The successful children’s author Helen Bailey was murdered by her fiancé, Ian Stewart. Stewart was found guilty by a jury at St Albans Crown Court on 22 February 2017 after a seven week trial. He was sentenced to a minimum term of 34 years in prison.
The details of the murder are harrowing. Stewart drugged Ms Bailey with sleeping medication over a period of months before suffocating her and hiding her body, and that of her pet dachshund Boris, in a cesspit on their property.
It emerged during the trial that the murder was financially motivated. Ms Bailey’s net worth was in the region of £4m made from the publication of more than 20 books including the popular Electra Brown teenage fiction series. The court heard that Ms Bailey wrote a will in 2012 in which she left her fortune to her brother John Bailey, step-son Daniel Sinfield and friend Jenny Winterbottom. But in July 2014 she changed her will so that her fiancé would inherit most of her assets in the event of her death. On the day of the murder, Stewart had accessed Ms Bailey’s bank account and increased a monthly standing order from £600 to £4,000. He subsequently tried to use power of attorney in order to sell a flat she owned in Gateshead.
Det Ch Insp Jerome Kent from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit described Stewart as a “particularly cold and wicked individual”. He said, ” he is the one person who should have protected her and should have looked after her” and “I don’t believe he had any close feelings for Helen Bailey. Certainly the way he disposed of her body is an indication of the way he thought of her”.
During sentencing, Judge Andrew Bright QC described the murder of Helen Bailey as “heinous” and told Stewart “I am firmly of the view that you currently pose a real danger to women with whom you form a relationship”.
This case serves as a timely reminder of the prevalence of violence against women in England and Wales. The killings of women and girls by men are not isolated incidents. The national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, in partnership with Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of nia, published The Femicide Census Report in December 2016 (https://1q7dqy2unor827bqjls0c4rn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/The-Femicide-Census-Jan-2017.pdf ). This is a ground-breaking project which for the first time allows detailed tracking and analysis of fatal male violence against women.
The report found that between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2015, it is known that 936 women were killed by men in England and Wales. Most women were killed by a man known to them. 598 (64%) women were killed by men identified as current or former partners. At a global level, it has been reported that 95% of homicide perpetrators are male and that one in every two women victims of homicide is killed by her intimate partner or a family member.
Whilst there is no evidence that Helen Bailey suffered from domestic violence at the hands of Stewart in the lead up to her death (and if she did, it does not appear to have been reported), the Femicide Census reports that the perpetrators of killings of women will probably have emotionally and/or physically dominated these women for years. Many cases of abuse will have gone unreported, due to women’s fear of the perpetrator, and due to shame about having experienced domestic abuse. It is now recognised that coercive control is at the heart of domestic abuse. This is where a perpetrator exerts control over a victim’s life through a system of intimidation tactics, for example controlling what she wears or who she sees.
As family lawyers, we frequently deal with cases involving domestic violence and it is clear that resources are scarce and more funding is required at a national level. The Women’s Aid national survey for 2015 (https://www.womensaid.org.uk/womens-aid-releases-annual-survey-2015-statistics/ ) found that nearly a quarter (23.27%) of total referrals to refuges were declined due to the refuge’s lack of available bed space. Domestic abuse services said that the biggest challenge they faced over the past year was related to lack of, or uncertainty of, funding. Almost half (44%) of the domestic abuse services were running part of their service without dedicated funding.
Projects such as the Femicide Census aim to provide a clearer picture of men’s fatal violence against women by allowing for detailed tracking and analysis. If patterns of femicide and violence against women can be identified then resources can be better focussed and this should, in the long term, lead to a reduction in violence against women.
Helen Bailey’s death is a tragic reminder of the scale of these issues. Hopefully her legacy will live on through her books and she will be remembered as more than just a victim.
The following charities support and advice for victims of domestic abuse:
Women’s Aid: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/
Rights of Women https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/