A husband has been cleared of murdering his wife five days into the first lockdown after a jury heard how the pandemic caused him to ‘snap’.
Retired factory worker Anthony Williams, 70, strangled his wife Ruth, 67, with a dressing gown cord at their home in Cwmbran, South Wales, on 28th March 2020.
Swansea Crown Court heard how Williams suffered depression after retiring and that the pandemic caused his mental state to deteriorate further.
Williams admitted manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and the court heard he ‘flipped’ and attacked his wife after she told him to ‘get over’ his concerns about Covid-19 and family finances.
Prosecutor Matthew Roberts said: ‘His actions, described by him, literally choked the living daylights out of her’.
Mr Roberts said that after killing his wife Williams went to a neighbour’s house and told them to dial 999.
He told them: ‘Call the police, I’ve killed her’.
Mr Roberts said that Williams told operators: ‘She’s dead, I’ve killed her – we had an argument and I’ve strangled her. You have to come straight away.’
Mrs Williams was found slumped in the couple’s porch with a pair of keys in her hand.
She was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead.
She suffered haemorrhaging in her eyes, face and mouth which were consistent with strangulation, as well as five neck fractures.
Her cause of death was given as pressure to the neck, with a pathologist saying the lack of a ligature mark did not rule out use of a ‘soft’ dressing gown cord found at their home.
Williams’ anxiety increased after the national lockdown order was issued on 23rd March 2020, and Mr Roberts said that both Anthony and his wife Ruth had been concerned about the virus.
He told police he had suffered sleepless nights in the run-up to the attack due to ‘trivial’ fears including that he would run out of money because he was not able to attend his bank to take out cash from his savings.
In a police interview, the pensioner said: ‘I have been depressed lately, I don’t know what’s the matter.
‘It wasn’t murder and I didn’t mean to murder her.
‘I just flipped mate, flipped, it wasn’t me. I wouldn’t hurt a fly, it wasn’t me, I’m not like that and I don’t know what came over me.’
The couple’s daughter, Emma Williams, 40, told the court her parents spent ‘90% of their time together’, were ‘not argumentative people’, and she had never heard either of them even ‘raise their voice’ to each other.
Ms Williams said: ‘My dad’s a gentle giant.
‘He wouldn’t hurt a fly.’
But she said Williams had shown signs of strange behaviour from January 2020, including claiming he was going to lose the couple’s home and becoming ‘obsessed’ with turning off lights and heating to save money.
But she said the couple had savings of around £148,000, as well as £18,000 in their current account in the days before lockdown was announced.
Ms Williams said her father was watching news reports on the global pandemic ‘all the time’ and believed ‘no one’s ever leaving the house again’.
‘I said, ‘You’re just overthinking things. You’re just watching the news all the time and getting worried with Covid and your mind is just spiralling’,’ she said.
Williams did not give evidence at his trial, but he told police interviewers he had worried about being unable to buy new shoes and the inability to hire someone to fix tiles on his roof if they came loose.
He also said he had found lockdown ‘really, really hard’ just five days into the UK-wide restrictions and felt ‘depressed’ and was worried that the couple would run out of cash because banks were shut.
He said he had coped ‘not very well’ in the 18 months since his retirement from Cwmbran’s Just Rollers factory, saying the couple ‘didn’t have much of a social life’.
But he described his wife as being ‘happy’ since her own retirement from an Asda store four years earlier despite herself being diagnosed with depression.
He said the only time there was ‘friction’ between them was if he was ‘lazy’ for neglecting household chores which were mostly left to her.
Two psychologists gave evidence about Williams’ state of mind at the time of the attack, with Dr Alison Witts arguing his anxiety and depressive illness were ‘heightened’ by the tough coronavirus measures imposed on the UK days earlier and impaired his ability to exercise self-control.
Dr Witts said Williams’ factory job had been ‘one of his main coping mechanisms’ for his ‘neurotic disposition’.
‘In 2019, when he left the workplace, that will have also impacted on his mental health having lost all structure and sense of purpose,’ she said.
But another psychologist, Dr Damian Gamble, said Williams had no documented history of suffering from depression and had ‘no psychiatric defences’ available to him, telling the court he believed Williams ‘knew what he was doing at the time’.
The jury at Swansea Crown Court unanimously found Williams not guilty of murder.
Williams, from Brynglas, Cwmbran, previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
Judge Paul Thomas said he would sentence Williams on Thursday.