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There's no justice for women when men like Robert Trigg are not investigated

Sussex Police have no excuse for failing to treat the deaths of two of his partners as suspicious.

When Robert Trigg was given a life sentence for the killings of two women this week, it was much too late. Not just because it came six years after the death of Susan Nicholson – who Trigg murdered in 2011 – but because in 2011, he should already have been convicted of the manslaughter of Caroline Devlin in 2006.

The deaths of both women had been declared not suspicious by the police on first investigation, despite evidence of Trigg’s controlling behaviour and history of intimate partner violence. It’s only because Nicholson’s parents sought justice for their daughter at their own expense – hiring an independent barrister and pathologist to reexamine the original pathologist’s report – that Trigg isn’t still at large, terrorising another woman in her own home, perhaps killing again.

Sometimes, of course, criminals exert great deviousness and the police have to exert even greater doggedness and ingenuity to catch them. That, however, is not the case here.

Trigg killed both women in the town of Worthing. Their deaths were both attended by Sussex Police. In both cases, Trigg failed to call the emergency services himself – in the case of Devlin, callously sending her 14-year-old son to find her body. Both Trigg and his victims were intoxicated at the time of death. Both women appeared to have been asleep with Trigg when they died, and both were found in an unusual position.

And though women who suffer violence at the hands of their partner often cover for him out of shame and fear, Sussex Police had no excuse for not knowing what Trigg was. They had been been called to incidents involving Trigg and Nicholson at least six times before her death. In March 2011 – that’s a month before he killed her, so hardly in the lost and distant realms of history – Trigg received a caution for punching Nicholson in the face.

In fact, the explanation that Trigg offered, and the police accepted, for Nicholson’s death now sounds so pathetically unlikely, it’s hard not to become hysterical with outrage. He claimed that he rolled on to her in his sleep, inadvertently suffocating her.

As a CPS representative pointed out after Trigg’s conviction, with a dry understatement that says more than the most howling fury could: “It was extremely unlikely that two of Trigg's partners had died of natural causes while sharing a bed with him.” When the same terrible thing happens twice, we might reasonably start to suspect something more than bad luck.

There can be no justice for women if the police are failing to take the most blatant evidence of men’s violence as the starting point for an investigation. There can be no justice for women if their killers have to be pursued by private means: who will see your death answered for if the police call it an accident and your parents lack the means, ability or inclination to take on the case themselves? Justice that becomes a luxury good is no justice at all.

We tend to recognise now that women face a huge burden of disbelief and undermining when they try to call men to account. What we don’t perhaps talk about is the other side of the scale: the enormous positive discrimination they enjoy which means the same man in the same town can be found by same police force beside the body of a second woman, and say it wasn’t his fault, and have his lies accepted. It’s already too late for too many women.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Want an independent-minded MP? Vote for a career politician

The brutally ambitious are not content to fall in with the crowd. 

“Never having had a ‘real’ job outside of politics”: this is what the majority of respondents told a YouGov poll in 2014 when asked the most undesirable characteristic of the British politician. The result is hardly surprising. Type the words “career politician” into your search engine or raise the topic at a dinner party, and quickly you will be presented with a familiar list of grievances.

One of the fundamental criticisms is that career politicians in parliament are elitists concerned only with furthering their own interests. Their pronounced and self-serving ambition for climbing the ministerial ladder is said to turn them into submissive party-machines, sycophants or yes men and women, leading them to vote loyally with their party in every parliamentary division. But do we actually have evidence for this?

A new in-depth analysis, to be published later this month in the academic journal, Legislative Studies Quarterly, presents a forceful challenge to this conventional wisdom. In fact, I find that career politician MPs in the UK are more likely to rebel against their party than their non-career politician peers. Why?

My study was motivated by the observation that the existing impression of the party loyalty of career politicians is based mostly on anecdotal evidence and speculation. Moreover, a look through the relevant journalistic work, as well as the sparse extant academic literature, reveals that the two main hypotheses on the topic make starkly contradictory claims. By far the most popular — but largely unverified — view is that their exclusively professional reliance on politics renders career politicians more brutally ambitious for frontbench office, which in turn makes them especially subservient to the party leadership.

The opposing, but lesser known expectation is that while career politicians may be particularly eager to reach the frontbenches, “many of them are also much too proud and wilful to be content to serve as mere lobby fodder”, as the late Anthony King, one of the shrewdest analysts of British politics, observed nearly thirty years ago on the basis of more qualitative evidence.

Faced with these opposing but equally plausible prognoses, I assembled biographical data for all the MPs of the three big parties between 2005-15 (more than 850) and analysed all parliamentary votes during this period. I followed the debate’s prevalent view that an exclusive focus on politics (e.g. as a special adviser or an MP’s assistant) or a closely-related field (e.g. full-time trade union official or interest group worker) marks an MP as a careerist. In line with previous estimations, just under 20 per cent of MPs were identified as career politicians. The extensive statistical analysis accounted for additional factors that may influence party loyalty, and largely ruled out systematic differences in ideology between career and non-career politicians, as well as party or term-specific differences as drivers of the effects.

As noted above, I find strong evidence that career politician backbenchers are more likely to rebel. The strength of this effect is considerable. For example, amongst government backbenchers who have never held a ministerial post, a non-career politician is estimated to rebel in only about 20 votes per parliament. By contrast, a career politician dissents more than twice as often — a substantial difference considering the high party unity in Westminster.

This finding reveals a striking paradox between the predominantly negative opinion of career politicians on the one hand, and the electorate's growing demand for more independent-minded MPs on the other. In fact career politicians are the ones who perform best in delivering on this demand. Similarly, the results imply that the oft-cited career-related dependency of career politicians on the party can be overridden (or, at the very least, complemented) by their self-image as active and independent-minded participants in the legislative process. This should attenuate the prevalent concern that a rise in career politicians leads to a weakening of parliament’s role as a scrutinizing body.

Finally, the findings challenge the pervasive argument that a lack of experience in the real world disqualifies an MP from contributing meaningfully to the legislative process. Instead, it appears that a pre-parliamentary focus on politics can, under certain circumstances, boost an MP's normatively desirable willingness to challenge the party and the executive.

Raphael Heuwieser is researching political party loyalty at the University of Oxford.