Murder of Hannah Williams
A photograph of Hannah Williams released to the public.
The murder of Hannah Williams was an English case in which a 14-year-old schoolgirl was murdered after going missing during a shopping trip on 21 April 2001. Commentators, including the UK charity Missing People (formerly the National Missing Persons Helpline), have presented the contrasts in media coverage between this case and the cases of the murder of Danielle Jones and the murder of Amanda Dowler as examples of missing white woman syndrome.
Discovery of the body and conviction of the killer
Initially the body was speculatively identified as that of Danielle Jones, who had been missing from East Tilbury in Essex since 18 June 2001, but it was soon firmly identified by Williams's distinctive clothing. The discovery of Williams's body overlapped with the investigation into the disappearance, and later murder, of Amanda Dowler from Surrey, who vanished on 21 March 2002.
Robert Lesarian Howard, a convicted sex offender who had known Williams since 1999, was arrested on 23 March 2002, eight days after her body was found. At his trial at Maidstone Crown Court in October 2003, Howard was found guilty of raping and murdering Williams, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Contrasts in news media coverage
There was a contrast between the girls' backgrounds and a parallel disparity between the news media coverage that each received: while images of Amanda, a middle-class girl from a stable family background who had never previously gone missing, were splashed on the front pages of national newspapers as her disappearance attracted national attention, and Danielle, similarly, fulfilled the news media's criteria for a model middle-class schoolgirl, Williams was a girl from a working-class single-parent home who had spent time in care and had a history of running away – she attracted scant coverage in the media. A police spokesperson described Williams's mother as "not really press conference material" and, while Dowler and Jones continued to dominate newspaper headlines, Williams was almost immediately forgotten in the news media. The National Missing Persons Helpline noted, in commenting upon the case, that news media treating such stories would often ask for cases where the subject was female, within a particular age range and with a particular social background.
Most of the coverage of Williams, a total of 62 articles in British newspapers, was at the time of the initial discovery of her body and resulted from the initial interest in the possibility that the body was Jones. In contrast the media coverage of the two girls who were victims in the Soham murders generated 898 articles in under two weeks.
The only regular coverage was by the local newspapers The Mercury and the South London Press which covered the disappearance of Williams from two weeks after she first vanished to the day her body was found and beyond to the murder trial of her killer.
An anonymous Kent police officer was quoted in The Guardian:
"There are serious questions to be raised about the original missing persons investigation. This is very sensitive, but if Hannah Williams had been a Milly Dowler, she may not be dead now."
- "Mum relives moment she met her daughter's killer". 23 September 2005. Retrieved 30 November 2006.
- "The vanishing". The Observer. 15 December 2002. Retrieved 28 September 2006.
- Robert Howard – Failures need to be addressed by Irish Examiner 22 September 2005: "Robert Lesarian Howard, from Wolfhill, Co Laois, was sentenced to life in prison in Britain in 2003 for murder of a 15-year-old English schoolgirl, Hannah Williams."
- "Girl's killer serves life in jail". BBC News. 23 September 2005. Retrieved 30 November 2006.
- McKay, Susan (25 March 2006). "Predator in the badlands". The Guardian (London: Guardian Newspapers Limited). Retrieved 16 January 2007.
- Fiona Brookman (2005). Understanding Homicide. Sage Publications. p. 257. ISBN 0-7619-4755-8.
- Jeff Ferrell (2004). Cultural Criminology Unleashed. Routledge Cavendish. pp. 113–114. ISBN 1-904385-37-0.
- Nicole Martin (24 April 2002). "Why police have poured all their resources into the hunt". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Camillo Fracassini (18 August 2002). "The Agenda: Missing". The Scotsman.