Domestic Homicide Reviews - Domestic Homicide Review Executive Summary - Clarissa

Under s9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004

Review into the death of Clarissa in July 2018

Report Author: Christine Graham
August 2020

 

Preface

Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood’s Community Safety Partnership and the Review Panel wishes at the outset to express their deepest sympathy to Clarissa’s family and friends, particularly to her father and her surviving child.  This review has been undertaken in order that lessons can learned; we appreciate the support and challenge from families and friends throughout the process.

This review has been undertaken in an open and constructive manner with all the agencies, both voluntary and statutory, engaging positively.  This has ensured that we have been able to consider the circumstances of this incident in a meaningful way and address with candour the issues that it has raised. 

The review was commissioned by the Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood Community Safety Partnership on receiving notification of the death of Clarissa in circumstances which appeared to meet the criteria of Section 9 (3)(a) of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.

 

Contents

 

Section 1 - The Review Process

Introduction and agencies participating in the review

This summary outlines the process undertaken by the Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood Community Partnership Domestic Homicide Review Panel in reviewing the death of one of its residents.  That death occurred in July 2018.

The victim in this case was ‘Clarissa’. Clarissa was only 26 years old at the time of her death.  She had been in a relationship with the perpetrator for four years having met him through work.  They had a young child together.

The perpetrator was a 48-year-old man who had adult children from his previous marriage. He had suffered bouts of depression for which he was prescribed medication to control the symptoms.  He had a number of previous criminal convictions and, at the time of Clarissa’s murder, he was under investigation for an assault on his former wife’s current partner. 

On the night of Clarissa’s murder, the police were called by one of the perpetrators adult children who had gone to the house having been called there by the perpetrator after he had killed Clarissa. The perpetrator had not called the police or other emergency services himself and thus gave them no opportunity of the possibility of saving her.

The original call was received by South Yorkshire Police, the caller telling them that the perpetrator had killed Clarissa in self-defence. South Yorkshire Police passed the call to Nottinghamshire Police as the address bordered the two force areas but sat just within the Nottinghamshire Police force area.

Police attended and Clarissa was found dead in the kitchen of the house, she was lying on her back, face up in front of the fridge.

A subsequent post-mortem found that Clarissa had died as a result of manual strangulation.

The perpetrator was arrested at the scene and a murder investigation commenced. He was subsequently charged with Clarissa’s murder. The couple’s young child was present at the time of her mother’s murder although it has never been established whether she saw or heard any of the events.

He pleaded not guilty to both murder and manslaughter but was found guilty of her murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The couple had been in a relationship for around four years prior to the homicide. The context to the relationship was described by Clarissa when in September 2017, she wrote to a close friend describing how the relationship started (Excerpts from the letter are quoted).  She said,

‘I was working somewhere, met this guy, had a strong attraction…..started meeting up, I was not looking for a serious relationship…..next thing he broke up with his wife and told me he 

loved me.  My reaction – oh damn….I was not looking for a serious relationship ……trouble is I liked the guy but I was not ready for commitment….He was all or nothing …. Next moment he’s telling me who I can and can’t see; what I can and can’t do….he wanted things about me to change bit by bit…. He loses his job and I say he can move in with me because I feel sorry for him … wasn’t meant to be permanent…. Then I’m pregnant ….. then my mum died and he said horrible things and wasn’t there when I needed someone…. I felt like killing myself but no one was there.”

Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood’s Community Safety Partnership was notified of the death by Nottinghamshire Police on 6th August 2018.

An initial meeting was held on 10th September 2018 when it was decided that a Domestic Homicide Review would be undertaken, and an initial trawl of agencies was done. 

 The Home Office were advised on 4th October 2018.

The Independent Chair and Report Author were appointed on 17th October 2018.

The Independent Chair made contact with the family in February 2019.

The first panel meeting was held on 18th December 2018.  The following agencies were represented at this meeting:

  • Bassetlaw Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Bassetlaw District Council
  • Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood Community Safety Partnership
  • East Midlands Special Operations Unit (Police IMR author)
  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust
  • Nottinghamshire Police
  • Nottinghamshire Women’s Aid
  • Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

At the first meeting, the panel considered its composition, and it was agreed that further information was needed from those areas where the couple had lived. 

It was agreed that Individual Management Reviews would be requested from: 

  • Nottinghamshire Police (to include liaison with other involved police force areas)
  • GPs for both Clarissa and the perpetrator
  • Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (CHNT) (maternity services)
  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare Foundation Trust (NHCT) (health visiting services)
  • Department for Work and Pensions

Summary reports were requested from:

  • Locala Community Partnerships CIC (health visiting services)

The panel met on three occasions in total and the review was completed in August 2020.

When the draft report was written, the Chair of the Review visited the Clarissa’s father, talked him through the report and left a copy with him to consider any changes or challenges he wished to make after consulting with his advocate from AAFDA.  That process concluded in February 2020.  The Chair felt it right that a family should not be pressured into timescales when reflecting upon the report.

 

Purpose and Terms of Reference of the review

The purpose of this Domestic Homicide Review is to:

  • Establish what lessons are to be learned from the domestic homicide regarding the way in which local professionals and organisations work individually and together to safeguard victims
  • Identify clearly what those lessons are both within and between agencies, how and within what timescales they will be acted on, and what is expected to change as a result
  • Apply these lessons to service responses including changes to policies and procedures as appropriate
  • Prevent domestic violence and homicide and improve service responses to all domestic violence and abuse victims and their children by developing a co-ordinated multi-agency approach to ensure that domestic abuse is identified and responded to effectively at the earliest possible opportunity
  • Contribute to a better understanding of the nature of domestic violence and abuse
  • Highlight good practice

The Review Panel agreed that the specific purpose of the Review is to:

  • Establish the facts that led to the homicide in July 2018 and whether there are any lessons to be learned from the case about the way in which local professionals and agencies worked together to safeguard the family.
  • Identify what those lessons are, how they will be acted upon and what is expected to change as a result.
  • Establish whether the agencies or inter agency responses were appropriate leading up to and at the time of the homicide in July 2018; suggesting changes and/or identifying good practice where appropriate.
  • Establish whether agencies have appropriate policies and procedures to respond to domestic abuse and to recommend any changes as a result of the review process.

 

Review Panel

The members of the review panel are:

Gary Goose MBE Independent Chair  
Christine Graham Overview Report Author  
Ros Theakstone Director of Corporate Resources Bassetlaw District Council
Gerald Connor Community Safety Manager Bassetlaw District Council
Nicolette Richards Community Safety Manager Bassetlaw District Council
Nicolette Richards Domestic Violence Co-ordinator Bassetlaw Newark and Sherwood Community Safety Partnership
Adrian Morgan IMR Author East Midlands Serious Offences Unit
Clare Dean Detective Chief Inspector Nottinghamshire Police
Mandy Green Head of Services Nottinghamshire Women's Aid
Hannah Hogg  Corporate Safeguarding Lead Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
Jonathan Webb Deputy Head of Service DLNR CRC
Bob Ross NSCB Development Manager Nottinghamshire County Council
Gail Stansbury Jobcentre Manager Department of Work and Pensions
Elaine Simmonds Revenue and Benefits Bassetlaw District Council
Joe Foley Children's Social Care Nottinghamshire County Council
Andrew Beardsall  Head of Quality and Patient Care NHS Bassetlaw CCG
Cathy Burke Deputy Chief Nurse NHS Bassetlaw CCG 

 Independence of Chair and Report Author

Neither Gary Goose nor Christine Graham are associated with any of the agencies involved in the review nor have, at any point in the past, been associated with any of the agencies.

 

Section Two - Agency contact and information learnt from the review

There is clear evidence that this was a relationship in which the perpetrator was abusive towards Clarissa.

Clarissa’s family members described to police, after her death, that Clarissa and the perpetrator had an unhappy and turbulent relationship, saying that they argued a lot which led to Clarissa moving to her father’s home on several occasions.  In November 2017 Clarissa sought advice from a solicitor regarding her domestic circumstances, the inference being that she wanted the relationship to end.

There is clear evidence of physical abuse, emotional abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour, isolation, financial abuse, gaslighting and on-line abuse.

The couple lived at various addresses within the border area between three different counties. There were reports to the police by Clarissa and her father of the perpetrator’s abuse towards her.  All were acted upon however, the structure of policing in the UK and the administrative borders and structures that local government, the NHS and others work within meant that no-one truly understood the whole back-story to their relationship and the signals of escalation that were apparent to this Review.

Clarissa found barriers that prevented her from leaving a relationship that she knew was not right for her.  Those barriers are set out within the overview report and they include the viciousness of ‘revenge porn’ being used as a lever to prevent her from leaving.  This Review feels that online abuse should be added specifically to the definition of domestic abuse.

The absolute tragedy for Clarissa and her family is that at the time of her death she had made those efforts to finally break free from him.  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons she was unable to successfully plan that ‘escape’ from this relationship successfully.

 

Section Three - Key issues arising from the review 

The perpetrator’s mental health

Throughout the relationship, the perpetrator told Clarissa and her family that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia as a reason for his behaviour. The review specifically asked for his medical records to be checked thoroughly and, at no time, did the perpetrator have such a diagnosis. 

It is important to note that the judge, in his sentencing remarks, acknowledged that he had a history of clinical depression but said that he did not think that this qualified as what is described as a mental disorder or mental disability.

It is important to note that, according to Laura Richards et al, ‘Abuse is a learned behaviour, not a mental illness. Abuse is an effective means to achieve power and control over their partners.  It is also reinforced if it works, and they get what they want.  Abusers are accountable for their actions.’ (Policing Domestic Violence, Laura Richards, Simon Letchford and Sharon Stratton, 2013, Oxford University Press).

Image-Based Sexual Abuse

For the purposes of this report, the term is used to describe:

  • Taking or creating nude or sexual images or photos without consent, including ‘fake’ nude or pornographic images and/or
  • Sharing nude or sexual images or videos without consent and/or
  • Threatening to take, share or create nude or sexual images or videos without consent

 In exploring the part that this played in this case, it is important that we remember that image-based sexual abuse is motivated by control, as well as misogyny, men’s entitlement. It is a gendered harm with many victim and survivors experiencing devastating harms because of the social and political context of the sexual double standard and online abuse of women (Shattering Lives and Myths: A Report on Image-Based Sexual Abuse, McGlynn (Durham University), Rackley (University of Kent) and Johnson (Durham University), 2019).

We can see very clearly in this case that the perpetrator used the threat of posting the intimate photos on-line as a means to controlling Clarissa.

We can be certain that he took these photos as an ‘insurance policy’ as a means of keeping or regaining control at some point in the future.

More importantly, for this review than the question of why Clarissa, and other young women like her, would ‘consent’ to this being done. The review is not making a judgement about how two consensual adults conduct their relationship, this is a private matter for them.  However, the evidence of control in their relationship leads us to believe that she did not consent willingly to these videos being taken. 

 In research (Shattering Lives and Myths: A Report on Image-Based Sexual Abuse, McGlynn (Durham University), Rackley (University of Kent) and Johnson (Durham University), 2019) undertaken victims/survivors spoke of being pressured into taking and sending images, or having images taken.  For some this took the form of ‘grooming’ whilst for others it was to avoid the consequences of implicit or explicit threats, including physical violence or in order to maintain a relationship.

We cannot underestimate the impact of this abuse on women. For women who experience this, it is enduring nature that can be most impactive.  Once something is ‘out there’ it is constantly available to be shared online, with every view being further abuse.  Victims spoke about the endlessness and permanency.  Victims also spoke about the isolation that they felt in that their world narrowed when they felt unable to access the internet or social media despite the negative impact that this had on their personal and professional lives. 

 

Section Four - Recommendations

GP Practice

It is recommended that the GP practice considers how routine enquiry, and the consideration of domestic abuse could be embedded into the practice.

All health professionals with access to a GP record

It is recommended that professionals, other than the GP, who are entering information into the GP records should accompany this with an additional communication to the GP to highlight the information such as telephone call, email, letter or electronic task.

Her Majesty’s Government

It is recommended that the Government revisits the current laws in relation to image-based abuse with a view to introducing a comprehensive law covering all forms of non-consensual taking and/or sharing of private sexual images, including threats and fake images.

It is recommended that the national definition of domestic abuse covers image-based abuse.

 

Section Four - Conclusions

The judge described this as a callous, deliberate and merciless killing.  He said that this was all his responsibility and no-one else’s.  The judge could not be sure that Clarissa’s young child directly witnessed what happened, but she was undoubtedly in the house and very close by.  The perpetrator did not seek medical assistance but, rather, called his adult children to come to the house, before they called the police. 

We believe that finally Clarissa was finding the strength to break away and rebuild her life with her child. 

All agencies are determined to learn from this awful event.  As a result, this Review makes a number of recommendations which we feel will help make victims safer in the future.

The Review Panel and the Community Safety Partnership extend their sympathies to Clarissa’s family. 

 

 


Last Updated on Thursday, March 31, 2022