Some early morning responses

// 17 June 2008

Dear Radio 4,

Firstly Owen and Amy Philcox didn’t become “victims to their parent’s acrimonious divorce” they became victims of their father who killed them. Lets stop writing out men’s responsibility for their actions shall we? Especially as this was someone who sent his wife and, separately another family member, nailbombs through the post and left her a phone message taunting her about killing the children just before he did it. I mean this is a man who knowingly and willingly murdered his children during a custody visit. Frankly I think this means the rescinding of his “Man of the Year 2005” award which is somehow being used to imply that he was a good and fine man and therefore she must be to blame. Plus, dear BBC, your headline of “Gassed Man was going through divorce” grammatically suggests he was gassed by an unknown other rather than he gassed himself and his children. In the same article you give space to Matt O’Conner from Families Need Fathers to suggest this is a relatively rare occurence and yet there is no response from an expert to talk about the actual prevalence of male violence against children in divorce proceedings. Neutral reporting? I think not.

Secondly, why is it a sports feature to talk about how Royal Ascot has written to ticket holders to clarify the female dress code? I mean 1. quite why women need to be singled out to be told streaky fake tan is a faux pas (Stringfellow anyone?) and 2. why this needs national media attention and an interview with an Ascot groundsman I don’t understand. Not the finest moment of incisive journalism really, considering you chose not to talk about a shortage of neonatal nurses, missing woman Dolina Maclean, the religious discrimination against Sarika Singh or murder of a woman and child in Northern Ireland (names not released) through dangerous driving all covered on the BBC website). But no the width of women’s dress straps and the length of their skirts is obviously far more important. God forbid we should ever think that the BBC isn’t a bastion of white, male, prurient privilege!

And finally, whilst we’re talking gender stuff, why is it on your website the link covering whether academics are turning a blind eye to plagiarism is accompanied by a back-photo of two female graduating students? Are you suggesting it’s women, more than men, who are committing plagiarism?

Comments From You

Sarah // Posted 17 June 2008 at 9:23 am

Thanks for drawing attention to this (the child murder story, I mean). I’ve been very frustrated by the way this had been reported, and all the comments I’ve read about how the poor man was driven to a desperate act by selfish evil women and biased family law. If it was the case that he’d killed himself after being unable to cope with his divorce, then yes, perhaps we could look at it as a sad, desperate act and think about how we could better support both men and women in these situations. However that is not what happened here – this man murdered his two innocent little children as an act of revenge against his ex-partner. There is no conceivable excuse for that.

katarina // Posted 17 June 2008 at 9:29 am

I just went and read the stories about Brian Philcox. It’s very odd. The are obviously unwiling to say he killed his children, though the Fathers4Justice guy doesn’t seem to have any problems saying it. At the same time as saying that Philcox loved his children very much.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 17 June 2008 at 9:45 am

Brian Philcox cold bloodedly sent two nailbombs, one to his ex-wife because she was daring to divorce him and the other to a relative. Philcox then systematically murdered their children before committing suicide. It was not a ‘family tragedy’ but an act of male violence against women and children. Many men and women divorce but not all men murder their children as an act of revenge against their female partners. No excuses, no justifications accepted. This was a man who deliberately committed murder because he believed he owned his female partner and their children.

As for the BBC – obviously it is administered by white male supremacists who are intent on holding women responsible for the ills in the world. Do men commit plagiarism of course not according to the BBC!!

eleanargh // Posted 17 June 2008 at 9:52 am

Marvellous – just the short of thing I shout at the TV and Radio news every day, but never put into writing as it’s hard to write coherently when pissed off… Was this the Today programme this morning? Did you send it to them?

P.S. Aren’t Fathers 4 Justice and Families Need Fathers two separate organisations? Matt O’Connor’s from the former.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 17 June 2008 at 10:35 am

Last month in Scotland, on the same weekend, two fathers, in separate incidents, killed their children (four children in total). I wouldn’t call this rare as much as a disturbing pattern.

Louise Livesey // Posted 17 June 2008 at 10:45 am

Indeed, sorry, my mistake. Interestingly the BBC have now taken down the excerpt from Matt O’Connors too. Thank goodness.

Lynsey // Posted 17 June 2008 at 10:59 am

Just imagine it it had been a woman who had killed her children in this way and how it would have been reported. It would be an entirely different story.

I am continually frustrated by the way excuses are made for the very worst kind of murderers.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 17 June 2008 at 11:57 am

Well said Louise. The message from this reporting gives is “Women, don’t ever divorce your husband or they might murder your children.” This is exactly what the murderer wanted to say, and the media is implicitly supporting it by the way they are reporting this.

chem_fem // Posted 17 June 2008 at 12:05 pm

If we can stop making excuses for them and start accepting that this anger happens, we could try and get men to channel that anger elsewhere.

It isn’t just divorce, Garath Davies shot his ex-girlfriend as she worked in Harrods and he didn’t have to deal with any courts in their breakup.

If Brian Philcox had been made to manage his anger with counseling and take responsibility for keeping it under control then maybe the murders would not have happened. Our culture justifies it for him though.

Anne Onne // Posted 17 June 2008 at 1:10 pm

There is no excuse for kiling your children or significant other.

Any organisation working in the field of father’s rights should also impress upon their target group their responsibilities. I.e. that it is NEVER acceptable to harm your children or partner, and it is not something that you can justify because of hurt. It doesn’t matter how much you love your children, or mourn for your relationship, or feel you’ve been hard done by, if you feel justified in taking people’s lives. There are ways of coping with difficulties, and this is NEVER an option. To sweep it under the carpet is a disgrace to the women and children, and to right-thinking men who know this is wrong. If I was a man, I’d be insulted that it’s not a big deal for me to kill my children if I’m going through a divorce, and that someone else would be blamed.

I mean, feminist groups would never hear the end of it if rape victims were suspected in droves out of revenge, we’d rightly counsel against killing people, no matter what they’ve done (exception being self-defense). But here, we have groups supporting men in these situations, who are not sending a clear message that this is wrong, and are downplaying the seriousness of men kikking their partners and/or children.

Murder is the fault of the person who does the killing, nobody else. No provocation, no excuse can lessen the wrong of killing those you supposedly love, and men’s organisations, which are supposedly there to serve men, should also be there to support them and tell them this is not the way to do it.

Oviously, this is a problem society has as a whole, but all this reporting reads almost as tacit agreement that this is a justifiable thing for angry men to do, because they were ‘driven to it’. They were not. It was a choice, and they made it.

Funnily enough, there are as many women experiencing divorces as there are men, and divorce does not go easy on them, either. However, we don’t get them killing their families in anywhere near the same numbers.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 17 June 2008 at 3:09 pm

I sent a complaint to the BBC regarding the article on their website about Brian Philcox. I said I felt the headline and tone of the article was inappropriate and seemed to be trying to create excuses and gain sympathy for him.

I got a reply. Thought you all might like to read it:

“Thank you for this. This is a particularly tragic and emotive case, and I can understand your concern for accuracy. It’s a concern we ourselves share as we try to find the best way to describe a sensitive and developing situation. This particular report has been through several versions, and several headlines, as new information has become available. The headline has since been changed. However, with reference to the headline concerned, the fact that the divorce is reported as being a factor in the incident in no way suggests that it is an excuse or a justification, merely that it is a very relevant circumstance essential to helping people know what happened. In fact, the report contains comments from various sources, including one which reports that Brian Philcox had threatened violence. In addition, within the limits within which we must operate prior to a formal inquest verdict, the first paragraph makes clear the probable responsibility for the deaths,saying that the father “is thought to have gassed himself and two of his children”. I hope this helps answer your concerns

Yours sincerely,

Grahame Davies

Golygydd Newyddion Cyfryngau Newydd

Editor News New Media

dan // Posted 17 June 2008 at 3:32 pm

On the final note of the photo of the back of two female students….I don’t think the problem here is that they are suggesting that women are specifically blamed by this academic, but just that almost all images in the media of students tend to be women, esp on results day for GCSES A Levels. Most university prospectus’ also seem in my experience to show mostly women. I don’t offer any explaination as to why, but its an odd trend, perhaps the idea of men and studying and learning doesn’t seem to go together, we are just not expected to care.

Davina // Posted 17 June 2008 at 4:29 pm

Debate is about balancing the argument, not winding each other up with one-sided views to justify one’s own position. for reference:-


June 15 2007: Mum Rekha Kumari-Baker, 39, charged with stabbing her two daughters in Stretham, Cambs.

June 4 2007: Chef Iain Varma, 34, killed son Zak, eight, and daughter Chloe, four, in Devon house fire.

June 3 2007: Alberto Izaga allegedly battered his daughter, two, to death.

April 4 2007: Jethro Field, six, knifed to death by dad Dafydd, 53, in Surrey.

March 1 2007: Depressed Susan Talby, 41, suffocated her two sons before killing herself in Peterborough.

January 27 2007: Vivian Gamor, 29, admitted killing her son and daughter.

January 10 2007: Juli Begum, 26, found dead in bed with her two daughters.

November 19 2006: Natalie Ndayiragije, 27, murdered her two young children before killing herself.

November 6 2006: Perry Samuel, 35, strangled his two children.

October 31 2006:Mohammed Riaz, 49, killed his four daughters in a house fire.

August 31 2006: Ex-para Robert Tamar, 48, knifed his 15-month-old son in Hants.

August 31 2006: Navjeet Sidhu, 27, jumped in front of a train, killing her two kids.

August 16 2006: John Hogan, 32, allegedly pushed son Liam, six, from Crete balcony.

July 28 2006: Rahan Arshad, 36, jailed for life for killing his wife and three children in Manchester.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 17 June 2008 at 5:21 pm

It says in the Independent that of 700 homicides in Britain each year, about 30 involve the killing by a parent of a child aged 16 or under, and fathers are responsible for 53% of the killings.

So, the issue is not that men are doing this on a massively greater scale than women are (as they aren’t), it’s how it is being reported differently based on the gender of the parent responsible.

Davina // Posted 17 June 2008 at 6:12 pm

Look back at the archives of the events mentioned above – you will find almost exclusively that the reporting is neutral and sympathetic in tone, even in the reporting from the BBC website. The assertion that there is gender bias is based purely on the latest report quoted above. I find it heartening that most reportage acknowledges the grief and suffering of both the guilty parent and the “bystander” partner – both are victims, usually of one partner’s mental frailty. To use one example to generalise is not helpful.

james // Posted 17 June 2008 at 7:54 pm

“So, the issue is not that men are doing this on a massively greater scale than women are (as they aren’t), it’s how it is being reported differently based on the gender of the parent responsible.”

This has struck me. There have been several high profile cases where a separated mother has killed her children. The difference isn’t just that you don’t get the shroud-waving; but that the separation and the father are barely even mentioned, so you would even become aware of it being an issue unless you looked.

“Most university prospectus’ also seem in my experience to show mostly women. I don’t offer any explaination as to why, but its an odd trend…”

It’s because women outnumber men in higher education 6:4.

Lindsey // Posted 18 June 2008 at 11:22 am

I don’t find the picture of 2 female graduates particularly bad – it was only a small pic so you can’t really cover every possible type of person who goes to university. If it had been a pic of two men would we all be thinking ‘don’t women go to university?’

On the whole though I think the BBC leaves a lot to be desired, especially after seeing a SkyNews report on the surge in birth defects in Fallujah since the invasion and finding no trace of the story on BBC.

Amity // Posted 18 June 2008 at 4:53 pm

There’s a rather roaring debate going on over at Alpha Mummy (part of the Times Online) about the father who murdered his children and then killed himself and whether family courts and current divorce laws ‘drove’ him to do it. There are some really disgusting comments by men trying to defend this murderous man’s actions and I would love it if we could get some more feminist perspective in there.

Anne Onne // Posted 18 June 2008 at 9:57 pm

Catherine, that’s really interesting. I had assumed there were less wome killing in such situations, in part because when women kill their children, they are very clearly earmarked for blame, and their partner or divorce never mentioned, whereas men in the situation get a long sympathetic list of excuses, if not from the media, then from society itself. The act is clearly as bad whoever does it, but I think the idea that women are nurturing and could never be murderers means that it is particularly highlighted when they are, whereas men are almost expected to live up to the ‘manly’ stereotype of violence.

Sarah // Posted 19 June 2008 at 10:35 am

Amity, I’ve posted in that discussion at AlphaMummy, though honestly I’m finding it a bit upsetting and am shocked at the level of hatred some men seem to have towards their own ex-partners and women in general, and the way they are trying to blame this awful crime on women.

I like the AlphaMummy blog – I don’t always agree with the consensus view, and I think many of the women there would not consider themselves feminists, however there is often a lot of thoughtful discussion on issues affecting women/mothers, lots of women willing to share their real-life experiences and to be supportive of others. However there are certain topics (including divorce) where the place seems to be invaded by ‘men’s rights’ activist types, and then the discussion gets completely disrupted into addressing their accusations and generally pandering to them, and before you know it the women are not talking to each other any more, because the misogynistic men are consuming all their energy and attention.

I should add that there are men who post at alphamummy as ‘normal’ participants (not ‘trolls’) to discuss parenting issues, and I have no problem with them. It’s not all men, just a handful of idiots.

Amity // Posted 19 June 2008 at 2:05 pm

Sarah, I’ve posted on that thread too but you’re right, it’s turning into a troll fest over there right now, which normally doesn’t happen. I’ve given up.

Dan Spacie // Posted 21 June 2008 at 1:15 pm

Anne-Owen, the problem for men vs women in divorce is that a) far more women initiate divorce than men (it’s a power thing – you know how feeling powerless makes one feel) b) divorce does a higher toll on a men – why is he several times more likely to commit suicide? Partly it is the way men are socialised by other men and women to be ‘strong’ and self reliant, but a man is also vastly more likely to lose a substantial part of his income, home, contact with children too – in other words, everything he has ever worked for. The family courts and general divorce law is heavily complicit in this process and really deny any female wrong doing or culpability. Child support obligations are enforced far more than visitation rights too. It’s a crazy situation – not so much as in the United States – but none the less, I will not be marrying until it becomes less of a minefield.

This man was utterly, utterly wrong in what he did – so please do not deride my post by linking these two issues – I am merely commenting on the situation of men and divorce for your information.

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