Sunday, 7 April 2013


When I was much younger, a favourite essay topic was to be asked to explain the emergence of the Third Reich.

To my knowledge nobody ever wrote a single line: "Hitler was a uniquely evil man", rested their pen and expected the laurels of academe to descend upon their shoulders.

For while Hitler was undoubtedly a very evil man, he was not unique and he did not flourish without various other factors, some of them even virtuous factors, assisting his rise to power.

The Left has been under attack this week over the Philpott case, most notoriously on the front page of the Daily Mail. "It is mainly a consequence of welfare dependency that these kids have died" has been the line of attack, even as, by the same  logic, it was "mainly as a consequence of welfare dependency" that these kids were brought into this world in the first place.

But in disputing this allegation the Left has fallen back far to easily on the defence that Philpott was a uniquely evil man. Because he wasn't.

There were a number of factors which came together to create the Third Reich. I won't insult my readers by rehearsing them here and, anyway, if they were all agreed  in their relative importance then there would be no point to the essays.

And there were, I repeat, a number of factors which created the Philpott case. Not least, the media, who, in reporting after the event, have been reluctant to examine their own role in indulging this man prior to events. And one of these factors, in the State's desire to save children from absolute economic poverty, was and is an essentially virtuous one. But it was a factor.

Above all, however, the Philpott case was about domestic violence.

I don't normally write about my work. Some of it is, I like to think at least, meretricious but much of it "just" makes me money. Nonetheless, a significant part of it centres around domestic violence.

And I'll guarantee you two things about my forthcoming working week. The first is that at some point some poor young woman will arrive in the office and tell a tale about their treatment at the hands of their husband or partner which would leave a less battle hardened practitioner than me utterly bemused as to why they put up with this behaviour for so long. And the second is that some point some other poor young woman, who has commenced proceedings, either civilly or criminally, will come in trying to get these proceedings discontinued.

Now, at this point I want to stop briefly to comment on the two adjectives and the noun that I refer to above.

I use "poor" in the literal rather than colloquial sense. I KNOW that domestic violence is no respecter of class but, just as you are much more likely to be murdered if you're poor, so, unfortunately, are you much more likely to be the victim of domestic violence. It doesn't excuse for a moment domestic violence in any context to say that we cannot allow the middle classes to colonise this area as being just as common in their own experience. It is not, either in degree or frequency. And when it does occur, the victims have many more options to prevent its repetition.

And I also use "young" advisedly. I ALSO KNOW that while domestic violence is also undoubtedly no respecter of age, it is also something much more likely to be present from the start of a relationship or not at all, and young people are much more likely to be at the start of relationships. Rarely do I ask someone, leaving a violent relationship after twenty years, about when the abuse started to be met with the answer "only recently".

And, finally, to the noun. I KNOW that men can be the victims of domestic violence as well. But the extent to which this is sought by some to be portrayed as an "equal opportunity" phenomenon is, in itself, telling in its misogyny. Women can certainly be violent as well. I personally have, over the years, represented three separate women who have "gone down" for the attempted murder of their partners and at the "extreme", one off,  end I actually don't believe there is much to choose between the sexes. But in terms of regular, low level, violence I suspect the ratio is something like 1/100 and it undermines analysis of the 100 to try and lump them in with the 1 in pursuit of some sort of perverted political correctness.

So what has any of this got to do with Mick Philpott?

Well, firstly, violence does not have to violence in its physical sense. It can be just as easily part of an understood, even unspoken, background to a relationship. But, worst still, it can be simply psychological violence. And no-one watching the ghoulish exhibitionism of Philpott in his previous television notoriety can surely be in any doubt that, even if Philpott was not actually hitting these two young women, as he had hit, and worse, a previous partner, he was certainly assaulting them in every other sense of the word.

Common sense says that, after their arrest, the lawyers advising his "wife" must have told her that if she admitted what had happened, offered even perhaps to give evidence for the Crown, then, at the very least, her own period of imprisonment would be greatly shortened. And that he couldn't get to her now. And yet she didn't, standing by a hopeless defence to the end, in defiance, it would appear, of even her own family.

And that leads me to the reference to the second thing that will undoubtedly happen in my working life next week. Some other poor young woman will, on a lesser scale, attempt to the same.

For the number of allegations of domestic violence which are then attempted to be withdrawn is the secret shared by Police, Women's Aid, Social Work Departments and lawyers, both prosecution and defence. If it was true, for a moment, that all these men had been arrested; prevented from daily contact with their children and excluded from their home on the basis of false or exaggerated allegations than that would be a national scandal. Only that's not true. The "lie" is in the attempt to withdraw the allegations. And it is by no means as simple as suggesting these attempted retractions all take place because of threats or in consideration of economic factors

For the Philpott case is also about exploitation. But that exploitation is not the exploitation of the Benefit System. It is something much worse. It is the exploitation of the poverty of life expectation of far too many young women.

Neither Philpott's "wife" or "mistress" surely anticipated with enthusiasm at fifteen that the second half of their lives would end up with them sharing a house and a sexual intimacy with a man older than their fathers and in the midst of a collective pool of eleven children. But something, and not just Mick Philpott, resigned them along the way to this being their lot.

There are no easy answers here but at the danger of quoting a man with whom I seldom agree, it must surely start with education, education, education. Education at an early stage in life that a woman is entitled to be treated as an equal in any relationship. Education that violence and domineering behaviour is never a feature of true "love" and education that no matter what mistakes you might have made, threats you might receive or fears for the future that you might have, there are nonetheless always opportunities to get out.

If even some progress can happen in that area as a result of the Philpott case then perhaps in the end at least some good would have come of it.