Ian Watkins verdict: How did he coerce Woman A and Woman B?

Enigmas of this nature are more common than one might expect

Related Topics

Ian Watkins, was sentenced to 35 years yesterday for a series of child sex offences, including the attempted rape of a baby. His co-defendants, known as Woman A and Woman B, also received lengthy custodial sentences: 14 years and 17 years respectively. 

The case is closed, but questions persist. Perhaps most difficult to fathom is the notion that two young mothers could willingly choose to visit ill-treatment on their own children, in order to indulge their partner’s sexual gratification. However, enigmas of this nature are more common than one might expect.

The Derby house fire trial earlier in the year raised an equally bewildering question, namely how on earth another young mother, Mairead Philpott, could adhere to her husband’s plan to set fire to a house in which six children lay sleeping, five of them her own?   And, for all the forensic scrutiny the case attracted, the question of precisely what compelled Mairead to act as she did was largely overlooked. Why?

A recent comment by the incumbent Lord Chief Justice betrays the answer: we have an insufficient understanding of the nature of coercion. Upholding Mairead’s 17 year prison sentence in the Court of Appeal last month, Sir John Thomas remarked that, unless she had been a willing participant in the plan, it was ‘extremely difficult to understand’ how she did not expose her husband’s lie during the trial and the extensive period when she was separated from his controlling influence. What appears more perplexing, however, is their Lordships’ assumption that such influence is lifted by physical separation.

The experience of practitioners working with victims of coercion is that it is perfectly possible for one human being to take control of another’s mind by breaking down their capacity to think critically i.e. for themselves.  Indeed, the Cult Information Centre identifies no less than 26 mind control techniques. They range from ‘love bombing’ and discouraging questions, to isolating and inducing fear. And whilst some of these techniques may appear relatively innocuous, they can be used in combination to devastating, long-term effect.

It is a mistake to assume that mind control is confined to established cults or group dynamics.  But the task of detecting those who have been subjected to it is an extremely difficult, not to mention uncomfortable, one.  The covert nature of psychological coercion is such that it gives the appearance of being anything but: its victims’ belief that they are thinking for themselves makes their victimhood invisible.  And, that being so, what gives us the authority to say whether someone has or has not been ‘brainwashed’?

Critics of the Church of Scientology will find this ironic, but its reclassification as a religion by the Supreme Court last week highlights the importance that we as a society attach to critical thinking.  And with good reason: it is the closest we have to a vaccine against deception.  We relinquish it at our peril.  And yet, as cases like that of Mairead Philpott may demonstrate, we do not always have a choice.

Mick and Mairead Philpott held a tearful press conference Mick and Mairead Philpott held a tearful press conference

Sometimes, we are told, people’s vulnerability is such that their desire to believe a deceiver’s hopeful message overrides their capacity to question it.  Unwittingly, therefore, they shift in status from admirer to uncritical servant.  It is high time we got our heads round this phenomenon; the fate of several young women may depend on it.

Defence counsel for Woman B, Christine Laing QC, told the court yesterday that her client had been a ‘very immature young woman’ suffering from an undiagnosed personality disorder and postnatal depression when she first spoke with Watkins, and that he had flattered her and promised her a life she could only ever have dreamed of.  She also revealed that he had described himself to Woman B as ‘your master’ and had told her: ‘you and your daughter now belong to me.’  Barrister for Woman A, Jonathan Fuller QC, meanwhile described how his client had been just 17 years old when she met Watkins: a man almost twice her age who ‘darkened her world with drugs and even injected her with heroin’.  

Thus, much of the mitigation for both women appeared to relate closely to the issue of control (or lack of it).   Yet, Mr Fuller QC’s submission that Woman A ‘sacrificed her own moral compass’ to sustain her relationship with Watkins, may highlight an area in which our awareness in this subject can increase.

Any choice, moral or other, presupposes the capacity to choose. And, while we may assume that people choose to enter the morally disorientated worlds in which they find themselves, we do so at the expense of possible alternative narratives. That is, we do so at the expense of justice.

Tom Gaisford is a human rights lawyer with particular experience in immigration and asylum law.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

Special Needs Teaching Assistant

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Special Educational Needs Teach...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: unbuilt buildings, the new Establishment and polling on Europe

John Rentoul
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London