An MP has called for a change in the law after an abusive husband inherited his wife’s estate despite an inquest linking her suicide to domestic violence.
Florence Eshalomi, the Labour MP for Vauxhall in south London, said there was a clear “hole in the law” when the husband, who was also convicted of attacking her, could benefit.
The case was raised with Eshalomi by the woman’s son, one of her constituents, who discovered his mother on the day after she killed herself.
The 29-year-old, who asked that neither he nor his family members be named, said: “You would think that if one court finds you guilty of domestic violence and another court links your violence to a death, there might be some consequences. Not for my stepdad… he is set to inherit close to £1m.
“Putting aside the fact that he contributed nothing to their marriage – my mum owned her house outright before meeting him and earned her pension and savings through years in the NHS – how can it be right that her abuser benefits financially at all?
“I can’t put into words how angry I am. Not only has he taken my mum from my brother and me but he has insulted her memory by trampling all over her very clearly documented wishes.”
His mother, a GP, married her second husband in July 2012. In August 2019, while on holiday in France, he attacked her, punching her in the head and pressing his thumbs into her cheekbones.
She left him afterwards, taking out a non-molestation order and occupation order, prohibiting contact. But having previously had severe depression, she had a relapse, as well as panic attacks, and in June last year, aged 56, she killed herself.
At an inquest in November last year, the senior coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox concluded: “She took her own life while suffering anxiety precipitated by a domestic violence incident.”
The woman’s husband was originally due to stand trial in France for domestic violence in March last year but was eventually convicted a year later after it was delayed because of Covid. His estranged wife rewrote her will, leaving everything to her sons but it was deemed invalid, because it was only witnessed by one person.
Eshalomi, who, with her constituent, is meeting Boris Johnson next month to discuss the issue, said in relying on victims to disinherit an abusive partner, the law failed to recognise the severe mental health impacts domestic abuse could have.
She said: “There is already precedent for this in murder cases, where the ‘forfeiture rule’ prevents killers from inheriting from those they murder by default.
“An extension of this to cases of abuse where this is found to be a contributing factor in the victim’s death would close the loophole that my constituent and his family have fallen foul of. We must ensure this is never allowed to happen to anybody else.”
She said since raising it at prime minister’s questions she had been contacted by several others who had been similarly affected.
Her constituent said: “If you are violent to your partner you have broken the terms of your marriage. As a result, all legal benefits of marriage should be automatically revoked, and that includes the right to inherit.”
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and the domestic violence helpline is on 0808 2000 247. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org