Friday, 16 September 2016

Not local; unknown; dead.

In Long Melford on November 13th 2014, four children lost their parents. It was and remains a tragedy.  My heart goes out to all involved. 

In December, the Coroner, Kevin McCarthy, stated:-

Ive been increasingly anxious at the reporting of this case and the language that's been used. Those knowing nothing about the case could be forgiven for thinking that some terrible accident had occurred with both or neither party to blame.

The reality is that Oliver Ruse, who had previously threatened to kill Deborah Ruse, his estranged wife, did just that.  It's reported that he attempted to decapitate her with an axe, left her dead, then killed himself.

If a man took to the streets and hacked a woman to death - attempting decapitation - hed probably be described as an evil, vicious killer.  Yet local newspapers described Oliver Ruse as a  kind hardworking and loving manTheir accounts reported that he had experienced mental health problems, with some suggesting that it was his wife's actions that ‘drovehim to it.  There were unsubstantiated reports providing personal information about their troubled relationship from family friends.  Which friends of whose ‘family? - I wondered.  Were they from his, an influential, well-respected local business family?  Or were they from hers; not local, unknown?

The reports provided no such information about Deborah Ruse.  I was left wondering if she was gentle and kind and what had troubled her?  One report said she had Diazepam in her system at the time of her murder.  I also wondered why her country of birth was considered to be relevant in some media reports and whether it was because she was black?  Did reporters think her race added somehow to an understanding of her murder?  Or are they using it to underline their portrayal of her as an ‘outsiderin the Long Melford community?

Even if Deborah Ruse had behaved badly, that is no justification for her murder. If Oliver Ruse was mentally ill and suicidal, why did he choose to first kill her and then himself?   

Maybe we shouldnt blame mental illness for her murder.  We don’t know the whole story and all it does is risk further stigma for people with mental health problems.  The only two people who could tell us the truths of their relationship are dead.

Yet realising this does nothing to relieve my anxiety.

Deborah Ruse died because she was the wife of Oliver Ruse and because he believed he was entitled to kill her.  Two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner.  The same week that Deborah Ruse was murdered in Long Melford, another woman died somewhere else in England or Wales.

Whichever way the media has chosen to portray this tragedy, lets be clear: it is Deborah Ruse who was the victim and who bears no responsibility for her own murder.  However painful it may be for those left behind to accept, it is a story of domestic male homicide.  A man violently killed his wife. 

Its got absolutely nothing to do with the complexities of relationshipsand everything to do with domestic violence and the imbalance of power within them.  If we cant accept this and fail to report it as such, then we become complicit in allowing domestic violence to go unchallenged and continuing to blaming it's innocent victims for their fates.

NB: This blog was written and sent to local papers as a letter last year, just after the inquest was reported on. It wasn't published..

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Small schools & islands

When I first met a small group of people campaigning to save their village school in Monks Eleigh from closure, I was struck by their wisdom. They understood how vital a school was in attracting young families to villages to keep them vibrant.  Many, themselves educated in small rural primary schools, challenged the current thinking about how small schools somehow failed pupils by not offering 'breadth' of curriculum.  

They understood how the 'gentrification' (as one person put it) of Suffolk's villages - exacerbated by local councils not always sticking to planning guidance - was affecting  their future. They understood the issue of rural transport, of long journeys to school by small children, of parents (often with no or limited access to their own transport) who are unable to juggle work, after school clubs and child care.

I suggested the campaign group might want  to raise questions directly with  the political leaders, who seemed  to be  behind  the actions of the education authority at a council meeting. Surely, an opportunity to be part of democracy in action.

The group planned their questions carefully based on their wisdom and expert knowledge of their subject.  This was their school; their history, their future. A school whose Governors and staff had embraced the idea of being 'Federated'.  A school that was let down by the education authority  who told them, when they were asked about help with their 'loose Federation' that they should 'make it up as they went along'.   An LEA that seemed to think that 4 visits a term amounted to 'intensive support'. An LEA that seems to believe that small schools are a contributory factor to Suffolk's poor attainment. An LEA with savings to make. A school on a huge piece of land - a potential financial asset ripe for development?

Members of the campaign asked their supplementary questions at the council meeting safe in the knowledge that they would not be answered. I watched as any faith they had in this system of open democracy slipped away. We spoke afterwards. The only positive was an opportunity to speak to their local Councillor - a Councillor, however, who had not even visited their school but who of course pledged to do so.

The campaign continues. As we saw reports yesterday of a shortage of primary school places we could be forgiven for having some hope. 

There are though some things that are becoming increasingly certain. 

The new formula means schools will be funded based on pupil numbers. Despite the recent political rhetoric this means small schools will become untenable- unable to deliver the economies of scale their larger counterparts can. At the full Council meeting I asked what the LEA's policy was on schools with 200 or less pupils. Of course I did not receive an answer.

When an Interim Executive Board gets involved there is no local input or influence by local people.

One failed Ofsted inspection seems to mean schools are forced to federate or become Academies. Successful schools however may be reluctant to Federate with a failing school. There appears to be a fear that they will be negatively impacted rather than helped by joining with others.

A failure to embrace and build sufficient numbers of council or other social housing in our villages is cutting off their life blood.

If your school is a 'church' school you cannot rely on the Church to intervene and help you.

Finally that local people, who care at least as much about the education of their children as those who sit on the education authority, can always be ignored.