Dr Charlotte Barlow, lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University

Notorious male and female co-offenders provide fascinating, yet disturbing images of crime and deviancy, with the likes of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, Rose and Fred West being some of the most infamous offenders in UK history. It is often questioned how two people can be as ‘evil’ as each other and the notion of ‘follie au deux’, a madness shared by two, is often emphasised in the popular discourse of such cases. However, such notions fail to provide a nuanced explanation for co-offending behaviour and rather rely on simplistic and reductive stereotypes, which do not adequately account for such, often complex, relationships.

Shauna Hoare and Nathan Matthews are the co-defendants who were involved in the murder of Becky Watts. Matthews was found guilty of kidnap and murder and Hoare guilty of manslaughter. In these kind of cases, it is often tempting to consider questions such as ‘how much did Shauna know’, or to focus on the disturbing, emotive details of the murder trial. However, as a feminist criminologist interested in women’s pathways into crime, I am more interested in the co-offending partnership itself. The most pertinent question for me is ‘how- if at all- did Shauna’s intimate relationship with Nathan influence her involvement in the offending?’

It’s been argued that co-offending can have an impact on the type of offences women commit. For example, Becker and McCorkel (2011) argue that women are more likely to engage in gender atypical offences, like robbery or murder, when they co-offend with men. The nature of the personal relationship between co-offenders can also impact upon women’s pathways into crime and reasons for offending. For example, Jones (2008) suggests that women may commit criminal offences out of love or fear for their partner/ co-offender, particularly if they are in an intimate relationship.

Shauna Hoare talked in detail during the trial about her turbulent and violent relationship with Nathan Matthews. Shauna suggested that Nathan demonstrated a range of violent and controlling behaviours towards her throughout their relationship. Incidents include dragging her across the room by her hair and attempting to strangle her; forcing her to beg for food and shouting abusively at her, to the point that she felt ‘terrified’. With this in mind, within the context of abusive, controlling and/ or violent co-offending relationships, the whole relationship needs to be explored when attempting to understand the women’s potential reasons for offending. Focusing explicitly on the offending act itself doesn’t provide a full picture of the driving factors and motivators behind the crime. This would encourage a more in-depth understanding of the potential influence of such violent and controlling relationships on the offending behaviour.

It is not the intention here to deny Shauna of her sense of agency and choice, or to diminish her responsibility. However, the social context, individual circumstance and other external factors that may have influenced her decision or ‘choice’ to offend, such as her potentially violent and abusive relationship with Nathan, should be considered. There is a tendency in particularly horrific murder cases, such as that of Becky Watts, to refer back to simplistic and reductive explanations for offending, such as being ‘evil’ or inherently ‘bad’, in an attempt to make sense of such cases. However such explanations do not provide a holistic account or nuanced explanation for this type of offending. Shauna’s testimony and other evidence provided during the trial suggests that Matthews was violent and controlling throughout much of their relationship and the extent to which this may have influenced her offending decisions and behaviours should not be denied or minimised in order to emphasise her implied deviancy and ‘evil’.


Becker, S., & McCorkel, J.A (2011) The gender of criminal opportunity: The impact of male co-offenders on women’s crime. Feminist Criminology, 6, p. 79-110.

Jones, S. (2008). Partners in crime: A study of the relationship between female offenders and their co-defendants, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8, p. 147-164.

Image credit: Press Association

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