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Mother shares lived experience of daughter’s murder with conference

Posted on 4th January 2024

A grieving mother shared the devastating story of her teenage daughter’s murder in the hope of raising awareness of coercive control in youngsters.

Ellie Gould was just 17 when she was strangled and stabbed in the neck 13 times by a fellow sixth former just hours after she ended their relationship.

The teens, from Wiltshire, had been together just three months, but already signs of coercive control had begun to show, including her future killer trying to lure her in with stories of family homes abroad, spending excessively on her – called love-bombing – and trying to interrupt her studies – known as educational sabotage.

Ellie’s mother Carole was among the speakers sharing their lived experiences at the Diverse Experiences of Domestic Abuse conference hosted in December by the Southend, Essex & Thurrock Domestic Abuse Board (SETDAB).

SETDAB provides advice and information on services for those affected by domestic abuse.

The conference, at Chelmsford City Racecourse, brought together victim-survivors and the many support services available.

Mrs Gould now campaigns as part of the Killed Women organisation to get the government to consider reviewing its sentencing structures for fairer justice for bereaved families of women killed by men.

She urged schools to “be shocking” and to share real-life stories like Ellie’s to raise awareness of what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like.

She said: “Education around healthy relationships needs more work and real-life scenarios.

“I had no idea what danger Ellie was in. You think domestic abuse is physical; I did not know about coercive control. You could not have imagined things would go from 0 to 100 as quickly as they did. When you end a relationship like that, you are at the most dangerous point of your life.

“You would think you were less safe on the streets, but only nine per cent of deaths are on the streets, whereas 74 per cent are killed because someone ended a relationship.”

The SETDAB conference is held each year to lead into the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It is an opportunity to bring people together to build connections and strengthen partnership working, as well as showcasing the work happening across the county in tackling domestic abuse in all its forms, with partner stalls on display.

Mrs Gould, who said Ellie was “an absolute delight” who was a keen horse-rider, told the conference: “For the first four or five weeks of the relationship, it seemed ok. Ellie was swept up by her first boyfriend and excited by that. They saw each other after school; she would go and have dinner with his family.

“After five weeks, she said she wanted her old self back; she wanted to return to horse-riding after school. One day, she wanted to meet a friend for coffee, but he chased after her and said she was due to go to dinner with his family. She stood up to him, said she didn’t remember that plan being made.

“Her friends said he was becoming clingy in the school common room. She was spending less and less time with her friends.

“Then, when I picked her up from his house one day, she said he was not very nice to his mum or his younger brother, that he just seemed unkind. Seeing the family dynamics, she was having doubts about the relationship.

“She told him she wanted to focus on her studies and their upcoming A-level mock exams and that she would not see him after school as she wanted to revise. He did not like that very much and made her feel very guilty. He felt he was losing his grip on her and she was getting frustrated by his behaviour.

“I told Ellie she did not want to go out with someone controlling, jealous and possessive. She agreed and said she would sort it. That evening, she sent him a message saying she wanted to focus on her studies and could they take a break. It was her way of letting him down gently.”

The next day, Thomas Griffiths drove illegally to the family home and carried out the murder with a knife from the kitchen, placing Ellie’s hand on the weapon after his attack in an attempt to make it look like suicide.

He was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to murder.

Mrs Gould said: “We have already managed to pass Ellie’s Law which suggests a sliding scale of sentencing the closer a child gets to their 18th birthday. Griffiths was five months off of turning 18, but he was sentenced in the same way a ten-year-old would be.

“The current law when it comes to sentencing for murder states that if you take a weapon to the scene, the starting point for sentencing is 25 years as its deemed that it is premediated. If a perpetrator uses a weapon already at the scene – which is what happens in most domestic homicides, ie a knife from the worktop – then it is only a 15-year starting point for sentencing. What the law does not consider is that all kitchens have knives and there is no need to take one to the scene. The law also fails to recognize that hands are very much weapons, too, and this is very much gendered violence due to a man’s strength over a woman .

“We have forced the government to carry out a review of sentencing and introduce legislation to bring in new statutory aggravating factors of ‘overkill’ (sustained and excessive violence),  if the murder takes place at the end of a relationship, and if there is a history of coercive controlling behaviour.

“We believe if there is overkill or a history of coercive behaviour, the starting point for sentencing should be 25 years.”

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