The sister of a woman beaten to death by a violent “monster” with a two-decade history of domestic abuse says she was let down by the justice system.
tephen Hutchinson is now serving life, with a minimum 21-year tariff, for the murder of his partner, Alice Morrow, having failed with an appeal against the length of his sentence last week.
The 46-year-old inflicted 71 separate injuries to his victim during a fatal 2019 attack, including fractures to the back, chest and ribs.
The hulking “monster” also strangled the east Belfast grandmother, who weighed just 7st, beating her with a bar and punching her so hard that he left a ring indentation on her face.
Knowing that Alice (53) suffered a horrific death was deeply traumatising for her loving family, but what has added to the pain is discovering that Hutchinson is a serial domestic abuser.
He has convictions for GBH on a female in 2003, serious assaults on partners in 2005, 2007 and 2013, possessing an offensive weapon, and attacking Alice’s son Stuart in 2014.
Hutchinson used various weapons during these incidents, including a claw hammer, wooden shaft and the metal pole of a vacuum cleaner.
Branding him a “monster”, murder victim Alice’s sister Julie Tumlison said: “I was dumbfounded, given his criminal record, that it got to the stage where he was able to murder Alice.
“If the courts had dealt with him more severely, Alice might still be alive, absolutely. I feel that the justice system has let her down and has let every other woman in this situation down.”
“Anybody who abuses another human — if they keep walking away from court they’re going to end up doing something worse,” added Julie.
“How many women lived in fear of that man? He’s a monster, that’s the only word I can find to describe him. If he hadn’t murdered Alice he would have murdered another woman. It was inevitable.”
Julie explained how Stephen Hutchinson, who also uses the name William Hutchinson and has nine children to four women, was so controlling that he prevented Alice from seeing her family.
The pair met through living in the same block of flats in the Cregagh estate in Belfast.
Detailing how he manipulated her sister, Julie said: “I’ve no idea how long they were in a relationship for.
“Alice didn’t talk to the family about him, because he was so controlling. I briefly met him once or twice in the whole time they were together.
“He tried to keep Alice away from her family. I believe he was physically abusive towards her for a long time.
“We now know she reported him numerous times for domestic violence and she was afraid to tell us in case she would get more of the same.”
Hutchinson murdered Alice in March 2019, ringing the emergency services afterwards claiming to have found her lying dead in her flat. When police arrived a short time later, they discovered her naked body on the bedroom floor covered in bruising.
It would be another three years before Hutchinson finally admitted to killing his partner.
Key to the prosecution was a phone call he made to Cheryl Woods, the mother of Alice’s grandchildren, prior to ringing for an ambulance. Ms Woods passed on this evidence to police.
She recalled Hutchinson telling her: “I never hit her (Alice) this bad before. I haven’t hit her in two years. I f****d up this time. This is the worst I’ve hit her. If she doesn’t wake up, I’m going to have to bury her.”
Julie Tumlison shudders when she hears details of her sister’s violent death, but draws strength from the love that Alice had for her family.
She is also determined not to allow Alice to become a statistic and to use her case to force real change in how the courts in Northern Ireland deal with domestic abuse cases.
Shamefully, more women are murdered here than in any other part of western Europe, with the rate of femicide (the killing of females by their partners) three times higher than that of England and Wales.
Although she is hopeful of a shift in how the judicial system treats domestic abuse, Julie concedes it will be an uphill struggle.
She said: “The courts need to look at this, the whole issue of domestic abuse, but I don’t hold out much hope that is going to happen.
“Domestic abuse has been happening for many years and unfortunately it has knocked on our doors now, and there is many more women who will suffer.”
Reflecting on the impact Alice’s murder has had on her entire family, Julie admits: “This has destroyed our family. I can’t begin to imagine what Alice’s children are living with, how their mummy lost her life.
“I’ve never hated anyone in my life, but Stephen Hutchinson has created a hate within me that I never thought was possible.
“Alice was such a lovely person — fun-loving, popular and very loud. She was generous to a fault and would have given you her last penny. She was everything that man who murdered her was not.”
The Court of Appeal last week rejected a bid by Hutchinson to have his 21-year minimum term prison sentence reduced.
It ruled he displayed an “indifference” to Alice’s brutal murder, with Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan finding: “Where there is gratuitous violence to a vulnerable victim and an indifference as to whether or not a victim dies, we do not consider that the argument made for mitigation gains any traction at all.
“The applicant deliberately chose not to summon medical help at a time when this would have been critical. He subsequently engaged in a cynical pretence that he was a grieving partner to direct attention away from himself.”
Sunday Life contacted the Lady Chief Justice’s Office for comment.
“The concerns of the bereaved relatives are noted but we must advise that the Lady Chief Justice cannot comment on individual sentencing decisions,’’ said a spokesperson.
The office also pointed out that sentencing depends on the specific circumstances in each case and a range of different factors will be considered.
The judge will consider all of the evidence, relevant statute and case law, whether the offender has pleaded guilty and mitigating or aggravating factors.
Victim impact statements, expert medical and probation reports may also be taken into account.