‘We want action’: bereaved families launch Killed Women campaign

Campaigners hope collective voice will force change in Britain, where a woman is killed by a man every three days

Carole Gould’s 17-year-old daughter Ellie was killed by another sixth-former the day after she ended their relationship in 2019. Julie Devey’s daughter Poppy Devey Waterhouse, 24, was stabbed 49 times by her ex-boyfriend in 2018. Emma Ambler’s twin, Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and her nieces, Ava, 4, and Lexi, 2 were shot by their husband and father in 2020. Bekhal Mahmod has been in hiding since testifying against her father and uncle, who killed her 20-year-old sister, Banaz, in 2006.

Until recently, all these women had in common was grief but now they have united to become a powerful force for change in the UK, where a woman is killed by a man every three days.

The families, 11 in total, have launched Killed Women, a campaigning organisation led by families of women killed by men, in an attempt to to force change.

The range of policy demands the group is fighting for is diverse – from stricter rules around buying firearms to better education about domestic abuse and coercive control – but they will speak as one voice. “We don’t want any more sympathy,” said Carole Gould. “We don’t want promises. We actually want change, we want action.”

Gould, along with Julie Devey, has been campaigning to change the minimum sentence for domestic homicide since 2020. A government review is under way looking at whether it is right a killer outside the home will face a decade more in prison than a murder committed in the home. Currently, if a killer uses a weapon found in the home the tariff is 15 years, while one who brings in a weapon will get 25 years.

“When you tell people there is this 10-year disparity in sentencing, everybody is shocked,” she said. “So let’s see the change. Let’s see these perpetrators properly monitored, let’s stop releasing dangerous perpetrators back into society, let’s stop allowing them to change their names. And let’s recognise that domestic violence and domestic homicide is serious, and it should never be treated as a lesser crime to anything else.”

Devey’s daughter, Poppy, a quantitative trading analyst, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Joe Atkinson on 14 December 2018. Although Poppy had 49 knife wounds and more than 100 injuries, Atkinson’s tariff was fixed at 16 years – it was like, her mum said, she was being given 10 years’ worth of blame.

“I can’t change Atkinson’s sentencing, so I can’t focus on that,” she said. “But there will be people killed this week, next week. There will be other mothers who get that police officer coming to tell them the most hideous of things has just happened and now, from that moment, their lives are shattered. So we do it for them, so they get some sense of better justice.”

The collective voice of Killed Women will be difficult to ignore, says Emma Amble, who has been fighting for stricter laws around gun licences since her sister and her nieces were killed by their husband and father. “There’s power in numbers and in having other people who are behind you and understand what you’re fighting for,” she said.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips
The Labour MP Jess Phillips is among Killed Women’s supporters. Photograph: ParliamentTV

Killed Women – whose founder members also include the families of Jan Mustafa, Mumtahina Jannat, Joanne Tulip, Gemma Lynne Marjoram, Letisha Precious Shakespeare, Tracey Kidd and Suzanne Van Hagen – is calling on other families who have lost female loved ones to violence to join their ranks and for public support in the form of a GoFundMe page to power their campaigning.

The new group has the backing of Refuge, the domestic abuse charity, Southall Black Sisters and Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse (AAFDA). “There is a lot to learn from this group’s collective experience,” said AAFDA’s chief executive, Frank Mullane.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips and the Conservative chair of the women and equalities select committee, Caroline Nokes, are also among the supporters. “The voices of those most affected by extreme male violence have too often been heard briefly, but far too rapidly forgotten – Killed Women will change that,” said Nokes. Phillips agreed: “This organisation could be a gamechanger and force politicians to act with the resolve this crisis deserves.”

Some families will have to campaign away from the public eye. Bekhal Mahmod has been in hiding since testifying against her father and uncle who killed her sister, Banaz16 years ago.

Speaking to the Guardian on a withheld number, Mahmod said she “hated” not being able to join the other families in the campaign physically but wanted to raise her voice to keep alive the memory of her sister and other killed women.

“Everyone’s got enemies but I wouldn’t want anybody else’s heart to go through this. It’s something you never heal from,” she said. “But what does help, is the hope that we can change things for other families – we can give them a chance to have a life.”


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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