The Archers - is Helen going to prison?

Gavan Duffy QC, chairman of Northern Ireland's Criminal Bar Association
Gavan Duffy QC, chairman of Northern Ireland’s Criminal Bar Association

The long running story of Rob Tichener’s abuse of his wife Helen in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers came to a gruesome climax this week in a shocking scene for listeners that resulted in outcry on social media platforms and news outlets across the nation. Gavan Duffy QC, chairman of Northern Ireland’s Criminal Bar Association offers his insights into the legal repercussions for Helen.

The difficulty Helen faces is the continuation of the attack even after Rob had been incapacitated. This case would prove a considerable challenge for the defence team representing her in these circumstances but there are a range of possible arguments in her defence that could be pursued by expert criminal counsel.

At present Rob is alive so rather than a murder charge, instead Helen most likely faces ‘attempted murder’ which is still very serious and would present a lot of challenges. While listeners have the advantage of having heard the act and preceding abuse it is what is disclosed and given in evidence in court that really matters to a jury. Should Rob die of his injuries at a later time, some partial defences are available such as loss of control, I would argue that years of abusive behaviour and manipulation have impacted on her mental wellbeing and may have prevented any control of her actions.

Of course this is a story line on a popular radio show but echoes the real life experiences of women in Northern Ireland. The Department of Justice has recently launched a consultation on domestic violence where they are currently seeking views on developing a new offence which captures these patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour in line with the new definition of domestic abuse contained within the ‘Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland’ Strategy published last month.

It is vital for Helen, and women like her, to access quality legal advice and representation. Should Rob survive, my main concern would be his version of events and evidence in court. He is a master manipulator so in front of a jury it would take a very skilled advocate to unmask his true character during cross examination or other evidence giving. A skilled criminal barrister who understands the intricacies of criminal law is essential in a complex case such as this. England and Wales introduced additional offences around controlling and coercive behaviour late last year allowing people to prosecute their partner with the hope that abuse will not reach such a critical stage and the consultation hopes to shape a similar charge for the Northern Ireland courts.

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