It’s a year since Sarah Everard was murdered in London by Wayne Couzens, a male police officer. Ahead of the anniversary, Positive News spoke to five men who are helping dismantle the culture that allows gender-based violence to flourish, including campaigners Luke and Ryan Hart
In 2016, Lance Hart shot dead his wife, daughter and himself, five days after the family had left him. Now, his sons Luke and Ryan have dedicated their lives to helping others who face controlling relationships
In July 2016, Lance Hart fatally shot his wife Claire and their 19-year-old daughter Charlotte outside a leisure centre in Spalding, Lincolnshire, before turning the gun on himself. A murder note he left revealed his intention to kill his sons Luke and Ryan too, but they were working abroad at the time.
The ensuing media frenzy compelled Luke and Ryan, then aged 26 and 25, to speak out. “Outlets were doing vox pops, quoting people claiming our father was a good guy who was always caring,” Luke recalls. “Why would you say that after he’s murdered his family? It was as though Mum and Charlotte were just objects.”
To them, Lance Hart had always been a bully who maintained a rule of terror. He monopolised the household finances, taking Claire’s wages and gambling them away. He used the scarcity of money to isolate his family, telling them they could not afford fuel to leave the house or for Claire to meet friends for coffee. He forced them to obey arbitrary rules: “We had to fill the kettle up to exactly the same level, and if it wasn’t he’d absolutely lose it and yell at us for days”.
The Hart children excelled academically and by 2016, Luke and Ryan had earned enough money from their engineering jobs to rent a small house for their mother and younger sister. Just days after they had helped them escape from Lance, the brothers found themselves in the waiting room of the local police station in total shock. “Our father hadn’t ever been brutally violent. We were thinking: how has this happened? Where did the murders come from? It was almost like the answer was on the walls.”
Posters raising awareness of coercive control, which had become a criminal offence six months earlier, led the brothers to recognise that their father had always been abusive. And so began their determination to help others.
Luke and Ryan have since collaborated with the charity Level Up, to create media guidelines for domestic violence that “give women’s lives the status they deserve”. And they have shared their experience with more than 10,000 people in more than 130 speaking engagements. Helping teachers, the police, social services and NHS staff to gain awareness of coercive control has been “heartwarming”, Luke says. “Many safeguarding professionals have told us that they didn’t understand coercive control before, but now they see the dynamics of it, and it’s helped them intervene in many cases that they probably would have passed over otherwise.”
The brothers also give talks to members of the public, and have a written a book about their experience, titled Remembered Forever. “Straightforward education of the public can make a massive difference, because domestic abuse victims themselves sometimes don’t recognise what’s happening to them,” Luke explains.
He and Ryan receive scores of messages from people who want to escape an abusive partner. “We usually put them in touch with services like Refuge and Women’s Aid, because one of the challenges of domestic abuse is how dangerous it can be after you leave.” In the decade before 2018, for example, at least 43 per cent of UK women killed by a partner or ex-partner had taken steps to separate from them.
To address this challenge more effectively, the brothers are developing an e-learning course in collaboration with the US organisation Safe and Together. It will launch later this year. “It’s essentially a tool to help victims articulate what they’re going through, so that domestic abuse services can give them the support they need,” Luke says.
Education can make a massive difference, because domestic abuse victims sometimes don’t recognise what’s happening to them
Via hundreds of conversations, Luke and Ryan hope to chip away at rigid notions of masculinity. It’s too simplistic to dismiss men like their father who murder their partners and families as simply “evil”, without interrogating the societal norms that create them, Luke notes. “Our father got his identity purely from masculinity. He was a ‘beta male’ out in the world, so he had to get his masculine identity satisfied within the family, which meant he had to dominate, he had to be in control.”
Above all, the Hart brothers want to create a proud legacy for their mother and sister, who were devoted to helping others. Charlotte volunteered at a special needs school and Claire learned sign language to help a deaf customer at her supermarket job. They loved selling what little they had at car boot sales to raise money for the local dog shelter.
“No matter how hard things got, Mum and Charlotte worked harder to create more meaning, more purpose, more love,” Luke says. “[After the murders] realising that we could help other people with our story has given us meaning.”
This article is the fourth in a series, published this week and last, about men who are standing up to help end violence against women.
Main image: Sam Bush