Front Page Murder

// 29 January 2008

This news story is on the BBC news front page today. It’s nasty: a man was left partially deaf, blind and with brain damage, in need of 24 hour care, after his wife tried to kill him by poisoning him with anti-freeze:

Knight plotted to poison her husband, who worked for JCB, in order to collect a £130,000 pay-out from his employer and clear debts.

While this is a terrible crime, what I want to know is: why front page, BBC? Because two women are killed every week by their current or former male partners, and I never once hear about these women, about the terrible crimes their husbands, boyfriends and exes committed against them, let alone read about them on the front page.

OK, so maybe common crimes aren’t newsworthy, they won’t pique the readers’ interest, hence no murders of women on the front page: it sadly happens all the time. Problem is, this argument only works if the crimes are repeatedly reported in the media – if we read about them all the time we’d be bored, they wouldn’t be suitable front page fodder.

But we don’t read about them.

Seems the BBC either couldn’t care less about women being murdered by their partners, or, along with the rest of the media, believes that their readers don’t. The judiciary certainly don’t seem to care too much; this article from the end of 2005 reports that:

Time and again, men who kill their wives get short sentences because courts believe a woman’s infidelity, or even her “nagging”, is bound to provoke a husband to commit murder. A recently reported example is Paul Dalton’s killing of his wife, Tae Hui. Dalton punched her, she died, then he cut up her body with an electric saw, and stored the pieces in a freezer. He was cleared of murder on the grounds of provocation; the judge said that he had suffered “no little taunting on her [his wife’s] part”. Dalton received just two years in jail for her manslaughter, but got three years for what many might consider the lesser crime of preventing a burial. He is appealing against the sentence.

Women do kill their husbands and partners, but it is much less common, and often occurs because they are themselves the victims of domestic abuse and can no longer cope . This was not the case for the woman who tried to kill her husband with antifreeze, and her actions rightly deserve severe punishment. It is telling, however, that the case that makes the front page today is one of a “black widow” trying to kill her husband for financial gain, and not of a woman viciously killed by her abusive partner. What does it say about our society when we choose only to highlight the rare cases of women callously killing men and hide the depressingly common fact that men kill women every single week?

It seems to me that in the UK today, murder within relationships is only really worth bothering about when a woman kills – or tries to kill – a man. And that’s something we really need to change.

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