Myth five: ‘He just flipped and killed her’

This myth is one of those particularly pervasive ones that seems to infiltrate both our media and our legal systems. 

When Anthony Williams, a 70 year old man, strangled and killed his wife, Ruth, five days into the first UK coronavirus lockdown in 2020, a court found him guilty not of murder but of manslaughter by diminished responsibility. 

Why? Well, the court deemed him to have been struggling with the emotional effects of the first coronavirus lockdown, and to have been consumed by money worries. He claimed to have been struggling with a period of depression, although one psychiatric report noted that Williams had no known history of depression prior to the killing. 

At the scene of the murder, Williams told police ‘I am sorry, I just snapped, I am sorry’. 

It seems that the police, and the court, took Williams at his word. The idea that other mental struggles or depression mitigated Williams’ responsibility in the killing of his wife was treated as a given. 

And yet the actual killing of Ruth Williams seems surprisingly controlled and full of intent. He had tried to strangle her in their bedroom. She escaped from his grasp and ran downstairs and was unlocking the front door when he grabbed her by the throat again. He sought out his victim deliberately even after she escaped. 

While we cannot change a verdict, and while we cannot know the full story, the verdict generated much outrage from domestic abuse campaigners and was seen as a sign that the law is far more willing to make allowances for men who kill their wives than it is to condemn the crime outright. 

This is not the only such story. The strangulation of Claire Parry by Timothy Brehmer also falls into this category. He was deemed to have lost control. This is despite the fact that Parry (like Williams) was killed by asphyxiation – not exactly a quick death or a particularly plausible method of ‘accidental killing’. 

What we see with all these verdicts is a sign that our narratives around domestic violence and the killing of women by men are heavily influenced by misperception. Men don’t ‘just kill’ women; they don’t ‘just flip’. It’s not that easy to kill another person, especially by methods such as asphyxiation. There often has to be a controlled intention to kill in these cases in order to cause severe harm.