Pensioner who killed wife during lockdown cleared of murder

A pensioner who strangled his wife to death five days into the first UK lockdown has been cleared of her murder.

Anthony Williams, 70, told police he “literally choked the living daylights” out of his wife Ruth, 67, on the morning of March 28 last year after a period of feeling depressed and anxious.

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 because he was not able to attend his bank to take out cash from his savings.

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 before putting his hands around her throat and “choking the living daylights out of her” after she told him to calm down.

Anthony Williams pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility after killing his wife during lockdown (Gwent Police)
Anthony Williams pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility after killing his wife during lockdown (Gwent Police)

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.

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.

Swansea Crown Court (Tim Ireland/PA)
Swansea Crown Court (Tim Ireland/PA)

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.”

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”.

On Monday, 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.

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