The photo used in the Guardian newpaper’s obituary of Emma Humphreys (1967 – 1998) haunted me. It showed Emma in the window of her flat with a silver tabby cat she’d called Tiger. The flat was significant: finally a home of her own, but Emma looked too fragile to carry the clothes she was wearing.
Emma Humphreys grew up with a mother and stepfather who were alcoholics. She’d witnessed many violent assaults and frequency ran away, spending periods in care and homeless. At the age of 16 she ended up in Nottingham. Scared of approaching the authorities for fear of being returned to her parents, she ended up in prostitution. One of her clients offered her a home. He was not only her pimp but also subjected her to physical and sexual abuse, including rape. Her movements were constantly monitored and windows were nailed shut to stop her running away. This man was twice her age (she was still only 16). On night, he boasted that he, a couple of friends and his son would gang rape her. Fearing he was speaking the truth and she would be raped again, she stabbed him once with a knife. He died a short time later.
When arrested, Emma was in a state of extreme shock and could not explain that she’d suffered violence and abuse. In the photos following her sentencing, she looks dazed and incapable of understanding the court’s processes. She was 17, not yet
an adult, but given an indefinite sentence.
It took 10 years of campaigning for her conviction of murder to be overturned. She’d never denied she’d killed her abuser, but argued she should be charged with manslaughter rather than murder. Her case changed the law to recognise cumulative provocation, establishing that the defence of provocation didn’t have to be an immediate reaction to one incident.
Emma died in 1998 after an accidental overdose of prescription medication. She’d also fought a life-long battle against anorexia.
By Emma Lee