The mother of a teenager murdered by her abusive ex says the government has made her daughter a ‘flagship’ for ending violence against women – but hasn’t taken enough action.
Carole Gould, whose daughter Ellie was stabbed in May 2019, has spent the last three years relentlessly campaigning against “misogynist” rules that resulted in her killer being jailed for just 12.5 years.
Remembering Ellie, Carole from Wiltshire described a “caring young lady” who was “really thoughtful”.
Speaking to The Mirror, she said: “[Ellie’s] Friends described her as “the girl with the smile”. She was the glue in the friendship group and she never liked it when anyone was left out.”
The mother added that her daughter had a great love for animals and grew up with a horse and guinea pig.
“I never had to ask her to take care of her like you would most kids,” Carole recalls.
Ellie was just 17 when she was killed by Thomas Griffiths, who she had been dating for three months – but after seeing worrying behavior from Griffiths, the schoolgirl decided to take a break from the relationship.
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The day after quitting, Griffiths showed up at Ellie’s house during school hours and strangled her. He then took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed her 17 times.
When the cold-blooded killer finished his vicious attack, he washed the knife to get rid of its DNA and stuck it back down Ellie’s throat to try to make her death look like a suicide.
After initially pleading his innocence, he eventually pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison because he was under 18.
When the family lawyer informed Carole and her husband Matt of the expected verdict, the mother said she was “completely shocked”.
“It just seems ridiculous to me,” she said. “[Griffiths] was only four months away from his 18th birthday.”
Carole added she had expressed her dismay to the family’s lawyer, who told her the justice system had “got it right” in sentencing juveniles.
When the harrowing story of Ellie’s murder made headlines, grieving mum Julie Devey was furious.
Julie said she is “so proud” of her daughter, Poppy
Their daughter, Poppy Devey-Waterhouse, an avid traveler with a brilliant mind, was brutally murdered months earlier in December 2018 at the age of 24 by her jealous ex after she ended the relationship.
Joe Atkinson, then 25, returned to the flat the couple shared in Leeds after a working Christmas party before launching a vile attack on Poppy, leaving her with 49 stab wounds.
When he was done, Atkinson left the apartment and drove two hours to get rid of his clothes and the murder weapon, a kitchen knife. He waited several hours before calling 999. When emergency services arrived, he pretended to have attacked Poppy in self-defense.
Atkinson initially pleaded not guilty, but after five weeks in custody he changed his plea and admitted to murdering the 24-year-old. He was imprisoned for at least 16 years and two months.
When Julie saw Ellie’s story on the news, she couldn’t help but see some similarities between the cases.
She told The Mirror: “The girls were both very young and the killings seemed out of the blue. Ellie had also just finished with her boyfriend, which was the same in both cases. The stabbings were also both in the house.
“Carole lived nearby so I thought I’d call in a few months. My friends have been absolutely brilliant and supported me, but it’s different when you talk to someone who’s been through it.”
Julie sent Carole a letter with her contact details. Almost immediately after receiving the letter, Carole got in touch.
Soon the two met in person and chatted for hours about the verdicts the killers had received.
In the meantime they had learned that so-called domestic homicide (a murder that occurs in the home where the murder weapon is already present) carries a lighter sentence of 15 years than killing outside the home where the murder weapon is brought to the scene ( 25 years).
The mothers agreed that they felt the sentencing rules were deeply unjust and devalued violence against women.
“How can you justify that 10-year difference in sentencing? It doesn’t deal with domestic violence,” Carole said.
“It is ridiculous. These laws are not practical.
“It reduces women’s lives and reduces crime. I will never understand. These crimes are so often very violent. How can you say that a murder inside the house is worth less than outside the house?”
Julie added, “These murders always involve overkill.”
She cited the more than 100 injuries on Poppy’s body when she was discovered.
“As humans, we can make a decision in a nanosecond. [Atkinson] made a number of decisions that night and didn’t stop at any of those points.”
The mothers have argued that just because a gun wasn’t brought to the scene of a crime doesn’t mean the murder wasn’t premeditated.
And in the Atkinson and Griffiths cases, they believe the rapid escalation of violence and the brutality of the killings mean the men will be dangerous if released.
“How can you say that someone capable of stabbing or strangling someone at close range is not a danger to the public?” Carole said.
The determined activists have had some success in introducing a “sliding scale” for sentencing juveniles who commit murder.
Now a 17-year-old convicted of murder will serve at least 90% of the prison sentence that is given to adults.
While this change has been dubbed “Ellie’s Law,” Carole said the name is in their teeth as it’s just part of what they’re campaigning for – and the principle wasn’t applied to Griffiths’ punishment.
The mothers are still awaiting the release of a review of the domestic killing conviction, which was due in December 2021.
After some delays due to things like Covid, Carole and Julie are still waiting for the review to be published and say they haven’t had an update in months.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts remain with the families of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey-Waterhouse.
“Protecting women and girls and bringing perpetrators to justice is this government’s priority, which is why we have amended the law to introduce longer minimum sentences for some older children who commit murder – to ensure they reflect the seriousness of the offence.” .”
However, Carole has argued that the changes to juvenile detention are not enough to protect young women as long as domestic homicide sentences remain the same.
“I feel like the government used Ellie as a figurehead,” Carole said, adding that she doesn’t think the promises have been followed up with enough action to tackle violence against women.
“This escalation of violence has been so rapid and so alarming,” she said. “But Griffiths could be out by 30.
“We know we cannot get justice now. There is nothing we can do about Griffiths’ verdict. The only thing we can do is bang the drum when he comes to parole.”
As the mothers continue their campaign for tougher penalties for domestic killing, they are driven by memories of their daughters.
Julie said: “Poppy was extremely loyal. She had a multitude of friends from all walks of life.”
Poppy rose a year in elementary school and excelled in her studies, particularly math, often at the top of her class. But her academic success never went to her head.
“Poppy didn’t care if her friends had the same qualifications as her. She liked people the way they were and that made me very, very proud.”
Carole said of Ellie: “She was wonderful. She is the most devastating loss of all time.”