Kirsty, from Sittingbourne in Kent, knew domestic violence from a very young age; she frequently witnessed her mother being physically and verbally abused by her father and on a number of occasions she fled with her mother and brothers to women’s refuges to escape the violence. She recalled how she and her brothers knew to get ready to leave “whenever we heard mum scream”. Eventually, Kirsty’s parents separated but a stepfather moved in who was equally violent. For a while Kirsty went to live with her father, but had to return to her mother’s home after he assaulted her so violently that she had to stay off school for several days to hide the injuries. At sixteen Kirsty moved into a hostel for young people and found paid work. At 18 she got a job at a large residential care home for adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems. She loved the work and was a valued member of staff.
Kirsty met Jason Bull who was eight years older than her, and they soon set up home together in Sheerness. Although she was initially infatuated by Jason, she discovered that when drunk or on drugs he would become violent towards her. This was devastating for Kirsty who believed she had made a home for herself free from the domestic violence that had punctuated her upbringing. In February 2006, when Kirsty threatened to leave Jason, he lost his temper, grabbed her by the throat so that she could not breathe and started punching her. She suffered a perforated eardrum and reported the assault to the police. Jason was arrested and bailed.
After that incident, Jason promised to get help and was referred to a psychologist. He also promised to stay off alcohol. However, on 13 March 2006, it was Jason’s birthday. They went out to celebrate; Jason had a few drinks and took some cocaine. When they returned home that evening, an argument started. Jason was continually badgering Kirsty, so she decided to leave the flat for a while to see if he would calm down or go to bed. However, when sitting outside the flat she heard Jason on the phone saying, “I’ve had a row with the old lady, she’s a c*nt”. Kirsty suspected that he was talking to a woman who he had been previously flirting with. She went back into the flat to confront him. However, that made Jason mad; he called her a “slapper”, grabbed her by the hair and started punching her. Kirsty was terrified, he would not stop and there seemed to be a change in him that really frightened her. At that point memories of the violent attack by her father flashed through Kirsty’s mind. She cannot remember inflicting the fatal stab wound on Jason, she recalls only holding a kitchen knife hoping that he would back off and leave her alone. As soon as Kirsty realised what she had done she ran out to the street to summon help. An ambulance attended but they could not save Jason.
In February 2007, a jury convicted Kirsty of murder by a ten to two majority. The judge sentenced her to life imprisonment and told her that she must serve at least twelve years. In sentencing the judge, whilst taking into account the strong character references from the care home where she worked, remarked that her care skills should have made her better equipped to tolerate Jason’s violence and erratic behaviour. This shows a remarkable lack of insight into the nature of domestic violence and the way in which power and control operates very distinctly in intimate relationships.
Following conviction, Kirsty’s case was taken up by Justice for Women and referred to Birnberg Peirce and Partners who lodged grounds of appeal in February 2010.
The appeal was based on the failure of the judge to adequately sum up the defence of provocation to the jury. Provocation is a partial defence to murder which would have reduced the conviction to manslaughter. The judge failed to draw the jury’s attention to the violence Kirsty had been subjected to, instead focusing on the comments made by Jason that she had overheard, so as to imply that Kirsty had acted out of jealousy rather than fear. If the jury were directed to considering whether it was reasonable to kill as a result of jealousy, then not surprisingly, a majority concluded it was murder. However, had they instead been directed to take into account Kirsty’s long history of witnessing and experiencing domestic violence and considered how frightened she may have been at the point of the attack then it is most unlikely they would have convicted her of murder.
Change in the law
Ironically, since Kirsty' conviction, the law has changed, partly as a result of Justice for Women's campaign (see Resources for more information). The old defence of provocation has been replaces by the defense of loss of control, which applies in cases where someone kills out of fear of serious violence. Has this law been in place at the time of Kirsty's trial, the judge would have been required to bring the jury's attention to the violence and fear she had experienced.
On the 21st July 2010 the Court of Appeal considered Kirsty’s appeal against conviction and sentence. Justice for Women organised a high-profile demonstration outside the Court and celebrated a significant victory when Kirsty’s conviction was reduced from murder to manslaughter. The Appeal Court judges imposed a six-year sentence for manslaughter, entitling Kirsty, now 24, to be released immediately. The following day Kirsty walked free from Holloway Prison to re-start her life again.
For media coverage of Kirsty's case, please visit our press coverage page.