If like me you have spent the last week glued to your screen watching Channel 4’s latest documentary-come-reality show, ‘The Trial: A Murder in the Family’, you will know how gripping and intense it has been.
Last night the series, which was shown over a successive five nights, came to a thrilling end. We were finally shown whether Simon Davis, played by actor Michael Gould, really was the man to murder his ex/current wife, Carla Davis, played by Emma Lowndes, and given the jury’s verdict. It turns out that ‘Simon Davis’ had killed her, after losing his temper when she informed him that she, along with his children, would be moving away to Scotland, and he was not involved in any of these moving plans. The jury, however, could not reach a unanimous decision and were left with a hung jury with eight finding Simon not-guilty and four finding him guilty. A hung jury meant that Simon was neither acquitted or prosecuted but he was able to walk (almost) free from the courtroom.
Throughout the trial there were only ever two people seriously in the picture for the murder. Simon Davis, the husband who had moved out but had begun to rekindle his sexual relationship with Carla, and the new boyfriend, Lewis Skinner, played by Kevin Harvey, the ex-cop who had a history of violence. Both men, the prosecution and defence had proven, had some form of motive for the killing when it was shown that Carla was pregnant with Simon’s child and that Carla had made the decision to move to Scotland without either of them in tow.
Worse than this, both men had a history of violence in some capacity. Simon had previously hit Carla and had a tendency of violence towards his wives, and Lewis had been dismissed from the police force after being found guilty of Grievous Bodily Harm. The case had been created in this way to not only show the intricacies of the courtroom but also emphasise the severity of abuse against women in the UK.
The most concerning aspect of the process was the fact that despite almost all of the evidence pointing towards Simon as the killer, even DNA proof, eight of twelve people from the jury could not find the capacity to reach a guilty verdict. Not only this but all four members of the jury who found the defendant guilty were women. Understandably the tense discussions between the jury members about the realities of abuse towards women in the UK created a real division between the men and women.
It striked me that none of the jury members were genuinely aware of the realities of abuse towards women, even those who decided that Simon was guilty. Thousands of women like Carla Davis, despite her character being fictional, experience violence from a partner every day. As the show rightfully mentioned at the end credits, two women are killed EVERY WEEK by a current or ex-partner. The real facts are utterly shocking and will chill you to the bones. The reality is only 35% of domestic abuse incidents are reported to the police. And despite one of the male jurors accusing one of the female jurors of “narrow-minded sexism” when it came to the abuse that Carla had suffered at the hands of her male partner, the reality is that 81% of domestic abuse victims are women. She was not sexist, she was right.
In hindsight with this case there was never really any chance that Simon wasn’t the killer and I, like many others, believed that the jury would undoubtedly find him guilty. Worryingly though, they didn’t. Carla never reported any incidents of violence from Simon, despite her sister saying that she had seen him be violent towards her. This is unsurprising however, and studies have shown that women are violently assaulted on average 35 times before they first call the police. Perhaps if more women, and men, were aware of the realities of domestic abuse and felt protected by the justice system in the UK then far fewer incidents would end in the way that Carla’s did. Without justice.
The programme created by Channel 4 as a reflection of the jury service in the UK ended up doing something far more important than informing us of how a courtroom works. It showed us the reality of failings in the prosecution of domestic abusers, and brought the severity of domestic abuse into the forefront of our minds.