Guest post “I’ve spent thirty years representing women like Fri who killed their abusive partners”
JuliaMumsnet · 08/03/2022 11:44
For International Women's Day, director of the Centre for Women's Justice Harriet Wistrich (first photo) writes about their work on the 'unjust criminalisation of victims of abuse'.
"Last week I visited Fri Martin, a young Black woman from Toxteth in Liverpool, who had recently been reunited with her delightful young daughters from whom she had been separated for the previous seven years. Fri (second photo) was torn away from them when they were aged only one and two years old after she was arrested for having stabbed their father, Kyle Farrell, who had tried to strangle her. Fri and Kyle had met at school and started dating from the age of 15. The relationship, while good at the beginning, became soured by Kyle’s violence and coercive and controlling behaviour which saw Fri change from a bubbly teenager to a depressed mother of two toddlers. In one violent confrontation, the two children were deprived of both mother and father. Luckily, Fri’s best friend offered to take them in and cared for them during the seven years that Fri was away from them.
Fri was tried and pleaded not guilty by reason of self defence, but the jury convicted her of murder. Her legal team badly failed to build up a relationship of trust with Fri that would have enabled her to disclose the full extent of the violence she was subjected to. They failed to obtain psychiatric evidence which would have shown the trauma she had experienced that influenced her response to the violence she faced on the day of the offence. And they failed to obtain the evidence, captured by the police when Fri was photographed in custody, which showed marks supporting her account that she had been strangled.
As a solicitor with thirty years’ experience representing women who have killed their abusive partners and are appealing murder convictions, from Emma Humphreys to Sally Challen, I was approached by Fri’s family to see if I could help find grounds of appeal. It took me and my counsel a number of years to find grounds and obtain evidence that would eventually pass the extremely high threshold required to appeal a conviction. In December 2020, the Court of Appeal quashed Fri’s murder conviction and ordered a re-trial. In May 2021, on the eve of the retrial, following the dramatic emergence of photographic evidence revealing strangle marks, the Crown offered to accept a plea to manslaughter and Fri jumped at the chance rather than risk another unpredictable jury verdict. The judge sentenced her to a very harsh ten years imprisonment and she had to return to prison until eventually she was eligible for release in December 2021.
Fri will be joining myself, David Challen and Louise Bullivant at a fundraising event on March 14th (register here). As many of you will recall, David campaigned courageously to help raise awareness of coercive control in support of the appeal by his mother, Sally. Louise is the solicitor for Emma-Jayne Magson, convicted of the murder of her violent partner and also separated from her young child.
I am the founder and director of Centre for Women’s Justice which is aimed at holding the state to account around violence against women and girls and challenging discrimination in the criminal justice system. In February 2021 we launched a detailed report, entitled ‘Women who Kill: How the state criminalises women we might otherwise be burying’. As the title suggests, many of the women who end up killing their partners are victims of male violence who could easily have been the one who ended up dead. As Fri’s brother, Ishmail, said: “When I received news that police and ambulance were attending Fri’s home after a fatal incident, my first thought was that it was Fri who was dead”.
We have also been working on a project looking at the wider issue of the unjust criminalisation of victims of abuse. We know that the vast majority of women in prison are themselves victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, many there as a direct result of that abuse. We have developed a series of recommendations for change across the criminal justice system to tackle the fact that women are so often criminalised when they should have been protected. Whether they have retaliated against violence inflicted upon them or been coerced into offending because of an abusive partner, it is a shameful indictment of a failing criminal justice system that resources are put into their prosecution rather than improving systems to prevent violence and abuse in the first place.
As a result of the work we do, many women have approached us seeking assistance to appeal convictions arising in circumstances where they were victims. It is very hard to find solicitors to help take forward these cases and part of the reason is the decimation of criminal legal aid which makes it hard for cash strapped firms to invest in the work required to help build up grounds of appeal.
If any of you can help, please donate and share our fundraiser open from 12pm on International Women’s Day 8th March – 15th March. Donations received during this week will be doubled by The Big Give. See our #GiveHerJustice campaign here."
Harriet Wistrich is the director of Centre for Women’s Justice and co-founder of the campaign group Justice for Women. (Find here on twitter here).
spacehardware · 08/03/2022 12:03
Thank goodness for women like Harriet 💐
SweetGrapes · 08/03/2022 12:38
Thank you for the work you do!
If any of you can help, please donate and share our fundraiser open from 12pm on International Women’s Day 8th March – 15th March. Donations received during this week will be doubled by The Big Give. See our #GiveHerJustice campaign
Goatsaregreat · 08/03/2022 13:42
Thank you MNHQ for highlighting the work of Harriet and this wonderful organisation.
The perfect place to donate to on IWD.
DomesticatedZombie · 08/03/2022 13:47
Thank you, Harriet.
I remember this case, it was harrowing to read about. So glad Fri has been reunited with her daughters.
terryleather · 08/03/2022 13:55
Harriet and all those at CWJ do an incredible job, if anyone is looking for a cause to support financially that centres women this is a really important one.
spacehardware · 08/03/2022 14:00
Have also donated x
Xpologog · 08/03/2022 14:43
Harriet and all those who work at CWJ are true heroes.
Olderbadger1 · 08/03/2022 14:51
CWJ are a wonderful organisation - please donate if you can. And share this appeal. They are a lifeline to women suffering injustice.
DPotter · 08/03/2022 14:56
donated and thank you
CompleteGinasaur · 08/03/2022 14:58
Thank you, Harriet et al. Great to be reminded of you and the crucial work you do - can't work out how I could have (unforgiveably) kind of forgotten about you.. Donated and bumped.
Plieandchassus · 08/03/2022 15:35
Thank you Harriet for the amazing work you do
MenaiMna · 08/03/2022 16:44
I remember reading about Fri and your work sadly years ago when you began to gather your appeals. I felt then as I do now how lucky Fri is and we all are to have female feminist lawyers who challenge stupid, lazy, usually male law makers, police, public defenders who don't look deeper into why cases like this come about. I'm torn between on the one hand wishing everyone well and consideration of background circumstances that bring about evil deeds and on the other hand being glad Kyle and his ilk suffer the violence they confidently create for others in their lives. It's a terrible moral dilemma. But still thank you for your work Ms Wisbech. I wish Fri a happy future, strong in the joy of freedom.
MenaiMna · 08/03/2022 16:46
And argh for autocorrect. Apologies Ms Wistrich.
ToryRussians · 08/03/2022 17:14
Thank you for everything you do, it’s such very important work.
Wulfenite · 08/03/2022 17:29
I hadn't heard Fri's story before; thank you for this post. Will donate.
EmbarrassingHadrosaurus · 08/03/2022 18:19
Echoing everyone's thanks for doing this work and obtaining justice for women like Fri who are victims of abuse.
Shall share and donate.
Gilead · 08/03/2022 19:07
Thank you. I’m a survivor. 💐
JazzyBBG · 08/03/2022 19:25
Wow so grateful for the work you do.
I'm also glad @mumsnetHQ have addressed an issue like this today as there is too much glamourising of IWD without looking at the issues behind it. Thank you
Abitofalark · 08/03/2022 19:58
They might have put the name Harriet Wistrich in the title.
She's a great woman.
countrypunk · 08/03/2022 20:22
Excellent IWD post.
Thank you Harriet, you are a brilliant, BRILLIANT woman.
RishiRich · 08/03/2022 20:39
Donated and shared. Thankyou for your excellent work.
Charley50 · 08/03/2022 21:12
Thank you Harriet. You are an amazing woman. Love to you and all the women you have represented. And David Challen too.
FloBot7 · 08/03/2022 21:24
What an inspirational post for IWD. I remember in my brief career in law, working with a QC and solicitor fighting for a woman who was imprisoned for retracting her rape accusation under duress. Apparently she had perverted the course of justice. In reality, she had been completely abandoned by the police and left fearing for her own life. To take from the law firm's statement:
She won compensation for her ordeal, but the award was reduced by 40% because of the cost of the abandoned rape case, and a further 30% due to two minor driving convictions accrued in the traumatic aftermath of her imprisonment.
It was successfully appealed at a tribunal and despite not being directly involved in the case, I was incredibly proud to have worked for the firm that set the precedent for future victims. We all were.
Lurking9to5 · 08/03/2022 21:28
She's doing good work there
GrownUpBeans · 08/03/2022 21:59
Inspirational, thank you. Have donated
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