“The law is cold. Doesn’t reflect life lost ‘: Mothers of murder victims tell their stories | Society
A new campaign film keeps the pressure on the Justice Department to change the minimum sentence for domestic murder. The changes we can make stars Carole Gould and Julie Devey, two mothers who have campaigned since February 2020 on behalf of their daughters, Ellie and Poppy.
Ellie Gould, a sixth grade student, 17, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Thomas Griffiths, on May 3, 2019. Poppy Devey Waterhouse, 24, a quantitative trading analyst, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Joe Atkinson, December 14, 2018. Although these were frenzied attacks involving multiple injuries and the killers attempted to cover up their crimes, the murder conviction guidelines meant the two had received less. 20 years in prison. Atkinson was 16; Griffiths is 12 and a half years old.
The Gould and Devey documentary was directed by Levi James, a final year film student at the University of the West of England, who had known Poppy from college. It highlights how the circumstances of a murder can profoundly affect the time spent serving – and shows how domestic murderers often avoid long sentences.
The goal of their campaign was twofold: to change the sentences imposed on young people and adults in domestic homicides. Griffiths was sentenced to 12 and a half years for murdering Ellie because he was five months from his 18th birthday when he committed the crime. The law regarded him simply as a minor: even though he was 17, his sentence was the same as that which would have been imposed on a 10-year-old.
Thanks to the work of Gould and Devey, a sliding scale for juvenile sentences was introduced in March of this year. Under the new rules, teenage killers could now serve up to 27 years for terrorist attacks. The sentence of a 17-year-old for spousal homicide would be increased from 12 to 14 years. It will be Ellie’s law.
The two women continue their fight to change the sentencing rules for the murder weapon and the scene of the murder.
Currently, if the crime occurs at home, the killer automatically incurs a lower sentence. The same murder committed in the street faces an additional 10 years in prison. If the domestic murderer uses a weapon found at the scene rather than bringing one with him, the rate is 15 years, as the crime is considered to be without premeditation. A murderer who brings the weapon will be sentenced to 25 years. Atkinson and Griffiths both used knives found at the scene, which instantly reduced their maximum possible sentence to 10 years.
Gould and Devey want domestic murder rates to reflect the seriousness of the crime rather than the location of the murder. The new law would be known as Poppy’s Law.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland watched The changes we can make and promised to meet with Gould and Devey to update them on the sentencing review currently underway. “We received an email saying Buckland was deeply moved by the film,” Gould says. “He wants to set up a meeting to discuss the review – although he says Poppy’s law cannot be added to the Criminal Sentences and Courts Bill, which is disappointing.”
The couple 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 movie to be aware of the emotional, mental and physical impact on our lives,” says Devey. “I also want them to be mindful of the sentences imposed on domestic murderers and what these perpetrators have done. There is simply no way that a normal-thinking person could view these killers as any less dangerous because of where these murders took place.
Gould asks anyone interested in helping the campaign to contact their MP. “Before Griffiths was convicted, a lawyer told us what sentence he would get. He said the law is cold, that it does not reflect lost life. You just want to scream – it should reflect the life that is lost. It should reflect the damage suffered by the victim’s family. What kind of a legal system do we have that doesn’t take any of these things into account? “