Why Myra Hindley was easy pickings for a psychopath who needed a female accomplice

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 16 May 2017

They look like a young couple on a day out in the country, his arm slung casually over her shoulders. They’re obviously working-class, the man in his shirtsleeves, the woman with peroxide-blond hair and a fashionable full skirt. The 1960s are in full swing and they could be anybody, enjoying the new freedom that’s arrived with the Beatles, Twiggy and the decline of deference.

But the man is Ian Brady, the notorious serial killer who died on Monday at the age of 79, after spending 51 years in prison. With his accomplice Myra Hindley, he tortured and murdered five young people, ranging in age from ten to 17, in a series of crimes so horrific that they ripped a gaping hole in the optimism of post-war England. The scar remains to this day and the death of this elderly serial killer, while hardly unexpected, still made headlines.

Back in 1966, when the details that emerged at their trial shocked the nation, things were supposed to be getting better after a long period of austerity. A Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, had come to power two years earlier promising a ‘new Britain’ forged in the ‘white heat’ of technology. Yet the actions of this apparently unremarkable couple from Greater Manchester exposed a human capacity for savagery that people didn’t want to think about after the horrors of the Second World War.

The couple made a recording of the screams of their youngest victim, ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey, as she pleaded for her life. They became so cocky that they tried to enlist Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith, in the axe murder of their final victim, 17-year-old Edward Evans. The traumatised young man – Smith was the same age as the butchered victim – went to the police, leading to the couple’s arrests in October 1965.

A police mug shot of Hindley, with dyed blond hair showing dark roots above fierce black eyebrows, has become one of the most instantly recognisable images of the 1960s – the face of ‘the most evil woman in Britain’. The direct gaze, and the full lips that speak of a kind of sensuality, invite endless speculation. Perhaps most disconcerting of all, Hindley looks recognisably modern, a woman of her time, yet her crimes hark back to the calculated cruelties of the Marquis de Sade.

The 1960s were a turbulent decade, in which class barriers and traditional sexual morality were both breaking down. Many people thought that was a good thing but the Moors murders stopped them in their tracks. What kind of society had produced this amoral young couple, whose flouting of social norms had turned into an unprecedented killing spree? It is important to remember that when Brady and Hindley were arrested, serial killers were a relatively new phenomenon. Everyone had heard of Jack the Ripper but most of the notorious cases, such as Peter Sutcliffe or Dennis Nilsen, were some years in the future. Nor did serial killers feature in traditional crime novels.

This was a new type of crime, involving child victims and killing for the sake it, and it caused a sensation. The idea of a female serial killer went against every notion of womanhood, and that police mugshot, with its pitiless stare, appeared to confirm that the woman had been the dominant partner.

In reality, this goes against every bit of evidence we have about the relationship between Hindley and Brady, which shows conclusively that he was the prime mover. But within no time at all Hindley had been pushed into the foreground, so much so that a huge painting by Marcus Harvey, based on the mugshot, was the controversial star turn in the ‘Sensation’ exhibition by Young British Artists in London in 1997.

Of course the fact that Hindley was the junior partner does not excuse her or reduce her culpability in these terrible murders. But if, as seems likely, the killings would not have happened had Brady and Hindley never met, it is vital to understand the dynamics of their relationship. That is true of Fred and Rose West as well, and in both cases the evidence suggests that the man was the instigator.

Hindley was only 18, four years younger than Brady, when they met in 1961 at the firm where she was a typist. She came from an impoverished background in Gorton, a working-class area of Manchester, and a household where domestic violence was rife. Conditions were so cramped that she initially had to share a bedroom with her abusive parents, including a father – an alcoholic ex-soldier – who regularly beat her.

We know now that children who grow up with extreme domestic violence are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators themselves. Hindley would become both. With a predator’s instinct, Brady seems to have recognised her vulnerabilities, understanding her need for affection and manipulating it. ‘I am in a bad mood because he hasn’t spoken to me today,’ she wrote in one of many naïve entries in her diary.

She wanted him to marry her but he had other ideas, introducing her to two of his obsessions, the Marquis de Sade and accounts of atrocities committed under the Third Reich. She was too unworldly to see through his crackpot theories about cruelty and the master race, becoming drawn into a sado-masochistic relationship in which she would do anything to please him. Photographs exist of Hindley kneeling on the floor, naked, with the marks of a whip visible on her body.

Brady needed an accomplice and it had to be a woman; he couldn’t drive and he knew that his victims were more likely to get into a car if they saw a woman in the driving seat. Once he had Hindley entirely under his control, they abused the trust of vulnerable children, presenting a monstrous inversion of the normal parental relationship. Decades later Rose West, who also witnessed domestic violence as a child, would play a similar role, reassuring young women who were uncertain about accepting a lift in her husband’s car.

At the Moors murders trial, Brady was convicted of three murders, Hindley of two. He didn’t admit the full extent of their crimes until 1985, when he confessed to the murders of 16-year-old Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett, aged 12. Brady died this week without ever revealing where on Saddleworth Moor they buried the body Keith Bennett, prolonging the ordeal of his family. Greater Manchester police say that while they are not actively searching the moor, the case remains open.

Brady’s death means that two of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century are no longer with us. At the time of their trial, people knew little about either of them, and their instinct was to focus on Hindley. She and Brady had done unimaginably awful things and deserved no sympathy, but the public reaction to Hindley was skewed by beliefs about how women should behave.

Now they’re both dead and we have the gift of perspective. Myra Hindley grew up in a violent household where she witnessed and experienced beatings, and that made her easy pickings for a psychopath who wanted an accomplice. Perhaps it’s time to re-assess that original analysis, putting aside the notion of Hindley as some kind of demon.

Heaping most of the blame on the woman in such relationships is the easy option,but it doesn’t make much sense. It is vital to recognise the pattern – and the key role played by domestic violence. It took two people to set this terrible train of events in motion, and the clear light of history tells us that Brady needed Hindley – and they were as culpable as each other.


How Theresa May Brought Britain To Heel

New York Times SundayReview | OPINION

14 MAY 2017

LONDON — Margaret Thatcher, it is safe to say, wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of trousers. Her successor as a leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, Theresa May, is far more adventurous. When she made her bid to head the country’s main center-right party last summer, she was wearing a tartan pantsuit by the onetime high priestess of punk, Vivienne Westwood. Ms. Westwood’s label is mainstream these days, but it was still a bold choice for a would-be Tory prime minister.

Some months later, Mrs. May lounged on a sofa in a pair of leather trousersfor an interview at the end of the momentous year that saw her move into No. 10 Downing Street. But why am I even talking about the prime minister’s wardrobe when she has called a snap general election for June 8?

This is the first time in three decades that a mainstream British political party has gone to the polls with both a female leader and a serious expectation of winning. Isn’t it demeaning, not to say sexist, to focus on how she dresses?

The problem for feminists like me, who would normally leap to a female politician’s defense, is that Mrs. May would never complain about any of this attention. She gives every impression of liking it. The public probably knows more about what she wears than it does about her policies, confirming just about every sexist stereotype.

Women and shoes, huh? But to dismiss any discussion of Mrs. May’s careful cultivation of image as trivializing or gender-biased is to miss how strategic she is. Her famous leopard-print heels have long been a form of camouflage, usefully diverting attention when she has unpalatable things to say (which isn’t very often). They made one of their first outings at the Conservative Party Conference in 2002, when Mrs. May told activists they needed to stop earning their reputation as “the nasty party.” She discovered just how easy it is to distract Britain’s popular press with an unexpected choice of accessory.

In the opening weeks of this election campaign, all we learned about the country’s second female prime minister is that she utters the words “strong and stable” at every opportunity. Public appearances have been carefully choreographed: typically, a tour of a factory filled with supporters, with the media kept well away.

And it has worked. Mrs. May’s personal popularity is at stratospheric levels, with some opinion polls suggesting she is even more popular than Mrs. Thatcher was in her heyday. Perhaps the prime minister was channeling her inner Iron Lady when she stood at a lectern in Downing Street recently and scolded the leaders of the European Union, demonstrating how effectively she hid her true colors in the past: She, too, can be nasty when she needs to be.

It is becoming clear that Mrs. May’s political views are farther to the right than her reassuring presence — the head teacher who always has time to discuss little Johnny or Jessica’s problems — would have us believe. When Mrs. May was home secretary and in charge of the country’s borders, she supported a wildly optimistic policy of Prime Minister David Cameron, whowanted to reduce immigration to a few tens of thousands a year. That undertaking was an abject failure by any standards — net immigration last year was just under 275,000 — but it doesn’t seem to have done her much harm.

Mrs. May has corrected course by adopting an even tougher stance on the international refugee crisis than Mr. Cameron. In February, she canceled the government’s commitment to allow 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children into Britain after only about 350 had arrived.

She has proved adept at shifting position without incurring political damage. Last summer, she supported the Remain side in the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, but she did it so quietly that she succeeded in seamlessly maneuvering into being the best-placed candidate to lead the tricky Brexit negotiations after Leave won.

For feminists, Mrs. May is no less troubling a figure than Mrs. Thatcher was, embodying many of the same contradictions. The fact that the current leader has been called “Maggie May” by the popular press is chiefly a reminder that there are still too few role models for powerful women.

In the 1980s, the media routinely sexualized Mrs. Thatcher in under-the-radar ways. For a generation of upper-middle-class men who had grown up with nannies and school matrons, Mrs. Thatcher evoked a potent mix of anxiety and fantasy and sadomasochistic scenario. The writer Christopher Hitchens, hardly a natural admirer, claimed that the prime minister had once spanked him with a parliamentary order paper, mouthing “Naughty boy!” as she walked away.

The subtle edginess of Mrs. May’s personal style seems to wink at this role of national dominatrix. Those leopard-print shoes of hers inspired anotorious photomontage in The Sun, a top-selling British tabloid, that showed a similar pair crushing the heads of Tory men under the headline “Heel, Boys.”

And she has done nothing to discourage the toxic sexism that swirls about her. When the Daily Mail provoked outrage by publishing a photo of her with the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, under the brazenly sexist headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” the prime minister’s spokesman refused to comment. For her part, Ms. Sturgeon was furious andsaid so.

When President Trump met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, he conspicuously declined to shake hands and avoided eye contact. In stark contrast, when the president first met Mrs. May in Washington in January,he grabbed her hand in full view of the cameras. This was a power play none of her ministers back home would dare to attempt, yet Mrs. May did not demur.

She has done little to challenge even the most hoary, outdated assumptions. When she took part in a rare joint TV interview with her husband, Philip, last week, she caused astonishment by saying that they divide household chores, such as taking the trash out, into “boy jobs and girl jobs.” She also appeared to think she needed to explain the fact that she wasn’t a mother when, in 2012, she chose to reveal her disappointment about being childless – something that speaks volumes about the social values of the British Conservative Party, as well as the insularity of British politics.

Mrs. May is more modern in her attitudes than some in her party — and undeniably more collegial than Mr. Cameron, let alone Mrs. Thatcher. Mrs. May voted for gay marriage, has promoted women to top posts in her cabinet and has a longstanding interest in preventing domestic violence. Yet she presides over a government that has pursued a dismantling of public services that disproportionately affects women. And the calling card she used to signal a break with the stuffy Tory past — the eye-catching footwear, the leather trousers — has now returned to haunt public life with unsavory, sexualized expectations of women at the highest level of politics.

This is all the more disappointing at a moment when the Conservative Party has overturned the traditional order of British politics by fielding a competent, personable woman against a male opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who looks and sounds like a throwback to the 1970s. Mrs. May’s refusal to confront the infantile misogyny of the media leaves her open to the accusation that she got where she is not by challenging patriarchy, but by colluding with it. What does it say about gender equality in Britain that the politician tipped to win by a landslide in next month’s election is most famous for her footwear?

Troubled Waters

Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

Donna Leon is one of the most familiar names in modern crime fiction, but she still has the capacity to surprise. Her latest novel, Earthly Remains (Heinemann £18.99), is set not in the streets and canals of Venice but in the lagoon, where the smooth waters are threatened by environmental disaster.

Commissario Brunetti, Leon’s detective, doesn’t know that when he decides to spend an idyllic couple of weeks in a villa on the island of Sant’Erasmo, reading Pliny and learning to row again with the elderly caretaker, Davide Casati. He is recuperating from stress and the slow pace of life is a delight. The only thing to disturb him is Casati’s anxiety about his dying bees, and his enigmatic remarks about his past.

When he disappears during a storm, Brunetti’s holiday comes to an abrupt end, and the search for the missing man uncovers the source of the guilt that weighed so heavily on him. This beautifully written novel confronts Brunetti with a type of crime that is completely outside his experience, threatening the health of everyone who lives on the Venetian lagoon.

Linwood Barclay has already set a quirky trilogy of crime novels in the small town of Promise Falls in New York State. The last book in the series left the town reeling from a deliberate poisoning of its water system, in revenge for the failure of passers-by to save a girl who was murdered in a local park.

In Parting Shot (Orion £18.99) some residents have overreacted by forming vigilante groups, homing in on an 18-year-old boy who accidentally killed a friend in a drink-driving incident. As attacks on the boy’s home escalate, his wealthy family hires a local PI to protect him, unintentionally unveiling some of their own secrets. Barclay’s plots are a delight, and his small town never fails to deliver a series of shocks.

Arresting the fiancée of a school friend on a drugs offence sparks a catastrophic sequence of events for Kjell Ola Dahl’s world-weary detective in Faithless, translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Orenda £8.99). Inspector Frolich hasn’t seen his friend Karl Anders for years before the night of the latter’s 40th birthday party, where he suddenly recognises the woman Anders is about to marry. He keeps quiet, but shortly afterwards a body turns up in a skip, and Frolich finds himself torn by a conflict of loyalties. This is a chilling novel about betrayal, written in a hard-boiled style that highlights the careless misogyny of Dahl’s characters.

Michel Bussi is one of France’s most ingenious crime writers. Don’t Let Go, translated by Sam Taylor (Weidenfeld £12.99), is set on the lush Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where the husband of a French tourist is the chief suspect in her disappearance. When the man goes on the run with their young daughter, suspicion hardens into certainty for the local cops, but Bussi has plenty of twists in store in this fast-moving novel about a long-planned act of revenge.