Our 'nice guy' father murdered our mother and sister yet the media focused on his suicide
Luke and Ryan Hart's father Lance murdered their mother Claire and sister Charlotte in 2016. Below, they speak about how their father was personified as "a nice guy" who "snapped" in the aftermath of the brutal killings in Lincolnshire in England.
On July 19, 2016, our father killed our mother Claire and our 19-year-old sister Charlotte in broad daylight. He then killed himself.
Only five days before, we had broken our mother out of the family house and we had moved to a small rented house five miles away. We had spent our entire lives studying, working and saving to give mum and Charlotte the life they deserved, only to have it stolen from them.
In the aftermath of the murders, we witnessed a commentary that described our father as a ‘nice guy’ who was ‘always caring’ and ‘good at DIY’. One report even stated that the murder of our sister and mother was “understandable”. The sympathising male angle of the reporting revealed our default societal perspective: we were forced to read of our father’s ‘suicide note’ rather than the ‘murder note’ that it was to our mother and sister. The murders were treated as an isolated, random and unpreventable news story for which nothing needed to change.
Yet, in the subsequent police investigation it was uncovered that our father had been searching online for reports of men who killed their families for months before he killed ours. He would have seen the media providing these men with a public funeral and justifying their actions.
In fact, victim-blaming and murderer-sympathising headlines are still common. In Ireland, two notable cases echoed our experience, although there are innumerable such instances. Jessica Bowes was brutally attacked by her partner and one report recorded that a ‘mum broke nearly every bone in her face’ as if she did it all by herself. Clodagh Hawe and her three sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan were murdered by their father. The immediate response quoted Alan as a pillar in the community and a primary school teacher who helped out with the local GAA club. It is no surprise that we do not see cruelty when it is happening given that we continue to deny it after it has happened.
It is no coincidence that the media often expresses shock at domestic homicides, highlighting the ‘good character’ of the killers. This should be proof that the stereotypes are wrong and we need to be willing to have conversations about this. As much as the media represents these murders as incomprehensible, they can be understood.
The fact that neighbours can think abusers are ‘great guys’ but that their families can suffer so much shows how these men, and it is almost overwhelmingly men, control who they abuse.
These men kill because they believe they can, in fact they believe they should in order to assert their masculine dominance. The emotional language used in the media betrays the true motivations of men who kill women and children. They are not ‘provoked’, they do not ‘snap’, they do not ‘lose it’. They are calculated and cold-blooded.
The media portrays a dangerous outside world for women and children, full of perilous dark alleyways and malevolent strangers. However, true danger for women and children is at home, at the hands of their husbands and fathers. 50pc of murdered women are killed by a partner or ex-partner as opposed to only 3pc for men. Men do not randomly kill the women closest to them, these women are targeted because they are perceived as male possessions. Abuse is so widespread, in fact one in four women will suffer it in their lifetime in the UK, that we cannot arrest our way out of domestic abuse. We need to stop it by talking – particularly by talking about the abuser’s use of control – this starts with the media.
We recognise that significant amounts of education on coercive control are required. In fact, despite living with it for 25 years, the first time we heard of coercive control was when we were sat in the police station, two days after the murders, and saw at a poster that articulated our father’s behavior exactly. Our father had not been explicitly violent towards us but he turned our home into a financial, psychological and emotional prison.
Since we did not understand coercive control, at first we could not understand how the murders of Mum and Charlotte had seemed to have come out of nowhere: we had understood domestic abuse to be about violence, but the violence all came at once. However, it was only when we understood domestic abuse to be about control and when we understood murder as the ultimate act of control that we were able to see the truth of our experiences. Suddenly, our father’s actions followed a trend of increasing control over our entire lives.
Coercive control is best understood by considering not necessarily what is done to you, but what is taken away. Fundamentally, coercive control is a liberty crime. It is often asked, ‘why didn’t she leave?’ And that question shows how little domestic abuse is understood. Abuse is not supposed to push the victims away, but to force them to stay. Our father’s behavior made us all, but particularly our mother, a socio-economic hostage; slave to his masculine insecurity.
When a bomb goes off, the media talk about terrorism in general. But when a domestic homicide happens, the media rarely mention domestic abuse. They focus in on ‘personal family problems’ and often frame the discussion around male mental health issues.
We cannot afford to continue uninformed conversation on abuse any longer. Abuse is a societal problem an order of magnitude more dangerous than terrorism. Over one hundred women are killed by partners or ex-partners each year. It took terrorist between 2006 and 2018 to kill one hundred people. The greatest terrorism is gender based, not religious or ethnic.
The media needs to play its role in ending abuse.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Women’s Aid on their national helpline 1800 341 900.
For children, Childline can be contacted for confidential support on 1800 66 66 66 or text Talk to 50101.