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 EMBARGOED – 14.15 Friday 19TH November 2004

Tough tariffs send the right message to abusive men 

Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation (Women’s Aid Federation
Northern Ireland) welcomes the Court’s decision today in setting the tariff for the horrific murder of Gillian Doherty.  Last month, William Coulter was found guilty of murdering Gillian in January 2003 and given a life sentence.  Lord Justice Nicholson today imposed a tariff of a minimum of 18 years in prison.

Women’s Aid Federation
Northern Ireland sees the outcome of this trial as part of the wider campaign to address the issue of domestic violence in Northern Ireland. The tariff set by Lord Justice Nicholson on William Coulter sends out the message that domestic violence murders will be met with the most severe sanctions allowed by law. The sentence imposed on this violent man clearly shows that Gillian’s tragic death has not been trivialised or treated dismissively.  Women’s Aid hopes that today’s decision is acceptable to Gillian’s family and helps them come to terms with their loss.

While Women’s Aid Federation
Northern Ireland wants ultimately all violence against women to stop, it is hoped that tariffs of this length will be held as a benchmark for future trials which result from domestic violence. The criminal justice system should act fully to meet its duty to reflect domestic violence as a key public safety and protection issue.  Judges can ensure that court sentences and tariffs reflect that seriousness. Women’s Aid Federation
Northern Ireland believes that if violence takes place within a domestic context it needs to be viewed as an aggravating, rather than a mitigating, factor and that the sentence should reflect this severity as in today’s case.

Hilary Sidwell, Director of Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation said:

“Today’s decision sends out the message to abusive men that their violence and crimes will not be tolerated. Offenders must be severely punished and Lord Justice Nicholson has clearly demonstrated that he is prepared to do that in his court.”  She went on to say, “Women know that they have protection against attack, harassment and abuse at work or in the street; but they also have the right to know that they don’t have to put up with abuse at home and that the law will protect them."  

Domestic violence is the intentional and persistent physical or emotional abuse of a woman in a way that causes pain, distress or injury. Not only does domestic violence have serious physical and emotional effects, shockingly it is the cause of two deaths every week in the United Kingdom. Last year in Northern Ireland, over 1,100 women with over 1,000 children fled abusive relationships and stayed in Women’s Aid refuges. The Women’s Aid 24 Hour Helpline handles more than 300 calls every week from women seeking help. One in every three calls made to the Police Service is about a domestic incident.

Unfortunately today’s outcome is not indicative of many previous cases where tariffs for murder and other domestic violence crimes have been alarmingly lenient. Many women, seeking to end the violence being perpetrated on them, have found the experience of the court system intolerable. 

Women’s Aid Federation
Northern Ireland wishes to extend sincere sympathy to Gillian’s family and to offer them support through this difficult time.  This support is also available to any woman in Northern Ireland who is living with domestic violence.  Get help by calling the Women’s Aid 24 Hour Helpline (0800 917 1414) or through all local Women’s Aid groups located throughout Northern Ireland (contact details in the phone book or via the helpline).


For further information please contact:

Email:             [email protected]         


 In 2003/04 16,926 domestic violence incidents were recorded over half of which involved violence. This is an increase of 1,414 (9.1%) on that reported in the previous year.

There have been over 90,000 calls to the Women’s Aid 24 hour helpline since it was established in 1995.

Last year, over 2,000 women and children were accommodated in Women’s Aid refuges throughout Northern Ireland.

The British Crime Survey indicates that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. It cuts across class, age, religion and ethnic group. It is most commonly perpetrated by men against women.

The impact of domestic violence on women can be serious health problems both mental and physical, due to repeated threatened and actual emotional, sexual and physical abuse. 

At its most serious domestic violence results in hospitalisation and death.

The Women’s Aid 24 Hour Helpline number is 028 9033 1818. Women can call the helpline for assistance and support.  For women who do not speak English, the helpline now uses Language Line, a UK wide professional interpreting service in over 100 languages.