White House Farm Murders: an idyllic life?

Jeremy Bamber in his own words

Jeremy Bamber is serving life imprisonment for murdering five members of his family in 1985. He has always denied being guilty.

You can read the background of the case here.

We’re going to look at an interview from 2011 which was carried by The Guardian and can be heard here.

We’ll start by looking at how Bamber described his early life, living on a farm.

Interviewer: How was it on the farm?

Do you know what? It was idyllic if I was truthful, I mean I think it’s a… it can be quite a solitary life but I think I’m quite a… a person who’s quite happy with my own company which helps me survive, you know, this kind of environment that I’m quite happy if I’m banged up you know i have things to do and I’m quite content to just potter away at reading books and working on the case, and watching a bit of TV. And the farm… farming is very much like that you spend many hours of the day on your tractor doing your thing but it’s .. it’s very close to nature and it’s a very… it’s an idyllic way to live.. happy life.. and and mum and dad.. dad were wonderful people and I know that a lot of people have said the same thing; they were very gentle, very kind, very honest people and I .. I loved them with all my heart and they were my mum and dad and … I resent, you know, the adopted child, I never seen myself as an adopted child and I know Sheila didn’t until such time as her illness took hold and she, she got confused about the whole thing and thought that might have been a.. a trigger.

Interviewer: everybody’s got this image of Sheila, the Bambi picture

She was a successful model Eric and she was a beautiful model and she was physically in, you know when she was 17, 18, 19 .. stunning. She was a very gentle, kind person, and as a sister she was wonderful growing up, she looked after me she cared for me and when I was 14 and 15 and she was modelling I used to love going up to London and staying with her and going out with all her modelling mates, it was a wonderful… you know they used to treat me just wonderfully.

Let’s break it down.

The structure and composition of Bamber’s answer to the first question are revealing. He is asked ‘How was it on the farm”, he gives a couple of words on that (which we’ll look at closely later) then goes on to talk about:

- his character

- his daily routine in prison

- farming (note farming, not the farm that he was asked about)

- his parents

- back to talking about himself

- his sister

He is asked a question about the farm, but spends hardly any time talking about it before moving away to other subjects. Just 10% of what he says relates to the question.

Bamber says, “It was idyllic if I was truthful”. This is an unusual way to use “if I was truthful”. I’d expect to hear it after a negative phrase:

“Dinner was a bit spicy, if I was truthful”

“The film was boring, if I was truthful”

Hearing it after an apparently positive word is strange.

“Dinner was the tastiest thing ever, if I was truthful”

“The film was amazing, if I was truthful”

“It (the farm) was idyllic, if I was truthful”

It just doesn’t work. I take from this the farm was not a positive memory for him, hence his use of “if I was truthful”.

When Bamber describes both his character and his prison routine he does it all in the first person. He uses me, I and my.

- “I think I’m quite a… a person who’s quite happy with my own company which helps me survive”

- “I’m quite happy if I’m banged up you know i have things to do and I’m quite content to just potter away”

In contrast, when he talks about farming, there is a distance. Not only has he changed the subject (he was asked about THE farm, he talks about farming in general) he talks about “you” and “it” rather than him personally:

“And the farm… farming is very much like that you spend many hours of the day on your tractor doing your thing but it’s .. it’s very close to nature and it’s a very… it’s an idyllic way to live”

Note the tense of what he says, too. He’s talking about farming in the present tense, not about how much he enjoyed the farm he grew up on in the past tense.

Even when Bamber says “happy days” the two words are floating around with no anchor — it isn't “those were happy days” or “I had happy days” or “we had such happy days”. Just two words without ownership, context, or meaning.

The parents

Bamber’s section about his mum and dad looks to be full of praise for them, but close examination shows it isn’t.

He describes nothing of his relationship with them or their relationship with him. Bamber reveals nothing about how he felt in their company or how they treated him. He says, “I loved them with all my heart” but stutters before he says it. Stuttering usually reveals that the words which follow are sensitive or stressful to say.

Just like with the farm, there is a clear indicator of distance here. Contrast how remote and uninvolved his words about his parents are with how he talks about his sister’s friends later on. He has ownership of the feelings here, with “I used to love going (to see them)” and “they used to treat me just wonderfully”. Again, he’s using “I” and “me”.

At first listen, it sounds like Bamber describes his parents as “very gentle, very kind, very honest people” but he doesn’t. He says that “a lot of people” said that about his mum and dad, but never says whether he feels that way or agrees with them. Look at his exact words “I know that a lot of people have said the same thing; they were very gentle, very kind, very honest people”.

Adoption

One line of Bamber’s interview really stood out for me:

“I resent the adopted child”

Once more, on first listen I took more from it than the words say. It feels like he’s trying to give the impression that he resents being called the adopted child, or that he resents being thought of as an adopted child. I could go as far as saying he wants to convey that he considered himself to be his parent’s natural offspring. But he doesn’t say that, and it’s not very close either. His exact words are, “I resent the adopted child”. Given Bamber was the adopted child, as was his sister, this is an interesting use of words.

Consider the next line:

“I never seen myself as an adopted child and I know Sheila didn’t until such time as her illness took hold and she, she got confused about the whole thing and thought that might have been a.. a trigger.

Bamber alleges it was his sister who committed the murders before killing herself and this, at first glance again, feels like he is saying that her feelings about being adopted may have been the trigger for her committing the murders. Again, his words don’t actually say that.

“she got confused about the whole thing and thought that might have been a.. a trigger”

He assigns no person to the fact he thinks being adopted may have been a trigger for what happens. Given Sheila died in the incident, she could not be talking about adoption being a trigger for the murders, as she didn’t know they had happened. So, what is going on here? It’s possible that Sheila realised Bamber's feelings about adoption were going to be a trigger for some event and voiced those fears to Bamber.

Conclusion

It’s clear from the words used here that Jeremy was not close to his mother and father and had nothing good to say about his relationship with them or his time growing up with them. He knows other people thought well of his parents, but he doesn’t match those feelings. He didn’t have the idyllic childhood he’d liked to have pictured. Bamber can’t bring himself to say he had a happy upbringing. Being an adopted child is obviously a bigger issue for him that he wants to say.

I’ll stick with Jeremy Bamber for my next piece, how he talks about his sister is very revealing. Subscribe now so that you won’t miss it.