‘The law is cold. It doesn’t reflect the life lost’: mothers of murder victims tell their stories

A new campaign film keeps the pressure on the Ministry of Justice to change the minimum sentence for domestic murder. The Changes That We Can Make features Carole Gould and Julie Devey, two mothers who have been campaigning since February 2020 on behalf of their daughters, Ellie and Poppy.

Sixth-form student Ellie Gould, 17, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Thomas Griffiths, en 3 Mayo 2019. Financial analyst Poppy Devey Waterhouse, 24, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Joe Atkinson, en 14 diciembre 2018. Though these were frenzied attacks involving multiple injuries, and the killers tried to hide their crimes, the guidelines for murder sentencing meant that both received under less than 20 years in prison.

Gould and Devey’s documentary was directed by Levi James, a final-year film student at the University of the West of England, who knew Poppy from college. It highlights the way the circumstances of a killing can deeply affect the time served – and shows how domestic murderers often avoid long sentences.

Their campaign aim was twofold: to change youth and adult sentencing in domestic homicides. Griffiths was sentenced to 12 and a half years for murdering Ellie because he was five months away from his 18th birthday when he committed the crime. The law viewed him simply as a juvenile: even though he was 17, his sentence was the same as would have been given to a 10-year-old.

Thanks to Gould and Devey’s work, a sliding scale for juvenile sentencing was introduced in March this year. Under the new rules, teenage killers could serve up to 27 años. This will be known as Ellie’s Law.

The two women are continuing their fight to have the sentencing rules on the murder weapon and the location of the killing changed.

Currently, if the crime occurs in the home, the killer automatically faces a lesser sentence. The same murder committed in the street receives 10 years’ more prison time. If the domestic murderer uses a weapon found at the scene rather than bringing one with him, the tariff is 15 años, as the crime is seen as without premeditation. A murderer who brings the weapon will receive 25 años. Both Atkinson and Griffiths used knives found at the scene, which instantly reduced their maximum possible sentence by 10 años.

Gould and Devey want domestic murder tariffs to reflect the severity of the crime rather than the location of the killing. The new law would be known as Poppy’s Law.

The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has watched The Changes That We Can Make and promised to meet with Gould and Devey to update them on the sentencing review currently under way. “We’ve received an email saying Buckland was deeply moved by the film,” says Gould. “He wants to set up a meeting to discuss the review – though he says Poppy’s Law can’t be added to the police crime sentencing and courts bill, which is disappointing.”

The pair want the film to be seen by the general public to raise awareness of their campaign and the laws surrounding domestic homicide.

“I want people who see this film to be aware of the emotional, mental and physical impact on our lives,” says Devey. “I also want them to be alert to the sentences domestic murderers receive and to what these perpetrators did. There’s just no way that a normal thinking person could see these killers as less dangerous because of where these murders took place.”

Gould asks anyone who would like to help the campaign to contact their MP. “Before Griffiths was sentenced, a barrister told us what sentence he would get. He said the law is cold, it doesn’t reflect the life that’s lost. You just want to scream – it should reflect the life that’s lost. It should reflect the damage to the victim’s family. What sort of justice system have we got that doesn’t take any of those things into account?"

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