Outcry at knife attack man’s ‘slap on the wrist’
Social agencies have condemned the “slap on the wrist” dealt to a man who attacked another man with a knife for kissing his estranged wife.
Irving Butterfield this week escaped jail after a Supreme Court judge ruled he couldn't be held wholly to blame and suspended his sentence — a ruling branded “archaic thinking” by the Women's Resource Centre.
Butterfield had been separated from Christiana Kempe at the time of the attack on Damian Forbes on the night of February 3. But the two were in regular contact, and Butterfield had spent the day looking after their two children — before the two argued over Ms Kempe's invitation to Forbes, a close friend of the defendant's, over to the house that night to watch the Superbowl.
Butterfield claimed he'd later returned to the residence to collect a camera and happened to spot the two embracing, at which he lost control. That excuse was not accepted by Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves, who warned: “If you can't take the heat, don't go into the kitchen.”
Crown counsel Nicole Smith argued that domestic violence and violence against women were on the rise, and that society should be protected from those who lashed out with “unchecked emotion”.
“It's understandable that the defendant was incensed by what he saw. What is not acceptable is the behaviour which was subsequent to what he saw. And that's the Crown's position,” she said. “The court can't marginalise this type of criminal behaviour.”
When the issue of the suspended sentence came up, Ms Smith said: “The message we send to the community when we suspend a sentence for criminal behaviour of this nature is that it's a slap on the wrist.”
However, when the Crown said Butterfield had brought the incident on himself by spying on the couple kissing, Mr Justice Greaves responded: “What we he supposed to do? Wait until he had entered the valley of love?”
Yesterday, Centre Against Abuse director Laurie Shiell responded: “This sends a message whereby you can be provoked, do whatever you want, and get away with a slap on the wrist. It's a case of ‘You made me do this'. If she hadn't had this man in her home, he wouldn't have done it. That's like saying to a woman ‘If you hadn't worn that outfit, you wouldn't have been raped'.”
She questioned whether a similar sentence would have been meted out had Butterfield been affiliated with a gang — or if his victim had been a tourist rather than a local.
“We would have thrown the book at him because we have to be seen as a safe place,” Ms Shiell said. “It goes to show that you can do the exact same crime, but the outcome can be different because it involves your wife. An attack is an attack. Assault is assault.”
She added: “He wasn't living in the house. It appears that he stalked the place, and barged in. He wasn't invited. His wife was not with him; they were estranged.
“She has the right to entertain whomever she wishes at her home, because he has moved out. This is a situation where he's coming into the home where his children were sleeping and threatening to kill someone. The children may have been woken up and been traumatised.”
Mr Justice Greaves contended Butterfield had been provoked — but Ms Shiell said: “If all of us allowed our provocations to take us where we wanted to, we'd all be sitting in jail. He wasn't provoked — I think he was standing there looking in. And how many times had he done it before?”
She continued: “I don't see it as a domestic situation — it's a guy-on-guy crime — but to me, he is trying to control a woman by intimidating the man she's seeing. That's something a lot of guys do.
“I would agree with the prosecutor, and particularly because October happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I've seen four or five domestic violence cases reported in the paper this month alone. I do think as a society we're becoming more violent in public.”
Butterfield and Ms Kempe subsequently divorced, and he is now in a relationship with his ex-wife's neighbour.
Last night the Women's Resource Centre issued its own statement saying the group was “deeply concerned for women who are subjected to archaic ways of thinking about their rights as women, in this day and age.
“It is alarming to see a man who charged into a house and assaulted another man — while intimidating the female occupant — receive what amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist. According to this story, the couple is no longer cohabitating, therefore the rules have changed. There appears to have been more concern shown for his ego, than for the abuse of this women's rights and the safety of their children. “The judge's comments articulate one of the greatest hurdles in realising gender equity as a society, which is overcoming attitudes that maintain the status quo or traditional roles for men and women.
“The fact of the matter is, we no longer live in a traditional world. Perhaps there is a need for a review of the attitude regarding marriage; is a woman simply a piece of property, whether she is in the marriage or not?
“In this case, it appears the woman has no autonomy to conduct her life the way she sees fit — as a woman separated from her husband — and that she is somehow at fault.”
Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves likened the Irving Butterfield case to Shakespearean tragedy as he delivered a suspended sentence for unlawful wounding and threatening words.
Butterfield had attacked his friend Damian Forbes, with whom he’d confided about his marital troubles, after seeing Mr Forbes kiss his estranged wife in her home.
Calling it a matter of “misunderstanding and betrayal”, Mr Justice Greaves said: “This case illustrates the moral decay of our society in modern times. And it illustrates the challenge we are facing with the ‘fast food’ attitude we seem to have in solving our problems.”
He added: “Much of it has transgressed good old fashioned principles such as ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’, or ‘Do not covet thy neighbour’s wife, or his oxen’, et cetera, and ‘A man’s house is his castle’. All of these are principles we used to live by. Today we are in another world.
“We are not able to trust even our best friends. We have to be careful about what we say and to whom we say it. Sometimes our counsellors and friends are not always what they appear to be. They are sometimes wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Finding that Butterfield and his wife Christiana Kempe, now divorced, were in “some type of temporary separation” at the time of the February 4 attack, Mr Justice Greaves rejected the notion that Butterfield had accidentally discovered the couple kissing.
On the other hand, he said: “I find some difficulty in accepting her version that it was as soon as the visiting friend expressed that he was always interested in her that they started this kissing. That’s why I refer to that type of behaviour as fast food culture.”
Butterfield “lost his self control all of a sudden, after enduring insult or injury”, he continued.
However, Mr Justice Greaves qualified his remarks: “By my sentence, I would not wish it to be mistaken, that I am in any way condoning the action of the defendant.
“He is the one charged before me, not the wife and not the complainant. So I must deal with him as charged.”