Leading article

Important we get coercive control legislation right

An inquest this week heard details about the murder of a mother and daughter in Newry which even by the standards of a society sadly familiar with tragic death, were harrowing in the extreme.

Giselle Marimon-Herrera (37) and her fifteen-year-old daughter Allison were brutally murdered in their apartment in Newry in March last year.

Their killer was Russell Steele (38), who not only ended the lives of two defenceless people but also violated teenager Allison in the most brutal way imaginable.

The fact that this brute raped this young girl before murdering her is shocking and unbearably distressing.

The person responsible, who took his own life after deliberately and cruelly killing Giselle and Allison, was not some stranger but someone who knew the mother and daughter well.

He had been in a relationship with Giselle but text messages between them revealed a recent argument which included an attempt by her to end their association.

Giselle's sister told the inquest that Steele was 'very controlling', while the hearing also heard that he had previously served an eight month jail sentence for assault.

Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of a murder suicide involving an individual said to be controlling.

The most high profile case in recent times was in 2016, when Clodagh Hawe, her children Liam, Niall and Ryan were all killed at their home in Co Cavan by her husband Alan Hawe, who later died by suicide.

While murder/suicide cases are relatively rare, sadly there are too many relationships where domestic violence and coercive control feature heavily.

Physical violence is something that is readily understood but there is now greater awareness of the corrosive effect of emotional, sexual and financial abuse, intimidation and threats.

Justice minister Naomi Long is currently considering the best way to get coercive control legislation introduced in Northern Ireland.

While this law is urgently needed, it is also important that we have the most robust protections in place and that may take a little longer to implement.

Women's Aid has said the minister should 'wait and get it right' and this approach has merit.

It is vital that anyone who is at risk of domestic violence heeds the plea of Giselle and Allison's family and seeks help.

Victims of abusive relationships need understanding, advice and support, while the criminal justice system must play its part in dealing with the perpetrators of abuse.

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Leading article