A shotgun dealer has admitted shooting his corporate lawyer wife but won’t face murder charges because he was suffering from psychosis ‘exacerbated by lockdown.’
Peter Hartshorne-Jones, 51, was suffering from ‘an abnormality of mental functioning’ when he shot his wife Silke, 41, while two children were in their Suffolk farmhouse in May.
Hartshorne-Jones had denied murder at an earlier hearing, but pleaded guilty to his wife’s manslaughter due to diminished responsibility at Ipswich Crown Court.
Prosecutors ruled that his plea was acceptable at a hearing on Thursday, meaning he will only be sentenced for the lesser offence of manslaughter.
Silke Hartshorne-Jones, 41, (pictured) was shot twice at the family’s £600,000 farmhouse by her gun dealer husband Peter Hartshorne-Jones, 51, during the coronavirus lockdown
Forensic investigators at the farmhouse in Barnham after the killing
Hartshorne-Jones who had a shotgun licence was warned by Judge Martyn Levett that he faced a ‘lengthy’ prison sentence.
The court heard how two children were in the house when he blasted his wife twice with a 12 bore shotgun in a bedroom at their 17th century home Chestnut Farm in Barham near Ipswich.
The children were said to have witnessed ‘the aftermath’ of the shooting.
Hartshorne-Jones dialled 999 within minutes of the shooting or up to an hour afterwards at 4.45am on May 3 to report that he had shot his German-born wife.
He allegedly told police: ‘I am sorry, I don’t know what came over me’. He was said to have stated later: ‘I didn’t mean to kill her’.
Mrs Hartshorne-Jones was in a critical condition and taken by ambulance to Ipswich Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 6.40am the same day. A post mortem found she died of a shotgun wound to the chest.
At the time of her death, her husband sold vintage shotguns for game shooting and ran a recruitment agency hiring staff for the catering industry.
His website called Hartshorne Fine English Shotguns said he sold ‘the finest sporting English and Scottish shotguns.’
Mrs Hartshorne-Jones worked as a lawyer for technology company K2 Partnering Solutions. Her Linked In profile described her job as being in charge of the company’s ‘legal and compliance function’ across Europe.
Neighbours said at the time that she used to commute to work, leaving her £600,000 home at 5.30am every weekday and not returning until the evening, but she had been at home since lockdown started.
Forensic investigators at Chestnut Farm, Barham, after the killing
Police officers at the farmhouse the day after the killing
Prosecutor Peter Gair said a report by consultant psychiatrist Frank Farnham acting for the prosecution, had recognised the defendant’s ‘abnormality of mental functioning’ with ‘psychotic symptoms’ at the time of the killing.
But the report by Dr Farnham found ‘no evidence that he was legally insane at the time’ or incapable of having the intention to kill his wife.
Mr Gair added: ‘The Crown have considered the available evidence, in particular the psychiatric evidence obtained by both the Crown and the defence.’
He said that the reports by the two psychiatrists and other evidence meant that Hartshorne-Jones’ defence to murder ‘would be proved more likely than not at trial.’
Mr Gair said: ‘Bearing in mind all the circumstances, we are prepared to accept the plea that was entered, and not proceed with a trial for murder.’
He added that relatives of Mrs Hartshorne-Jones who were listening to the hearing on a video link had been earlier informed of the decision by police so they ‘were not taken by surprise’.
An earlier hearing was told that Hartshorne-Jones had made multiple calls to health professional in the 42 days from March 16 to April 27, resulting in 29 ‘call outs’ to his home by paramedics and other medical staff.
He claimed that Hartshorne-Jones made the calls because he believed he had physical ailments, although the reason was ‘wholly or partly’ due to his mental impairment.
The family lived at Grade II-listed Chestnut Farm in Barham near Ipswich, Suffolk
Mr Gair said: ‘My understanding is that he had a long term depressive illness that was exacerbated in the coronavirus period.’
The court heard that he had refused to take medication he had been prescribed.
Hartshorne-Jones appeared in the dock wearing a grey sweatshirt and blue Umbro tracksuit bottoms and spoke only to confirm his name. He sat with his head bowed throughout the hearing.
The case was adjourned for sentencing in the week beginning on January 11 next year to allow further psychiatric reports on the degree of ‘dangerousness’ he posed and whether he intended to kill his wife.
Mr Gair said that the use of the gun and the presence of children in the house was an aggravating factor.
The court heard that Hartshorne-Jones was claiming he had no memory of the shooting.
Judge Levett told him: ‘It is clear to me that you are prepared for a prison sentence which may be a lengthy one bearing in mind the incident, the firearm being used and the presence of children.’