Monday, January 4, 2010

How can ANY father kill his child? As another man is found guilty of the ultimate crime, a question to chill every mother (United Kingdom)

How indeed....

How can ANY father kill his child? As another man is found guilty of the ultimate crime, a question to chill every mother

By Kevin Toolis
Last updated at 12:44 PM on 04th January 2010

Father kills his four children. Dad executes four-year-old girl. The headlines scream off the page and a shiver of apprehension runs through every mother’s mind.

In the latest family annihilation, just after Christmas, 56-year-old Andrew Copland waited at his Hampshire home for his former partner Julie Harrison to drop off their four-year-old daughter Maisie for an access visit to open her Christmas presents.

In our divorce-ridden society there was nothing unusual about this awkward Christmas ritual, as estranged parents nationwide share what’s left of their children’s belief in Santa Claus. But once Julie and Maisie were in his house, Copland pulled a gun and shot them both before turning the weapon on himself.

How could a father kill his child? It is a crime that defies our comprehension. Your own flesh and blood? There is a word - filicide - for this act of homicide. But we rarely use it, perhaps because we find such acts too horrible to name.

Andrew Copland had a history of violence against his partners. He was a jealous man with few friends, and his relationship with Julie had been troubled. But, tragically, his crime was not unique.

About 10 per cent of all the homicides in Britain each year are child killings. In an average year, 75 children will be murdered, the vast majority by their own parents or step-parents. Despite our fears of ‘stranger danger’, only a handful of children are actually abducted and murdered by people unknown to them.

It is a cruel truth, but if you are a child in Britain today the really dangerous person in your life is first your father and then your mother. It is a real-life horror story. If you trawl through the UK murder archives, you come across the same numbing catalogue of human despair.

How could Brian Philcox take his seven year old daughter Amy and three-year-old son Owen out on a railway trip on Father’s Day in 2008 and end the day attaching a hosepipe to the exhaust and gassing them, and himself, in his Land Rover?

Revenge killings are almost always carried out by men and are triggered by sexual jealousy

A fear of such a terrible incident haunts every contested divorce, every bitter separation, every access visit to the children of an embittered relationship.

There are, on average, about 140,000 divorces in Britain each year. That’s a lot of unhappiness and a lot of anger. One rough index of that increasing parental strife is our soaring rate of child abductions, up 20 per cent in 2009. At least 500 children a year are kidnapped and taken abroad by an estranged parent.

Filicide remains a rarely studied phenomenon in the UK - perhaps because most killers, such as Copland, also kill themselves. Most studies come from the U.S., where researchers have identified common factors to many incidents of filicide, and two broad categories: revenge or depressive killings.

Revenge killings are almost always carried out by men and are triggered by sexual jealousy. A woman leaves an abusive relationship and the man hits back by destroying her most precious possession - her child.

It’s a common but usually empty threat uttered in many divorces - ‘If I can’t have them, no one will.’ Except sometimes, the killer, the children’s father, carries out that revenge and escapes justice by committing suicide.

Divorce is a dangerous time. According to Hampshire Police, Copland and Julie Harrison had split up four weeks ago. Copland probably spent a lonely Christmas brooding over his loss.

‘Separation is a high-risk time for retaliatory killings like this,’ says Ania Wilczynski, a criminologist who has studied filicide in the UK. ‘The children become tools in a war between partners. That doesn’t mean the man does not have strong feelings of attachment towards the children.’

Ian Lazenby was a typical filicidal revenge killer. He worked as a chef but was for ever flitting between jobs. He drank too much and was abusive. He was 20 years older than his wife Sylvia, and domineering.

‘His favourite saying was: “I am the law round here,” ’ says Sylvia, the agony of her loss still as raw today as it was 16 years ago.

Finally, tired of the beatings and abuse, Sylvia, who was pregnant with their fourth child, fled with her three daughters aged nine, six and two. She filed for divorce and obtained a parental custody order that restricted his access to Saturdays.

Filicide is the name given to killing your own flesh and blood

Things seemed to be working out. The access visits went OK. Lazenby lavished presents on the girls, though it felt like a kind of emotional blackmail. Then, one Saturday in January 1994, he said he was going to take the children to the zoo.

He was supposed to be back at 5pm but did not turn up. Despite being banned from driving, he had driven 250 miles to his home town of Grimsby. Sylvia went to the police, but says they were not interested - it happens all the time with rowing divorced parents, they said.

Lazenby phoned Sylvia a few times over the next two days and said he was bringing the children home. And then he said he wasn’t. In his final phone call he said: ‘I love you lots but you’ve made it clear that you do not love me.’ And he never called again.

Some time on that Monday night, Lazenby parked his car by the side of a canal, attached a hose to the exhaust and gassed himself and their three children.

The car was found the next day - the children cuddled up together in the back under a duvet.

Word came that same evening. There was a knock at the door, recalls Sylvia. ‘The policeman said: “We have found the girls.” I said: “Great, when am I getting them back?” The policeman sat down and then the social worker held my hand and said:

“It’s not good news. The girls are dead.” My knees gave way. I felt sick.’

A distraught Sylvia blamed herself and tried to commit suicide.

‘The children were everything to me and I felt guilty, but I had another innocent baby to look after.’

She eventually found a new partner, a new life. But the pain can never be assuaged.

Killers such as Lazenby and Copland, with a history of violence towards women, are more identifiable as potential killers of their children. Other common characteristics include mental illness, drug addiction and a poor financial or employment record.

Children who have disabilities or are being raised in chaotic households, like Baby P, by a non-biological parent are vulnerable.

But other murders remain baffling. Many men who annihilate their families are model citizens. There is no outward sign, even to close family and friends, that anything is wrong.

‘He is often a middle-aged white man, a good father, a good husband who suffers a catastrophic loss, usually financially, but sometimes sexual,’ says Professor Jack Levin, of the Boston-based Brudnick Centre on Conflict and Violence.

‘They become despondent, hopeless about the future and blame everyone else apart from themselves. They are loners. They have a mental attitude that they are “commander-in-chief” and they never share their problems.’

Typical of this type of killer was Robert Mochrie, a businessman who murdered his wife and four teenage children by bludgeoning them with a hammer in 2000 as they slept.

Outwardly, the Mochries, who lived in a £250,000 detached home on the outskirts of Barry, South Wales, were just another middle-class family.

Mochrie, 48, a former civil servant, appeared to be a successful businessman. His wife Catherine, 45, had just graduated as a mature student.

‘Robert was one of the least aggressive men I have ever met. He was a good friend, a loving father,’ says Debbi Zeraschi, a close family friend.

But beneath the surface Robert Mochrie’s life was falling apart. His businesses had failed, he was two months behind with the mortgage and had just £138 left in his bank account. He was receiving treatment for stress-related depression but did not want his wife to know about it.

So, in an act of what psychologists term ‘misplaced altruism’, he saw himself as saving his children from a hostile world by killing them.

It seems filicide springs from the darkest elements of human nature: of love turned to hatred, fear, selfdestruction and the killing of the things we hold most precious in life.

And it is a crime for which, rightly, there can never be any kind of redemption in life or in death.

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