"Mrs Justice Thirlwall: the one woman Philpott couldn't defeat"
April 8, 2013 6:28 AM   Subscribe

"Before examining the night in question – the petrol, the plot, the screaming 999 calls, the dead children – Thirlwall said: “It is necessary to look at the history of your relationship with women.” I’ve rarely heard a judge say such a thing, although in the judicial system there aren’t that many female judges, so there’s more chance this take on events is overlooked. Across Europe, the average gender balance among judges is 52 per cent men and 48 per cent women. At 23 per cent, England and Wales is fourth from the bottom, followed only by Azerbaijan, Scotland and Armenia. The higher up the court system, the more male-dominated the bench becomes. Only 15.5 per cent of High Court judges are women. The odds were against Philpott meeting a female judge this week – one woman he had no chance of controlling, striking, or impregnating – but I’m quietly joyous he did." In The Independent, Grace Dent looks at the abusive background of Mick Philpott, who got his six children killed in a house fire he started to take revenge on his ex.

The Guardian has mrs Justice Thirlwall's sentencing remarks in full, as well as more background information on the case.

George Osborne was quick to make political hay out of Philpott's conviction, arguing that it was his dependence on welfare that led him to this deed, something that obviously annoyed and incensed a lot of people, including Labour's Ed Balls, who called this a "cynical" move.

As Grace Dent argues and Polly Neate in The Guardain echoes, it's not so much welfare as domestic abuse that is the key to this case. Mick Philpott had a long history and a previous conviction for abuse and the fact that he had six children fits in with this history:
The number of children he had with his partners has been described in the media as a means to access increasing levels of child benefit, but in our experience a perpetrator of domestic violence may try and keep his abused partner pregnant as a further means of control.
posted by MartinWisse (36 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. The more I learn about the UK the less I romanticize it as a bastion of superior anglo culture. Especially with Margaret Thatcher's death today, may she rest in peace along with the 258 people who died in the Falklands.
posted by Mooseli at 6:51 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a little confused - if there was evidence of domestic abuse why not convict him on that as well? A little troubling this guy could be out in 15.
posted by corb at 7:10 AM on April 8, 2013


He was convicted, at least on some charges, and served and finished jail time.

He could be out in 15, but not less than 15. The sentence means he won't be eligible for release of any kind (parole, license, whatever) for *at least* 15 years. In all likelihood he'll be kept in longer than that.

The other conspirators will serve half their sentences and then be let out on licence, even though their sentences appear longer.
posted by tel3path at 7:19 AM on April 8, 2013


"Across Europe, the average gender balance among judges is 52 per cent men and 48 per cent women. At 23 per cent, England and Wales is fourth from the bottom, followed only by Azerbaijan, Scotland and Armenia."

Presumably the difference between common law and civil law systems could make a difference here. Also, how do lay judges figure in?
posted by Jahaza at 7:38 AM on April 8, 2013


You need to make a correction here. You say he had 6 children. He had 17 children.

He murdered 6 children, 5 of whom were his own. His surviving 11 children did not live in the house with him.
posted by rednikki at 7:54 AM on April 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I read Justice Thirlwall's full judgement the other day, and recommend it; it's pithy and well-written.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:57 AM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I thought Osborne was using Philpott as an example of welfare fraud.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:22 AM on April 8, 2013


> I thought Osborne was using Philpott as an example of welfare fraud.

Only superficially; when Osborne said we need to think about taxpayers subsidising 'lifestyles like that', he was lumping people on all forms of social security together with people who beat their wives, burn their houses down and murder their own children. He let others state his accusation more explicitly. Here, for example, Andrew Wilson of the Daily Mail, when asked by BBC's John Humphrys if the welfare state 'made this man kill his children', said 'Yes, it did. It did. The reason that he killed the children, albeit accidentally, was that he wanted the thousand pounds a month that that other woman had taken away from him. That was the motive for the crime, and that's why it's justifiable to say that this is a benefits crime'.

I notice that neither Osborne nor the Daily Mail accuse the banks of murder when bankrupted business men murder their families.

Also, was Philpott actually committing welfare fraud? He was certainly living on benefits, but I don't recall any mention of fraud (I could be wrong).
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:52 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, Osborne did not mention fraud, he was using Philpott to try to suggest that there are a surfeit of people who have "lifestyles like that". I assume he meant based on producing children to access more welfare funds but he was not that specific. In doing so, and by being entirely vague about who he was referring to, he was able to move forward the Government's efforts to cast anyone on benefit as a slacker and a shirker and to further marginalise them by associating benefit and those on benefit with someone entirely contemptible.
posted by biffa at 8:53 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


This seems to be a roundup of related articles.
posted by corb at 9:14 AM on April 8, 2013


I think I'll start taking count of all the horrifying stories I keep coming across where men of all classes abuse, hurt, or kill their exes and children. Or I'll just read Buzzfeed. I'm honestly thinking I can't stomach this anymore.

Though I guess I keep reading this stuff because I keep hoping there are personality characteristics you can suss out to identify who might become that guy. Though more often than not, there are people who say how great the guy is, how they'd never have believed he was capable of it.

Shudder.
posted by discopolo at 10:32 AM on April 8, 2013


discopolo, the usual text is "Why Does He Do That?" by Lundy Bancroft.

You might also like the "Criminal Mindset" section of this site.
posted by tel3path at 10:34 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I'll start taking count of all the horrifying stories I keep coming across where men of all classes abuse, hurt, or kill their exes and children.

Just google 'Family annihilation'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:38 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was thinking I'd like to know how this guy was treated as a kid. I feel like it would either confirm suspicions, or surprise me in an important way.

Unfortunately googling for "Michael Philpott childhood" wasn't helpful at all. Wikipedia doesn't seem to have that information either.
posted by tychotesla at 11:03 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Violence is intergenerational unfortunately, traveling through time along the family tree.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:16 AM on April 8, 2013


Wow. The more I learn about the UK the less I romanticize it as a bastion of superior anglo culture. Especially with Margaret Thatcher's death today, may she rest in peace along with the 258 people who died in the Falklands.

I don't want to derail but I am curious about this. It was an armed invasion of British territory complete with landmines (to this day the main beach at Port Stanley is off-limits as well as many other places) and British citizens living under martial law imposed by the Argentines. What was the preferred response?

I am also confused by your only including the British body count.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:31 AM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think I'll start taking count of all the horrifying stories I keep coming across where men of all classes abuse, hurt, or kill their exes and children.

I gotta say, be careful with this.

Our minds make predictable errors by equating the range of the media to the range of ordinary human experience. But that sort of information about injustice is best addressed through statistics and vetted case studies.

The number of horrific events by itself—after you move past the number 1 that is—tells you nothing about the world unless you put it in the proper contexts.
posted by tychotesla at 11:45 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This guy should have stayed in prison for a hell of a lot longer after his first conviction. Good Lord, what was he doing on the streets?
posted by fshgrl at 2:22 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The number of horrific events by itself—after you move past the number 1 that is—tells you nothing about the world unless you put it in the proper contexts.

Gosh are you missing the point. Do you think George Osborne is interested in the proper context? No, he's interested in simple propaganda. Some scumbag who was also poor killed his kids so here's a weapon we can use to beat on other people who are also poor. Keeping track of rich people who are also scumbags is just a way of counting out that there are scumbags on both sides. Though I'm sure it won't have the same impact in the press.
posted by biffa at 3:16 PM on April 8, 2013


This guy should have stayed in prison for a hell of a lot longer after his first conviction. Good Lord, what was he doing on the streets?

Seriously. Is anyone aware of UK prison sentencing? Is this a thing?
posted by corb at 3:21 PM on April 8, 2013


Gosh are you missing the point.

You're right, I guess I did miss the focus of that sentence.
posted by tychotesla at 3:28 PM on April 8, 2013


Wikipedia entry on Philpott:
In July 1978, aged 21, whilst absent without leave from the army, Philpott attempted to murder his girlfriend Kim Hill, with whom he had a two-year relationship, beginning when Hill was 15. Philpott had previously shot Hill in the groin with a crossbow because he felt her dress had been too short, and had cracked her kneecap with a hammer when she paid too much attention to a baby she had been minding.

Philpott attempted to kill Hill because she sent him a letter saying she was splitting up with him. He stabbed her over a dozen times as she was lying in bed. He stabbed her mother when she came to her daughter's aid. Hill suffered collapsed lungs, and a punctured bladder, kidney and liver, which she believes caused her subsequent liver cancer. Philpott was convicted of attempted murder of Hill, and grievous bodily harm with intent against her mother, and was sentenced to seven years in prison in December 1978. Philpott was released after three years and two months.
How the hell someone only serves 3 years for attempted murder is beyond me.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:32 PM on April 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


WHAT THE FUCKITY FUCK.

Shot her in the groin with a crossbow because her skirt was too short AND cracked her kneecap with a hammer? THEN stabbed her on a SEPARATE occasion?

How the motherfuck is this a seven year offense all told even if he /hadn't/ gotten paroled?
posted by corb at 6:01 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, he didn't kill anyone....

No, really, I know someone who was almost killed by a stalker who tried to drown her - in New Jersey - and the police said that they could only get him for assault due to no one dying. This is a thing, and it disturbs me. If she had died...

...thankfully, she didn't, and her stalker moved on, but still, she's very twitchy ten years on.
posted by mephron at 7:14 PM on April 8, 2013


Well, he didn't kill anyone....

In most common law jurisidictions, attempted murder and sucessful murder carry the same sentence. Otherwise, you're just rewarding the perpetrator for being incompetent.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:37 PM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


And yet, when you toss stalking or domestic violence into the hopper, it takes a lot more to get that charge, instead of assault and battery or something of that nature. Which is very, very sad.
posted by mephron at 7:50 PM on April 8, 2013


Every so often, Grace Dent drops her Philomena Cunk routine and writes something genuinely incisive. Then she goes back to live-tweeting reality TV and sniggering at the cover of Hello! magazine.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:32 PM on April 8, 2013


Attempted murder is hard to prove, especially when it's clearly a spur of the moment thing.

Short of pointing a gun directly at someone's head and pulling the trigger you can claim you were just going to wound them, and even then you can claim you thought the gun was unloaded.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:43 AM on April 9, 2013


I imagine his time inside will be a bit like Porridge.

By which I mean less that he'll find himself sharing a cell with Ronnie Barker, and more that somebody is going to drop heavy things on his head until it looks like somebody spilled a bowl of creamy oats from a very great height.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:55 AM on April 9, 2013


Attempted murder is hard to prove, especially when it's clearly a spur of the moment thing.

When he stabbed Kim Hill in 1978, he also stabbed Hill's mother. 11 times. He was only charged with GBH for that.

How does anyone legitimately argue that they stabbed someone 11 time, but didn't intend to kill them?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:32 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Obiwanwasabi: Extra-judicial punishment being dealt by convicts on other convicts is a huge part of the problem. By endorsing it, you have made yourself part of the problem. In other words: Stop endorsing violence if you're against it. Don't think you're free and clear because you didn't joke about prison rape.
posted by Goofyy at 6:03 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]



How does anyone legitimately argue that they stabbed someone 11 time, but didn't intend to kill them?


Shot her in the groin with a crossbow because her skirt was too short AND cracked her kneecap with a hammer? THEN stabbed her on a SEPARATE occasion?

How the motherfuck is this a seven year offense all told even if he /hadn't/ gotten paroled?


These offences occurred in the late Seventies. The past is another country, etc. At that time women, particularly domestic partners/wives, didn't get the protection they deserved.

If Philpott had shot a male High Court judge in the groin with a crossbow in 1978, he'd have got 25 years and served every day of it.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 6:09 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Philpott had shot a male High Court judge in the groin with a crossbow in 1978, he'd have got 25 years and served every day of it.

And there would be 17 fewer people alive today.

Sometimes I think the state should step in and stop these sort of people breeding, and people think I am a monster.
posted by Mezentian at 8:02 AM on April 9, 2013


How does anyone legitimately argue that they stabbed someone 11 time, but didn't intend to kill them?

It's a catch-22. How does anyone stab someone 11 times without killing them? They must not have been trying to kill them. In fact arguably they must have gone out of their way *not* to kill them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:38 AM on April 9, 2013


These offences occurred in the late Seventies. The past is another country, etc. At that time women, particularly domestic partners/wives, didn't get the protection they deserved.

Well, not just women. Sentences were much, much shorter in the 70s for pretty much every crime.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:14 AM on April 9, 2013


Extra-judicial punishment being dealt by convicts on other convicts is a huge part of the problem.

Yes, because people killed in prison frequently re-offend.

In other words: Stop endorsing violence if you're against it.

I'm not. I'm very, very much for it in particular circumstances.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:56 AM on April 14, 2013


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