Yet more domestic violence amongst the wealthy

Retail heir Damian Brenninkmeyer pleaded guilty to hitting wife across the face.

Yet another domestic violence scandal has emerged in the upper realms of society. Yesterday the Evening Standard reported that Damian Brenninkmeyer, head of the Old Masters department at Christie’s Amsterdam and a member of the C&A clothes store dynasty, pleaded guilty to hitting his wife across the face, in front of their children, while the family were in the car.

Brenninkmeyer had been cautioned two days earlier for another assault, and he was still angry at his wife, Fiona, for calling the police. Before hitting her he had warned that if she called the police again, he would break her phone and tell the accountant not to allow her to have another, the court in Amsterdam heard. 

This news comes less than two months after advertising mogul and art collector Charles Saatchi accepted a police caution for grabbing his wife, Nigella Lawson, by the throat in a crowded restaurant. Saatchi later announced his decision to divorce Lawson via the Mail on Sunday.

One in four women in the UK suffer domestic abuse in their lifetime, and this latest scandal should emphasise the obvious, but often overlooked point, that men and women from all parts of society are affected. In the next issue of Spear’s I’ve investigated the violence that occurs within the homes of some of the world’s richest people — and how wealth affects the way police, doctors, teachers and other front-line officials handle domestic abuse cases. These are issues we really need to start talking about, because whether the perpetrator is rich or poor, silence is often an abuser’s strongest weapon.

Pictured above: Damian Brenninkmeyer

Brenninkmeyer’s phone threat is revealing too. It not only provides a prime example of emotional abuse, but it shows that ostensibly wealthy women in abusive relationships are not necessarily in control of their own finances. How many women are held hostage to the threat that the accountant will deny them access to the funds they need to protect themselves, or to escape their situation?

The case also highlighted the ineffectiveness of police cautions when it comes to domestic violence. Saatchi appeared neither humbled nor bowed after receiving his caution — and for Brenninkmeyer it provided an excuse for further violence. It is only now that Brenninkmeyer has been banned from his family’s Fulham postcode.

It would be interesting to know what support or guidance was offered to Fiona when she reported Brenninkmeyer’s behaviour. A police caution will have very few consequences for the abuser — a small shock or social embarrassment perhaps — but that’s enough to increase an already-volatile individual’s anger and resentment. And for those at home, the consequences of this anger can be immeasurably greater.

This post first appeared at Spear's.

Tiger Wood's mistress speaks out against domestic violence. Photograph: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.