Is Helen guilty of murdering Rob? My Advice

R v. Helen Titchener

ADVICE

1. I have been asked to advise those instructing urgently in relation to their client Helen Titchener, who has been arrested on suspicion of a serious crime of violence against her husband, Robert. At the time of writing matters are still a little unclear, but Mrs Titchener believes she has killed her husband by stabbing him with a kitchen knife. It seems likely, though not certain, that he will have been certified dead on arrival at Borchester Hospital. Those instructing expect to be representing Mrs Titchener in the police station where she is expected to be interviewed sometime after 19.00 hours this evening.

2. Because this advice is required so urgently I will not trouble those instructing with a detailed recital of what I have been told is the unhappy history of the Titcheners’ relationship. It suffices to say that in recent months their marriage had become increasingly strained and (at any rate as far as Mrs Titchener was concerned) unhappy. Mrs Titchener is heavily pregnant, and it seems that this has been used by Mr Titchener as a means of exerting ever increasing emotional control over her. Indeed, such had been the level of control that she had even, at times, begun to doubt her own sanity, and had recently sought treatment from a psychiatrist.

3. The tragic incident leading to Mr Titchener’s probable death occurred at around 19.15 hours yesterday evening. It seems that after months of domestic abuse Mrs Titchener had finally determined to leave the home they shared, taking her young son Henry – Mr Titchener was not Henry’s biological father – with her. Her plans were so well advanced that she had packed a suitcase containing her essential requirements.

4. Her original plan had been to tell Mr Titchener of her plans over dinner – a tuna bake. She appears to have faltered in her resolve, and the two ate the tuna bake together. However, before they ate the pudding that she had also prepared, a bad-tempered argument broke out and Mrs Titchener told him that she was going to leave.

5. Mrs Titchener’s instructions are that this enraged Mr Titchener still further, who picked up a knife, placed it in her hands and – in effect – challenged her to stab herself. He said – or rather shouted – words to the effect that “that is the only way you will be leaving me,” together with numerous other hurtful and wounding insults. I understand that Henry – who had been asleep upstairs – then appeared, no doubt disturbed by the shouting, and Mr Titchener started shouting at him as well. Mrs Titchener has so far been too distressed to give a fully coherent account, but my understanding is that there was then a scuffle, during the course of which Mr Titchener received one or possibly 2 stab wounds which left him apparently lifeless on the ground. Those instructing have been unable to take any very detailed instructions on the point but it seems that immediately before he was stabbed, Mr Titchener shouted “give me the knife Helen.”

6. Mrs Titchener was extremely concerned for Henry, who appears to have witnessed much of the incident. She put him in a different room with a DVD to watch and then telephoned a friend, to whom she confessed that she had stabbed, and probably killed, Mr Titchener. I assume that either the friend or Mrs Titchener then called the police, though I have no instructions on the point.

7. It is unfortunate that her first action was not to call for an ambulance for Mr Titchener, but perhaps understandable that a mother’s first thought would be to safeguard the welfare of her child.

8. Although Mr Titchener’s death has yet to be confirmed, all the indications at this stage are that he died shortly after he was stabbed by Mrs Titchener. Preliminary information is that he received two stab wounds to the abdomen and this Advice is written on that basis.

Murder

9. If Mrs Titchener stabbed Mr Titchener with the intention of killing him or causing him serious injury, and death has resulted from the stab wound or wounds then – subject to a complete or partial legal justification for the killing – she is guilty of murder.

10. As those instructing are well aware, the only possible sentence allowed by law is life imprisonment, although the court is required to set a minimum term of imprisonment which must be served before she is eligible for release on parole. It is, of course, not inevitable, indeed it is uncommon, for those serving life sentences to be released as soon as they become eligible for release. They must satisfy the parole board that they will not pose any danger to the public. Moreover, even after release anyone serving a life sentence can be recalled to prison at any time.

11. I have been specifically asked to advise as to the probable minimum custodial term that is likely to be imposed should Mrs Titchener be convicted of murder. On the very limited information available to me at the moment I would advise that it should not be more than 15 years, and – particularly if she were to plead guilty at the earliest possible stage – that it could be significantly less. Had Mrs Titchener deliberately armed herself with the knife this would be regarded as a seriously aggravating feature, but it seems that it was actually placed in her hands by the deceased himself. There are also a number of significant mitigating features: she acted after a period of prolonged stress, and it seems that she was – at least to an extent – in fear of violence from Mr Titchener. I am instructed that Mrs Titchener had in fact complained to at least one other person of previous acts of emotional cruelty as well as physical and possibly sexual violence in the past.

12. Of course Mrs Titchener could not be convicted of murder unless the prosecution could prove that she intended to cause her husband at least serious injury, if not to kill him. Although premeditation is not a necessary requirement for murder (the necessary intent can be formed in a split second), the fact that the incident itself appears to have been fast moving with very little time for reflection could make it harder to be sure that she did in fact give any thought at all to the consequences of her actions. If she did not do so then she would not be guilty of murder but of manslaughter.

13. It would, however, be a very unusual case in which a person stabbing somebody could not be said not to intend serious harm. I think there are other routes which offer Mrs Titchener a far greater chance of being acquitted of murder.

Loss of Control

14. In my opinion Mrs Titchener’s best chance is to rely upon the defence of what is known as “loss of control.” This is a statutory defence which can reduce what would otherwise be murder to manslaughter. It has replaced the common law defence of “provocation”. I cannot do better than set out the relevant part of S.54 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which provides:

Where a person (“D”) kills or is a party to the killing of another (“V”), D is not to be convicted of murder if—
(a) D’s acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing resulted from D’s loss of self-control,

(b) the loss of self-control had a qualifying trigger, and
(c) a person of D’s sex and age, with a normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint and in the circumstances of D, might have reacted in the same or in a similar way to D.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a), it does not matter whether or not the loss of control was sudden.
(3) In subsection (1)(c) the reference to “the circumstances of D” is a reference to all of D’s circumstances other than those whose only relevance to D’s conduct is that they bear on D’s general capacity for tolerance or self-restraint.

15. Once sufficient evidence of “loss of control” is raised, it is for the prosecution to disprove the defence beyond reasonable doubt. Should the defence succeed it will reduce what would otherwise be murder to manslaughter. Crucially, there is no mandatory sentence for manslaughter.

16. On current instructions I think a jury is likely to be sympathetic to Mrs Titchener. She is a lady of impeccable character with no obvious motive to kill Mr Titchener. There seems no reason to doubt that she did so in a moment of extreme anguish. Nevertheless sympathy alone will not result in a favourable verdict. She must show that there was a “qualifying trigger” before the defence can even be left to the jury. The only permissible such triggers are that Mrs Titchener lost her self control as a result of either:

(i) fear of serious violence from the victim; or

(ii) to something said or done which:

(a) constituted circumstances of an extremely grave character, and

(b) caused D to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged.

Assuming the existence of a “qualifying trigger” it will then be a matter for the jury to decide whether “a person of her sex and age, with a normal degree of tolerance and self restraint” might in the same circumstances have reacted in the same or in a similar way.

17. The real difficulty is in deciding whether a “qualifying trigger” existed. Of course, if Mr Titchener was actually threatening her with the knife there is no problem. Not only would that be the “qualifying trigger” of a threat of serious violence, it might even open up the possibility that she acted in lawful self-defence (see below).

18. However, even if there was no immediate threat from Mr Titchener, a jury would be entitled to consider the whole history of their relationship in deciding whether his actions before his death constituted circumstances of an “extremely grave character” which caused Mrs Titchener “to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged.”

19. Unlike the previous law of provocation, the defence of loss of self-control is open even where the loss of self-control is not “sudden.”

20. Evidence of previous acts of domestic violence or controlling behaviour would be admissible in her defence. An angry outburst involving a knife from a controlling husband who has previously assaulted and (possibly) raped his wife is a very different matter from an otherwise kind and peaceable husband losing his temper for the first time. In my view it will be open to Mrs Titchener to argue that a “normal” woman in her position might have reacted in the same way had she been subjected to the months of domestic abuse.

21. Should the defence succeed Mrs Titchener will almost certainly still receive a prison sentence, but there are grounds for cautious optimism about its length, and even some possibility that it could be suspended.

22. There are at present no official sentencing guidelines for manslaughter by reason of loss of control. However, there are 2005 Sentencing Guidelines for manslaughter on the grounds of provocation which provide a useful guide to the likely sentence. These suggest a starting point of 3 years imprisonment for manslaughter following a “high” degree of provocation over a short period of time. Where (as here) the “provocation” has continued over a longer period of time, where the killing was unpremeditated and where there has been an early guilty plea and obvious remorse it is possible that the sentence could be 2 years imprisonment or less, a length of sentence which would allow any custodial sentence to be suspended.

23. It is significant that whilst carrying a knife to the scene of a murder is invariably regarded as a serious aggravating feature, the same is not necessarily true where a woman uses a knife to kill her husband in a domestic setting. Indeed, the Sentencing Guidelines for manslaughter by provocation deal with the point in this way:

“The use or not of a weapon is a factor heavily influenced by the gender of the offender. Whereas men can and do kill using physical strength alone, women often cannot and thus resort to using a weapon. The issue of key importance is whether the weapon was to hand or carried deliberately to the scene, although the circumstances in which the weapon was brought to the scene will need to be considered carefully.”

It seems to me highly relevant that in this case Mr Titchener not only brought the knife into the room, but then physically placed it in his wife’s hands, before verbally abusing her in a wholly disgraceful way.

Those instructing have also pointed out that Mr Titchener’s ex-wife has been in touch and has indicated that in the days very shortly before the incident Mrs Titchener had complained to her of his abusive behaviour; indeed she goes further and says that she herself suffered similarly during the course of their marriage. This is potentially important evidence which at the very least would help to rebut any possible suggestion that Mrs Titchener is making up her account of her husband’s abominable behaviour as a desperate attempt to avoid the consequences of her own criminality.

Diminished Responsibility

24. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that Mrs Titchener was insane in the legal, or indeed the medical sense. However, I advise that those instructing should take steps immediately to obtain a psychiatric report on her psychiatric state.

25. Under S.2 of the Homicide Act 1957 if, as a result of a medical condition, Mrs Titcherner’s ability to form a rational judgement or exercise self-control was a “significant contributory factor” in causing her to act as she did, she would be guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.

26. However, unlike the defence of loss of control, that of diminished responsibility needs to be proved on the balance of probabilities by the defence. This is one reason why, at this stage, “loss of control” seems a more promising line of defence than diminished responsibility.

Self-defence

27. A person under attack is entitled to use reasonable force to defend themselves. It is an important principle that a person using force to defend themselves is not required to “weigh to a nicety” the precise degree of defensive force required. If she did no more than what she instinctively thought was necessary to defend herself (or indeed Henry) in the heat of the moment, that would be very potent evidence that the force used was reasonable. Moreover, a person under threat of an imminent attack is not required to wait to be hit before defending herself. The law recognises the concept of “anticipatory self-defence”.

28. Assuming Mrs Titchener was able to give some evidence that she was acting in self-defence (or defence of Henry) it would then be for the prosecution to prove that she was not so acting. If it could not do so, Mrs Titchener would be entitled to be acquitted of both murder and manslaughter.

29. However, whilst it is perhaps to early to make any assumptions, at this stage my view is that Mrs Titchener may struggle to lay the necessary evidential basis for self-defence even to be left to the jury. Nothing in the events as related by those instructing suggests that Mr Titchener was actually attacking his wife, or Henry, or even threatening to do so. On the contrary, his last words were apparently “give me the knife Helen!”

30. In addition there appears to be evidence that Mr Titchener suffered not one but two stab wounds. Whilst it is possible to conceive of a case in which a person desperately fighting to defend herself could inflict multiple stab wounds in self-defence, on the face of things the fact that Mrs Titchener stabbed her husband twice does not assist that defence.

Conclusion

31. I very much hope that those instructing will be able to represent Mrs Titchener when she is interviewed by the police. It is not for me to advise experienced solicitors on how they should approach the interview. Whether Mrs Titchener is fit to be interviewed and whether it is in her best interests to give a full account at this stage are matters on which she will have to be guided by the professional judgement of her solicitors.

32. However, as a general rule, any defence of “loss of control” (or indeed self-defence) is likely to be strengthened by being revealed as early as possible.
Pump Court Chambers

April 4th 2016

 

Guptas, Solicitors

Ambridge

Borsetshire

DX 3167 Borchester

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

35 thoughts on “Is Helen guilty of murdering Rob? My Advice”

  1. Thank you for this timely and accurate summary.
    Do you really think that Mr Titchener’s last words alone will be sufficient to counterbalance the evidence that over the past few months he has twice raped his wife, once hit her, was heading towards her five-year-old son (whom he has previously allowed to be scalded in an effort to continue perpetrating his emotional abuse), and had just dared her to commit suicide on the basis that she wouldn’t be allowed to leave him otherwise? I would say that was extremely strong evidence pointing towards the fact that even if Mrs Titchener didn’t fear that he was trying to kill her son in those exact seconds, he might, being a volatile and violent man with an extensive history of abuse and coercion, be about to make a serious attempt on her life or Henry’s.
    Please bear in mind that all these incidents of abuse were witnessed by several million people and are recorded in audio format.

  2. There is another potential witness as to Mr Tichener’s violent personality in Shula Archer. She witnessed a vicious and unprovoked attack on a hunt saboteur. Unfortunately for her, in giving such evidence in support of her relative, she would ipsi facto admit to perjury. This would be a bonus as she herself might then be imprisoned. Result!

    1. Not perjury surely, as Mrs Hebdon-Lloyd (Shula Archer) did not give her evidence regarding Mr Titchner’s (non) attack on the hunt saboteur on oath.

  3. How awful & well written Mathew. A solicitor I worked with is exceptionally good at winning these types of cases. Although you don’t have all the facts yet & a lot of gaps need to be filled in.
    May I suggest if I speak to an outstanding solicitor called John Veale who works for Kangs Soliciors all over the country on complex frauds, appeals & Murder Cases. He works meticulously hard & he’s won an outstanding amount of very difficult cases where a death has occurred be it murder/manslaughter with all mitigating circumstances.
    This lady really needs help & advice and legal advise on tap ASAP. I’m sure you have it all worked out as best as applying the law. I’m sure her Soliciors are excellent but when this ladies whole life know rests in tatters where her child will be taken off her & her options are limited as to her being remanded in prison or that of a mental health section speed is of the essence. Many brains are better than a couple & this lady needs all hands on board. I’m not angel ing to offer just one solicitor but please do contact this guy Called John Veale from Kangs Soliciors & please read up on his & his colleagues vast experience of getting outstanding results even if he just helps the solicitor she has representing her.

    Kangs are Based in Birmingham, Mamchester & London & do legal aid ofcoarse & I ask of you Mathew to tap on to this guys expertise & success rate and his dedication to working till the early hours until he’s satisfied he knows and hopes he can get the client the best result.

    I’ve worked with him & he never stops until he’s 100% confident he can get the result he wants.

    By all means Mathew email me. I do fraud cases & miscarriages of justice etc but on a PI basis & I work on my own & have worked along side him gathering needed information on one case only where I was a witness/investigator to a crime of a miscarriage of justice.

    Please relay my deep concern & we all know you are the barrister for the job without hesitation.

    If my services are required it’s free & gratis in this very sad case.

    Best wishes. Jamie Millard

  4. Agree a loss of control, at first blush, is likely to reduce crime to manslaughter and a discretionary period of CUSTARDy. Any animus towards Henry by Rob was probably within the realms of lawful chastisement and not relevant to self defence by mother. Ordinarily self defence would not be a viable option in the circumstances, either to protect Henry or Helen.
    But what about coercion and encouraging suicide – both offences – by Rob? Considering the latter as an extreme version of the former, you might argue H, under duress to take her own life, turned to self-defence in fear of her life given that she was the intended victim in both offences? She’s clearly got a good run on manslaughter, so it must be worth asking for a trial of issue as to whether self defence could be put before the jury.

  5. Hi Mathew. “give me the knife Helen” could also be seen as her husband daring her to stab him or for Helen to give her husband the knife so he could kill his own wife as she was not intending to take her own life as the husband had allegedly desired.

    She’d been seeing the psychiatrists & those reports are critical as to what she said to them while still married. She sounds like an abuse victim pished over the edge & too scared to give the knife back to her husband in case he stabbed her. We’re any neighbours listening to all this unraveling and raised voices?
    She sounds so distraught that she may be sectioned for evaluation to see if she is coherent to give a full harrowing police interview at 19.00

    To get on top of the case it would be a good idea that she is sectioned & evaluated whilst soliciors etc can get to grips with the entire case & they can visit her as often as they like whilst on a 28 day section possibly extended to 6 months.

    I can’t see this lady being coherent being locked up in a prison where her head will be mashed. The route to go down IMO is continued domestic abuse including sexual assault so the Pre-meditated could be off the cards & her late husband’s whole demeaner & the way he acted in all situations including family, friends, business & work relationships with colleagues to see what type of guy her husband really was. Neighbours need to give statements if they too knew of serious domestic abuse.

    I think murder is off the cards. She also thought of her son to protect & may have thought that her late husband could have been a threat to him if he had the knife. So many questions but a 6 month evaluation in hospital seems the fairest & betters her chances if the police are going for murder from the start.

    I hope it all gets sorted and my thoughts do go out to all affected in this tradegy.

    Jamie Millard

  6. This is a fascinating article.

    I’m particularly struck by the “sex and age” component of the “loss of control” defence. Do you really mean to say that pair of hypothetical juries faced with, say, a 25-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman in identical situations of, say, pub violence, would be expected to consider that, say, a man was more likely to lose control and be violent than a woman and therefore to say he had a defence and she didn’t?

    This makes it sound as if we have “boys will be boys” codified into law, and I’m a bit horrified. Would it be easy to look up how often this is used and under what sort of circumstances? Because I am really fascinated.

  7. Absolutely fascinating, thank you so much!

    There’s one bit you got slightly wrong (or least those instructing you did, possibly they haven’t heard the full account from Mrs Tichener yet) and I believe the correct version will be helpful to her. You say,
    “Nothing in the events as related by those instructing suggests that Mr Titchener was actually attacking his wife, or Henry, or even threatening to do so. On the contrary, his last words were apparently “give me the knife Helen!”

    Actually, Mrs Tichener when she is in fit state may well recall that he had just hit or slapped her, there was a distinct sound of a blow, and her face will possibly show evidence of this. Also, Mr Tichener then shouted furiously at Henry to go upstairs at once ‘Or I’ll …’ and when the child refused, roared, ‘Right! Come here, you little …’ whereupon Mrs Tichener shouted, ‘Get your hands off him, don’t touch him.’ Given Mr Tichener’s enraged state, Mrs Tichener could very well have feared for her son’s safety when she stabbed him the first time.

    Mr Tichener was gasping, ‘Helen, put the knife down, no’ when she stabbed him (apparently) the second time and I wonder if perhaps he had been only been slightly wounded, and was lunging for her and she could say truthfully that she was afraid he’d take it from her and kill her and or Henry. Or, another possibility, he was quite seriously wounded by the first stab and staggered and fell against the knife.

    Anyway, looking forward to finding out more ‘facts’ today, in particular whether Mr Tichener is alive or not!

    1. Yes. The modern way is to upload a police summary on double sided paper onto a barely functioning website, so that only half is legible, & then demand she makes an immediate decision on plea, preferably while still in the police station.

  8. Or to put it another way, I’m sorry to say your advice is irrelevant. “She knows what she’s done!”

  9. I fear that this is not as simple as it appears, the events may have been meticulously planned in advance – scripted even. But to what end? certainly not entertainment.
    There are far easier ways to recuse someone, the countryside is all blood and death. As everyone seems to be using false names I suspect espionage, possibly a staged killing to establish Bona Fides to enable deeper infiltration…
    “der der der de de de derr” always incites me to violence.

  10. I have n’t closely read the above but Rob did hand her the knife and urged her to harm herself before threatening Henry.If she remembered that told the police and her lawyer and was believed would that make a difference?

    1. Yes, it might. It probably wouldn’t affect the charging decision, but from the point of view of her deefnce at trial, the sooner she reveals her defence the better.

  11. These comments come after the charge for attempted murder. Whilst it might be the best advice in most cases to say nothing to the police, it was clearly faulty advice in this case. There is no doubt that she did it, the only doubt actually is the reason why she did it. And it is not simply all about just ‘getting her off’: even if she were found ‘not guilty’, the fact is there is in her some degree of derangement – before and after. Surely, anyone who knows from an experience like this of how it is to stab into and slash the wrists of another human being is never going to be quite the same again. You could never trust yourself in a similarly stressful situation, and certainly others would not. This case is not actually about the law then, it is about what to do with the poor woman even if everything in court points ultimately to her relative ‘innocence.’ So the solicitor’s advice for her to remain silent was flawed. If she had answered all the police questions, to the best of her ability and honesty, she might not have been charged at all (although she probably would). This refusal to speak then forced the police to pursue a charge – and the very worst of charges, since there was literally nothing else for them to do to resolve the case. It is good entertainment, I admit, but if this were a real case, the only winner will be the check-in account of the defense team, aided of course by the most excellent solicitor.

    1. You’re probably right, and especially as it’s not a no comment interview any more: she admitted saying she wanted to kill Rob, exactly the sort of blunder that a “no comment” interview is meant to prevent. Now she has the worst thing of all a “partially no comment interview.” This always looks very peculiar: if she could answer that question, then why not all the others? is the unspoken thought.

      That said, without knowing what she said to the solicitor it is impossible to say that he gave the wrong advice.

      1. We must assume that she told the solicitor that which we all heard on the radio between her and Rob. I don’t really think she’s going to fabricate some other story. In any case it doesn’t change things or concern us. You make a very good point though about the ‘worst thing of all’: a ‘partially no comment interview’. Although it was mean of the cops to bully and wind her up into her damning comment, but it is as damning as it is only because it is the only thing she actually said based otherwise on the advice of the solicitor. It is true she goofed, but if she had told everything to the police, in exquisite detail, for as long as it took, as she was going to do in the first instance, this one isolated statement would be based in a proper and reasonable context. Having then heard Helen goof, and realising the ‘worst thing of all’ was now actualised, the solicitor should then have informed Helen the new gravity of the situation and advised her tell all, there and then! He can’t or won’t do that because we need a trial for the radio play, but the point is that he not only gave faulty advice, he subsequently through either commission or omission was derelict in the course of his representation.

  12. I’m not so sure that no comment is poor advice. A friend of mine had a client at the police station who was arrested for s18 and was told that the prognosis was that the complainant would die. There were no independent witnesses as to what took place. The friend advised no comment in the interview. (I’m not sure now whether this was before the new caution to be honest but it was certainly a damn long time ago.)P

    In any event, the complainant did not die and did not make a complaint. End of case.

    1. I didn’t say ‘no comment’ (per se) is poor advice, quite the contrary. I said it was poor advice in this specific case.

  13. I hope you sent this to the script writer(s). There is an Ambridge blog site

    Very illuminating to all us ARCHERS fans

  14. Really helpful original post – thanks you.
    Please can we have a legal opinion on whether witnesses to the crime, either prosecution or defence, are allowed to see either victim or alleged offender? The current story line is driving me mad and it feels as if the SWs have done no research whatsoever!

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