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Not only a crime but a tragedy […] exploring the murder of adults with disabilities by their parents

Hilary Brown (Professor of Social Care at Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 10 February 2012




This paper seeks to reconcile society's need to apply strong sanctions to parents who are responsible for the murder of a disabled adult while also recognising the stresses present in their lives.


The paper reviews six cases in which seven disabled adults were killed by a parent in the UK between 1999 and 2009.


The review found that these were no ordinary crimes and nor were they motivated by malice, but occurred against a backdrop of significant mental illness and distress. In addition, two of the parents killed themselves as well as their adult child and another attempted suicide. The explanations offered in court to account for the murders included a combination of caregiver stress and mercy killing and the courts struggled to find a consistent approach.

Research limitations/implications

The review is limited to cases reported in the press and only considers information in the public domain. The portrayal of the issues in the media is integral to the study. The cases reported in this paper are a sub‐set of a larger sample of children and adults murdered by caregivers during this period.


The paper compares and contrasts some features of these high‐profile cases, commenting on the way they were addressed in the courts and making recommendations as to how the backdrop of significant mental ill‐health could be taken into account in the way families are offered support with a view to preventing further tragedies.



Brown, H. (2012), "Not only a crime but a tragedy […] exploring the murder of adults with disabilities by their parents", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 6-21.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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