Judges rule on wife murder 'loss of control' appeals

Jon Clinton
Image caption Jon Clinton had his murder conviction quashed and faces a new trial

Sexual infidelity can be taken into account in the defence to murder of "loss of control", judges have said.

The Court of Appeal gave judgement in three test cases of men found guilty of killing their wives.

"Loss of control" replaced the common law defence of "provocation" under a new law in England and Wales in 2010, and can reduce murder to manslaughter.

Appeals were rejected in two of the cases but Jon Clinton, 45, of Bracknell, was granted a new trial.

He was found guilty at Reading Crown Court of murdering his 33-year-old wife Dawn, who died from head injuries and asphyxia.

Mr Clinton, who had been given a life sentence with a minimum term of 26 years, had his murder conviction quashed and remains in custody.

Key issue

In order to raise the loss of control defence there has to be a "qualifying trigger".

The key issue in the appeals was whether sexual infidelity should be excluded from the assessment of what constitutes a qualifying trigger.

Tuesday's judgement said: "In short, sexual infidelity is not subject to a blanket exclusion when the loss of control defence is under consideration."

This is despite a provision in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which applies to killings on or after 4 October 2010, that says sexual infidelity is to be disregarded.

Lord Judge, Mr Justice Henriques and Mrs Justice Glosters considered three separate cases which were dealt with at crown courts last year, but were heard together as they raised similar issues.

The appeals by Steven Parker, 25, of Scunthorpe, and Dewi Evans, 62, of Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire, were rejected. But the appeal by Mr Clinton was allowed and the new trial ordered.

Jury direction

His barrister Michael Birnbaum QC said that in Mr Clinton's case the trial judge withdrew the defence of loss of control from the jury.

Image caption Steven Parker was convicted of the stabbing murder of his wife

In the cases of Parker and Evans, that defence was left to the jury to decide upon.

Parker received a text message from his wife demanding that he leave the family home which, it was said, came as a "bolt from the blue", and left him "devastated".

He attacked and repeatedly stabbed his wife, who suffered 53 separate wounds.

The main ground of his appeal arose from the way in which the trial judge directed the jury on the loss of control issue.

Lord Judge said the court had examined the criticisms of the summing-up "with care", adding: "We can discern no unfairness or lack of balance. It fairly reflected the available evidence."

Meaning of words

The jury rejected the defence of loss of control, as did jurors in Evans' case.

The prosecution case against Evans was that he killed his wife because she told him she was going to leave him.

His defence was that she stabbed him before he stabbed her and, when he did stab her, he had lost his self-control.

"The Crown's case was that wounds found on the appellant after the fatal attack were self-inflicted, but that in any event, when stabbing his wife he had acted out of revenge and not through any loss of control," said Lord Judge.

The question raised in his appeal was whether the trial judge properly directed the jury as to the meaning of the words "acted in a considered desire for revenge" in the new legislation.

But the appeal judges dismissed this, saying the trial judge's direction to jurors "accurately encapsulated the issue to be decided by the jury and the way they should approach it".

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