CW: Intimate Partner Violence and child abuse The conviction of Penelope Jackson for murdering her husband is yet another example of the misogynistic justice system in action. This verdict flies in the face of much of the evidence put before the court, which heard allegations that the deceased, David Jackson, systematically abused and coercively controlled Penelope over a 24-year period.
Penelope testified that she had been forced to get a tattoo reading “Property of David Jackson” on her bottom as a result of his jealousy and escalating control of her life. The couple’s daughter Isabelle gave testimony that her father had once got her out of bed and made her fetch a mug she had brought Penelope for Mother’s Day, which he then smashed in front of them – an allegedly vindictive and abusive act against them both. Isabelle also said she saw him pin Penelope to the wall while her nose was bleeding, as if Penelope had been struck in the face. On another occasion he reportedly held a knife to Penelope’s throat during a party, and three people had to pull him away from her and disarm him.
History of alleged abuse
During an incident of domestic violence to which the police were called, officers observed that Penelope was scared of Jackson and had a bruise on her arm that he inflicted. Before police arrived he had allegedly smashed up the conservatory with a fireplace poker and threatened to use it on her. Penelope says she slept with a knife under her pillow as she was so scared of her husband.
Since the trial David Jackson’s brother Alan has described him as “an arrogant bully” who could be “very violent”. He claimed their mother Lillian accused David of trying to strangle her. Alan also said Jackson became angry if Penelope spoke “out of turn”, saying “He was quick as lightning to pull her up about it. Penny was cautious for what she used to say in front of him.” He said he “believe[d] Penny would have been pushed to her limits” by Jackson’s behaviour. This testimony about Jackson would have been clear exculpatory evidence, but unfortunately Alan was not called as a witness.
Despite the clear evidence of abuse, much of which went unchallenged in court, the media chose to focus on parts of the 999 call and statements made by Penelope Jackson to police after her arrest. Her comments were taken out of context to portray her as a cold-hearted killer. However, even during these statements she stated that her initial intent was not to kill Jackson, but that she snapped and stabbed him after he threatened her. She told paramedics “I agree it is a dreadful solution, but it is the only way out for me. I want him out of my life. I’ll end up in prison but that is preferable to my life now.”
Some people may ask why Penelope didn’t leave her marriage, and why she only called the police once about Jackson’s abuse. Sadly, it isn’t that simple to leave a controlling and abusive relationship – particularly when women who do report their abusers are often not believed. Shana Grice reported her ex-boyfriend to police for stalking her, and was fined for “wasting police time” – a few weeks later, he murdered her in her bed. There is also a lack of support for women who want to leave abusive relationships but have nowhere to go. Domestic violence shelters have had their funding cut repeatedly over more than a decade of austerity measures. Women cannot access the support they need to leave their abusive partners. Instead of cuts, what’s actually needed is a massive expansion of funding and resources for these services, and the labour and trade union movement has a vital role to play in both fighting to defend what currently exists and to demand much more.
There is also another ongoing trial in which a woman killing her reportedly abusive partner is a subtext. Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow stabbed Gary Cunningham in the leg, and was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Consequently her six-year-old son Arthur was placed in the custody of his father and stepmother, Thomas Hughes and Emma Tustin. After a year living with the couple Arthur was found dead with catastrophic brain injuries and salt poisoning – they are now on trial for murder and child cruelty. If Olivia had been offered support rather than handed a prison sentence, perhaps Arthur would still be alive today.
The judge in the case showed his misogynistic bias in his sentencing remarks, dismissing the history of abuse in their marriage as “points of friction that the lockdown would have exacerbated” – despite the court hearing testimony of incidents over 20 years ago, long before the lockdowns. He said he had “no doubt that [Jackson] was nothing like the person [Penelope] claimed” – again, this is despite unchallenged evidence of abuse being presented in court. This is shocking, but unsurprising given the role of the unelected judiciary, and their inherent misogyny. The “Women Who Kill” report by the Centre for Women’s Justice was critical of the role of judges, saying many have a “very limited understanding” of gendered violence.
There is a clear double standard in the prosecution of women who kill their partners compared to men, with some being convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter rather than murder on the grounds that their partners “nagged” them, or even by arguing that their victims consented to the abuse causing their death – the so-called “rough sex” defence.
Sexist violence goes unpunished
Joseph McGrail walked free from court after kicking his partner to death, the judge saying of his victim “this lady would have tried the patience of a saint”. Les Humes stabbed his wife to death in front of their children, and was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds that he “lost control” because she was leaving him. David Hampson beat his wife to death with a hammer, buried her body in the garden and coerced their daughter into lying about her murdered mother’s whereabouts for two years: he was sentenced to six years for manslaughter. Just this year, Anthony Williams was convicted of manslaughter after he admitted to “choking the living daylights” out of his wife, Ruth – his excuse was that he “snapped” after just five days of lockdown. He was sentenced to just five years in prison.
John Broadhurst inflicted over 40 injuries on Natalie Connolly, including fracturing her eye socket and spraying bleach in her face. The next morning he stepped over her body, made breakfast and washed his car before calling 999. He told paramedics Natalie was “dead as a doughnut”. He successfully used the “rough sex” defence, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. James Morton allegedly strangled 16-year-old Hannah Pearson to death after giving her alcohol and putting her to sleep in his bed, as she was unable to get home. He smashed her phone before ringing 999. He successfully claimed her death was accidental, and was sentenced to 6 years in prison for manslaughter. Many more of these tragic cases are listed at https://wecantconsenttothis.uk/.
Penelope Jackson case similar to others
Penelope Jackson’s case is reminiscent of many others, including that of Sally Challen, whose conviction for murder was overturned in 2019. Earlier this year we highlighted the case of Ellie Wain, who sentenced to life in prison for stabbing her abusive boyfriend. Other women like Sara Thornton and Kiranjit Ahluwalia also had their convictions overturned, after support from the Campaign Against Domestic Violence – a campaign initiated by Militant, one of Socialist Alternative’s forerunner organisations. The CADV was hugely influential in making intimate partner violence a trade union issue, and in developing a political understanding of the roots of intimate partner violence in a capitalist system that breeds misogyny. Malcolm X said “you can’t have capitalism without racism” – and you can’t have capitalism without misogyny either.
Penelope Jackson’s legal team is preparing an appeal, and we hope they are successful. The legal precedents set in other cases unfortunately do not go far enough to ensure this, however, and they certainly won’t prevent other women being charged in the same way. The Centre for Women’s Justice and other groups have proposed a number of reforms, such as mandatory training for all police officers and judges on domestic abuse, including coercive control. These changes would of course be welcome, and any training given should be given under the control of the trade unions, groups representing black communities and other people of colour, women’s groups and LGBTQ+ groups. Socialist Alternative members recently helped to organise a meeting for probation officers through the NAPO trade union, delivered by an author of the “Women Who Kill” report for the Centre for Women’s Justice. This is a small-scale example of what should happen nationally.
Police protect the system
But these changes don’t go far enough. Additional training won’t change the fundamental nature of the police and the judiciary under capitalism: they exist to protect the system, not to protect ordinary people. As gender-based oppression is inherent to capitalism, the role of the police includes enforcing misogyny. The murder of Sarah Everard by PC Wayne Couzens, and the subsequent revelations that police failed to deal with several complaints against him over his conduct towards women, have also made it even clearer that the police are systemically misogynistic – as has the disgusting news that police officers took photos of the murdered bodies of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, and “used degrading and sexist language to describe the victims”. All riot police, Special Branch and undercover units that are used to spy on activist groups should be abolished immediately. We need democratic, community controlled bodies to protect women and workers.
Serious changes to the criminal justice system will require a different kind of society – not the system we have now, which is based on the exploitation of the majority of working-class people, and propped up by the promotion racism, misogyny and oppression. A united working class movement can fight for the end of the capitalist system and a socialist world.
Socialist Alternative demands:
Justice for all those convicted of fighting back against abusive partners! Open an independent inquiry under the control of the trade unions and women’s rights organisations, looking into all cases of women who have been convicted after suffering abuse
Stop the cuts – create fully funded and publicly run domestic violence services – every abuse victim must have somewhere safe to go
We need a justice system that treats women with respect. No to unaccountable police and unelected judges – give workers and communities full democratic control over the police and justice system!
Fight for a socialist world free of oppression and violence!