‘Lessons learned’ from Sunderland double death

James Stokoe and May Stokoe.
James Stokoe and May Stokoe.
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CAMPAIGNERS are joining calls to recognise the problem of abusive relationships among the elderly, in the wake of the deaths of a Sunderland couple.

A domestic homicide review into the murder-suicide of May and James Stokoe, concluded that Mrs Stokoe’s death at the hands of her husband “may have been preventable”.

Mrs Stokoe, 79, was stabbed to death at home in Hylton Castle, by Mr Stokoe. He then killed himself in a bedroom of their family home of 48 years.

Retired blacksmith Mr Stokoe, 79, suffered mental health problems and had attempted suicide in March last year, about two months before the couple’s deaths on May 1.

The review, by Safer Sunderland Partnership, said Mrs Stokoe had remained “invisible” to agencies and that the causes of her many falls had simply been put down to age, while “panel members felt that staff across all agencies were less likely to consider older people as potential perpetrators or victims of domestic violence”.

While the report says the killing could not have been predicted, it recommends that more is done to raise awareness of the potential for domestic violence by older people.

Age UK Sunderland’s operations manager, Victoria Wood, said today: “We extend our sympathies to the family in this tragic case.

“There are some lessons to be learned from this review and I’m sure all agencies will work together to better identify abuse against older people in the future.”

The review describes “a broader, emerging theme” of Mrs Stokoe – referred to in the report at Mrs Y – at no stage being considered a potential victim of abuse or violence.

It adds: “This is despite the fact that a number of potential indicators of domestic abuse and associated risk were present during agency involvement.”

Among the indicators mentioned in the report was:

• Mr Y’s thoughts of hurting or killing Mrs Y, reported by both Mr Y and Mrs Y to professionals.

• The history of the relationship in which it was identified by both Mr Y and other family members that he had not spoken to Mrs Y for a number of years.

• Mr Y’s suicide attempt, given that in cases of domestic violence threatened or attempted suicide is seen as an indicative factor of heightened risk to others.

• Mrs Y’s disclosures two days prior to the homicide that Mr Y had accused her of having affairs and of spending his money.

Safer Sunderland Partnership chairwoman, Michelle Meldrum, said: “This was a tragic case and deeply distressing for all those involved.

“I would like to express my sincere condolences to their family.

“We are determined to learn from this and have already taken action to address each and every one of the recommendations it makes.”