Priti Patel has ordered a formal review into the circumstances behind the killing of Ruth Williams, whose husband’s five-year jail sentence for the crime prompted outrage from domestic violence charities and a group of MPs.
She has told Torfaen council in south Wales to carry out what is known as a domestic homicide review (DHR), a cross-agency examination of the background behind the death of an adult due to domestic violence or neglect, the Home Office said.
In a letter to the council, seen by the Guardian, the home secretary said she was not satisfied by the decision of the council’s public service board “that there are no lessons to be learned from this tragic death”.
Anthony Williams, 70, was found not guilty of murder last month after strangling his wife of 46 years at their home in Cwmbran early in the first coronavirus lockdown in March last year.
He was jailed for five years after admitting manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. The trial heard he had been depressed and anxious, and later told police he had been struggling mentally with coronavirus restrictions.
The judge, Paul Thomas, said it was a “tragic case on several levels” but in his view Williams’ mental state was “severely affected at the time”.
The charity Welsh Women’s Aid said it was “shocked by the leniency in this case” and worried about a precedent being set that allowed the lockdown to be used as a defence in cases of domestic homicide.
A group of MPs, including Labour’s Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, and Harriet Harman have written to the attorney general, Suella Braverman, asking her to look into the “unduly lenient” sentence.
In the letter, Patel said the council’s public service board had erred in concluding no lessons could be learned from the killing and thus a review was not needed.
“You believe Ruth Williams’ death to have been a spontaneous event, but I do not accept that there are no lessons to be learned here,” she wrote.
“A DHR would help to uncover whether there were missed opportunities and support your understanding about how to prevent further tragedies in cases where there do not appear to be any abuse. I consider this particularly important given domestic abuse is often a hidden harm with victims suffering in silence, sometimes until it is too late.”
The council has said it will comply with the direction.