about emma

As a child, Emma witnessed many violent assaults on her mother by her stepfather; both had severe alcohol problems. As a result of her brutal home environment, Emma ran away many times and spent periods in care and on the road. At an early age she began using alcohol and drugs, and was exploited in pornography and prostitution.

At the age of 16 Emma was homeless and selling sex on the streets of Nottingham in order to survive. One of her punters, Trevor Armitage, who at 32 was twice her age, offered her shelter in his home. Emma believed at first that Armitage loved her, the only person ever to have said as much to her. His possessiveness and desire to control her, however, meant that she was subjected to extreme physical, sexual and emotional abuse at his hands. He constantly monitored her movements and even nailed down the windows to stop her running away.

During this time Emma was gang-raped by three men and subsequently felt unable to continue a sexual relationship with Armitage. He ignored her distress and raped her on numerous occasions. However on February 25, 1985, Emma, terrified that Armitage would rape her again, and having slashed her wrists in an attempt to stop him, panicked and hid both the knife and her bleeding wrists from him. Armitage lay down beside her and Emma, fearing now that he would use the knife against her (she had hidden it under her body), took it and stabbed him once. He died a short time later.

Three days earlier Emma's mother had telephoned the local police asking them to check up on Emma as, following a recent phone conversation with her, she was afraid for her daughter's life.

On arrest, Emma's state of shock was such that she was unable to explain why she had killed Armitage. She also found it almost impossible to describe the abuse she had suffered, either to police or to the male duty solicitor. Because of her extreme traumatisation, Emma allowed the police to construct her statement and could not give any evidence in her defence when she went to trial. Her statement omitted any mention of the history of violence and abuse, and her plea of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation was therefore denied.  Emma was convicted of murder. Her only defence witness was a male psychiatrist who had interviewed her during the eleven months she spent on remand, in which time she received no counselling whatsoever.

Emma was sentenced as a juvenile to be detained “At Her Majesty's Pleasure” – an indefinite sentence. Emma spent over ten years in prison, suffered severe bouts of depression, slashed her wrists dozens of times and fought against anorexia.

Emma contacted the London Justice for Women group in September 1992 after seeing media coverage of the Sara Thornton and Kiranjit Ahluwalia campaigns. Emma had signed an abandonment of appeal shortly after conviction. Although she always knew her case was one of injustice, she was disillusioned by the whole legal process that it took her several years to realise that she could fight to overturn her conviction. Once Justice for Women began to campaign for her, it took a further two and a half years to get her case back to the Appeal Court. By that time, Emma had spent over ten years in prison when she came to sit before the three judges at the Court of Appeal.

Emma Humphreys won her appeal on two grounds:

  • Cumulative provocation

The Court of Appeal ruled that the judge at Emma's original trial should have directed the jury to consider the cumulative provocation she suffered at the hands of Trevor Armitage. At the original trial, the jury was only directed to consider the final act of provocation. Emma's defence team was able to show that the whole relationship, including the acts of violence and the threat of rape, should have been taken into account when considering Emma's reaction on the night she killed Armitage. The judgement shows how far the judiciary has moved over the last few years in its interpretation of “provocation” and how far this interpretation has been influenced by feminist campaigners.

  • The characteristics of the “reasonable man”

The second ground on which the appeal was successful has created an important precedent. It concerns the aspect of the defence of provocation, where the jury are directed to consider the characteristics of the “reasonable man”. This is an area of law that has expanded over the last twenty years. The “reasonable man” is the yardstick by which the jury is supposed to consider what constitutes reasonable behaviour, as opposed to an unreasonable reaction to an act of provocation.

The Court of Appeal ruled that Emma's so-called “abnormal personality” and specifically her “attention-seeking traits”, should have been taken into account when considering the relevant characteristics of the “reasonable man”. Although Justice for Women does not like the term “abnormal personality”, it does prove that the courts are indirectly recognising the relevance of a long term history of abuse going back to childhood. Such abuse caused Emma to regularly self-harm. The court has now recognised that the behaviour associated with self-harm can be so significant that a jury should take it into account when considering the relevant characteristics of the “reasonable man”, where the act of provocation is somehow connected with such characteristics.

The judiciary are finally accepting the argument that domestic violence and abuse are sufficient grounds for provocation. However, we are still not convinced that even with the creation of new precedents; the law will really work for women. Present defences still largely ignore male violence, therefore Justice for Women are continuing to campaign for more appropriate criminal justice responses to such cases.

On July 7 1995, Emma Humphreys’ conviction for murder was quashed by the Court of Appeal. She walked free, greeted by crowds of cheering supporters, and the case made front page news. The success of Emma's appeal is proof that feminist campaigning can not only change the law, but also public attitudes and consequently, individual women's lives.

For three years after her release, Emma was an active campaigner for Justice for Women, but continued to battle with anorexia. On the 11th July 1998 Emma died in her sleep after an accidental overdose of prescription medication.

After Emma’s death, colleagues and friends from Justice for Women set up a memorial prize award in her memory to acknowledge the contribution of Emma and women like her who are working to end violence against women and children.  For more information please visit www.emmahumphreys.org/.


For media coverage of Emma's case, please visit our press coverage page.