Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Dr Liz Yardley

By Dr Liz Yardley, Deputy Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology

News is breaking today of Julian Stevenson, a 48 year old British man who killed his two children in France. These cases never fail to shock us, going against the central concern of any parent – protecting their children from harm. The Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University has been carrying out research into this phenomenon – known as ‘family annihilation’ – and this latest case shares characteristics with scores of cases which have preceded it.

It is not surprising that family break-up appears to be behind this case, this is true for the vast majority of family annihilations. It is also not surprising that the murders happened at the weekend – most murders of this nature happen between Friday and Sunday when children are visiting their fathers, these murders took place during the first unsupervised access visit following what has been described as a “bitter” marriage breakup. Further ‘typical’ features of this case are that it took place at the father’s home and that neither of the children survived the attack – only a small minority of children come away from such attacks with their lives. However, what is interesting about this case is that Mr Stevenson did not commit suicide – the majority of fathers who kill their children in such circumstances do take their own lives, and do so immediately after murdering their children. This isn’t a father for whom life outside of the perfect family was not worth living. Julian Stevenson was a self-righteous father who wanted to exact the most severe form of revenge upon his former wife and more than this, wanted to be around to see the effects of his actions. In this unfortunate and distressing case, we see a father who has used his children to assert his power over his former wife by taking away what was most precious to her, her children.

Lastly, whilst these cases are few and far between and the vast majority of parents would never contemplate such actions, they do remind us of one key fact around child murder, ‘stranger danger’ is an urban myth – most children who come to harm do so at the hands of their parents.

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Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Reader in Criminology and Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.