The Pemberton case

Learning from the dead to protect the living

Refuge’s determination to effect change has led to Refuge’s involvement in several high profile cases where women have been killed as a result of domestic violence.  The Pemberton case has highlighted serious failure by the system to protect women.

Julia and Will PembertonBackground

On 18 November 2003, following more than a year-long campaign of threats and abuse against his estranged wife, Alan Pemberton arrived at his former home and killed his son, his wife and then himself.  These homicides took place despite repeated warnings from Julia to the local police that Alan Pemberton was a threat to his wife and children.  To use the words of Frank Mullane, Julia’s brother: ‘When my sister placed her trust in Thames Valley Police, her fate was sealed.’

Sandra Horley , CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge:

‘Julia Pemberton’s case is one of the most tragic domestic violence case that I have ever come across in my 28 years working with abused women and children.  The deaths of Julia, William and Alan Pemberton were unnecessary and may have been preventable.

Refuge would like to see mandatory domestic violence training for all police officers, prosecutors and judiciary.  It is vital that the government ensures that sufficient funding is given to train front-line officers and to monitor the conduct of all police forces in cases of domestic violence.  If we are to create enduring change the government must develop a comprehensive national strategy on domestic violence with adequate funding to match to ensure that policies and legislation are implemented.

Refuge is also calling for a review in the way injunctions and undertakings (court orders) are enforced.  Currently, injunctions are frequently flouted by perpetrators – in many cases they are meaningless pieces of paper.  How can we ever expect to see real change if there are no consequences for violent behaviour?

Domestic violence is a national problem and requires a national response.  It is a serious crime.  It damages lives.  And it takes lives.’

What Refuge and the family are trying to achieve

Since Julia and Will’s deaths, their family has been working with Refuge and others to ensure that similar tragedies cannot happen in the future. The family and Refuge are calling for a full, open, honest and thorough homicide review which would allow an independent assessment of what went wrong in this case and would put measures in place to ensure these mistakes are not repeated in the future.

  • Local lessons – The family believes that a number of errors were made around Julia Pemberton’s case.  It is imperative that to understand why these errors occurred and why Julia and Will were not afforded the protection they deserved.
  • National lessons – Sadly the Pemberton case is not an isolated one.  Women across the country who experience domestic violence will benefit from the lessons that could be learned from this case.  In doing so they would then be better placed to do their duty and protect those in danger.

What is a homicide review?

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 introduced a statutory basis for local agencies to hold homicide reviews for victims of domestic violence, as is currently in place in the occurrence of serious injury or death of a child.

Under section 9(1) of the Act the definition of a domestic violence homicide review is ‘a review of the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by:

  • A person to whom he/she was related or with whom he/she was or had been in an intimate personal relationship; or
  • A member of the same household as himself/herself,

held with a view to identifying the lessons to be learnt from the death.’

The family is hoping that the Pemberton case will be the inaugural domestic violence homicide review in this country and that it will act as the blueprint for all future homicide reviews.

Taken from an article in the Guardian, April 2006

Frank Mullane: ‘The story is one of abject system failure.  The [police] force had no domestic violence policy, neglected to undertake a risk assessment and ignored repeated and increasingly desperate pleas for help.  They made basic policing errors, failed to share information between themselves, failed to supervise, had no procedures to join forces with other agencies and had a feckless firearms policy.

‘The state has a obligation to make this [homicide] review compliant with Article 2 (of the Human Rights Act) and with the help of Sandra Horley of Refuge and our MP, Anne Snelgrove, we are fighting to ensure it does something to prevent similar murders.  Our solicitor, John Latham, and barrister, Stephen Field, have secured a judicial review to challenge the Home Office in the high court.  We do not accept the narrow, top-down process being imposed.  Homicide reviews should have a wide-angle lens.’

To read the full article click here

Show your support for the campaign

The role of a homicide review is to:

  • Identify the lessons that need to be learnt.  Particularly looking at how local professionals and agencies work together to protect victims
  • Identify how these lessons will be interpreted and what changes will be implemented as a result
  • Improve partnership working between agencies and protect victims of domestic violence

The family of Julia and Will believe there are some specific areas of importance when it comes to a homicide review.  Having drawn extensively from other countries where homicide reviews are already established, Frank Mullane believes that the UK’s homicide reviews must draw upon the broadest possible base of agency and community players in order to find new insights and prevent future deaths.  In particular, Mr. Mullane believes reviews must include:

  1. Victim representation.  This should be the starting point of any homicide review.  The victim’s representative will hold more knowledge about the case and the circumstances than any other party.  The victim’s representative should remain an integral player throughout
  2. Independent experts should be a key element of the review committee (they should not be government officials or serving police officers)
  3. An independent chair
  4. A domestic violence victim (who should be present on the review committee)
  5. The overriding premise from which a review must take place is that many homicides are predictable  – and therefore they are preventable.

Click here to find out what’s happened so far

Media coverage of the case to date

During the case the family has received some fantastic support from a number of media partners, including

The Sun, The Times, BBC’s Newsnight, The Guardian, ITV and the BBC amongst others.

The Times 4.6.05 – page 1, page 2

The Guardian 25.4.06

Frank Mullane has been actively campaigning to ensure this case is heard and has spoken at a number of different high profile conferences, some of these include Refuge’s Everyone’s Responsibility conference, 15 November 2005, Local Government Association conference on Homicide Reviews, 27 February 2006 and Amnesty International UK AGM.

To read Mr. Mullane’s speech given at Refuge’s 2005 conference click here

Click here to find out how you can support the Pemberton case