The Archers

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...fighting back against domestic abuse

Domestic violence has reared its ugly head in Radio 4’s long-running soap, The Archers, resulting in an attempted murder, the trial for which is happening this week. Victoria Walker, a Family Law Solicitor at Simpson Millar, takes a look at the case and its wider implications.

Anybody who’s had their ear glued to Radio 4 for the past week or so, or seen the #FreeHelen hashtag on Twitter, might already be aware of an ongoing Archers’ storyline which is presently building up to its  finale.

In what has been a tense, often distressing 3 years for the daily soap’s legion of fans, characters Helen and Rob Titchener have shone a murky light on a social problem that affects 1 in 4 UK women and 1 in 6 men during their lifetime.

Pushed to the limit

The crux of the storyline is that Helen Titchener, who has endured domestic abuse, predominately emotional but also including physical and sexual violence, has been charged with attempted murder. The culmination of what has been a catalogue of controlling and psychologically punishing behaviour on the part of Rob Titchener, heard Helen stab her husband twice after he put a knife in her hand, told her to kill herself and made a grab for her 5-year-old son.

Now the trial is taking place and Helen is claiming self-defence, whereas the calculating Rob is playing the victim and attempting to win the jury around with a charm offensive that reflects the persona he has presented to the outside world while ruthlessly manipulating his wife behind closed doors.

Emotional abuse

The Government defines domestic abuse as:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners of family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

It can include physical, emotional, sexual, financial or psychological mistreatment and frequently leaves the victim with mental scars that can last a lifetime.

Emotional abuse, like that which Helen has endured, can manifest in a variety of ways such as:

  • Constant belittlement, intended to make the victim feel worthless and dependent upon the abuser
  • Questioning the victim’s parenting abilities
  • Controlling the victim’s movements inside and outside the home
  • Playing on the victims fears
  • Endless accusations and false allegations aimed at the victim
  • Complete restriction of the victim’s freedom

Often, the victim is so browbeaten by their abuser that they consider it to be their own fault, not even recognising that what they are undergoing is not only a form of abuse, but also now prosecutable under the Serious Crime Bill.

Parental responsibility

Another aspect of the Titchener case currently gripping the nation, is that of their child, Henry, who Rob made a grab for the night of the stabbing, intending to either provoke Helen or do him harm.

Earlier on in the relationship, Rob took official parental responsibility for the boy, giving him the same legal rights he’d have were the child his own. This has meant that since his mother’s arrest and subsequent remand, Henry has been living with the abusive spouse. Initially, the boy went to live with his maternal grandparents, but following Rob’s release from hospital he was returned to the family home.

There are further issues due to a baby who has been born whilst Helen has been on remand in prison and which Rob is now seeking to care for.

Victoria comments:

“This is really concerning, it’s a shame the storyline writers didn’t focus on what help and support Helen could have got at the beginning. She could have reported Rob to the police for domestic violence – even if there had not been any physical violence at that point, the new definition which includes coercive control should have given her some protection.” 

“Unfortunately, as we recently reported, the Police aren’t utilising this change to include coercive control to its fullest. No doubt this means many victims continue to feel they are not listened to or taken seriously.”

“Another option would have been to speak to a family lawyer about a non-molestation order, often referred to as an injunction. This would have given her protection against harassment, pestering and intimidation as well as physical violence. If Rob had breached the order she could have called the police and they would have arrested him.”

“Sadly there are two children caught up in this tragic storyline, but only one is Rob’s biologically. Listeners will know that Helen alludes to the fact that their baby was conceived after Rob raped her. The baby was born whilst she was in prison, with her naming him John, but Rob insists he is to be known as Gideon. Clearly the home of the maternal grandparents would be a safer, more stable environment for both of the children, but as Rob is father to one and has parental responsibility for the other, he has the same legal rights – along with obligations – as Helen.”

“The court’s primary concern will be what is in the boys’ best interests and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.” 

“In wider terms – and what is the actual drive of this storyline – domestic abuse destroys families and has a profoundly tragic impact on all those it affects. It accounts for the death of 2 women every week, which is why those who fall victim – even though it can be very difficult to break free of a domineering or abusive partner – need to seek help.”

“The Archers should be commended for bringing what is so often a hidden crime into the public consciousness. Let’s hope it raises further awareness of the problem and encourages more victims to speak out.”

Written by Victoria Walker.

For more information on family law and the services offered by Simpson Millar, please call

0808 129 3304

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