A Slaughter of Innocents

Argus title : Halt this violence against women

Most nights, before I sleep, I visit my daughter’s room to check she’s all right. I’ve done this since she was a baby and it’s hard to break the habit.

I watch her quietly sleeping, her fair hair spread across the pillow and think, as I have so many times before, how lucky we are to have this lovely daughter.

These last few days, as I’ve stood there watching her peaceful sleep, I’ve been unable to keep from my mind the images which now fill our newspapers of bereaved families grieving for lost daughters. It breaks my heart.

I felt like this when Brighton music teacher Jane Longhurst was murdered. As the terrible details emerged of her cruel death, the image of her beautiful smile and the stricken face of her mother were seared into my memory.

Jane Longhurst’s killer enjoyed watching images of women being strangled and raped, sometimes after death. Her mother channelled her grief into a campaign to try to safeguard other women from such abuse. Last year, her campaign to outlaw sadistic internet pornography succeeded.

It’s difficult to tell whether the families of the latest batch of dead women will fight for change. There are an awful lot of them.

Nisha Patel-Nasri, a special police constable from West London, bled to death after being stabbed in the groin with one of her own kitchen knives. Her husband Fadi Nasri, a former escort agency owner, is on trial charged with organising her murder.

Over a 10 day period, Steve Wright killed five Suffolk women – Tania Nicol, Anneli Anderton, Gemma Adams, Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell. All were heroin addicts and prostitutes and thus vulnerable to attack. However, he didn’t confine his attacks to prostitutes. Diane Cole, Wright’s former wife, has said that he beat her repeatedly, exerting complete control over every aspect of her life. Wright is also under investigation for the killing of estate agent, Suzie Lamplugh, and Vicky Glass, whose body was found in a Yorkshire stream in 2000. It’s probable there are other victims.

Mark Dixie was convicted of raping and killing 18 year old Sally Anne Bowman in a frenzied attack in front of her home. He bit her, raped and repeatedly stabbed her. His “defence” was that he had happened upon her already dead body and opportunistically attacked it. He is also accused of raping and stabbing another woman in Australia in 1998.

Pierre Williams from Manchester is currently on trial for killing his former partner and her son and daughter. He allegedly raped Beverley Samuels and her 18 year old daughter before bludgeoning them to death.

Levi Bellfield is a proven specialist with a hammer. He battered 2 young women to death and attempted to murder another. Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange were savagely beaten.
Bellfield deliberately drove over Kate Sheedy in his van, not once, but twice. Despite terrible injuries, she survived.

It seems Bellfield was known to regularly harass and assault under age girls. Police acknowledge that he probably killed 13 year old Milly Dowler, though due to errors in their investigation, they are unlikely ever to be able to convict him. It is believed that he may have been responsible for a further 20 offences against women, including 5 rapes.

Bellfield also subjected his partners to beatings and rape. One former girlfriend said “He would start off extremely nicely… …But once they (women) trusted him he’d turn into a controlling monster”. Bellfield told a friend that women were like “pet dogs” adding “You feed them and you keep them. You can do what you want”.

Becky Wilkinson was under his control for 18 years and was regularly beaten and raped. She finally left him after he’d raped her at knifepoint, but even then, she says, he broke into her new home and attacked her again. One former partner was made to sit on a stool all night because she answered him back. It was classic domestic violence and, though horrific, nothing extraordinary.

What was more unusual was that Bellfield kept hammers and knuckledusters in the back of his van and drove around west London late at night following buses with a view to attacking young fair haired women. Joanna Collings, a former girlfriend, told police that she found magazines in which the faces of blond models had been slashed. Bellfield told her he would wait in alleyways, watching for young blonde women, claiming he wanted to “hurt them, stab them”.

Up until his arrest Bellfield had been reported no less than 93 times for everything from indecent assault to obscene phone calls. He was surrounded by male colleagues who knew about his escalating violence and predatory attitude to women and girls, but nothing effective was done to stop him.

When Becky Wilkinson, Bellfield’s terrorised former partner, told journalists “I didn’t go to the police because I thought they wouldn’t listen to me”, she may well have been right. Police response to domestic violence is generally poor. And, despite his record of violence towards women, Bellfield was for several years a registered police informant.

When articulate, sensible, brave Kate Sheedy told police that the driver of the van that ran her down had deliberately tried to kill her, she should have been taken seriously. In fact, the case was treated as a simple hit and run, and so vital information was lost.

When a 13 year old girl reported that just one day before Milly Dowler was abducted, she was approached by a man in a red Daewoo Nexia and gave an accurate description of a man that police now acknowledge was almost certainly Levi Bellfield, the information should have been passed on. It was dismissed as irrelevant.

Despite this well-publicised wave of male violence against women there has been little attempt by commentators to explore connections between the cases or to analyse them as part of a wider social or political phenomenon. Newspaper reports have expressed bewilderment as to the “motives” behind the Wright and Bellfield killings. Many journalists have focussed upon the notion that Bellfield simply “hated blondes”. Others have suggested Wright was unhinged by abandonment by his mother.

Commentators have failed to acknowledge that the attitudes of serial killers and rapists reflects – albeit in a crude and extreme form – attitudes of male contempt for women which are commonplace in our society. When a telephone hotline was set up after the death of Amelie Delagrange, no less than 129 women rang it, believing that men they knew might be the killer. Only one named Bellfield.

If Black people were being abducted, mown down, humiliated, raped, tortured and serially killed by White men armed with hammers and knives, it is quite unthinkable that racism would not be under discussion as a primary motive. If police forces failed to take seriously the testimony of victims, there would rightly be accusations of institutional racism.

However, when women are targeted by serial attackers, the focus is dramatically different. These crimes are not viewed in the social context of endemic sexism and misogyny, rather each is interpreted as arising from the private pathology of individual men. Consequently, police officers who ignore the testimony of female victims or witnesses are rarely reprimanded and forces which fail to gather or share relevant intelligence are the norm. As a result, police officers often fail to recognise patterns of misogynist behaviour.

Such failures are not surprising, because the Government offers the police no political lead and certainly no additional resources. During recent widespread coverage of these deaths, not a single prominent politician spoke out to condemn violence against women, call for a public inquiry or even propose a parliamentary debate.

The Government will make no commitment to share intelligence on domestic and sexual abuse because it would cost and because male politicians – who have whacked a few wives in their time – would, if it were proposed, miraculously recall their deep commitment to civil liberties. Certainly, no additional funds will be directed to “hate crime” units, because the government won’t admit that hate crime against women takes place. And no resources will be made available to combat the attitudes which underpin such violence, because the government’s strategy for dealing with sexism is to pretend it doesn’t exist – or that it inconveniences men as much as it does women.

I look at the photographs of dead girls and feel rage – not so much against the beaters and the killers – but against politicians. They have the means to stop this slaughter, but they sit on their hands and do nothing.

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