Mother's 4 year fight to get daughter domestic homicide review

Grieving mother reveals how her 21-year-old daughter’s abusive boyfriend threatened to ‘rape and kill’ both of them weeks before they died in a supposed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ drugs overdose – and insists he’s to blame

  • Katie Wilding, 21, was found dead alongside her also deceased ex Mitchell Richardson, 33, on November 14 2016, surrounded by drugs paraphernalia 
  • Four weeks before death Katie was deemed at ‘high risk’ of domestic violence
  • Richardson was on bail at time of their deaths and not allowed to go near Wilding
  • Mother Julie Aunger speaks about abuse daughter suffered in a new podcast 

A mother fighting to prove that her daughter was a domestic violence victim has revealed the vile threats her abusive partner made just four weeks before they were both found dead.

Katie Wilding, from Torbay, Devon, and her former boyfriend Mitchell Richardson, 33, were found lying side-by-side surrounded by equipment used to administer illegal drugs on November 14 in 2016, with speculation at the time suggesting that the deaths could have been a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ accident or suicide.  

But four weeks prior, Katie had been listed as ‘high risk’ by the Torbay domestic violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) and was receiving support from the area’s domestic abuse team. 

Richardson had pleaded guilty to assaulting her after being arrested twice and was, at the time of their deaths, on bail and prohibited from contacting her. 

Katie Wilding, pictured, from Torbay, Devon, and her former boyfriend Mitchell Richardson, 33, were found lying side-by-side surrounded by equipment used to administer illegal drugs on November 14 in 2016, with speculation at the time suggesting that the deaths could have been a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ accident or suicide

Katie’s mother Julie Aunger fought tirelessly to have her daughter’s case reviewed, and last month expressed her relief that an independent Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) had finally been granted. A DHR reviews the death of anyone over 16 which could have resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a person to whom they were related to, or in a relationship with.

Today Labour MP Jess Phillips issued a statement calling for a national count of the women who die suddenly, or in unexplained circumstances, and are known to be victims of domestic abuse.

In a new podcast series, Hidden Homicides, in which journalist Louise Tickle investigates systemic police failings surrounding women’s deaths, mother-of-four Julie alleges that Richardson threatened to ‘rape and kill’ her weeks before her youngest daughter died as a way of scaring her into submission.

Speaking about the ‘worst’ threat Richardson made, Julie claims: ‘He asked Katie to ask me for £300. And he said to Katie, this is a week later, he said to Katie: “What I’m going to do is, I’m going to kill you. I’m going to go and find your mum. I’m going to rape her. And whilst I’m raping her, I’m going to tell her what I’ve done to you. And then I’m going to go away with that £300 I’m going to buy enough drugs to kill myself. And won’t it be funny that it’s your mum’s money that killed us all?”… I think he knew I was Katie’s vulnerable point.’ 

Katie, then 19, met Richardson, then 31, a few weeks after she returned from travelling in Australia. She was working at a hairdressers when he introduced himself, telling her he’d been ‘watching her’. He moved into Katie’s flat after three weeks, claiming he’d been evicted.

In a new podcast series, Hidden Homicides, in which journalist Louise Tickle investigates systemic police failings surrounding women’s deaths, mother-of-four Julie alleges that Richardson threatened to ‘rape and kill’ her weeks before her youngest daughter died as a way of scaring her into submission

Katie was signed off from work with anxiety and depression, and Julie claims Richardson forbid her from seeing her friends – but did allow her to visit her mother

The concerned mother told how she had misgivings about Richardson from the start, claiming he ‘tried too hard’ and was ‘obviously playing a role’. She added that he had a police tag on his foot for ‘violence’. 

Warning signs of domestic abuse

In CBS Reality’s Uncovering Intimate Partner Abuse Dr Jane Monckton-Smith reveals the early warning signs that a relationship will become abusive.

The forensic criminologist says that abusive relationships will start like a normal one, but always get very intense quickly.

She explained: ‘Perhaps they would declare love very, very quickly. This can be interpreted as love and perhaps it is but sometimes people will try to move in with you very, very quickly. If somebody’s looking to live with you within weeks I would see that as a red flag.’

Sometimes abuse can begin when there is a big life change for the couple, such as if the woman gets pregnant.

She explained: ‘Sometimes if there’s a pregnancy suddenly the attention isn’t on the abuser enough and they feel their needs are not being met so that can definitely be a trigger.’ 

Dr Monckton-Smith also said that subtle control tactics like asking you to stop seeing friends or wanting to spend every moment with you can be a sign of abuse. 

Julie said she became aware Richardson was abusing her daughter within the first two months of their relationship, after a friend phoned her telling her he’d caused a scene at the hairdressers. 

‘He had his finger in her face, he was shouting and very abusive to her,’ Julie claims. ‘And it got to the point that two men on the barber’s side got up to say, get out, you know, leave her alone. He spat in her face. And Katie was crying and he threw a set of keys at her, which caught her face, and left.

‘And Katie was so embarrassed and absolutely devastated, but immediately started to say it was her fault because she’d got up, she’d had all of the milk and there was no milk for his coffee. And apparently that’s what had caused it. But she couldn’t see that in no way was that any excuse for that kind of behaviour. And that set the alarm bells off.’

Katie was signed off from work with anxiety and depression, and Julie claims Richardson forbid her from seeing her friends – but did allow her to visit her mother.

Julie admitted she felt obliged to be ‘civil’ to Richardson as a result, adding: ‘It was the most difficult thing, knowing that he was hurting her… but I felt if we weren’t civil or if we put him down too often, we’d lose her completely. Which now sounds very difficult because we have lost her completely.’

Julie said things really began to deteriorate between the pair after 18 months, at which point Katie turned to her family more regularly when Richardson was ‘drunk or on drugs’.

She claimed Katie was forced to FaceTime him all night to prove where she was and was only allowed to leave if she was dressed in her pyjamas.  

A month before her death, in October 2016, Julie said Katie told her she wanted to leave Richardson and find a flat of her own. 

She claimed Richardson had drunk most of a bottle of Jack Daniels and took 20 valium tablets in front of her before beating her up.

A month before her death, in October 2016, Julie said Katie told her she wanted to leave Richardson and find a flat of her own

‘The neighbours called the police, underneath, and said that, yes, they heard him hitting before, but this time they were frightened for her life,’ Julie recalled. 

This was the first time the police were called and made aware that Richardson was a potential danger to Katie. 

What is a Domestic Homicide Review? 

A Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) is a multi-agency review of the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a person to whom they were related or with whom they were, or had been, in an intimate personal relationship, or a member of the same household as themselves. 

Since 13 April 2011 there has been a statutory requirement for local areas to conduct a DHR following a domestic homicide that meets the criteria. The results of reviews are made public.    

Source: Gov.uk 

They discovered a tracker on Katie’s phone, installed by Richardson. Richardson had pleaded guilty to assaulting her and was, at the time of their deaths, on bail and prohibited from contacting her. 

At the joint inquest, the coroner heard about their ‘toxic’ relationship and was told they died of drug overdoses. 

She recorded short narrative verdicts that they had each ingested a fatal ‘speed-ball’ combination of morphine and cocaine, but acknowledged that the circumstances of how they took the drugs – and what their intentions were – were unclear. 

In December 2019, Julie was chosen by Baroness Hale, the first female president of the Supreme Court, to appear on Radio 4’s Today programme to discuss the tragedy after she guest edited the show. 

Julie told the programme: ‘Katie was isolated from her family and friends; he controlled her money and took away her car keys and her phone; he threatened to kill and hurt her – but she was completely ignored.

‘He told me four weeks before she died that he was going to kill her. She died in the very method and manner that he told me she would die.’

As part of a campaign to highlight coercive control and domestic violence cases in Devon, Julie shared her daughter’s story, saying: ‘We are doing this to help save other Katies.

Richardson had pleaded guilty to assaulting Katie after being arrested twice and was, at the time of their deaths, on bail and prohibited from contacting her

Julie shared a childhood photo of Katie last month saying: ‘After three refusals, two years of fighting we have been told that Katie fits the criteria for a DHR!’

‘The only reason we have ever fought for this review is to help the agencies learn lessons from her death.’

Last month Julie tweeted: ‘On the fourth anniversary of Katie’s funeral we have amazing news! After three refusals, two years of fighting we have been told that Katie fits the criteria for a DHR! Home Office agree.’ 

For more information about the Hidden Homicides podcast, visit https://www.tortoisemedia.com/file/hidden-homicides/ 

For help or advice, contact the charity Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse – www.aafda.org.uk. 

MP Jess Phillips: Why we’re calling for a national count of the domestic abuse victims who die in sudden or unexplained circumstances 

‘They say she killed herself. But no one seems to be asking why, why now?’ These were the words told to me by a desperate mother recently after her daughter had taken her own life following decades of domestic abuse – abuse that was well known to social services and police.

The young woman, in her thirties, had recently called the police again for help because the threats and violence had become so severe. Her mother knew the pain her daughter was in. But it became intolerable for her daughter.

Though this case is appalling, it’s not unique. I’ve held the hands of many parents whose children have been victims of domestic abuse, and who die suddenly, and sometimes, inexplicably. I’ve comforted many people certain that their daughter would not be dead, or would not have overdosed, had she not been a victim of oppressive domestic abuse.

But rarely do these cases get further investigation or questioning by police, or by coroners, despite so many of these women having a clear history of domestic and sexual violence.

We seem to just accept these deaths. Just one of those things.

This lack of professional curiosity by police in these cases – many of which could be hidden homicides – is matched by the same lack of care shown by the government, who do not count the number of victims of domestic abuse who die suddenly, or in unexplained circumstances. But this means: we have no idea of the true scale of the problem

A national census of these deaths is not kept by the Home Office. Instead, the work is done by a group of volunteers and academics. Surely, as a state, we should be looking at trends in domestic abuse deaths. If we have any hope – or any real intention – of tackling the number of lives taken by domestic abuse, knowing what is actually happening is a basic first step.

There is an old maxim: we count what we care about. If, as a country, we don’t count something, it usually means we’re ignoring it. But when we’re talking about lives taken, about lives cut short, surely counting and analysing and mapping and caring should be the very least we do.

That’s why we’re calling for a national count of the women who die suddenly, or in unexplained circumstances, and are known to be victims of domestic abuse. This is the first vital step to scoping the scale of this problem – and the only way to solve it.

I am haunted by memories of the parents I have met whose daughters died of overdoses on their abusive boyfriends’ bedroom floors, or who lose their lives in accidents their families don’t believe in, or who kill themselves, no longer able to contemplate any sort of future after years of abuse.

There is no silver bullet to save these victims. But I am absolutely certain of one thing: knowing more about how many women are dying, and why, would be a good place to start.

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