Killer Husbands Lose 'Cheating Wife' Defence; but Abused Wives Could Escape Murder Charge

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Byline: James Slack Home Affairs Editor

HUSBANDS who kill cheating wives in 'crimes of passion' are to lose the defence of provocation after all.

The move, described as 'obnoxious' by judges, means husbands will no longer be able to claim that infidelity was the spur for their actions and will face a charge of murder, rather than manslaughter.

It had been thought that the change in the law - introduced by the last Labour Government and opposed by the Tories - would not happen after it was thrown out by the House of Lords.

But it has emerged that the measure was quietly reinstated as a new clause in a Bill which has passed into law.

At the same time, another controversial change will allow women who kill abusive partners in cold blood to escape a murder conviction if they prove they feared more violence.

Under the law, they must establish only that they were responding to a 'slow burn' of abuse - rather than that they had a 'sudden loss of control' - in order to receive a manslaughter charge.

It follows complaints from women's rights campaigners that battered wives were being harshly treated by the law. They cited the case of Sara Thornton, jailed in 1990 for life for murdering her husband, Malcolm.

She stabbed the ex-policeman as he slept at their home in Warwickshire. She claimed she had been provoked by repeated violence from her husband, who she said was an alcoholic - charges denied by his family. Mrs Thornton, 35 at the time of the killing, won a retrial in 1996 and was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter.

Under the new rules, it is highly unlikely she would have been convicted of murder in the first place.

They come into force next week, alongside the abolition of infidelity as a defence.

The scrapping of the infidelity defence will lead to up to 20 more men each year being convicted of murder, Government papers reveal. The cost to the public in extra prison places will be up to [pounds sterling]8million a year.

Its abolition is the work of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, who claims the current law is biased in favour of men. But last year in the House of Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, a deputy High Court judge, described the exemption of sexual infidelity as a reason for a person to lose control as 'illogical' and 'outstandingly obnoxious'.

And retired law lord Lord Lloyd of Berwick said: 'It is little short of astonishing that Parliament should be asked to tell a jury whether sexual infidelity is enough to cause a man or woman to lose their self-control. …