We can't kill her, but we'd like her dead

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The Independent Online
WHY SHOULD Myra Hindley be locked up for ever? Because she is demonic and dangerous? Since we don't know what she did - beyond being with Ian Brady when he killed children - how do we know how dangerous she is?

The face we know - as emblematic of the English as Margaret Thatcher or Princess Margaret - is preserved permanently in peroxide, the face of somebody who no longer exists. We are infinitely interested in Hindley, and yet we determinedly know nothing about her, no more this week, following the announcement that she intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights for parole, than when she was jailed 28 years ago. The criminal justice system has never asked her why she did what she did.

We don't know whether Myra Hindley would torture children, only that she knows how to. Whether she willed it or witnessed it, she knows how to see a child's sexual destruction, clean up the mess, and get up in the morning.

She is surrounded by demonic and dangerous fantasies. Ann West is the devastated mother of Leslie Ann Downey - Ian Brady taped this child while she was losing her life. West was pictured in last Saturday's Daily Star enacting an ancient ritual - sticking pins into an effigy of Hindley. She believes she has cast a spell on the 'witch'. In her grief she has sworn revenge, warning that if Hindley is freed, she will die.

Ann West's death threat is one reason that Myra Hindley might never be freed. Prison is her place of safety.

Sadism and satanism excited Ian Brady and sustained his sexual tyranny. Only now do we grasp how commonplace is his repertoire of fascistic fantasy. Sadistic and satanic fantasies, it seems, also infuse the imaginations of Hindley's enemies.

We know, because Brady has told us, how he fits the template of the murderous sex offender, propelled to regulate and record deadly pleasures. But neither Brady nor anyone else has helped us to understand what it was about Hindley that produced her participation and such remarkable detachment from the pain she witnessed. What had happened to take her so far away from empathy?

Her husbandry and our disbelief might have preserved Brady and Hindley's secrets. (Had the Moors murderers' victims lived, their stories would barely have been believed, their trauma translated into childhood fantasy and false memory.)

We still do not know what Hindley thought she was doing there. Yet she might have helped us to understand what still seems unthinkable and unknowable - a woman who is a murderous sex offender.

Hindley's transgression is that she embodies and yet affronts the idea of femininity. More than an accomplice, she stood by her man. But she refused to use sexual stereotyping to save herself. She appeared heartless. She visited hospital last week for treatment for angina. 'Now we know she's got a bad heart - maybe she's got a broken heart,' said my friend.

Why do we care about Hindley and yet barely remember Brady? Men who murder do not surprise us. Murder, however mad, confirms their masculinity. We watch respectable middle- aged men on The Underworld television series reminiscing about a murderous code that has outlasted the Crusades. Contemporaries of Hindley, they're free. Presumably people think they've changed, a quality denied to our fantasy view of Myra Hindley.

The Underworld has been engaging exactly because it has humanised men who had been demonised, who endangered not only individuals but also entire communities.

Women who kill and torture children are felt to be impossible, the ultimate transgressors. Of course, women have always killed children - their own. But women who kill other women's children are somehow unwomanned, inhuman.

Brady did the decent thing, he went mad. He wants to stay locked up. Myra Hindley did the unforgivable, she appeared to stay sane and wants to be let out. Like Ruth Ellis, she appeared cool, rational, strategic. Her participation in murder was as premeditated as the judicial murder advocated by those who want her dispatched from this life. What connects them is their wish to kill.

In her determination to return to society she is challenging us to see her as human. It seems society can't face that challenge, that although it can't kill her, it wishes her dead. It needs her exile because she sanctions the murderousness in our heads.