By Jean Calder
Ben Pedersen (7) and Freya Pedersen (6) were found stabbed to death on 30th September 2012, next to a car in a rural bridleway near Andover. Their bodies lay alongside that of their father, Michael Pedersen (51). It is accepted by the police that he killed the children and then committed suicide.
The two children had been visiting their paternal grandfather with their father, who was estranged from their mother Erica Pedersen and had been living with his adult son from a previous marriage. Ms Pedersen and he had recently separated and she was believed to have started divorce proceedings.
Some national newspapers have reported that Pedersen was known to be violent, that he had attacked Ms Pedersen and was under some legal restraint not to approach his former home. However, these reports have received little attention. Overwhelmingly, the focus of media cover – which has been widespread and has included a front page article in at least one national newspaper – has not been on Pedersen’s victims, but upon Pedersen himself and his early career as a sergeant in the Household Cavalry. Journalists and editors have paid more attention to Pedersen’s experience of an IRA bomb 30 years ago – and the fact that Sefton, his now long-dead horse, survived the blast and received a Horse of the Year prize – than in the murder of the two children and the anguish of their bereaved mother. At least one headline referred to Pedersen, who was slightly injured in the 1982 blast, as a “hero”.
This is despite the fact that Surrey Police admitted they had had “previous contact” with the Pederson family and had thus referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for review – something that usually happens when there have been prior threats of violence or a history of domestic violence.
There have been several reports about recent acts of violence and threats by Pedersen against his wife. A friend alleged that just 72 hours before the killings, Pedersen had complained to him that Ms Pedersen had told the police that he had hit her and knocked her over. The friend said: “As he left me last week, he said, ‘She will pay for this’ ”. Another friend said Pedersen had recently attacked Ms Pederson, saying: “He left her with two black eyes, a split lip, fractured arm and broken shoulder.” Another woman referred to him as a “bully and a coward”.
These disturbing reports have not stemmed the tide of sentiment about Pedersen’s army history and his injured horse. This is despite the fact that since leaving the army, Pedersen has had a number of jobs and co-ran a haulage company with his wife. They have run a number of small businesses together.
As happens so often in cases where violent men murder their children as an act of revenge against a partner who has left them and subsequently kill themselves, the senior police spokesperson leading the investigation, in this case Detective Superintendent Tony Harris, made no distinction between the three deaths, treating the killer as a victim. He spoke of “those involved”, saying that their family and friends should “be allowed to come to terms with what has happened” at this “difficult” time. He referred to a “terrible incident” and “these tragic deaths”, failing to acknowledge that a murder had been committed against two children who did not choose to die, by an adult male who was their father, but who chose to kill them and then to kill himself.
Surrey Police’s decision to treat the perpetrator of this brutal crime as a victim was further indicated by their decision to announce the appointment of police family liaison officers to work with “the families of Michael, Ben and Freya” – rather than the family of the two murdered children. The families of killers must often be deeply traumatised by their actions, but the police do not normally allocate staff to “provide support and keep them updated”.
Sadly, this double murder was not, as DS Harris called it, an “isolated incident”. Domestic violence is widespread and child killings by fathers are becoming increasingly common. Such murders are not accidents or acts of God and only very rarely arise from mental illness. They are almost always murderous acts of will by violent and controlling perpetrators, usually occurring after their partners have found the strength to leave.
Until the police and media stop feeding into the self-pity of violent perpetrators and start to identify these homicides as the cold blooded murders they are, the killing will go on.