Former Crufts judge gets life for murdering wife, then claiming it was a failed suicide pact

Stephen Parsons
Stephen Parsons was jailed for life for the murder of his wife Erica - Devon & Cornwall Police/SWNS

A world-renowned dog breeder who killed his wife by smothering her with a pillow, claiming it was a failed suicide pact, has been jailed for life for her murder.

Stephen Parsons told a jury that she asked him to kill her because she thought she was dying of cancer.

Parsons says he agreed a suicide pact with his wife, Erica, who had run their English pointer breeding business with him for 50 years and was a former Crufts judge and Kennel Club committee member.

Parsons killed his wife with a pillow, cut his arms with a craft knife and sent messages to friends telling them that they would be dead by the end of the day on Feb 11 last year.

‘I am in hell’

He told a jury that Erica had pleaded with him to kill her and that he had let her down by not completing his side of the pact.

He said he still wanted to die and added: “She is at peace and I am in hell. In my mind, I’m at peace with what I did for Erica, I’m torn to shreds I did not go with her. She wanted me to kill her, 100 per cent.”

He was found semi-conscious by a neighbour who he had asked to come and look after his four horses and 21 dogs at the £1.5 million thatched farmhouse where the couple lived on the edge of Dartmoor.

Their Pipeaway pointers sold for up to £5,000 a time, were exported and won dog shows all over the world, and are considered one of the best bloodlines for the pedigree.

Parsons, 71, and his wife, 69, were in serious debt and he told Exeter Crown Court that his wife was convinced that she was dying of cancer and only had a short time to live – but her “cancer” and heavy drinking were untrue.

He was tried for murder because the prosecution said he had killed his wife 36 hours earlier.

The court was told that the suicide pact was a “facade” and there was no evidence other than Parsons’s own account that she intended to take her own life.

She had been making plans for the 2023 Crufts show the following month just hours earlier.

Parsons, of Cadditon Farm, Bondleigh, Devon, denied murder but had admitted manslaughter, either by reason of a failed suicide pact or through diminished responsibility.

He told the jury he and Erica moved to Devon in the early 2000s from Mark, near Bridgwater, Somerset, where they had run their kennels and stables for many years, building up the reputation of their pointers.

He said that by 2023 they were in serious financial trouble and that Erica refused to downsize or take out an equity release, meaning he had to fend off creditors.

She had also become disillusioned with the dog show world, which she believed had become cliquish and corrupt, he said.