the law divides women along indices of consent from ‘the virginal daughter’ to ‘whorelike wives and prostitutes’ with women who meet standards closer to the former, less likely to be found to have consented to unwanted intercourse, more likely to be believed regarding rape and sexual violence. Women who are socially or educationally disadvantaged are less likely to ‘perform well’ in the criminal justice system1 and women from working-class backgrounds are more likely to refuse to adhere to the status of victim, more likely to endure/cope and more likely to minimise injury2, as victims is it we who are on trial, we who are judged and the men who attack us who benefit from our perceived innocence.  In Rotherham, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and beyond, we’ve seen how labelling girls as slags and troublemakers allows the men who abuse to continue to do so.

Women victims of male violence should not have unequal status under the law.  Whether we have fucked one man or woman or five hundred; whether we pay our bills though prostitution, preaching, teaching or trust funds. Our laws, written by white middle-class men, favour white middle-class men and all women victims of male violence deserve justice, not just those of us who according to some scale of judgement are deemed ‘innocent’.

 

1 Temkin 2002b:6

2 Skeggs, 2005:971