Apparently, murdering your wife is not a sufficient reason to lose custody of your children.

Neil Ellerbeck murdered his wife Kate Ellerbeck on November 14th, 2008. Kate received 43 separate injuries in the attack before being strangled to death. Neil was sentenced to 8 years in prison for “manslaughter” The jury cleared him of murder “on the basis of lack of intent to cause serious harm”; 43 separate injuries which lead to her death but it was still judged a “lack of intent to cause serious harm”. How did we get to a point where 43 separate injuries leading to death aren’t considered intent to cause serious harm? 

Neil’s responsibility for the murder of Kate was minimised by the press in a myriad of ways, with their obsession over Kate’s affairs whilst simultaneously downplaying Neil’s own affair. The Telegraph and Daily Mail were both obsessed with how much money Neil earned as an investment banker, as if being a rich white man was more important than his status as a murderer. The very obvious  signs of domestic violence were ignored and the quite clear indicator of Neil’s potential to physical violence downplayed. Neil was tracking his wife’s movements. He was recording her conversations. Jealously and controlling behaviour are obvious indicators of a propensity to violence, yet these were minimised in the media

This is, apparently, part of the Judge’s statement at sentencing: 

‘We have studied and dissected a marriage which was obviously in terminal decline. It should have ended in separation and divorce. Tragically it ended in death. 

‘The jury have found that you did not intend to kill or cause really serious harm during the long eruption of violence which ended in her death. 

‘You achieved a great deal in your life, but it is plain to me there was a darker side of your character – the secretive obsessively jealous husband who spied on his wife, invaded her privacy and contributed to the unhappiness in the final months and years of her life. 

‘A husband who knew divorce was coming and would go to almost any length to prevent that from happening.  

‘You squirreled money away intending to keep it from your wife. It was the darker side to your character that boiled over. 

‘I am sure you intended some harm to your wife albeit not serious harm. I am sure your anger and frustration erupted that morning when it became clear your wife was serious about divorce and it was then you applied constant and deliberate pressure to her neck.’

Neil was sentenced to eight years for the murder of his wife. He served four before being released. He is now living in his former home with his two children. He murdered their mother and only spent 4 years in prison. He now has access to his million dollar home. He has custody of his children. A man who brutally murdered his wife because she asked for a divorce is now living in their former home with their children. 

Because, murdering their mother in anger doesn’t constitute a significant risk to the children’s lives. 

Because, a middle class white man who violently murdered a woman shouldn’t lose custody of his children. 

Because, a middle class white man couldn’t possibly be a risk to his children. After all, no middle class white man has ever murdered his children.

Because, a middle class white man with a clear history of domestic violence against his partner couldn’t possibly be a risk to his children. 

The facts that he has already abused the children by forcing them to live in the house where he was abusing their mother, that he has already committed child abuse by killing their mother, and the fact that he is continuing to abuse his children by forcing them to live in the house where he killed their mother with him are all, well, just irrelevant really. 

Instead, he gets to move back into his expensive house and pretend that he hasn’t already destroyed the lives of his children. 

Welcome to the Patriarchy: where women and children don’t matter. 

24 thoughts on “Apparently, murdering your wife is not a sufficient reason to lose custody of your children.”

  1. Quite the converse actually, this decision was pretty obviously made with the best interests of the children at heart. As someone who used to sit on Children’s Panels in Scotland and so has seen the inside of the care system to some extent I can assure you that living with the father, especially a rich white privileged one, is overwhelmingly more likely to produce a better outcome for them than being in care. Obviously that’s a scandal in itself, but that’s not this argument.

    Check your facts. Around 25% of children in care have admitted to assaulting another child with the intent to cause harm withing the last year, 15% regularly carry a knife, nearly two thirds suffer from mental health issues, over half leave school with no qualifications and teenage pregnancy is many more times more common. Somewhere around half of all children who have been in care end up in prison at some point, and around a quarter of the prison population have been in care.

    It’s horrendous, and it’s wrong that this is the situation. But that’s how things are. Giving custody to the father in this case, albeit with all the reservations you discuss, is pragmatically most likely to be in the best interests of the children themselves. Indeed it has to be as by law and by professional practice that is the primary principal guiding all the professionals involved.

    1. I’m well aware of the outcomes for children in care. Oddly, if you read the article, you’ll find that the children do have extended family who could care for them, rather than being placed with a man who already has a history of violence. After all, the children have hardly been living in the house alone for the past four years.

    2. And in a case like this there will have been an extensive multi-agency review most likely involving the courts, police, probationary services, psychologists, social workers and anyone else relevant, and the decision will have been taken that *in the best interests of the children* they are placed back with their father.

      Neither you nor I know the detailed circumstances of current placements and long term options for the children, but you can be pretty sure that these, and the issue of violence and emotional well being will have been considered in depth. This will also have been after all a child protection issue, and given the publicity a potentially career-ending one for those involved if they place the children back and there is subsequently any abuse of any type.

      The bottom line is that they are back with their father because that is in the best interests of the children.

    3. They are teenagers. Their father spent 4 years in prison. I think they know he killed their mother.

      And, living with an abusive man is never in the best interests of the children. We live in a culture that minimises, obfuscates and rewards male violence. That is why the children have been returned to their father. Not because it is best for them.

    4. > “I can assure you that living with the father, especially a rich white privileged one, is overwhelmingly more likely to produce a better outcome for them than being in care.”

      You know, that’s great and everything, but you’ve sort of left out a quite important piece of information. That bit about the children’s father killed the children’s mother. That bit.

      > “The bottom line is that they are back with their father because that is in the best interests of the children.”

      That’s not what has happened. The children are back living with their father because the child protection process has decided that that is in the best interests of the children. And that’s the whole point. That whole process of child protection and consideration of long-term placement options sits within and is influenced by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, in which violence and abuse perpetrated by men (and particularly white middle class men) is minimised and excused (maybe not wholly but at least partially).

      So it’s likely, I think, that the process which decided that the children would live with their father is flawed in this regard, entrenched as it is within prejudicial, discriminatory and oppressive societal attitudes and power structures.

    5. So on the one side we have a group of professionals, all of who will have spent years qualifying, will most probably have decades of experience in practical child protection, offending, psychiatric and related issues, will have full access to whatever background reports they require about the children, their extended family, and the father, are legally required to act in the best interests of the children, are professionally required to act in the best interests of the children, and I’m sure morally will act in the best interests of the children too. They’ll also be under considerable pressure not to take risks because to get it wrong would be professional suicide.

      And on the other had we have your opinion based on your reading of radical feminist theory and what you’ve seen reported about the case in the newspapers and online.

      See the problem with that?

      This reminds me of the recent furor about Social Services taking children in care are from foster parents who were members of UKIP. The Daily Mail types had a field day laying into Social Workers but the situation turned out to be just a tad more complex 🙂

    6. I do see the problem with that. At least, I would do if the analysis you presented wasn’t so reductive.

      Were you directly involved in the decision in this instance to place the children with their father?

    7. And there are plenty of professionals out there warning other professionals of the correlation between men being abusive to their partner and abusive to their children. Why are the professionals in this case not heeding that very valid research? Why is this very real correlation never taken seriously and the “children’s best interest” line used against fathers who have abused and killed their partners.

      This man felt entitled to kill his partner because she had an affair. You really think he isn’t going to abusive to his children when they step out of line? Because if you don’t you are naive, dangerous and part of the problem.

    8. Reductive for suggesting that perhaps a group of trained professionals with full access to the facts, a system of case reviews, and a legal requirement to act in the best interests of the children, might be assumed to act (in what is undoubtedly a complex and emotive set of circumstances) in the best interests of the children?

    9. First of all, you have no knowledge of my professional training. Please do not assume facts not in evidence. After all, you are commenting as ‘anonymous’ so we have no ability to judge your professional qualifications.

      Secondly, we all know that there are serious problems with child protection in the UK. One of the biggest is that men are entitled to relationships with their children even if they have perpetrated domestic violence within the house. Witnessing domestic violence is considered as much child abuse as physically harming the children themselves. So, why the double standard? Other jurisdictions have much stricter guidelines on child protection which involve prohibiting contact with an abusive parent. Why does the UK assume that the man’s relationship with the child is in the best interests of the child?

  2. In fact, I really can’t believe that anyone is arguing that this is a good decision. What message is this sending to these children and society in general? The message that their mother and women in general don’t matter. That men should be forgiven EVEN WHEN THEY MURDER YOUR MOTHER. It is funny how women/children are always the ones expected to do the forgiving.

    (Apologies for multi-posting SGM)

    1. @scallopsrgreat, I’d have thought it pretty reasonable to assume that the issues you bring up where considered. But this is like deciding that the jury got a court case wrong on what you’ve heard about it down the pub and not sat through all the evidence presented in court.

      Maybe the existing placements were breaking down, maybe they were abusive themselves, maybe grandparents were getting frail and couldn’t cope, there’s all sorts of possibilities we just don’t know. I would agree with you and SGM from the outside that the decision is surprising but people often have to make pragmatic decisions using the options they have available. As I said at the top if the choice was perhaps between the care system and the father (who will be under supervision himself at the moment) then on balance the best outcome for the children could easily be to stay with the father. That wouldn’t be minimizing or excusing anything – it would simply be making the best decision available *for these particular children* with the resources available – and in fact making the opposite decision (to put them into care) would itself be abusive.

      If you’re in Scotland and seriously interested in these sort of issues then it’s worthwhile considering applying to join the children’s panel system, It’s been a few years since I served on it myself, but my overwhelming memory is of groups of (often much maligned) committed and caring professionals trying to make difficult decisions in complex and messy circumstances with limited resources in the best interests of children.

  3. I think you are being over-generous Anonymous. I don’t think these “professionals” (I am not entirely certain who you mean – courts, social services, psychologists/psychiatrists) do know or do consider the correlation between abuse to partners and abuse to children. We see it all the time that inappropriate access to children is given to men who have been abusive to women and those men manipulate and abuse the children whilst in their care. These men use their own children as pawns to get back at their ex-partners. The long-term effects are devastating for the children. In extreme cases the children are murdered.

    All these professionals work within a patriarchy. Their views are already tainted with “women aren’t to be trusted”, “men are to be believed”. Abusive men are often not recognised as such. They are often represented as hard done by or misunderstood or they just snapped because of the behaviour of the women and sometimes it is believed that the woman is actually the abusive one even though she is the one living in fear.

    The default position is that the man has only been abusive to the woman, not the children. Not that his actions against the mother of his children is actually abusive to children. Because it is. It creates a combative home environment. It shapes their view on relationships. It shapes their view on the dynamices between men and women. And it will create a new generation of women whose men in their lives mistreat them and men with a sense of entitlement to mistreat women.

    1. “The default position is that the man has only been abusive to the woman”

      No it’s not. Actually, in Scotland at least if a man is abusive to a woman in front of his children then that’s considered child abuse. Falls under the ’emotional abuse’ classification. The Police in Domestic Abuse units tend to be very hot on that as it’s a useful way of getting the man out of the domestic environment.

    2. “We see it all the time that inappropriate access to children is given to men who have been abusive to women “

      Oh that’s an oversimplification too. 20 Years ago I saw more than one case where children who had been taken into care were only returned to the mother on the condition that she did not see a formally abusive or drug using partner.

    3. And, I can point to a number of cases here in Scotland where an abusive man was still given unsupervised access to his children which allowed him to continue emotionally abusing his ex-partner. It happens all the time.

    4. The UN convention on the rights of the child (which really is what this is about) says that children have a right to family ties, and to live with their parents or where not possible to stay in contact with both their parents – so long as it isn’t harmful to the child.

      So your happens all the time means what? Half a dozen cases you’ve seen reported where over the past year? Are we talking one case in 2, or 10, or 100, or 1000? And what is the history? Did the father have supervised access first (I would expect that to be the case – usually access is granted step-wise) and if that went fine for say 6 months then wouldn’t you expect to progress to unsupervised access?

      You can’t ban all access in all circumstances because by doing so you’d be abusing the rights of the children for who things would work out OK. Instead people make decisions based on the best evidence they have, and they review those periodically.

    5. It suggests children should remain with their parents or extended family. It doesn’t suggest they should be forced to live with a parent who has killed the other parent. And, staying in contact is hardly the same as living with the parent in the house where they murdered the mother.

      Because, that is where they are living: in the house where their mother died with the man who killed their mother.

      In what world is that going to be a psychologically healthy place to raise a child?

    6. Well you can be absolutely certain that they are not being forced. Actually asking the children what they want to do and going by their wishes if at all possible would be central to the process. Especially with older children.

      Indeed think about that one because it’s instructive as to the sort of real-world dilemma that the people deciding this might be up against. The eldest of these children must now be around 16 or 17. If they were and the child told you they were going to go and live back with him when they were 18 anyway (when they are an adult and so would have an absolute right to decide where they live, however mistaken that is) if you had an appropriate psychological assessment that would allow that you might well decide that the best thing to do would be to support that placement.

      The reason for that is while they were still under-age you could make the placement order with whatever conditions and supervision you thought necessary. Given resources I can’t imagine that that supervision would be that often, but at least you’d probably be able to get a social worker checking up once or twice a week, and that could continue until they were 18, so maybe a year or more. Perhaps more importantly the child would have an established independent line of communication, with someone who they considered supportive.

      With this setup if there were then any problems or concerns you at least have a chance of picking up on them and doing something. If on the other hand you just decided against the placement, and against what the child wished, then in a year or so’s time when they stick two fingers up at you and move back in with their father you’ve left a young person completely exposed.

      Not saying these are the circumstances of course, but there’s all sorts of conceivable scenarios like this where making a decision in the best interests of the child wouldn’t pan out as you’d expect.

  4. Well quite scallops.

    I have seen ‘professionals’ in two countries make utterly insane decisions on child protection issues which have deliberately put children in harm’s way because they could not imagine that a white middle class man with convictions of domestic violence against the partner being a danger to the child. And, then, inevitably, they are.

    The Baby P case involved generational abuse wherein the same professionals who failed to protect the mother also failed to protect the son.

    Sometimes professionals get it wrong; especially when they presume that a man violent to a partner will not be a threat to a child.

    1. Oh same applies to you SGM as you are in Scotland apparently. If you really do care about these issues don’t just pontificate about them but consider applying to join the children’s panel system.

  5. Sometimes, but not always, or even very often (that’s the point of regular case reviews and child protection inspections). The children’s own opinions are taken into account as well, especially if they’re teenagers.

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