08 Jan Homicide Case Study – The Simon Gittany Murder
Question 1 – What type of homicide is featured in this case?
The victim Lisa Cecilia Harnum and the perpetrator, Simon Gittany, had a close relationship in that they lived together in a de facto relationship and were engaged to be married. Therefore, the type of homicide featured in this case can be identified as Domestic Homicide, more specifically Intimate Partner Homicide (IPH) as classified by the Australian Institute of Criminology. An IPH is defined as “victim and offender hav[ing] a current or former intimate relationship, including same-sex and extramarital relationships” (Bryant & Bricknell, 2017).
Question 2 – What are the main characteristics of the offender?
The main characteristics of the offender, Simon Gittany, in this case, are described in R v Gittany [No 5] (2014). Gittany’s sociodemographic characteristics define him as a male born to Lebanese immigrant parents and one of six children. He was around 38 years old at the time of the murder and 40 at the time of trial. Before his trial commenced, Simon Gittany was a director of a supplements business, as well as the major shareholder in Shecandy Pty. Ltd. a shoe importation company (Ryall, 2013; Oriti, 2013). While his exact occupation title might be unclear, he can be classified as economically active (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007). He was not of a low social class, given his lavish lifestyle that leads to his failure of the Legal Aid asset test. Gittany was known to police. He had an extensive criminal history with multiple prior convictions on record. At the age of 18 years old he was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and at the age of 21 he was convicted of malicious wounding of a police officer for which he was sentenced to two and a half years periodic detention. Finally, in 2001 he was convicted of having stolen goods and supply of prohibited drugs. He exhibited possessive and controlling behaviour and was dominating and mentally abusive (R v Gittany [No 5], 2014). His background showed no relevant family history or serious health-related issues of note according to a report tabled by Ms Robilliard in R v Gittany [No 5], 2014, however, the report did identify his suffering of reactive depression due to his current predicament. There was no previous victimization against Gittany brought up on record during his trial.
Question 3 – To what extent are these offender characteristics similar to or different from general patterns in offenders who commit this particular type of homicide?
This case is not an exception to the major characteristics that are common in an IPH. Domestic arguments are the main motivating factor and cause of almost a third of homicide incidents (Bryant & Bricknell, 2017). The AIC report goes on to show 66 per cent of these crimes occur at the victim’s home. Both characteristics are true in this case. When compared to the analysis of IPH crime statistics for New South Wales, the state where this homicide took place, we can see that key offender characteristics from this case are repeated across the spectrum for this type of homicide. According to Stephanie Ramsey’s report (2015), 80 per cent of victims killed by IPH are killed by their current partner, and 94 per cent of intimate partner homicides resulted in the death of only one victim. We can also see that the report has identified that in a clear majority of cases, more than 80 per cent involve only a single offender. These statistics are fitting in the murder of Lisa Harnum, as Simon Gittany was her current partner and acted alone.
Stephanie Ramsey’s report (2015) also identifies many other broad characteristics that are commonly present in an IPH. These include:
- over 80 per cent of IPH offences are committed by males;
- 97 per cent are from a relationship between a man and a woman;
- over 50 per cent of cases are conducted by men between the ages of 25 to 44; and
- over 60 per cent of offenders were living in major cities (Ramsey, 2015).
Gittany fits into these major categories of statistics. In this way, we can see that this case fits the profile of what we would call a ‘typical’ case of IPH.
However, this case does have some deviations, although only minimal, in characteristics from a ‘typical’ IPH. For example, 61 per cent of IPH cases in New South Wales involved the use of some type of weapon. That was not present in this case as Gittany did not use a weapon. Another deviation is that Gittany committed this offence during the least likely timeslot for IPH, with only 13 per cent of cases falling between 6 am and midday (Bryant & Bricknell, 2017).
Question 4 – What are the main characteristics of the victim?
The main characteristics of the victim, Lisa Harnum, are detailed in R v Gittany (2013). Lisa Harnum’s sociodemographic characteristics define her as a female, Caucasian, Canadian national who was living in Australia on a bridging visa after originally arriving on a working visa around 2006. She had no formal occupation or employment at the time of her death, however, she was a trained hairdresser and had been a ballerina during her adolescence. She had no previous criminal history or previous victimization brought to light during the trial of her murder. She was a member of a small family, consisting of her mother and one sibling – a brother. Regarding her health and mental stability, it’s detailed in R v Gittany [No 4] (2013) that she was suffering from bulimia, a condition which she had previously suffered on and off in her teenage years. She was in a de facto relationship before progressing her relationship further by accepting her partner’s proposal for marriage.
Question 5 – To what extent are these victim characteristics similar to or different from general patterns in victims of this particular type of homicide?
Overall the main characteristics of the victim, Lisa Harnum, are similar to general patterns of victims of this type of homicide. According to Ramsey’s report on New South Wales statistics (2015), 76 per cent of victims of IPH are female. 68 per cent of victims resided in a major city, such as Sydney where Lisa Harnum was living at the time of her death. And over 77 per cent of victims were killed by their current partner. However, the victim differs from the general pattern in that the mean age of female victims is 41 years old, on average over a decade older than Harnum’s age at the time of her murder. This anomaly of her age is further shown by the AIC’s report (Bryant & Bricknell, 2017) which states only 25% of homicide victims fall into the age bracket of 24-34 years old.
Question 6 – What were the warning signs that emerged as risk factors in the lead up to the homicide incident in this case?
The main warning signs that began emerging as risk factors in the lead up to this homicide incident as detailed in R v Gittany (2013), R v Gittany [No 4] (2013), and R v Gittany [No 5] (2014) were the lack of social support in Lisa Harnum’s life and the controlling behaviour of her partner, Simon Gittany. At the time of her death, Lisa Harnum did not have any close friends or immediate family. This was exacerbated by Gittany’s overbearing and abusive behaviour, including the monitoring of his partner’s emails and text messages, as well as controlling who she could and couldn’t speak to, where she could go, and what she could wear due to his jealousy. It’s shown throughout this case that Gittany had an extreme level of manipulative control over the victim. One of the prominent risk factors is during the victim’s earlier attempts to leave the relationship, Gittany’s behaviour worsened.
Question 7 – Identify the potential guardians in this case who had the power to potentially protect the victim from being harmed by the offender in this case.
There is a wide range of possible guardians in this case that could have acted to potentially prevent the death of the victim, Lisa Harnum, both before and during the attack. Clearly, the offender Simon Gittany could have acted differently. It’s not unreasonable for him to have anticipated he would become enraged and aggravated if Lisa Harnum attempted to leave him, as noted by the Judge in R v Gittany [No 5] (2014). Lisa’s mother, Mrs Harnum was another potential guardian who could have acted to protect the victim prior to the attack. She had detailed inside knowledge of the relationship and the difficulties her daughter was facing. She was also aware that her daughter was worried about retribution if she attempted to leave her partner. For these reasons, it’s not unreasonable to say she could have intervened in the situation, either through a proxy such as contacting the police, another protective body such as a woman’s shelter, or personally by flying to the country earlier. Additionally, Lisa Harnum’s personal trainer Lisa Brown, and her counsellor Michelle Richmond both had inside knowledge of the depth of their client’s troubles and were aware of the abusive nature of her relationship to some extent. While they did take minimal steps to intervene and be supportive, there is evidence to suggest possible further action was open to them such as contacting the police regarding their fears. Finally, during the actual attack, Lisa Harnum’s neighbours, Susan and Charles Glanville would definitely be regarded as potential guardians who could have acted to prevent the homicide. During court proceedings, they point out that they heard the victim pleading for help and banging on their front door, if only briefly. If they had chosen to investigate the disturbance or render assistance, instead of locking their door and returning to their activities, it’s quite possible this case would have had a different outcome.