Doctor Helen Stapleton
Psychiatrist at Reading Women’s Prison
Witness for the Defence
Doctor Helen Stapleton, who was about to give evidence, and Martha thought of all her sessions so far. Uncomfortable in her presence, she had worried about giving too much away. Their first meeting felt like she was being pulled in many different directions. As time went on it felt less easy to talk.
After their weekly sessions, Martha searched for the reason behind his violence, but came up with nothing more than a burnt dinner or a glance in her direction from an admirer. Each bruise and broken bone hovered in and out of focus. Their life shown in a series of warped scenes and Martha watched them unfurl, until she was in no doubt.
She had created the monster inside Thomas.
Her marriage had been doomed from the outset and she shouldn’t have clung on to a man, who clearly didn’t love her. She had never been enough for Thomas. He told her on repeated occasions about his disappointment in her lack of enthusiasm in the bedroom. Her stiff limbs could never give him the love he deserved.
Martha tried so hard to keep the sessions impersonal, but Doctor Stapleton had a way of twisting words. In her last session, unable to talk about Thomas’s murder, anger rose inside her like an active volcano, and she had to be taken back to her cell by two female officers.
It felt like she was going mad.
Defending Thomas had been her foremost thought, but only hours later she dreamt of her dad. Somehow her muddled meanderings realigned into a straight route home.
Guided through a previous life, colours were vibrant. From the kitchen to the living room and finally to their bedroom. Past recollections were shown. It was like she viewed it through a kaleidoscope. Colours of red and blue merged with each other to create a three-dimensional animation of her marriage.
As each room came into view, a younger version of herself crashed into the present.
She could see Laura perched on the end of her bed, Tufty clutched close, as she cried into her pillow. Laura hid under its soft down to block out the sounds coming from the next room. The walls thin enough to hear Martha’s muffled cries – her daughter heard everything.
Martha wanted to comfort her, just as she wanted to provide protection the day she was born.
Laura always remained out of reach. One door closed, another opened, and her daughter, a little older and a little braver ventured into the landing. Martha’s bedroom door was ajar. Stood in her pink owl dressing gown Laura watched her father hold her mum down like a caged animal.
It couldn’t be a memory she pushed out of her mind.
Scenes from the past fired like bullets and Martha was shot back to the present.
The doctor looked like she was no stranger to the courtroom and recited the words off by heart. ‘I will tell the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.’
For the court, could you tell me your name please?’ Barbara Craven started her questioning.
‘Doctor Helen Stapleton,’ she said, her hands poised neatly on the front of the dock.
‘Where do you work?’
‘I work at Reading Women’s Prison.’
She studied her notes and observed the witness. ‘Could you tell me of your position in the prison?’
‘I oversee the inmates’ mental health during their stay.’
‘And have you seen the accused Martha Whitman in a professional capacity?’
‘How many sessions have you had with Mrs Whitman?’
‘Once a week, over a period of four months.’
‘In your own words, can you tell me about your professional opinion on the accused?’
‘It is clear to me that she was a victim of long-term domestic abuse. Even now she has done nothing but protect her abuser and will not be disloyal to his memory. I have also perused numerous hospital reports and over a twenty-five-year period she has had over fifteen trips to accident and emergency.’
The jury scribbled determinedly in their notebooks.
‘In your professional career, what experience have you had with domestic violence victims?’