Normalising a domestic killing: Stephen Eastwood’s “accident”

Domestic abusers! You know that thing when you’re having a massive row with your partner over something entirely trivial – it could be, say, Christmas presents – and it reaches the point where you suddenly feel the need to head to the garage, arm yourself with white spirits and a lighter, douse your partner in flammable liquid and then wave a naked flame around, just to give him or her a fright?  Well, last Christmas Stephen Eastwood did just that and something entirely unexpected happened – he managed to set his wife on fire and she died! And now he’s got to go to prison!

I imagine a story such as this strikes fear into the hearts of respectable, behind-closed-doors attackers everywhere. Hence it may be of some consolation for them to learn that Eastwood wasn’t convicted of murder. Despite Eastwood lying to the police (he originally blamed his wife for the incident, claiming she’d started the fire with a cigarette, something which was later demonstrated to have been impossible), the judge who sentenced Eastwood to eight years for manslaughter declared himself “sure that [the defendant] did not intend [his wife] to catch fire and did not intend the result”:

He attempted to scare her and held a naked flame close to her which ignited the white spirit on her dressing gown.

So yeah, this may have been “remarkably stupid and dangerous”, but apparently it’s not all that bad. Plus, as Judge Openshaw adds (for no fathomable reason), the lighter must have belonged to Eastwood’s wife as “she was a regular smoker” AND “she accused him quite wrongly I’m sure of leaving her for some other woman” (Judge Openshaw seems “sure” of a lot of things, doesn’t he?). Anyhow, it seems to me that all abusers out there can sleep easy in the knowledge that whatever happens, there’s a strong possibility that their victims will continue to be believed to have brought things upon themselves (I haven’t read a full transcript of the sentencing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Openshaw didn’t also castigate the dead for wearing an overly flammable nightgown).

When one human being kills another it strikes me that we are constantly making the following crude decision: either normalize the murder (until it isn’t murder any more) or de-normalize the murderer (until he or she is not one of us). In Stephen Eastwood’s case the murder has become everyday life, little more than bad luck – just what happens when an argument goes a little too far, especially when a man attacks a woman. Elsewhere murderers – “proper” murderers – are deemed insane.  Yet what Eastwood did seems to have been, on some level, socially acceptable. It just went a bit wrong on this particular occasion. In the words of the man sentencing him I can’t help feeling there’s a touch of “there but for the grace of God”. This should terrify us all – and the fact that it’s not even shocking is more frightening still.


7 thoughts on “Normalising a domestic killing: Stephen Eastwood’s “accident”

  1. Brilliant blog . While we live in a society that belittles domestic abuse crimes, and doesn’t label them correctly often referring to them as “isolated incident” then we keep this crime hidden.

    I have read a newspaper article where the sister of this murderer claims that there were no signs of domestic abuse in this marriage, I would argue that there is no greater sign than the fact that the poor victim of domestic abuse is no longer hear to tell us what happened. No body “accidently” set fire to their wife he would have known what he was doing and he murdered his wife.

    How are we meant to encourage our 1in4 women to speak up against the domestic abuse they suffer when they know that when they do they may not be believed, they will be scrutinised by the press to try and find absolutely anything tjat may “exuse” the actual crime. If they do take their perpetrator to court they then are then likely to see them get away with a sentence which will again belittle the crime . They may even suffer further anguish by hearing about their perpetrator being offered a £100k to appear on tv to flaunt the fact that they got off lightly.

    Societys perception of domestic abuse crimes needs to dramatically change for us to stand any chance of lowering the horrific statistics where 2 women per week die.

  2. To me, there’s nothing MORE premeditated than deciding to terrify someone who can’t really run away (dressing gown suggests she’s not got outdoor shoes on) with a naked flame and flammable liquid. That’s cold, calculating and designed to frighten and intimidate. He may not have intended to kill her (which I presume is where the manslaughter thing comes in) but he intended to make sure she was scared of him. This needs to be taken into consideration.

    And that’s aside from the horrible tendency at the moment to link mental illness with danger which ends up making people who are ill face more social opposition than actual murderers. How can society turn itself in such knots to defend the indefensible and punish the vulnerable?

  3. This response to someone’s death is disgusting, he really does make it sound like the wife deserved to be teased with being set on fire! Regardless of sex, any human being who thinks it’s acceptable to behave in this way towards someone shouldn’t get such a supportive response from their judge. It’s almost as if the judge is saying he would happily do the same if his own wife “wrongly” accused him of sleeping with or leaving her for another woman.

    No matter how well or poorly founded an insecurity like that is, it’s no reason to douse your partner in flammable liquid and taunt them with a naked flame. I don’t understand how any argument can ever gravitate naturally to a conclusion like that in the first place! And you’re right about society – we either have to bring situations into relevance to better process them or alienate them so far from us that we can sweep it under the carpet with a “well, they’re just nothing like me, so I’ve no danger of ending up there myself” mentality.

    We’re clinging to that “it’ll never happen to me” illusion when, really, our minds and life’s circumstances are so fragile that it’s never as impossible as we’d like to think. But if society lies to itself enough and enforces that dividing barrier between identifiable crime and alienated crime hard enough then order is maintained, and the only people who lose are the victims.

  4. “When one human being kills another it strikes me that we are constantly making the following crude decision: either normalize the murder (until it isn’t murder any more) or de-normalize the murderer (until he or she is not one of us).”

    This. And what’s worse is that, as you so rightly point out, killing a woman isn’t enough to put you into any kind of ‘abnormal’ category. Killing women, particularly in DV cases, has become so banal that the excuses given are verging closer and closer to the ridiculous without many people noticing. Brilliant blog but harrowing topic – glad someone is speaking out about it.

  5. I read stuff like this and it genuinely makes me worry for the state of the human race. What kind of a society are we living in when this can happen? Seriously, we’re all fucked.

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