By Luke Hart
A ‘good man,’ who was ‘always caring’ had ‘understandably’ killed his wife, Claire and 19-year-old daughter, Charlotte, in a car park with a sawn-off shotgun before killing himself. Only five days before the murder, my brother, Ryan, and I had broken our mother and sister out of the family house, and we had moved to a small rented house five miles away. We had spent our entire lives studying, working, and saving to give Mum and Charlotte the life they deserved, only for our father to steal it from them.
Despite what our father did on 19 July 2016, it seemed easier and more preferable for the public and media to rationalise what he did, and try to ‘understand’ how a ‘good man’ can kill his wife and children, rather than consider that this man’s risk was ignored by the community and society. Even after the murders, many still gripped to trivial instances where our father might have seemed OK, rather than confront the undeniable revelation that he was never a good man.
In every media report, there was speculation that the prospect of divorce ‘drove’ our father to murder Mum and Charlotte – that our actions were responsible for his choices. It became clear to us as we read the media reports that our society instinctively holds women accountable for men’s actions. In fact, in the majority of the reports, there were helplines for male mental health charities rather than for domestic abuse: demonstrating that our society gives greater significance to men’s feelings than it does to women’s lives. Meanwhile, such patronising and infantilising low expectations are held for men that they can still be ‘good men’ for even the most malicious actions. Yet, we believe men are capable of more. If men want respect, we must demand that they be held accountable for who we choose to be.
In every media report, there was speculation that the prospect of divorce ‘drove’ our father to murder Mum and Charlotte – that our actions were responsible for his choices.
So, within days of the murders of Mum and Charlotte, we had to witness our murdering father eulogised in the national media, which choose his perspective over Mum’s and Charlotte’s. We were forced to read of our father’s ‘suicide note’ rather than the ‘murder note’ that it was to our mother and sister. We were forced to hear passersby commend our father’s character but, in the same breath, question our mother’s and sister’s actions – an apparent character assassination of the assassinated. And we were forced to read a story that was only five days long – a story that began when we escaped our father and finished when he killed our mother and sister. But our story had begun 25 years ago.
In the subsequent police investigation, it was uncovered that our father had been searching online for reports of men who killed their families for months before he killed ours and he would have seen the media providing these men with a public funeral and justifying their actions. In fact, he used the justifications and rationalizations he had come across in the media to create his own murder note.
The murder note was a moral recalibration listing all the times that he was ‘entitled to be violent’ to us but wasn’t, and the currency he’d collected from his self-discipline which he now wished to spend. He listed grievance after grievance until he was comfortable that he was the victim and we were the perpetrators. It included trivialities such as how much he liked tomato ketchup and that we shouldn’t have taken the bottle when we fled our home because ‘we know how much he likes it.’ Yet, rather than identifying the ideology that lied behind our father’s actions the media preferred to excuse him of accountability, instead propagated the entitled beliefs which led our father to feel justified in killing Mum and Charlotte.
It’s important that we realise that men kill their families, not because of an emotional loss of control, but because they feel entitled and justified following extended rationalising of their intended actions. We can’t allow the media to continue to rationalise these actions after they’ve happened.
Therefore, in the UK, we’ve been working with the media to improve the quality of reporting on domestic abuse. We’ve worked to introduce reporting guidelines which were adopted by the press regulators and we frequently speak nationally about how the dominant narratives on domestic abuse often excuse perpetrator’s actions by attempting to find an ‘underlying logic’ – to make sense of senseless killings by holding victims accountable for creating the circumstances they were never in control of.
Going forward, we would like to share our story with journalists directly so they can understand how media reporting can, and does, fuel the next family annihilator’s ideology. We hope to highlight how, instead of putting women’s and children’s lives at risk with our words, we can use our words to protect them.