Why men kill their children

Louise Jury investigates a particularly heartbreaking form of murder

John Chetwynd, an accountant, threw himself and his baby son from cliffs at Beachy Head after assaulting his wife.

"The reason he should do this does not come readily," David Wadman, the East Sussex coroner, said at an inquest into the deaths last week.

Yet the case is not as unusual as it might seem. Every six to eight weeks a man or a woman - usually a man - kills their partner or their children and then themself.

Ian Lazenby, from Humberside, killed his three daughters and himself after his wife left him because of his violence. In London, Jose Pimenta pushed his two young sons off a fourth-floor balcony and then jumped off after his estranged wife told him she had begun a new relationship. In Dorset, Mark Bradley killed himself and his two children in his fume-filled car after murdering their mother. She had told him she had had an affair and wanted a separation.

Dr Chris Milroy, a forensic pathologist at the University of Sheffield's medico-legal centre, who has made a study of these parent-child killings said: "Murder-suicide crosses socio-economic groups - we even had a coroner who killed his wife with a Waterford cut-glass decanter."

But nearly all the assailants are men. "Men are usually the perpetrators of violence, anyway, but it's higher with murder-suicide. The man usually kills his wife because there's been a breakdown in the relationship and he does it out of jealousy. When they kill children, it is usually revenge - 'If I can't have them, you can't have them'."

But there are other reasons. In some cases, the perpetrator is mentally ill, in others there are financial problems.

When women kill, Dr Milroy said, it is often because they feel that their children's lives have been destroyed. In December 1995, Elaine Smith drove into a river with her son Christopher, seven, and daughter Clare, three, strapped in the back of the car after her husband said he wanted a divorce and was going to spend Christmas with his lover.

Dr Milroy's interest in murder-suicide was provoked when he encountered three similar cases in a week.

Research showed the same phenomenon occurred elsewhere although in Australia, for instance, murder-suicide occurs twice as often.

One of the differences between British murder rates and the rest of the world's is the general absence of guns, Dr Milroy said.

With about 700 unlawful killings a year, it works out at 13 for every million of the population. The rate in America is 10 times that. Although Switzerland is generally law-abiding, for example, when people murder they use guns.

Yet 40 per cent of murder-suicides in Britain use guns compared with 10 per cent of murder cases overall. Curiously, although the murder rate in Britain has doubled since 1960, the number of people who commit suicide after killing has remained fairly constant.

Dr Milroy said it was difficult to say whether there was anything that could be done to prevent the murder-suicides.

Sarah Heatley, whose estranged husband killed their two children then himself, believes greater care should be taken in assessing whether men who show disturbed or violent tendencies should be given access to their children.

And Scottish women's groups lobbied last year for a special inclusion in the Children's Act barring fathers with a history of domestic abuse from unsupervised contact with their children pending an investigation.

But Dr Milroy said: "If there are 100,000 marriage breakups a year and seven men kill their children, how do you put that into the equation? How are you going to go about assessing every man to say whether they are dangerous or not?"

He added: "But you could argue that if it's a one in 600 million chance of contracting CJD from beef on the bone, the risk of a man killing his children is statistically higher."

News
people And here is why...
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

KS1 & KS2 Teacher

£115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: We are looking for infants and...

Secondary Trained Teachers for the watford area

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Qualified secondary teachers - ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?