There was coverage in the media in Britain this week of the tragic case of Leah Whittle, stabbed to death by her son, then aged 16 years, in “a ferocious attack” in July this year. The killing is presented as an isolated act of violence, though coming from a disturbed family situation. The death of a parent is not always linked with previous patterns of parent abuse, and there is much here that we do not know.
The story is far from straightforward. We learn that Whittle’s son, Kieren Smith, had been expelled from school two years previously, had an IQ of 72, and that he, and possibly other members of the family, had involvement in the drink and drugs scene. While Judge Boney commented on the absence of emotional engagement, the focus of the reporting seems to be on the fact that Smith had locked himself in his bedroom every day for two years to watch DVDs. Indeed, Metro linked the report with a new study from Ohio State University, which allegedly found that “playing a violent video game for just an hour over three days is enough to increase aggressive behaviour”.
I don’t really know where to start in commenting on this sad story. I hope that someone was involved in attempting to re-engage Smith in education in those two years. I hope that his mother might have been offered some support in caring for her family in the difficult years even prior to that. I hope that the family’s involvement with drugs might have elicited advice and assistance and not merely condemnation. Simply linking such violence with video games is lazy, and just lets the rest of us off the hook.
I hope now that Smith is able to find help in prison, where he will serve at least 15 years before he can be considered for parole. His apparent lack of remorse makes this job harder. I hope that the rest of the family – we hear of a brother – can find comfort somewhere, and that this event will not drive them further into drugs and violence. I hope that as a society we can learn to look out for each other, find or offer help before it’s too late next time.