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.