Mothers whose daughters were killed by past or current partners demand sentencing change

This video contains distressing images

The mothers of three young women who were all killed by past or current partners are demanding a change in the sentencing rules for fatal domestic attacks. ITV News Presenter Julie Etchingham reports

Every now and then, an appalling act of male violence against a woman hits the headlines.

Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Julia James, Zara Aleena.

Women murdered by strangers in unprovoked attacks. They shatter families, make us all shudder and occasionally they prompt politicians to act.

But statistically such attacks, mercifully, are relatively rare.

Extreme male violence against women is much more likely to happen in the place they should feel safest: their own homes. And the perpetrators are likely to be a current or former partner.

Every week - stop and think about this - every single week, two women in England and Wales are killed in these circumstances.

It’s a statistic which shames Britain - and which has become so shockingly routine, it rarely makes the news.

And here is another fact which may shock you - which you might not be aware of.

Under current guidelines if a woman is stabbed to death with a knife in her own home, the starting point for sentencing is 10 years lower than if the same woman is stabbed to death in the street, with a weapon brought to the scene with intent.

The law does not technically differentiate between locations of killings - if a person brought a weapon to the victim’s home and then committed murder in the kitchen, the 25-year starting point would apply.

The disparity in the law has prompted a growing campaign for change, and on which the government has been running a public consultation which closes on March 4.

As the clock ticks down to that date - now just days away - I’ve been investigating the issue for the Tonight programme.

It’s more complex than you might think.

But the stories of the families who’ve lost beloved daughters to domestic homicide are some of the most harrowing I have ever heard. We’ve also spoken to a brave woman who survived the most appalling knife attack by her partner, and we have had rare access to a refuge - which provides emergency shelter for those in mortal danger in their own homes.

I meet three mothers united in the worst possible circumstances. As we gather in a kitchen around cups of tea, Elaine Newborough, Julie Devey and Carole Gould tell me about their beautiful young daughters: Megan, Poppy and Ellie. Daughters with everything to live for, until each was murdered by their partners or ex-partners in the most savage knife attacks imaginable. Ellie was just 17.

(From left to right) Elaine Newborough, Julie Devey and Carole Gould. Credit: ITV News

All thought their grief and trauma could not get any worse.

Until they heard the sentences given to the men.

Poppy’s killer got 16 years. She had been stabbed repeatedly in her head and body, in her bed. A hundred injuries. She couldn’t cry out for help because he cut her throat.

Ellie’s killer got 12 and a half years, because he too was 17. He had left the knife in her neck to try to claim she’d killed herself.

Megan’s killer got 23 years: his sentence extended by the judge because of so many disturbing aggravating factors. He had almost decapitated her, and drove her body away from the house to dump it.

If the sentencing rules were changed, the minimum would be 25 years for adults.

So why is there such a disparity in sentencing?

It hinges largely on a change made by the Labour government in 2010. Just like now - there was a public outcry over knife crime, in particular in the wake of the murder of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella, stabbed to death in the street by three men.

It led to a decision to raise the sentencing level for murder with a knife taken to a scene with intent - to a minimum tariff of 25 years.

It made such murders in effect 'special cases' - along with gun crime and terrorism.

Julie Etchingham is joined by ITV's Tonight programme producer, Anna Manton and the Chair of charity Refuge, Hetti Barkworth-Nanton to talk about domestic violence murderers get shorter sentences

So called ‘domestic’ murders - where the weapon, usually a kitchen knife, is already in the home - remained at the minimum tariff of 15 years.

But campaigners - not least the three mothers of Poppy, Carole and Ellie - say that means their daughters’ murders are not treated with equal gravity.

Their pressure prompted the government to act.

It commissioned a review of domestic homicide by leading barrister Clare Wade KC, which was published last year. Some of the recommendations she made have already been taken up by the government which are already leading to longer sentencing.

But crucially - and controversially - Clare Wade did not recommend raising the minimum tariff for domestic homicide from 15 years to 25.


As I said - there are complexities in this issue.

What about the cases - admittedly very small in number - where a woman who has suffered long term abuse by her partner, grabs a knife from the kitchen drawer and kills him?

She would then potentially be subject to a minimum tariff of the 25 years too. Clare Wade and others - not least Harriet Wistrich, founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice - say this uprate in the minimum sentencing could in fact be detrimental to some women.

Others, like the chair of Refuge, Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, says this potential anomaly could, however, easily be addressed by the legal system to offer protection to such women.

There are other complexities too which make this a far less straightforward change that one might imagine.

But for the mothers of Poppy, Ellie and Megan it is a simple question of fairness and equality before the law - a recognition that their daughters’ murders are as grave as if they had happened in the street at the hands of a stranger.

There is a window of opportunity for everyone to have their say… and it closes in ten days’ time.

In that time it is likely, statistically, that two more women will have lost their lives in a vicious domestic attack.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Our thoughts remain with the families of all those murdered in horrendous circumstances by partners or ex-partners.

“The government has taken decisive action to ensure domestic killers are locked up for longer. We’re making killing at the end of a relationship, using excessive violence and coercive or controlling behaviour statutory aggravating factors for murder, and for manslaughter involving sexual conduct.

“This is a complex area of the law and changes must be carefully considered. This is why we are consulting on sentencing starting points."

Watch Tonight ‘Murdered at Home’ on Thursday evening 8.30pm on ITV1 and ITVX.

Domestic Abuse helplines


Fortalice is a Refuge for women and their children escaping domestic abuse.

Their 24 hour advice line for Bolton is 01204 365677, or you can call them on 01204 701846.

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Refuge supports more than 6,000 clients on any one day, helping them rebuild their lives and overcome many different forms of violence and abuse - including domestic violence, sexual violence, so-called ‘honour’-based violence, human trafficking and modern slavery, and female genital mutilation

  • If you, or someone you care about, is experiencing domestic abuse, you can phone The National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

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Women's Aid

Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. They have been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic violence and abuse through practice for over 45 years.

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Men's Advice Line

Men’s Advice Line is a team of friendly Advisors who will listen and believe you. Its focus is to increase the safety of men experiencing domestic abuse, and the safety of any children, by providing confidential support.

  • You can call on 0808 8010 327 for non-judgemental information and support.

  • Lines are open Monday and Wednesday, 9am to 8pm, and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9am to 5pm

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The Mankind Initiative is the principal, expert and specialist charity in the UK focussing on male victims of domestic abuse. The charity collaborates and works in close partnership with other organisations and practitioners to support these victims too. It was the first in Great Britain to support male victims.

  • You can call ManKind on 01823 334 244 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm)

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Merseyside Domestic Violence Service

Merseyside Domestic Violence Services (MDVS) formally known as Chrysalis is a registered charity working with women, men, children, young people and families whose lives have been affected in some way by the issues related to domestic violence and cultural/honour based crime.

For assistance call or text 07802 722703, or email

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