Toronto Star

Dec. 14, 01:00 EDT

Hadley children expected to bear scars, expert says

Murder-suicide can bring mental health problems

Peter Small
Staff Reporter
Toronto Star

Gillian Hadley's children are likely to suffer long-term effects from her murder at the hands of her estranged husband and his subsequent suicide, an inquest into the couple's deaths has heard.

For Faith, 9, "the issues are going to be lifelong ones in terms of how she processes the information," said Peter Jaffe, a clinical psychologist based in London, Ont., and a leading authority on domestic violence.

Jaffe reviewed the evidence on the couple's June, 2000, murder-suicide and interviewed family members raising Gillian's three children, two from a previous marriage and one with Ralph Hadley.

He told the inquest that the only child Ralph and Gillian conceived together, Chase, 2, appears normal so far.

"But there may be a sleeper effect," he said, with traumatic incidents occurring in the future. Chase was 11 months old when a neighbour snatched him from his naked mother's arms as she struggled with Ralph at their front door. Moments later, Ralph shot her, then himself, in the head.

When Chase is 5 or 6, the sound of a weapon discharging may bring back the horrible incident, Jaffe told coroner's counsel Al O'Marra.

Research shows that children exposed to domestic violence can be affected as intensely as if they were directly abused and can suffer serious mental-health disorders, Jaffe said, adding that they need ongoing counselling and support.

He made a series of other recommendations for improving the way Ontario deals with domestic violence.

Family members, such as Ralph Hadley's mother, who agree to act as bail sureties need help from professionals, Jaffe said. Christina Hadley was "in over her head in terms of trying to manage him."

It was a strain for her to have her 34-year-old son back in her home as a condition of his release, Jaffe said. He was being treated "like a 10-year-old" with a curfew, confined to the house except for work.

"As a mother, she was trying to do her best," Jaffe told the inquest, but she needed someone like a social worker to call on for advice and support.

Christina Hadley had felt that Ralph who was dealing with three legal proceedings was under great pressure, but she suddenly noticed a great calm had come over him. "A professional would have seen that as a warning sign," Jaffe said. "It's not fair to expect a parent to be able to understand what's going on."

He also said it's crucial for courts to fast-track domestic violence cases to protect both victims and the wrongly accused, and the first step is a change of mindset in the legal profession. "Probably the first word that a lawyer says after `mommy' and `daddy' is `adjournment,'" Jaffe said, drawing smiles from lawyers.

Judges also need speedier access to accurate information about the spousal abuse cases before them, he said. "Many judges in this province are doing their jobs blindfolded with one hand (tied) behind their back."

Those on the bench often don't know all the circumstances of the cases, and defence lawyers acting quite properly in the interests of their clients aren't always forthcoming, he said.

"Somehow (judges) are being misled," Jaffe said, adding they need to be able to order a comprehensive assessment on cases in a short period of time.

In addition, there needs to be a standardized "risk-assessment tool" used by police, prosecutors and agencies for red-flagging dangerous domestic violence cases, he said. Some U.S. judges have such a checklist in front of them.

Jaffe said there also need to be more counselling programs for perpetrators that are available early. As things now stand, batterers usually don't get access to programs until they are found guilty, he said.

And Ontario programs are typically too short: three to six months. In some American jurisdictions, programs run at least a year.

The inquest continues today.

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