Pensioner jailed for killing wife during first lockdown

Adam Hale, PA Wales Correspondent

A pensioner who strangled his wife days into the first UK lockdown has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Anthony Williams, 70, told police he “literally choked the living daylights” out of his wife Ruth, 67, at their home in Cwmbran, south Wales, on the morning of March 28 last year, after he “snapped” following a period of feeling depressed and anxious.

Williams was cleared of murder on Monday following a trial in which a psychologist argued his anxiety “was heightened” because of lockdown, which impaired his ability to exercise self-control.

On Thursday he appeared for sentencing at Swansea Crown Court after admitting manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

Judge Paul Thomas said it was a “tragic case on several levels”, but in his view Williams’s mental state was “severely affected at the time”.

Judge Thomas said: “The overwhelming greatest tragedy here is a lady of 67 who had so much to live for, had her life ended by an act of great violence at the hands, literally, of a man she loved for very nearly 50 years.

“There is also the tragedy that that act that lasted only a matter of minutes at most, and immediately repented by you, will now be the defining one for the rest of your life.

“You will have to live with the knowledge that you killed your wife, and that you left your daughter without her beloved mother.”

The judge said Williams was suffering from irrational anxiety, depression, a lack of sleep, and had been “obsessing” over Covid-19.

“There is no logical explanation for why a placid, non-aggressive, inoffensive man, happily married for 46 years, and with absolutely impeccable character, should out of the blue strangle his wife for such an innocuous comment as ‘get over it’,” he added.

Williams 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.

In interviews read to the jury, Williams agreed with detectives that he was responsible for the killing of his wife of 46 years, telling them he “snapped” while in bed.

He said he began strangling after she told him to “get over it” when he expressed his concerns.

He said he chased his wife downstairs and again grabbed her by her throat as she tried to unlock the front door to escape, saying he found himself “throttling her to death”.

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, having 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 was arrested on suspicion of murder at the scene and told officers: “I am sorry, I just snapped, I am sorry.”

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.”

Swansea Crown Court (Tim Ireland/PA)
Williams was sentenced at Swansea Crown Court (Tim Ireland/PA)

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”.

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, felt “depressed” and was worried 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.

Psychologist Dr Alison Witts told the trial Williams’s 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’s factory job had been “one of his main coping mechanisms” for his “neurotic disposition”, but when he retired he “lost all structure and sense of purpose”.

But another psychologist, Dr Damian Gamble, said Williams had no documented history of suffering a depressive illness and had “no psychiatric defences” available to him, saying he believed Williams “knew what he was doing at the time”.

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