Suicide as a result of domestic abuse

Nicholas Allen was convicted of manslaughter in 2018 after the suicide of his ex-partner Justene Reece. The judge was clear that the suicide was due to the abuse. Several persons have been convicted of lesser offences following the suicide of their partners or ex-partners.

Available research (Walby 2004) indicates that domestic abuse leads to more suicides than it does currently recorded domestic homicides.  Walby estimated that between four and ten women took their own lives each week in the UK because of domestic abuse.

The NHS needs to be aware of this prevalence and also the contexts. Domestic Homicide Reviews are also conducted into suicides where there are domestic abuse histories. The Supreme Court judgement in Maughan, whereby Coroners can now find unlawful killing and suicide on the Balance of Probability, means it is possible that Coroners may reach two conclusions about the same suicide (probably rarely) i.e. that it was a suicide but it was also unlawful killing.

After a homicide, a family can see a justice process, usually a trial and/or an inquest. After a suicide, even where there was significant domestic abuse perpetrated on the person who took their own life, there is not usually a trial, although there will be an inquest.

The families, almost always with no legal help (unless paid for), have to do much of the work to persuade the authorities of the relevance of the domestic abuse history in the suicide. Police very often conduct superficial investigations after suicides and Coroners take their lead from the Police when scoping the inquest.

For families, this is a dark, lonely and immensely challenging space. Sometimes too, the deceased does not attract the sympathy of the public. “The selfish bitch leaving her children like that”, I have heard muttered.  My brother took his own life from clinical depression and a family friend approached me soon after to say that Bill was a coward. Heartless and also ill-informed.

Suicides seem like the most silent of deaths, but we can’t really know. There is an eeriness around them which is different to homicides and other deaths. The families need more help.

Frank Mullane MBE is the founder and CEO of AAFDA which provides specialist and expert advocacy and peer support for families bereaved by fatal domestic abuse, including homicides, suicides and unexplained deaths. Frank Mullane is a member of Making Families Count and presents at some of our webinars.

We asked Frank to write this piece ahead of our upcoming webinar “Working with Families after Suicide” to highlight the link between suicide and domestic abuse.

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