In the UK, at the end of 2018, there was a great outcry at the sentencing of the partner of a young woman, Natalie Connolly, to 3 years and 8 months for her manslaughter. He’d claimed in his defence that Natalie had consented to “rough sex”, including beating and to sex acts that caused her terrible internal injury. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a murder charge against him. But was this an unusual case: does claiming sex “gone wrong” work in a defendant's favour?
We've reviewed the 58 cases of UK women killed by men in claimed consensual sexual violence, 1 of which is yet to come to trial. As a reminder, all those who’ve used this defence so far have been male.
Killings claimed to be sex, gone wrong
The law in the UK should be clear: you cannot consent to serious injury or death. Despite this, a man claiming that a dead woman consented to her injuries may see the following outcomes:
Found not guilty of all charges
He is believed and the death is not treated as a crime, or charges are later dropped.
Prosecution pursue a manslaughter charge rather than murder.
Jury find him not guilty of murder, and guilty of manslaughter
Even if he is found guilty of murder, claiming the violence was consensual might result in:
Mitigation in sentencing - no intent to kill.
Extreme sexual violence is not treated as an aggravating factor in sentencing.
In almost all these cases, including those where the accused is convicted of murder, there is substantial evidence presented in court of the women’s previous sexual history, to support the idea they might have consented this time. This evidence is often widely reported in the press, and ties the victims to their alleged consent. Lyndsey Wynne-Jones, sister of Vicky, whose husband was convicted of her murder in 2010, said: “He took away Vicky, her choices, her chances, her future. And then he took her dignity. Even now, it’s the ‘sex game gone wrong’ that gets focused on. Even though it was disproved, it’s always going to be there.” And Mandy Barclay’s mum Mary Barclay, killed by her husband in 2001: “I just feel, that my daughter’s reputation has been ruined”.
And in 3 cases where women were murdered by men, but at first their deaths were deemed to be non-crimes, just a sex game gone wrong. In these cases the men were later convicted of murder only after: dismembering two other women, confessing the murder to a friend, and a review by a pathologist, respectively.
In 45% of UK killings so far, a claim that the woman’s injures were sustained in sex, “gone wrong” results in a lesser charge of manslaughter, a lighter sentence, or the death not being investigated as a crime at all.
Women and Girls’ cases which did not result in a murder conviction
Laura is killed by a man she'd just met that day. Jason Gaskell, 24, was charged with murder but admitted manslaughter. He had strangled a woman 11 days before he killed Laura, and was later given a 16 week sentence for that earlier attack. Gaskell held a knife to Laura's neck while having sex - he claimed with her consent - and used mild to moderate force to cut through her carotid artery. The court accepted that Gaskell, the only surviving witness, had not intended to use the knife to kill Laura and was engaged in what the judge called “bizarre and violent sadomasochistic sexual activity”
Manslaughter, 6 years
Chloe, a student, had been drinking in Aberdeen city centre with friends, and had been thrown out of a nightclub as door staff thought she was too drunk. While waiting at a bus stop, Mark Bruce, 32, approached her and within 2 hours had strangled Chloe at his flat. He claimed it was an accident, although he accepted that he did not get consent from his victim to choke her. He denied murder and plead guilty to culpable homicide - the Scottish equivalent of manslaughter.
Culpable Homicide, 6 years
Hannah met her killer, James Morton, 24, on the day she died. She was "heavily intoxicated" when she died, and Morton was sober and was reported as being obsessed with strangulation, frequently watching porn featuring strangulation of women. Although the judge said Morton had strangled Hannah "without warning or permission", Morton claimed he began to lightly strangle Hannah, which he said she did not object to, before more forcefully strangling her. He waited 20 minutes after he saw Hannah had stopped breathing to phone 999, and after smashing her phone because it was ringing. The jury cleared him of murder and found him guilty of manslaughter.
Manslaughter, 12 years
Natalie was mum to a daughter, and a twin sister. Natalie died with vaginal arterial bleeding and severe alcohol and cocaine intoxication at the bottom of the stairs of the home she shared with her partner of a few months, John Broadhurst, 36. Natalie had suffered 40 separate injuries, including serious internal trauma, a fractured eye socket and facial wounds. Broadhurst claimed her injuries, including "dreadful blunt-force injuries to her head, buttocks and breast before spraying her face with bleach to clean off the blood" were from consensual "rough sex". The Attorney General was asked to intervene in the sentence given to Natalie's killer, he declined.
Manslaughter, 3 years 8 months
2016, Mallorca, Spain
Lisa died in Spain but was on holiday there visiting her British husband - she lived in Kilburn, North London. Her husband first claimed Lisa had died in a sadomasochistic sex game gone wrong. He later changed his plea and admitted strangling his wife with a phone cable. He was found guilty of a lesser charge than murder in a Spanish court. Their grown up daughter gave evidence in court that her mother had been a victim of violence and threats from her father.
Homicide (Spanish court) 12 years
Man cleared of all charges after being charged with the manslaughter and violent injury of his cousin, Dawn Warburton, during a "sex game gone wrong." Mark Pickford, 39, was charged with manslaughter by gross negligence and assault. Pickford had sent Dawn a string of sexually violent texts including "You’re getting tied up, I will treat you like a random victim, gonna do you Manchester style". Dawn was found above a bloodstained bed, with Pickford’s tow rope tied several times round her neck and thirty injuries to her face and neck.
Belinda had a sister, who described her as “bubbly” and the “life and soul”.
Her boyfriend, Jamie Nicholson, 30, is arrested after walking into a police station and confessing to the murder of Belinda during what press reported as a “night of passion”.
However, the murder charge was dropped when the Home Office pathologist reported that Belinda had died from a drug overdose, which the prosecution believed had been self inflicted.
The CPS was asked if they wanted to pursue further charges, particularly on the ligature around Belinda’s neck, but having considered it they said it was “not thought appropriate”.
All charges dropped
Virginja was a mum. She had just met Dainotas Doblys, 48, who had responded to her dating ad. They drank together, and booked a hotel room.
Doblys plead not guilty to her rape and murder, and in sentencing the Judge said to him:"You were a florid liar in your dealings with the police, painting a bogus picture of athletic yet entirely consensual prolonged bouts of sexual intercourse".
Doblys was found guilty of two counts of rape - she was "semi-conscious or unconscious and therefore incapable of consent" - and not guilty of murder. Virjinja died of "suffocation in conjunction with severe alcohol intoxication", and had suffered "shocking wounds to the intimate parts of her body.". She was found in a pool of blood on the floor of the hotel room.
Doblys also received two 11-year sentences for the two counts of rape.
Manslaughter, Extended Sentence, 16 years, with 4 years on licence
Jennie was a much loved middle sister.
She was killed by her friend Marcus Coates, 44. He had tightened a belt around her neck, and he left her body to be found 5 days later.
He had previously been jailed for 5 years for the sexual assault of a woman in front of her child, having slashed the woman with a knife.
Coates was found not guilty of Jennie’s murder, but guilty of manslaughter, and was sentenced under an indeterminate sentence, for public protection, for at least 7 years 6 months.
Manslaughter, 7 years 6 months
Lee was killed by her ex partner Alexander Burnett, 32. Lee had been strangled and stabbed in the throat.
Burnett claimed that he would often strangle her, during sex, and that Lee had asked him to hold the knife to her neck during sex. He “had feared that nobody would have believed what had happened.” A pathologist gave evidence that Lee’s strangulation injuries were consistent with “sex play”. Despite this, the judge felt there was “manifest, deliberate and chilling intent to kill”.
Burnett had previous convictions for assaulting Lee, as well as for GBH. After stabbing her he “watched her die” over several hours.
Murder, life, min term 22 years
Anna was a classroom assistant in Colne, Lancashire. She was killed by her boyfriend of four months, Daniel Lancaster, 25.
Their relationship was described as "obsessive" and he apparently admitted murdering her to a cellmate, but denied murder in court and admitted manslaughter "after claiming Anna Banks, 23, enjoyed being throttled during intercourse." "There were marks around her throat and dried blood on her face. It is believed her body had been there for at least 24 hours." He as found not guilty of her murder by a jury, but admitted manslaughter as part of "a sex game gone wrong."
Manslaughter, 4 years
Sonia was from Argentina, and we have not yet been able to find her full name.
“Surgeon to the stars” Graham Belham, who died in 2010, was arrested when she was found dead.
Belham was “arrested on suspicion of murder after a prostitute was found dead with a bag over her head. Mr Belham was released without charge and a coroner ruled it could have been suicide or a sex game gone wrong”.
“In November 2003 Belham met Argentine prostitute Sonia online. He was arrested and kept in a cell overnight after her death before being released without charge.”
No charges brought
Mandy, whose married name was Mandy McDonald, was killed by her husband Niall McDonald, 35.
He claimed that Mandy had died when a sex act went wrong. Defending, Donald Finlay QC said that the incident which led to the death of Mrs McDonald was a "private matter" and that this was sex that "narrow-minded people would call kinky". Mandy - who was 4ft 10 - was found 6 days after her death where her husband had hidden her body, in woods nearby. She had suffered injuries to her face, neck, external lacerations to her genitals and her bowel was perforated through her anus. She died of severe rectal injuries and asphyxia.
Her husband was financially and emotionally abusive to her before her death. He was also convicted of defeating the ends of justice.
Culpable Homicide, 4 years
Janet was mum to four children. She’d previously been in the British Army and had lived in England and Hong Kong. She had just met the man who killed her, at a disco. David Eric Porter, 23, strangled her. Appallingly, Janet was found by her daughter.
The Judge accepted Porter’s claim that she had died accidentally, in what the Judge called "deviant sexual behaviour". He accepted Porter did not intend to cause her death. Porter’s guilty plea to manslaughter was accepted.
Manslaughter, 5 years
Honor was killed by her boyfriend, Stuart Williamson. He claimed, and it was accepted that she died in “consensual practice aimed at giving pleasure.” She had been asphyxiated. His previous convictions included, for violence: assault on the police; two cases later the same year; wounding with intent; common assault; assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and assault on the police.
He appealed his sentence of 4 years, and the judges agreed this “unique” case should have a shorter sentence. They did think it “perfectly clear” to anyone indulging in such activity that it was dangerous and should there be a death, would be “very likely to receive a substantial sentence of imprisonment in the future.”
Released after 15 months, Stuart Williamson was violently abusive to another partner, and 1 year later stabbed his mother, 47 year old Audrey Fisher, to death at her home. He was committed to Broadmoor.
Manslaughter, 3 years (on appeal)
Janet was killed with a snooker cue whilst tied to her bed in a "sickening" assault in her own home, while her boyfriend was out on his milk round. Janet died from internal injuries and after being whipped. Kenneth Anness - then 36 - claimed in court that he had killed her in a sex game gone wrong and was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. Despite having previous convictions for sexual offences the Judge said the jury had found that Anness had not intended to commit serious harm to Janet and sentenced him to seven years.
Five years later in Bradford and having changed his name to Kenneth Valentine, he had murdered 25 year old Caroline Creevy and dumped her body in a culvert. When arrested for this, another woman was found imprisoned in his flat. Both Caroline and the imprisoned woman were prostitutes. For this murder Anness/Valentine received a life sentence with 22 year minimum term. Valentine was friends with and neighbour of Stephen Griffiths - a man known as the "Crossbow Cannibal" and while neighbours, both murdered local women.
Manslaughter, 7 years
1984, Tyne and Wear
Lorraine is killed "during a bondage sex session with her husband", Trevor. A coroner ruled that Lorraine had been unlawfuly killed after "Lorraine had been bound and gagged by her husband". Despite this, and despite pleas from Lorraine's grandmother Diane and their MP, the Director for Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General declined to bring charges against Lorraine's husband.
No charges brought
1982, Co. Durham
Dorothy was from Easterhouse in Glasgow, and met the man who killed her by responding to a lonely hearts ad. Vincent Mulholland, then 27, was in Rampton secure hospital when he placed the advert. He had been in Rampton since chloroforming and attempting to rape a woman on a train in Germany. He - according to evidence given - killed Dorothy in a “kinky sex session” by tying “tights round her neck during lovemaking”. Although found not guilty of murder, he was convicted of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. As part of this sentence, Mulholland was a reserved patient of the secure hospital - who could not be released without the permission of the Home Secretary.
Manslaughter, diminished responsibility, 12 years
Pat, from Middlesborough - described by her step-brother as “happy go lucky, and “the kind of girl who would decide to do something and no one would be able to stop her” is killed by Peter Swindell, 40, a policeman. Pat was a prostitute at Kings Cross and may have moved to London to avoid the Yorkshire Ripper. She was a lesbian and was described in news reports as “Butch Pat” and “heavily tattooed with the names of her former female lovers”.
The court heard that Swindell was "a man obsessed with bondage" and that bondage pornography was found at his home, including photos he had taken of women feigning death in nooses. One woman, who had been going out with Swindell, spent a "night of fear" in his home when she was late to meet him: he tied her to a cross and put a hood over her head, before leaving her overnight. Described as “a respectable woman and not a prostitute”, he had shouted at her “this will teach you to let me down and refuse to marry me”.
Pat’s cause of death was not established although it was likely she suffocated. Swindell’s defence was that she may have died of heart failure while tied up. Swindell dismembered Pat's body in the bath, and hid her remains, wrapped in plastic, in Epping Forest. He was not charged with murder as the Director of Public Prosecutions said the evidence did not reveal an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm to Pat.
Swindell was cleared of manslaughter and sentenced to five years, later reduced on appeal, for preventing the burial of Pat's body.
1979, South Shields
Vivien is strangled by John Dudgeon (aka John Taylor) "when he was a 21-year old DJ in his home town, he suffocated 19-year old Vivienne [sic] Scott, who had refused him sex." Taylor dumped her body, wrapped in rope, plastic and a piece of carpet near his home "and later claimed her death was the result of a prank which had gone wrong during a sex game." Taylor said “I thought she was enjoying the whole thing”. He had asphyxiated her for six minutes.
Seventeen months after release, Dudgeon went on to rape and attempt to murder a woman in her home, and a few months after release from a sentence for that crime, murder a woman in the "Sheffield Snooker Hall" murder, where he broke Susan McNamara's neck and then strangled her.
Manslaughter, 4 years
Carole, described as “charming and loveable” had an 8-year old daughter. Carole was killed by her partner, Peter Drinkwater, 38.
He injected her with 5 anaesthetics as a part of - he claimed - “erotic practices” “at her request”, because of the pain caused by “these practices”, which he photographed. The judge was convinced he took the staged pornographic photos as she lay dying.
Her death was reported as “perverted sex”, “sexplay killing”, that she had died during “sexual malpractices”. Drinkwater told the court of her “perverted sexual desires”. At first he claimed she had killed herself.
Drinkwater had three previous convictions for dangerous driving, including one where he had killed a man; his previous wife had divorced him due to “cruelty” including regular violent assaults; he punched a man who was driving, causing a serious crash. Carole’s parents said when she met Drinkwater “everything started to go wrong, we tried to stop her seeing him but she seemed to be in his power”.
Carole had been planning to leave him. He was cleared of murder.
Manslaughter, 12 years
Women and girls cases which did result in a murder conviction, but the “sex games” claim helped the accused
Lesley had a son and a daughter and was looking forward to the birth of a sixth grandchild. Lesley was killed by her husband Derek. On arrest and in court he claimed that they had had an "S&M relationship", that she may have killed herself during sex, that he had strangled her during sex in the past, that he had a temper, that he had strangled his wife in temper before, maybe a couple of times, he had also held her by the throat in the pub.
Murder, life, min term 17 years
Una was a care assistant and was fun and outgoing. She was killed by her partner, Lee Portwine, 38.
Their relationship was violent and she had “frequently been seen with black eyes”. He had previously been jailed for violence. After killing Una, he left her body in the woods in the grounds of a hotel where they had been attending a wedding.
That evening Una was drunk and having difficulty walking. A friend had tried to help her to the ladies toilets - Portwine tried to stop her, entered the toilets, pulled a serrated knife out and was heard shouting at Una. Portwine and Una then left the hotel building.
Una’s body was found the next day. Portwine plead guilty to her murder. He said that he had asphyxiated Una and inserted mud into her vagina and mouth with her consent - “in order to heighten her sexual pleasure”. He then headbutted her when she protested in discomfort. She had died from head injuries and asphyxiation - her throat was blocked by mud.
Portwine’s sentence was reduced on appeal from 16 years to 12 years as the original sentence might have reflected the sexual violence against Una as an aggravating factor. The appeal judges were persuaded that all sexual activity, including asphyxiation and insertion of mud into her, was consensual. They also accepted in mitigation that Portwine had no intention to kill Una.
Murder, 12 years on appeal
2002, Camden, London
Sally was murdered by Anthony White. The pathologist on the case was later disciplined for deciding Sally had not died in suspicious circumstances , despite blood on her clothes, the bedding and wall, with injuries on her head and body; despite her being found by accident by police, locked in a room in the home of a man who had a history of stalking and violence against women, who was a suspect in three rapes and who had recently been arrested. Sally was supposed to have died by “blocked arteries and shock generated by rough sex.”. The coroner was not told of the suspicious circumstances and so ruled the death was from natural causes. The police were then unable to investigate her death further.
Hardy went on to kill Elizabeth Valad, 29 and Brigette MacClennan, 34. He claimed he had killed all three women by accident as part of a sex game - but at court admitted murdering them, and received three life sentences.
Kerry was a music teacher, and mum of three, and was killed by her husband Mark, then 42.
He told detectives she “fell to her death through the floor of their loft during a sex game” and that marks found on her neck “could have been caused by erotic-asphyxiation.” The court heard much detail from Mark Goddard on their alleged sex life. The crime scene officer first marked her death as a “sad accident”.