Over the past year of lockdown, aside from a week or two of intense coverage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the sad passing of the Duke of Edinburgh, the news has been dominated by covid. If one were to use the television bulletins and front pages of newspapers as a view of crime during lockdown, most appears to focus on those who have broken lockdown rules in some way. In fact, up until September 2020, police-recorded crime had the biggest annual decrease since 2010. Incidents of robbery and theft dropped dramatically during 2020 for the simple reason that there were fewer people out and about.
I frequently read the judgements on the Judiciary website and these appear to portray an entirely different view of lockdown crime, showing that for some people this year has been a Herculean struggle. Many have been pushed over the edge; mentally, physically, and emotionally. I know from my own experience that this has been an unusually taxing time for those living alone or those who rely on support.
The story of Olga Freeman, who killed her son, Dylan, is unquestionably heart-breaking. Dylan was ten and had complex needs requiring twenty-four hour care. He was autistic with Cohen syndrome, a condition linked to abnormalities in the body and with significant difficulties with sight, language, and communication. During lockdown, the special school he attended for five days of the week had to close, meaning that Dylan’s care for every hour of the day was now the sole responsibility of his mother, Olga. Caring for Dylan was challenging. He had to be fed, he was unable to go to the toilet independently and thus wore nappies, he took time to settle down to sleep and would wake regularly during the night. He had to wear special glasses and often needed carrying. Yet everyone who came into contact with Dylan and his mother stressed how devoted Olga was to caring for her son.
Although Olga found it gradually more difficult to care solely for her son, she did manage to do so during the first lockdown. When this was over, she asked for Dylan to return to school. However, the school did not feel that they could provide sufficient special protective measures ending any hope of respite for Olga. She visited her GP and made continued requests to Ealing Council for support, but all was in vain. Olga was becoming more and more exhausted. She suffered from physical pain from carrying Dylan and her mental health began to suffer. Her GP wrote a strongly worded letter to the Council in which he expressed concern that Olga was “really struggling to manage his care” and “worried about falling asleep when she sits in the bath to relax. She is also worried about burning out without more support.” The GP demanded that the council look to provide care for Dylan. Again, nothing transpired, and Olga was left alone to care for her son.
By the summer, concerns were raised about Olga’s increasing mental health difficulties. She appeared to be suffering from delusions and hearing voices telling her that she was the Messiah. Pushed to her limit, Olga suffocated her son. It was clear when she was arrested that she was in the midst of a mental health crisis. In his summing up the judge who dealt with the case stated that, “I have no doubt at all that you were a remarkably loving and dedicated mother to a vulnerable child until multiple pressures overwhelmed you and your mind was swamped by a destructive depressive illness with florid psychotic elements.”
The next case highlights the increase in cases of domestic violence. These incidents of domestic abuse have risen during lockdown, for the main reason that victims have been trapped at home with their abusers. However, some incidents of domestic violence have arisen where up until lockdown, the relationship had been considered relatively contented. The circumstances surrounding the killing of retired supermarket worker, Ruth Williams are equally tragic, and what is particularly surprising is that Ruth was strangled by her partner of nearly fifty years, pensioner Anthony Williams. Anthony admitted to “choking the living daylights” out of his wife. In the build up to the murder, Anthony became increasingly concerned about lockdown. He had struggled with depression and insomnia and one psychologist claimed that the coronavirus measures had significantly impaired his ability to exercise self-control. Since January 2020, Mr Williams had shown progressively more concerning behaviour including an obsession with turning off lights and heating in order to save money. He was concerned that the couple would not have enough money to survive the pandemic and yet they had savings of over a hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Mrs Williams had become exasperated with her husband’s behaviour and the catalyst had been when she told him to “get over it.”
We shall probably never know the real cost of lockdown. I suspect that countless incidents have passed unnoticed or have been hidden away. Even within my own family, we have experienced significant life-changing challenges. At first, lockdown seemed an undemanding, almost ideal situation to navigate; no commute to work, more chance to be at home and more time spent with our families. However, the sheer length of months spent locked indoors during the misery of winter; the lack of interaction with our friends; the shortage of leisure activities to look forward to; has given rise to a surge in emergencies. Without an alternate place to go to in order to let off steam, without much-needed support from professionals and faced with such an extraordinary situation, it is not surprising that at times things have come to breaking point.
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