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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
What drives a father to kill his children?
Kellie, Joe and Danny Stafford
In 1999 Kellie, Joe and Danny Stafford were murdered by their father
Police in Gravesend, Kent are investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of PC Karl Bluestone, his wife and two of his sons.
Jill Bluestone and her sons, Henry, three, and Chandler, 18 months, were killed with a claw hammer and PC Bluestone was found hanged. BBC News Online's Katie Osborne investigates what could drive a husband and father to such extreme actions.

Horrifying as the Bluestone case is, it is not the first of its kind in recent history.

Police in California on Thursday arrested a Ukrainian immigrant, Nikolai Soltys, who disappeared last week after allegedly murdering his pregnant wife, his son and four other relatives.

Karl and Chandler Bluestone
Karl Bluestone was said to be a devoted father
Earlier this year 45-year-old businessman Robert Mochrie, from Barry in South Wales, bludgeoned his wife and four children to death before hanging himself.

In July last year fork lift truck driver Phillip Austin, 32, strangled his wife and two children at their home in Northampton before fleeing. He was later jailed for life.

And in October 1999, Peter Stafford, 30, from Birmingham, stabbed his wife and three children before hanging himself from a banister in the family home.

So what is it that triggers an apparently devoted father to annihilate his children, often in the most violent of circumstances?

Dr Kevin Browne is a professor of forensic and family psychology at the University of Birmingham.

He believes there are two types of men who kill their children.

Robert Mochrie
Robert Mochrie was found hanged after bludgeoning his wife and four children to death
The first is motivated by love and is wholly driven by suicidal tendencies; while the second, motivated by some other factor, will invariably go on the run after committing the crime.

'Family annihilators'

Prof Browne told BBC News Online: "In the first type there may be many complex reasons, but in the end it always relates to depression or low self-esteem either towards the family situation or towards the work situation.

"These people, who we call family annihilators, always have a fear of losing their wives and children.

"They feel there is no future and they have all sorts of cognitive distortions."

It is an interesting twist on murder because these types of killings have nothing whatsoever to do with evil, they are all to do with love

Professor Kevin Browne
Prof Browne said fathers who kill their children and then take their own lives experience an overwhelming feeling of utter hopelessness and the inability to see any future.

He said suicidal feelings of hopelessness were uppermost in the minds of these people and once the decision had been taken to end his own life, the father would meticulously plan the demise of the rest of his family.

He said: "These people believe if they commit suicide they will lose their families and not be able to care for them, so they illogically convince themselves that the best way forward is to kill them all and meet them on the other side.

"It is an interesting twist on murder because these types of killings have nothing whatsoever to do with evil, they are all to do with love."

Warning signs

He said there would inevitably be warning signs prior to a murder-suicide.

He said the perpetrator would often visit his GP on a regular basis before the incident.

It was common for him to complain of minor ailments in the hope the GP would probe further into his problems.

He would often attempt to seek support or help from someone at some stage prior to the incident but would feel that support unforthcoming, said Prof Browne.

Phillip Austin slaughtered his family and fled to the Lake District
But when he ultimately reached the point of no return, the point where he felt there was no future and life was so hopeless that suicide was the only option, he would become socially isolated and withdrawn.

Often those closest to him would be completely unaware of his inner torment.

While it is too late for many families, thankfully such killings remain extremely rare.

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