- Murder in the Heart: A True Life Psychological Thriller by Alexandra Artley
Hamish Hamilton, 268 pp, £14.99, July 1993, ISBN 0 241 13150 2
In the spring of 1988, two sisters, both in their late thirties, took a shotgun from an upstairs room in their terraced house in Preston and murdered their father. Each fired a shot at point-blank range into his chest as he lay in their sitting-room incapacitated by an epileptic fit. They then wandered to where the whisky was kept, and sat drinking and weeping with their mother. Eventually, one of them telephoned the police, and said: ‘Someone has shot my husband in the head and I think he’s dead.’ It wasn’t clear to the police, when they arrived, which of the women had made the call and which was in fact the wife.
According to Alexandra Artley, June and Hilda Thompson ‘fully expected to go to prison for the rest of their lives’. They pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to manslaughter, and received only a token punishment: two years’ imprisonment suspended for two years. The reason was the extraordinary violence and long years of sexual abuse they had suffered at the hands of their father, Tommy. Mr Justice Boreham conceded that the lives of the Thompson women had ‘been a form of torment’ and that they had taken their punishment ‘before the event’. One small indication of how right this was was the fact (according to one report) that the days spent on remand had been some of the happiest of their lives, and that among the previously inaccessible freedoms they were now looking forward to were reading magazines like Woman’s Own and having Shredded Wheat for breakfast.
Tommy Thompson would not have stood for either. He didn’t allow books into the house and he was the only one permitted to read the newspaper. (He would tell them anything they needed to know). He had a list of strict house rules, which included the perfect frying of his morning egg and the spreading of margarine quickly and efficiently in one direction only. Glasses had to be positioned exactly five inches from the edge of the table, and little fingers to be placed beneath them when they were lifted to be drunk from. Curtains had to be closed at the exact moment day turned into night – a moment so difficult to gauge that a seasonal timetable was developed and pinned up. Failure to carry out instructions was met with kicks or headbutts. ‘Bad behaviour’ (always punishable) included making a noise when being beaten or when being forced to watch one of the others (usually Mrs Thompson) being beaten.
Tommy was systematic in his violence and ingenious in his cruelty. The power to inflict pain appears to have fascinated him. He tortured a variety of pets – to see what happens when you drown a cat or gas a canary or leave a goldfish out of water. He bred rabbits so that he could spend an afternoon killing them. The sense of his own authority was vital to him. He wanted control of everything – from the cooking upwards – and he seems to have regarded his wife and daughters as possessions, to do as he liked with. When he discovered that Mrs Thompson was pregnant for a third time, he insisted on giving her an abortion. She lay on the kitchen table while he poked between her legs with a sharpened piece of green plastic clothes-line until, at the fifth attempt in three weeks, he dislodged the foetus. Then, when June was ten or eleven years old (she can’t remember exactly), Tommy took her to his potting shed and announced his intention to have sex with her: ‘Ye know I have sex with your Mam, June? ... Well, now I want it with you as well.’