A gun dealer who shot his wife dead while convinced he was ill with Covid-19 has been sentenced to be detained in a mental health hospital.
Peter Hartshorne-Jones, 52, took a double-barrelled shotgun and twice shot his wife, Silke, a 42-year-old solicitor, at close range as she lay in bed in her pyjamas at their home in Barham in Suffolk, Ipswich Crown Court heard.
The pair had been using separate bedrooms at the time as Mr Hartshorne-Jones wanted to social distance, and there were two children in adjoining bedrooms, the court heard.
Judge Martyn Levett said that the “motive is very much left in the air”, but noted that the defendant had complained that his wife had not paid him “enough attention” when he claimed he had coronavirus.
The judge said there was “no clinical evidence” that the defendant had Covid-19 and that his symptoms may be explained by anxiety.
Hartshorne-Jones shot his wife at around 4.30am on May 3 last year, the judge said, and one of the children said they went to Mrs Hartshorne-Jones’s room after hearing a “clattering noise”.
The child got into the room by climbing over Mrs Hartshorne-Jones’s legs then went to find the defendant, “believing there had been an intruder in the house”.
The child found the defendant having his breakfast and said he should call an ambulance, the judge said.
The defendant called police at 4.44am and his wife was pronounced dead in hospital at 6.42am.
He told police he did not mean to kill his wife, and later said he could not remember what had happened.
The judge said the defendant appeared calm as he was arrested, while the children were “evidently distressed”.
The defendant had made contact with various care providers 26 times in the 42 days between March 16 and April 27, the court heard.
In a voicemail message to his wife’s father, on March 29, the defendant said he had been anxious and this was “driving Silke crazy”.
“She thinks I’m exaggerating and just have a chest infection but I’ve never felt so unwell,” Hartshorne-Jones said, in a statement read by the judge.
In other messages the defendant said there were “tissues everywhere”, and he “needed to be somewhere where I was in a sanitised, sterile environment”.
He added that his wife had used paint stripper outside when he was trying to get fresh air.
“You thought your wife, the victim of this fatal shooting, was not paying enough attention to you and your needs,” said the judge.
He said that the defendant, who was found to have an abnormality of mental functioning, had not disclosed his history of mental ill health in order to hold firearms.
He said Hartshorne-Jones had been suffering from a “depressive mental illness over a period of a decade, maybe more”.
The judge described Mrs Hartshorne-Jones as an “intelligent, resourceful lady” who “had every prospect of furthering her career had her life not been cruelly cut short by her husband”.
He said: “There are in fact only two people who could have told me what happened and the reason why but sadly one of them is dead.”
He told Hartshorne-Jones, who at an earlier hearing admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility: “It’s not possible to reliably estimate when you will cease to be a danger.”
Judge Levett sentenced the defendant to a hybrid order under the Mental Health Act, of life with a minimum term of eight years.
Hartshorne-Jones is to be detained in a mental health hospital but may be transferred to prison to serve the rest of his sentence if he becomes well enough.
He must serve at least eight years before he can be considered for release.
Mrs Hartshorne-Jones, a German national, moved to London in 2007 and married her husband in 2010.
The judge said it was “a tragic case” and praised the dignity of family members of Mrs Hartshorne-Jones.