This is just one case of children who kill with 81 children being convicted of murder between 2008 – 2011 in England and Wales. In America, statistics indicate a child kills a parent at a rate of five times per week which accounts for around 1% of homicides in the US. Furthermore, figures from the US suggest juveniles make up just 16% of the rates of ‘matricide’, biological children killing their mothers, compared the 84% that are due to adults over 18 years of age.
The Case of Daniel Bartlam
On that fateful evening, Daniel Bartlam fled the burning house with his younger brother and his dog and waited for the emergency services. When questioned, he told police there had been an intruder who had set the house alight and he thought had hurt his mother.
After this initial statement, Daniel Bartlam then told police that he had killed his mother after an argument. During a search of the house, police found the hammer used in the attack in Daniel’s bedroom. They also found a document on his computer where he had written a story featuring a character bearing his own name who murdered his mother.
Daniel Bartlam’s behaviour before the attack and his addiction to violent video games and movies have motivated some to believe this was a key factor in the attack on his mother. Simon Matters, the former partner of victim Jacqueline Bartlam, has spoken of Daniel’s behaviour before the incident in a documentary for a British TV channel.
He said Daniel had started to collect items of his mother’s underwear, hiding them in bags in his bedroom. He was writing his own horror stories which were particularly gruesome, involving fighting and murder. Mr Matters also tells of increasingly concerning behaviour by Daniel in the months before the events of that evening.
“He’d have plastic boxes full of figures (Star Wars and Dr Who characters) but he’d just urinate in the boxes. He also defecated all over the bedroom and in the boxes and hid towels and stuff that he’d wiped himself with.” – Simon Matters
Daniel Bartlam had been raised by his mother in a stable home and was by all accounts a normal young boy. The family had moved to a different area of Nottingham in 2009 and Daniel had changed schools. In the year or so before the incident he had become more reclusive, spending most of his time alone in his bedroom, playing video games and watching his collection of horror films.
A popular soap-opera, Coronation Street, had recently shown a storyline where one of the male characters (John Stape) killed a woman with a hammer. TV clips of these scenes along with other violent scenes from popular films were found on Daniel’s computer after the attack.
This aspect has been heavily focused on by the media. In trying to find explanation for such a brutal attack carried out by a 14-year-old boy, the scenes of violence on television and in film have been cited as an influence on Daniel, leading him to carry out a ‘copy’ of the crime.
Due to the media portrayal of Daniel Bartlam and the attention given to the murder plot featured in Coronation Street, he has been labelled the ‘Coronation Street Killer‘ within some articles and this label will undoubtedly stay with him.
In many cases of children who kill their parents, there has been a history of abuse and neglect within the home and the killing can be the breaking point for the child, but not all. Certainly the case of Daniel Bartlam is one where the motive is unclear; there is no evidence of abuse within the family home at any time.
Studying Children and Teens Who Kill
Dr Kathleen Heide is professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, Tampa and has studied children who kill their parents extensively. In comparing cases, she has found there are factors which may increase the risk of child showing such violence against a parent, such as a dysfunctional family, ongoing family violence in the home, a deterioration of conditions within the home and a heightened vulnerability to stresses in the home for the child.
Dr Heide has defined three categories for children who kill their parents from her research:
The severely abused child where they kill to end abuse, often that has been going on for years, where violence has escalated and they see no other way out.
Dangerously antisocial children kill to get what they want, they see the parent standing in the way and it may be to inherit money or to have more freedom.
These are children who regularly do not respect authority of adults, do not accept responsibility for their actions and may well have a conduct disorder. They can be more dangerous to society in terms of reoffending and hurting others in the future.
The severely mentally ill child kills due to this mental illness, normally with a long-standing history of mental illness, it could be delusions or hallucinations that have pushed them to kill the parent.
Furthermore, multiple stab wounds or blows can indicate a rage that once they have started they cannot stop until that rage has subsided. Some in this situation find it difficult to believe what they have done afterwards. In the case of Daniel Bartlam he tried to conceal his crime by setting fire to the house, he did no harm to his younger brother or the family dog and he calmly lied to police. This raises doubt that his attack was due to some form of uncontrollable rage.
Daniel’s behaviour in the months leading up to the murder do suggest he may have been struggling internally. He was spending a lot of time alone in his room and exhibited some unusual behaviour as highlighted by his stepfather. It came to light during the trial, that Daniel Bartlam had been seeing a counsellor in the months before the incident. He had discussed hearing voices telling him to hurt people and visions he was having of killing people with that counsellor. The aspect of the Coronation Street storyline is interesting as it may have sparked something within Daniel Bartlam which he connected with. His increased interactions with media involving violence and his own written stories suggest he was potentially engaging in a fantasy world where violence and aggression featured highly.
Certainly many who are aware of this case presume Daniel Bartlam must be suffering from a mental illness of some kind to have carried out such a horrific attack on his own mother. However, Daniel was not found to be mentally ill by the experts who examined him. Moreover, research tells us that mental illness is more likely to be the cause of an adult killing one or both parents than a child.
“But it seems that Daniel watched so many violent films and video games that he simply lost track of what was real. I’m sure his obsession with these fantasy worlds like films and soaps caused what he did.” – Simon Matters
When the case came to court in early 2012, Daniel Bartlam pleaded not guilty to murder. He claimed he had been provoked during the argument with his mother earlier in the evening and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The jury however, unanimously convicted him of murder on the 9th February 2012 with the Judge in the case lifting the media ban on naming him. In April 2012, Daniel was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years in prison.
The decision was made in this case to lift the anonymity on Daniel’s identity and release his name and details of his crime to the public despite his young age. The media coverage after the trial was immense due to Daniel’s age and the particularly brutal nature of the crime.
As always within the media a number of terms were used to describe and label Daniel Bartlam including “Devil Child” (The Mirror), and “Savage” (The Daily Mail). This has served to fuel the debate on children who commit murder and how they are portrayed in the media.
Daniel Bartlam’s young age, however, has provoked some level of sympathy comparatively to if this crime had been committed by an adult, with an emphasis on getting him the right help. When looking at the categories defined by Dr Kathleen Heide and the case of Daniel Bartlam, with no history of abuse and no diagnosed mental illness the issue of anti-social behaviour is highlighted which comes along with a higher risk of reoffending in the future.
The rehabilitation of a child and whether the young age of an offender and their levels of maturation and ongoing development is an area still debated as to whether this should be taken into account regarding their future. Furthermore, there is a question over whether juveniles can or should be held fully responsible for their actions in the same way as an adult.
In Daniel’s case he was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years. This means if attempts at rehabilitation are seen as successful during this period, he could be released when he is 26 years old. This is still a relatively young age, however with his identity known to the public, the kind of life he will be able to lead and re-build for himself is in question.
Daniel Bartlam is currently serving his sentence and it is assumed undergoing rehabilitation treatment of some kind. To public knowledge he has never offered any explanations of his actions that evening other than to state provocation from an argument. However his level of planning, clear attempts to cover up the attack and the brutality of the crime itself makes this one of the most shocking juvenile crimes in UK history.