A toxic court system enables Domestic Violence in Australia

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Belle
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Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

A toxic court system enables Domestic Violence in Australia

Post by Belle » Fri Nov 29, 2019 5:50 pm

This article in our "Weekend Australian Magazine" proves what I've been saying for a long time; domestic violence is facilitated and enabled by systemic failures in the courts and cannot be simplistically blamed on toxic masculinity by those with an agenda. Writ large in this story is a cocktail of grievance, blame, betrayal, violence and a legal framework which lets perpetrators off the violence hook with lenient sentences; the downgrading of the murder of a wife from murder to manslaughter 'because of provocation' is the tip of the iceberg in our legacy issues of family violence. Instead of expecting reform in the law, and lawyers to surrender their pretty privileges through judicial changes, it's much easier in this day and age to blame men. Memo to courts: you break it, you own it!! The problem now is that, having downgraded charges for murder in the family, the courts have decided that they're going to listen to the women now - with no evidence required - and they're destroying lives in the process. And it's especially galling because, since 1974, we've had a system of 'no fault' divorce. How does that operate alongside the criminal jurisdiction where a man has been 'provoked' by his wife (presumably the marriage was over for her) and murders her? (It's even worse; there were tiny children asleep in that house when those 3 shots were fired.)

The words of the surviving daughter speak to the truth. (I don't know why this print reverted to italics!)

The curse of Blithe Spirit
An amateur farce, an affair, a small-town tragedy… Decades later, a daughter pursues the truth.


By MATTHEW CONDON
From The Weekend Australian Magazine
November 29, 2019
On the evening of Thursday, April 21, 1983, the converted country hall that was the little wooden ­Rochdale Theatre on the outskirts of Lismore, far northern NSW, was all lit up for the premiere of a local amateur production. For months the Lismore Theatre Club – a vibrant melange of aspirant actors, directors and set designers, drawn largely from the town’s suburban middle class – had been rehearsing Blithe Spirit, an “improbable farce” by the legendary English satirist Noël Coward.

This black comedy about death, the spirit world and summoning the bothersome ghosts of former wives was a potent flash of high culture for this small farming town, which sits in the bowl of an ancient caldera. The Lismore Theatre Club had a reputation for being at times a little avant garde and it didn’t hesitate to resurrect Coward’s classic, set in the upper-class, martini-drinking England of the 1930s. The 88-seat Rochdale Theatre, on the Ballina Road, would be packed to the rafters.

Local property valuer Allen Ennew, then 44, would carry the play as the smug novelist Charles Condamine, living with his second wife Ruth in Hythe, a town south of London. Ennew, with his thick straight black hair, beard and slight haunch about his shoulders, had perfected an aristocratic accent. His booming projection betrayed previous experience in amateur theatre.

In the play, Charles and Ruth host a dinner party and invite clairvoyant Madame Arcati to conduct a séance. Arcati was played by Ennew’s actual wife, Madeline, 45, a secretary in a local architecture firm; the Ennews, originally from the UK, were stalwarts in the theatre club.

The other lead character in Blithe Spirit was Charles’ first wife Elvira, dead seven years, played by Carolyn Stuckey, 30, in her debut performance. Carolyn, married to local pharmacist Allan Stuckey, was a mother to two sons – Evan, then six, and Gareth, three – and taught music at a nearby primary school.

At front of house that night was a team headed by local Vicki Sheaffe. The Ennews, the Stuckeys and the Sheaffes were all friends, bound by their ages, young children, amateur theatre, and the cream and brown brick suburbs of Lismore. Their collective love of theatre generated a regular ­dinner party circuit.

That evening, with the theatre at capacity, and a cask of wine and a flask of hot tea near the side door, someone filmed the show on a VHS camera fixed to a tripod. The lens swept with the movement of the actors, and occasionally ventured in for a wobbly close-up. Exactly half an hour into the performance, a light shimmered to the right of the stage. And out of that pale green glow the ­colour of absinthe emerged a beautiful, petite woman with short, wavy blonde hair, wearing a flowing dress. Even in the dim light her classic wide-set eyes and cheekbones were unmissable. It was Elvira, played by Carolyn Stuckey.

She had been resurrected by Madame Arcati and she wandered about the seated actors before quietly standing beside a rear lamp. She looked intently at Charles. She only had eyes for him. In the end, Ruth died, so now Charles was haunted by two wives intent on destroying him. He fled the house with the words: “Goodbye my dears. Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

The play was a triumph, and the ovation that night was lengthy. At the curtain call, Ennew emerged holding hands with both of his fictitious dead wives, bookending him. He held Carolyn’s left hand with his right. His real wife, Madeline, stood alone on the left of the stage. She bowed and looked uncomfortable. The videotape of the ­performance went to black, then threw to a ­hissing sheet of white snow.

At the afterparty for the cast and crew, ­Carolyn Stuckey would steal a kiss from Allen Ennew. That seemingly innocent meeting of lips would spark a complicated affair that would ­terminate two lives, destroy families and reverberate well into the 21st century.

Less than two years after the kiss, at about 10.20pm on Thursday, January 31, 1985, four police officers drove to Banksia Court, Lismore Heights, in response to an emergency call. It was the Stuckey family home. The house, a 1970s faux-Spanish-style high-set dwelling with arched windows, sat at the back of a paved driveway. As police approached the front door, Constable 1st class William Ernest Palmer shouted out: “Are you there Allan? It’s the police.”

The officers entered the house and saw Stuckey, the local pharmacist, sitting in the kitchen. “Where is she?” Palmer asked. According to police statements, Stuckey nodded towards the main bedrooms: “Down there.”

“Did you stab her?” a constable asked him.

“No,” Stuckey replied, “I shot her.”

In the bedroom, according to a statement by Senior Constable Ian Ross Smith, police found “a female, apparently deceased, lying at the base of the double bed. I observed bloodstains around the head area… and her lower abdomen. Near to the door of the ensuite a bolt action rifle and three .22 ­calibre spent cartridges”.

It was Carolyn Stuckey, née Brown, beloved teacher at Manifold Public School in Bentley, a 20-minute drive north-west of Lismore, 1972 Miss Lismore beauty pageant winner and now mother of three – the two boys, and three-month-old Kathryn.

“What happened?” Palmer asked Stuckey.

“She’s been having an affair for two years,” Stuckey, then 39, replied. He was taken to the ­station and charged with her murder. The next morning, an officer present at the post-mortem noted “two gunshot wounds to the right side of the head and a gunshot wound to the lower ­abdomen”. The crime featured on page one of the local Northern Star newspaper on Saturday, Feb­ruary 2. “A Lismore pharmacist, charged with the murder of his 32-year-old wife, was granted $2000 bail when he appeared in the Lismore local court ­yesterday morning.” The story noted that Stuckey broke into tears on a number of occasions during the remand hearing.

In court, police did not object to Stuckey being granted conditional bail given he was “a well-known local businessman with substantial interests in the district”. His family had run dairy farms for generations in the region of The Channon, 18km north-west of Lismore. He was required to report to Lismore police every Friday afternoon. And with that, Allan James Stuckey returned to work at the Lismore and District Pharmacy downtown in Magellan Street and awaited his trial that would take place in mid-1986, 18 months away.

Stuckey would go on raising his three young children in the house in Banksia Court. Three innocents without a mother. They were not alone in losing a parent. Across the ridge, in a house not far from the Stuckeys’ place, in O’Flynn Street, ­Lismore Heights, the children of Allen Ennew were also without a mother. Madeline, who’d played Madame Arcati in the play, had taken her own life on ­Sunday, May 27, 1984, in what seemed to be the curse of Blithe Spirit, staged a little over a year ­earlier. Had she killed herself because of the affair between her husband and Carolyn?

Carolyn was cremated and her ashes interred at the Lismore Lawn Cemetery and Memorial Gardens in Goonellabah, not far from Rochdale Theatre. The gardens were also the resting place of Madeline Ennew. Two deceased wives.

Years into the future, some of their children would be united in asking: What happened to our mothers? What went on here? Mothers were dead, but fathers were alive. Why?

For the younger Stuckey children, something else awaited them. At some point in the future, as they tried to find their place in the world, they would collide with the brutal reality of what ­happened to their mother.

In the winter of 1986, Stuckey was tried for murder in Lismore. He pleaded not guilty. During the course of the trial before Justice Slattery, the minutiae of the affair between Carolyn and Allen Ennew unfolded like a suburban soap opera. Crown Prosecutor Mr R. Lord told the court that Stuckey had shot his wife on January 31, 1985, after she had admitted to him that she was still in an affair with Ennew after almost two years. Lord also informed the jury that under the law, if ­provocation was proved, then a charge of murder could be reduced to manslaughter. (YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!)

The court heard that Stuckey had become ­concerned about his wife and their marriage when Carolyn received the gift of a book from Ennew (La Symphonie Pastorale by Andre Gide) around the time they were performing in Blithe Spirit in 1983, and that red roses had been delivered anonymously to the house in Banksia Court. Lismore’s Northern Star newspaper reported: “Stuckey said that one morning [in late 1984, after the birth of their third child, Kathryn] before leaving for work, his wife handed him a letter she had written and had asked him to read it. “In the letter… Mrs Stuckey described her depression during the ­pregnancy and how miserable she had been. She said that at times she went to bed and prayed that she would not wake up. Mrs Stuckey said that their marriage had become boring and that she felt that her husband did not care about her.

“Stuckey said that he had written a reply to his wife. In it, Stuckey said that he too had been ­miserable for 18 months. He also said in the letter that instead of trying to talk to him and get close to him, his wife had taunted him with how wonderful Mr Allen Ennew was.” (WOMAN BAD - MAN A SAD VICTIM)

Vicki Sheaffe, who was a close friend of ­Carolyn, remembers: “I knew she was seeing Allen Ennew. He was a friend of ours as well. He was different. He loved entertaining, art, books, music. [The affair] was exciting for her. She had planned a future with Allen Ennew. She just found it difficult to leave Stuckey. She worried about what people would think of her, in a small town. I think she was too worried about what people might think.”

Ennew admitted to the court that in late 1984 he and Carolyn decided that she would leave Stuckey and start a new life with him in a house he had bought for that purpose in Greenwood Crescent, Lismore Heights. In December that year, the court heard, Carolyn told her husband she had lost her “passion for him” and that she had a “platonic” relationship with Ennew. She vowed to end the friendship.

But in January of the New Year, Stuckey “accidentally” found a letter to Carolyn from Ennew, and some jewellery and audio cassettes. Stuckey spoke with Ennew on January 11 about the ­relationship and later asked his wife to “make a decision one way or the other”. She admitted to sexual relations with Ennew and then, at Stuckey’s request, personally visited her lover to formally end the relationship.

‘She worried about what people might think of her, in a small town.’

Back in Banksia Court that night, she entered a ritual with Stuckey. “We sat on the lounge and I asked her if she was prepared to make some vows, much like a wedding ceremony, on a Bible,” Stuckey told the court during his trial. In the absence of a Bible, he asked his wife if she would make the vows about the future “on my heart”. (BULLYING!)

Stuckey placed his right hand on Carolyn’s heart, and they pledged that they would love and cherish each other. She wrote down her vows on a piece of paper. “I swear never to say or do anything again to hurt you,” she declared. “I swear never to lie to my husband Allan ever again. I swear that the affair is over completely and that I will never do anything directly or indirectly to have any type of relationship with him again. I swear to love, honour and cherish you for the rest of my days.” (CONTROL)

Nevertheless, Stuckey engaged a private investigator to track her movements. On the morning of January 31, 1985, the private eye telephoned Stuckey at his pharmacy to say that Carolyn had just spent a few hours with Ennew at the house in Greenwood Crescent. “I felt betrayed,” Stuckey told the court. “I felt that my wife had broken her promises and vows, and all that she had been ­saying about the truth and that she had kept the vows might not be true…”

The court was told Stuckey confronted his wife in their bedroom that night. She admitted that she had been with Ennew that morning. “I cannot let him go.” Stuckey then told the court what happened next. “I can only remember racing from the room,” he said. “Coming back into the room with the gun. And I remember struggling for ­possession of the gun. I remember hearing some shots. After that I can remember kneeling down and seeing if there was any pulse. I could feel none.” He then grabbed a suitcase that contained Ennew’s love letters and memorabilia, threw it on the bed and said: “You have ruined my life, you have ruined our lives.” (GRIEVANCE)

On July 11, 1986, after a seven-day trial, Allan James Stuckey was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter, the jury having decided that he caused Carolyn’s death under provocation. Justice Slattery said Stuckey’s “control of himself” ultimately snapped when told his wife could not give up her lover. “In the circumstances,” the judge said, “some response on his part would not have been unreasonable.” But he added that to shoot the deceased three times was “greater than the ­circumstances warranted”.

It is rare to see a prisoner of such good ­character before a court on this type of crime,” he continued. “In a short period of time the prisoner, by his acts under provocation, brought great ­tragedy to his wife, himself and his children, a tragedy which will undoubtedly be with him ­forever.” He sentenced Stuckey to eight years’ jail, with a non-parole period of three years. He said there was sufficient basis “for specifying a non-parole period which will give him the opportunity of resuming his life in the community and with his children at a reasonably early time.” (YOU JUST COULDN'T MAKE THIS UP!)

The children were taken in by relatives and family friends and in 1989 Stuckey was released from prison and returned to his job in the pharmacy in Lismore. And he raised his three children back in the house in Banksia Court.

“I’m sure there were people who didn’t go into the pharmacy after he went back to work. I ­certainly didn’t go in there,” remembered Vicki Sheaffe. “There were a lot of people who were traumatised by it. In this day and age, people would boycott the pharmacy and lie down in front of it. But it was a different era. People kept to themselves. We just got on with our lives as best as we could. It was a small community.

“Stuckey wrote me a letter from jail. He wanted to tell me that he was doing all right, and that the things people were saying about him weren’t true. He said people that can’t look him in the eye in the street are people who have had affairs.”

Kathryn Stuckey was three months old when her mother died, and five years old when her father got out of prison in Glen Innes and became her primary carer. She would have recurring nightmares, almost always associated with loud noises, with gunshots.

It’s mid-morning in a conference room in a converted warehouse in Melbourne’s inner north, and Kathryn Joy (formerly Stuckey) is sitting at the head of a large table. She is thoughtful and highly articulate, and her answers to questions are considered, often multi-dimensional, and sometimes shot through with quotes and literary references. Her hair is long and blonde and her eyes are a clear, penetrating blue. She bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother, Carolyn.

She is 35 years old. She has been alive only slightly longer than her mother has been dead. Kathryn has come to the offices of Melbourne filmmakers Lisa Albert and Vincent Lamberti, who are developing a documentary – Joy – on Kathryn’s life. As the film synopsis says: “Today, Kathryn Joy is a young woman with an extra­ordinary story to tell. And tell her story she must as she faces an existential crisis on the eve of ­surpassing her mother’s age.”

In those early years in Lismore, back with her father, she must have posed the question to herself – where’s Mum? “I think I do remember one time distinctly thinking that,” Kathryn recalls. “I would say for the most part it wasn’t just a thought, it was like my whole life was shaped around her absence.”

She has no concrete recollection of anyone explaining precisely what had happened to her mother. Over time, she drew bits and pieces together but couldn’t get to the truth. “I can’t ever remember my father telling me what happened,” she says. “I think early on somebody told me it was an accident. I feel like it might have been my aunt but perhaps somebody told me that later. I mean maybe it was my Dad. I don’t remember the conversation. I just remember knowing early on – but it was framed as an accident.

“I definitely never asked. I knew early on that was not OK. It’s difficult to explain what that is like, to know you can’t ask questions. I learnt a lot from the silences, from the tone of a voice, or a look, or an imperceptible shift in the air around me. It was not OK to ask. Everybody wanted me to forget, so they could forget. But for me it wasn’t about forgetting – it was about learning, and understanding, and needing to know.”

Her brother, Gareth, now a successful sound engineer and production manager in the international music industry, based in Sydney, has similar recollections, or lack of them. “My father never gave us an explanation about what happened,” he says. “We went to clinical psychologists as kids and we didn’t get any answers from them either. No one said anything.”

‘It was like my whole life was shaped around my mother’s absence.’

In high school, Kathryn was engaged in a legal studies class that involved a research trip to Grafton Gaol. It was the beginning of her search for the truth behind her mother’s death. “By that stage I must have been 17 and I must have known my father had gone to prison,” she says. “I didn’t know exactly what happened, like how, and why. The details of it. I think I knew that he had killed her and I think perhaps there were conversations about how he had snapped and there was an accident. That was the narrative that was built up. Memory is such a tricky thing.”

Kathryn dug further, and with the help of a witness assistance officer in the department of the Director of Public Prosecutions, she began to put the story together. (Gareth similarly went in search of answers, seeking court documents about the death of their mother.)

In the meantime, Kathryn moved to Sydney to study at university. (Her brothers, Evan and Gareth, had long since fled Lismore.) Only four years ago, aged 31, Kathryn managed to read the court files on her mother’s death, including ­portions of the trial transcript, the witness statements, and the love letters to her mother from Allen Ennew. Finally, the details of this small-town tragedy had fallen into place. Fact had replaced fiction. “I was so shocked by how little space she took up in those [court] proceedings,” Kathryn reflects. “She was really nowhere to be seen. So much about him and his good character. It just seemed like a waste of time.”

The film-makers Vince and Lisa asked Kathryn why she wanted to make the documentary on her experience. She responded that “my mother left this earth and her story went with her… and that story can be disputed and corrupted by others”. Vincent and Lisa want to ensure, through the film, that that doesn’t happen to Kathryn.

“I became so convinced I needed to leave something, some voice, some story, some truth,” Kathryn says. “From what I can gather about her, [my mother] was just a bigger person, she was really pushing against the constraints of the times, and her faith and what she was supposed to do as a wife. Not that I think it’s OK to lie, to hurt the people you love, and some of her behaviours and decisions did that, but I empathise with and understand the position she was in.”

Gareth says he is in awe of his sister’s courage; how she is trying to use her experiences to help others, to speak for children affected by ­family violence. Both say there were moments throughout their childhood that their father Allan was caring and considerate. They had some fun times. But everything was shadowed by Carolyn’s death. And the silence surrounding her manner of death.

Was the story of Carolyn and Ennew potentially a great love story? “I’d love to think so,” says Vicki Sheaffe. Kathryn has similar sentiments. “I feel a lot of sadness and also I feel relieved that she had something that was bringing her joy in the end, someone she felt connected to and who knows, had she not been killed, what that relationship would have been, so I feel there’s an opening there to her life. As her child I was grateful that she experienced that because, yeah, I think she… we her children and the kids that she taught brought her a lot of joy as well. She had a lot of beautiful things in her life, but that narrowing and her becoming the role of the wife and mother, that sounds like a nightmare to me.

“If I am anything like her I feel that rebellious spirit and the sense of not wanting to follow the rules and creating my own life. She saw something bigger for herself than what was expected of her.”

Incredibly, Kathryn went on to become great friends with Allen Ennew’s only daughter, Clare, who turned 19 on the day Carolyn was shot and killed. In the end, this awful story bound the two women. “Kathryn and I,” Clare reflects, “our fathers are both called Allen/Allan. We have two older brothers. Our mothers died in this whole relationship. Oh my God, there are so many things where we’re the same, and the way we’ve dealt with it.”

Did Clare suspect that her mother Madeline Ennew knew about her husband’s affair with ­Carolyn before she took her own life? “The story goes that Dad left Mum on the Thursday, then on the Sunday night she took her life,” Clare recalls. “There was always this kind of saying that she didn’t know about Carolyn… but I was the one with Mum the days before she died... I do think she knew.” Vicki Sheaffe remembers: “I know Madeline did ask Carolyn if she was having an affair with Allen, and she said no.”

Today, both Kathryn and Clare have little ­contact with their fathers. Gareth Stuckey, now 39, has not been in touch with his father for more than a decade. He is certain about one aspect of his future: “I can’t imagine having children. I don’t feel I would be able to be a parent. There is ­nothing more terrifying to me.”

Kathryn held a memorial service in the town for her mother on November 23, 2016 – Carolyn’s birthday. She would have been 64. “One of the reasons I wanted to do that was to make peace with that town and that community,” Kathryn says. “I think… as a child, I was baffled why no one could see my pain or want to help me or ask if I was OK. How is it possible that people couldn’t see that?

“I was suffering and somebody should have done something. But I accept that. The memorial was a turning point in understanding that ­community and my relationship with it.”

Ultimately, Kathryn hopes to help others by making public her family’s story. “I think it is a story that is not told very often from the perspective of children,” Kathryn says. “And the ongoing impact of trauma and violence and all of these things, I really hope that some people feel less alone, and validated… I can’t point to things and say, ‘This is what happened to me’. It’s not tangible in the way a bruise is. I can only say that I have lived with the impact of that experience, that household, that relationship, all my life.

“In a larger sense… I wouldn’t want people to walk away thinking, ‘This is one individual’s actions’, and the repercussions and the consequences… I think this is a systemic issue and I hope that people really see that and interrogate their own behaviours.

“Yeah. I hope it’s something people look at and think, ‘What are we doing in society, creating the conditions for these things to happen?’ ” (MUCH EASIER TO BLAME THE MAN THAN THE COURTS)

One recent Friday morning, some members ofthe Lismore Theatre Club gather at the ­little Rochdale Theatre on Ballina Road in Lismore to start painting the sets for the group’s next show – The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. The stage is busy with ­volunteers. A few of them have been involved with the Lismore players since the ’70s, and still shake their heads over the “tragedy” of Carolyn Stuckey, Madeline Ennew and the two families. They are thrilled to hear that Kathryn Joy works in the theatre world in Melbourne, and is drawn to art and culture, like her mother. ­“Carolyn was a natural beauty,” says one woman, who declined to be named. “And Madeline was a dedicated mother and the most talented actress we’ve had here.”

She describes Allen Ennew as “a lovely man”. “You could say life has moved on, but nobody has forgotten,” she says. “I still won’t come to the ­theatre on my own. I still hear their voices.”

When contacted by The Weekend Australian Magazine, Allen Ennew, who lives in the UK, is ­initially interested in sharing his reflections on Carolyn Stuckey and her death, Blithe Spirit and the Lismore Theatre Club, of which he was such an important part for so many years. He sends a lengthy response to questions via email, only to withdraw his comments due to family sensitivities. He asks that his name be removed from the story altogether. (Allan Stuckey also said in an email he didn’t “wish to have anything to do” with this story.)

Ennew does, however, ask if he might be sent the video of the performance of Blithe Spirit, filmed by that amateur cameraman in the ­Rochdale Theatre way back in 1983 and starring, as we know, Ennew and Carolyn and Madeline. He provides a mailing address. Allen Ennew, ­former Lismore property valuer, thespian, father and grandfather, lives a quiet existence in Hythe on the Kent coast, south of London.

THE AUSTRALIAN

POSTLUDE: Since I posted this early today my sister (studying law) has told me that "provocation" as a plea for murder has been made much more difficult in this country since 2014 for precisely the reasons I wrote about here. I'm still not satisfied and will pressure politicians to do something about it.

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