Never-before-seen evidence that a woman serving life in jail for murdering her boyfriend was systematically abused by him beforehand is to form part of an appeal against her sentence, The Independent can reveal.
Emma-Jayne Magson, then 23, stabbed James Knight, 26, in the chest at her Leicester home in March 2016 and was subsequently sentenced to a minimum of 17 years behind bars.
Joanne Smith, her mother, has now backed an appeal against the murder conviction and said it was wrong the jury had not been made aware of the abuse her daughter suffered at the hands of Mr Knight — or given in-depth information about her mental health issues.
Now, a new legal team — who have the support of campaigning group Justice for Women — will ask the Court of Appeal to grant permission for a renewed application to appeal against her conviction to be heard by a full court on 22 November.
Justice for Women say Mr Knight became “increasingly controlling, jealous and physically aggressive” over the months that they were in a relationship.
“I gather James would hit her, threaten her in front of her daughter, was incredibly jealous and controlling,” Nic Mainwood, a spokesperson, said.
“The jury was not made aware of her mental health issues or the abuse she had experienced from James. Emma has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and PDD-NOS [which stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified] which is characterised by impaired social and communication skills.
"Combine this with the emotional and physical abuse she suffered from her partner James, and the fact she had lost a much-wanted baby less than two weeks before the incident, it is not difficult to see how incredibly vulnerable she was.”
Ms Smith criticised the trial for focusing on the events of the night that led up to Mr Knight’s death rather than considering the evidence of a campaign of abuse against her.
“I saw she had a black eye and bruises at times. Her friends and my mum came forward to say he had been domestically violent towards her but they did not use any of the evidence in court. They made it all about that night,” Ms Smith said.
“He was on cocaine, cannabis and steroids and over the drink-drive limit the night he died. He had attacked her earlier in the night and it was even on CCTV. He also attacked her in a taxi, and the taxi driver was a witness in court. He said he was on top of her in the cab and she was kicking him to get off.”
The police were called after Mr Knight thought the bouncer was paying Ms Magson too much attention in a nightclub, according to her.
“He told the police officer ‘I just want to touch my girlfriend’. He was later seen on CCTV grabbing her by the throat and slinging her to the floor. She just got up and was not aggressive towards him,” she said.
“Later in the night he was heard kicking the door to get into the family home and the neighbour said in a statement that Emma was shouting ‘I’m not letting you in because of what happened last time’. Emma said he was later strangling her saying he did not want the baby and then suddenly she was outside and everything had happened. I do not think she realised she had stabbed him at the time but only afterwards.”
She said her daughter had endured a miscarriage just over a week before the incident – saying she thought it had been triggered by the stress she was suffering.
“Emma rang me up screaming two days after losing her baby,” she said. “She was bleeding and went to the hospital. She’d had a D&C [a surgical procedure] after the miscarriage but they left half the baby in her so she had to have two blood transfusions and surgery. James came down to the hospital shouting saying she was a slag and the baby was black even though it was his.”
The pair had broke up and were not technically together during the night of his death, according to her, but had met up after texting each other.
Emma-Jayne Magson with her daughter
“He was paying £500 a month to his kid’s child maintenance and Emma was giving him all of that money,” she said. “He would leave his kids with her all weekend when she was pregnant and had her own little girl after an argument.”
“I never ever in a million years thought she would be done for murder. I am not saying she does not deserve to be punished but never murder. She never meant to hurt James. She loved James and still does — if you speak about him her eyes light up. Even since he has died he is still controlling her mind. If she could take that night back she would. That night she did not want to be hurt any more. She was petrified. He is a big bloke.”
Ms Smith, who is crowdfunding her daughter's legal costs, said she was totally shocked when her daughter was convicted of murder and thought the media had “found her guilty before the court did”.
“Emma never had a chance in that courtroom. They had painted her as a cold-blooded killer. Basically, the court were saying you should have just let him kill you, you do that or you spend your life in prison,” she added.
She also drew attention to the fact her daughter had recently left a relationship with an abusive man who put her in hospital when she met Mr Knight. “He hit her so hard that he fractured her skull. She had a leak in her brain,” she said.
Ms Magson was described as “cold, brutal and manipulative” for delaying medical help to her dying boyfriend and in effect “sacrificing” him, Leicester Crown Court heard during the trial.
The judge, Nicholas Dean QC, imposed a life sentence with a minimum term of 17 years after she was convicted in November 2016. He said: “This was an act in impulse and anger. Her behaviour is not at all easy to understand.”
During the three-week trial, the court heard that the couple had been involved in a drunken row in the run-up to the fatal attack at Ms Magson’s home in Leicester on 27 March.
The court was played a 999 call Ms Magson made some time after she struck the fatal blow, saying Mr Knight had collapsed but failing to mention he had been stabbed.
When she was told an ambulance might be delayed, Ms Magson replied: “No, that’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
Addressing the call, her mother said: "There are two more 999 calls after that where she rang them back and asked them to hurry up. During the first one I don’t think she realised the severity of it all."
The new legal team — who are launching the renewed application for permission to appeal against her murder conviction — note the psychiatrist originally instructed by the prosecution now agrees Ms Magson was suffering from a borderline personality disorder.
They have also instructed a consultant clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, who has diagnosed a pervasive developmental disorder which was not recognised at the time of her trial.
The court will be asked to consider, among other propositions, the possibility of the availability of the partial medical defence of diminished responsibility of in the light of her personality disorder and PDD-NOS.
Ms Magson’s solicitor, Louise Bullivant, said she had witnessed “continuing unfavourable coverage of Emma” in the press since she had been involved in the case.
“Emma had been in a number of abusive relationships with men and James was yet another partner who was abusive towards her and the police had previously been alerted towards to his behaviour. She had previously made a report of physical abuse,” Ms Bullivant added.
“She witnessed abuse in the family home when she was growing up because her mother had endured abusive relationships in the past.”
She said she thought Ms Magson did not engage effectively in the trial because she may have struggled to understand the court process.
Justice for Women helped secure the release of Sara Thornton and other women who killed their violent and abusive husbands.
The organisation advocates on behalf of women who have fought back against or killed violent men.