Wife killer 'locked himself away to avoid Covid' before farmhouse shooting

A police cordon in place at the scene of a shooting in Barham where Silke Hartshorne-Jones (inset) w

A police cordon in place at the scene in Barham where Silke Hartshorne-Jones (inset) was shot - Credit: Archant

A gun dealer who shot his solicitor wife dead at the couple's Suffolk farmhouse "locked himself away" to avoid catching Covid-19 in the lead-up to the killing, a court has heard.

Peter Hartshorne-Jones was due to be sentenced for manslaughter at Ipswich Crown Court on Tuesday. However, the hearing was adjourned until next month due to his absence.

The 52-year-old denied murdering his 41-year-old wife, Silke, at their property in Barham, but admitted manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility at a hearing in September.

Police were called to the scene by Hartshorne-Jones at 4.45am on Sunday, May 3, last year.

Mrs Hartshorne-Jones was found laying on the floor upstairs with two gunshot wounds.

She was taken to Ipswich Hospital but died at 6.42am.

Hartshorne-Jones was said to have had a recurrent depressive disorder and psychotic symptoms at the time.

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On Tuesday, Judge Martyn Levett said assessing culpability posed a "complex challenge", partly because Hartshorne-Jones made no comment in police interview and never faced trial – although he was heard to have said "What have I done?" following the shooting.

Judge Levett said he would conduct careful scrutiny of whatever had since been said by Hartshorne-Jones to a psychiatrist.

He said scrutiny would also be paid to whether or not checks were carried out into Hartshorne-Jones' applications for shotgun licence renewal and registration as a firearms dealer.

He said Hartshorne-Jones had been diagnosed with depression in 1996 and prescribed an antidepressant following a depressive episode with psychotic symptoms in 2009.

Judge Levett said Hartshorne-Jones had responded 'no' to questions on licence renewal forms about ever having received treatment for mental health conditions.

"There seem to be questions, from a public interest point of view," Judge Levett told the court. 

The court also heard how Mrs Hartshorne-Jones had "left tissues around the house while he [Hartshorne-Jones] had been labouring under the belief he was suffering from coronavirus".

Barrister Jonathan Goodman said Hartshorne-Jones recalled certain events, and that, when asked if the couple had been arguing, said his wife "seemed to have changed".

He said a psychiatrist had come to the clinical view that the "whole Covid episode" had been a "severe aggravator", and that Hartshorne-Jones had effectively "locked himself away" to avoid the illness.

Judge Levett is expected to extend an interim hospital order for Hartshorne-Jones before sentencing in mid-October.