Brothers of murdered mum and sister urge men to challenge abusive behaviour in wake of Sarah Everard murder
Life in lockdown has been tough for so many people, but for Luke Hart it has given him and his brother Ryan time to reflect.
How, for instance, can they move onto the next stage of their recovery process five years after their mother and sister were murdered by their father?
How can they encourage other men to challenge the behaviours which entitle men such as their father to believe killing women is a justifiable act?
And how can they raise awareness of coercive control, something they never realised their mother was suffering from before it was too late?
The death of Sarah Everard has raised awareness of the struggles and fears which accompany women on a daily basis, but those issues were firmly on the minds of both Luke and Ryan long before this.
“It feels like people have had enough and they’re calling out these behaviours which contribute to those kinds of events,” Luke said in a one-to-one interview with the Peterborough Telegraph.
“All these things women have put up with for a long time, they are not just harmless, mundane or trivial, they are a pattern, and that pattern is deeply dangerous.
“It feels like there’s been a turning point which is deeply positive.
“The challenge now is for men to understand it. We need to understand women’s experiences which I don’t think we do really well. This is an opportunity for men to do that.”
It was on July 19, 2016, that Morrisons worker Claire Hart (48) and horse-loving daughter Charlotte (19) were killed by their father outside Castle Sports Complex in Spalding - five days after escaping the family home in Moulton.
Mum and daughter had gone for a swim and were returning to their parked Toyota Aygo when their father crawled out from underneath it holding a single-barrel shotgun.
He fired the weapon at Claire and Charlotte before turning it on himself.
At the time engineers Luke and Ryan were working abroad, and both reacted in different ways to what became international news.
“They were absolutely our role models. After the murders I shut down emotionally completely while Ryan became emotionally overwhelmed,” Luke recalled.
What came next was a powerful memoir (Remembered Forever), and a dedication to campaigning on domestic abuse, with 130 talks delivered across the globe and workshops held in the UK with a number of public sector services including police and the NHS.
The aim is to make sure other families do not suffer in the same way while raising awareness of the different forms domestic abuse take, how abusive behaviours can be challenged, and why it is not so simple for women to leave an abusive relationship, with two murdered each week by a current or former partner - “The thing we never realised is leaving is the most dangerous point. The vast majority of women are killed after they’ve left.”
That journey began with a realisation that mum had been living in an abusive relationship all this time, something they had not appreciated as their father was not a violent man.
It is a common misconception, as Luke explains.
“I grew up with coercive control for 30 years and never really understood the impact of it even though I was living with it. I was quite ignorant.
“We thought that a dangerous man would be violent. But if you look at a lot of domestic homicides in the UK, a significant minority of them have no history of violence, but all of them have a history of coercive control.
“That shows our father wasn’t an anomaly.
“It’s the sheer level of intention behind it which makes it so dangerous, because they control everything about your lives. We weren’t allowed to touch the light switches or the heating.
“He controlled the minutest parts of our lives - it seemed trivial, but it was relentless.
“People like our father won’t use violence because, if they do, their game is up. These people will plan your murder over months, but there won’t be any warning signs.
“When our father got the sense that mum was preparing to leave he began to lock away her passport, her driving licence - all those kinds of things into a safe in the garage, and he chained it down.
“He hid all the car keys and house keys so he had to drive mum everywhere. In the week before she left, our home essentially became a prison.
“He was also trying all sorts of strange tactics. He never took any interest in us at all, but in the week before the murders he was being excessively friendly then very threatening. He was trying all of his techniques to charm us into staying or threatening us into staying. Until he knew it had failed and it turned into murder.
“That’s what people need to understand about these behaviours - they won’t be preceded by violence necessarily but an escalation of control.”
It was only after the murders that Luke and Ryan began to realise that their mother had been in an abusive relationship.
When the brothers had left the family home to go to university they had to call their dad and ask to be put through to their mother. Their dad would also gamble away the family’s savings or take holidays abroad then say there was not enough money for Claire to have coffee with friends.
He also banned her from meeting people outside the house, and when she invited people over he would follow them around and “make them so miserable it wasn’t worth it. So mum had no option but to stay at home”.
Despite this, it was only after the murders that Luke and Ryan realised their mother had been in an abusive relationship.
“We never saw our father as an abuser at the time. We just thought mum was going through a difficult divorce,” Luke said.
“There were many times where if we’d been more informed, or those helping us were, it would have made a difference. Then we would have had to have taken drastic action as our father was a very high-risk man based on his coercive control.”
With women holding vigils and the new Domestic Abuse Bill going through Parliament, there is an impetus which Luke and Ryan hope to channel by making it clear that men have a crucial role to play to make sure women do not continue to suffer.
“It’s important we feel confident calling out small behaviours because that is how a lot of these men get control over their partners,” Luke explained.
“It’s about men understanding that these smaller harms can lead to a culture of entitlement that can lead to really, really dangerous behaviours, and eventually murders and rapes.”
Luke and Ryan are now based just outside London, and nearly five years later they continue to be inspired by their mother and sister who were such pillars of support during a challenging childhood.
“They were our role models growing up. They were incredibly strong people. They were really kind-hearted and stoical,” Luke added.
“They were deeply compassionate and cared about each other, us and animals deeply, and were able to be rocks at home. They inspired us and helped us believe in ourselves.
“Mum made us believe we could do anything, Despite our father trying to stop us succeeding because he saw us as a threat, mum was always trying to inspire us.
“Charlotte was incredibly mature. She was so compassionate. She made us try to connect as much as a family and bring out the best in us.”
For more on Luke and Ryan’s work tackling domestic abuse, visit: https://www.cocoawareness.co.uk/.
Help and support for anyone experiencing domestic abuse can be found by visiting: https://www.cambsdasv.org.uk/website/home.
* This article has not mentioned Luke and Ryan’s father’s name during the main copy as the brothers want to focus on remembering Claire and Charlotte and to encourage people to understand women’s stories rather than putting men at the centre.