The reporting of a case in which a man beat his wife to death with a crowbar has been criticised widely for “justifying” the murder.
When covering the conviction of David Pomphret, for the murder of his partner Ann Marie Pomphret, the Mail Online used the term “hen-pecked” in order to described the treatment Pomphret was reportedly subjected to by his wife.
Pomphret, who bludgeoned Ann to death by striking her more than 30 times at the stables they owned near their family home in Winwick, Warrington, had tried to evade blame at the time of the incident on November 2, 2018, by burning the clothes he was wearing and disposing of the weapon.
He had initially been bailed, but was rearrested when police found traces of Anne’s blood on his socks – the only forensic evidence that linked him the the scene.
Pomphret had admitted killing his wife but denied murder, the BBC reported, saying he had suffered a temporary loss of control.
He claimed he had been abused by his “highly volatile” wife, whose mental health had reportedly been in decline, and said she had been “ranting” at him in the moments before he attacked her.
His conviction for murder was widely reported on Friday, but it was a headline written by the Mail Online which sparked anger amongst readers.
The headline read: “Hen-pecked Barclays executive, 51, is found guilty of murdering wife, 49, who he battered to death with a crowbar after she mocked his erectile dysfunction.”
The Collins English Dictionary defines “hen-pecked” as ”[of a man] continually harassed or tormented by the persistent nagging of a woman [esp. his wife].”
Several hours after it was initially published, the article’s headline was changed to focus on the fact that Pompret was caught after the blood traces were found on his socks, and was revised again several hours later.
Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman took screenshots of the article and posted them to Twitter, writing: “It’s 2019 and the Mail is still trying to justify why a man battered his wife’s brains out.”
Use of the term was also criticised in earlier coverage of the case, with the Mirror Online also using it in a tweet which linked to their article. The tweet has since been deleted.
Social media users responded furiously to the headlines, pointing to the weight given by the publications to Pomphret’s defence.
The way in which the articles were presented, with key elements of Pomphret’s mitigation placed at the forefront of the article, contradict media guidelines issued by Level Up, a feminist organisation dedicated to eradicating sexism in the UK.
The guidelines have been backed by media watchdog IPSO.
They suggest five key points for journalists to consider when reporting on cases in which a woman has been murdered by a partner or ex-partner, and include accountability – placing responsibility solely on the killer and avoiding speculating on “reasons” or “triggers”.
A statement on Level Up’s website reads: “Every bad article on domestic violence is a missed opportunity to help prevent further deaths.
“Responsible reporting can improve public understanding of domestic violence, help victims and their families seek justice and help women at risk access support.”
If you have been affected by domestic violence, or are concerned someone may be at risk, you can contact Women Aid’s 24-hour freephone helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit the website here.