A vintage gun dealer shot his corporate lawyer wife dead after becoming psychotic over tissues she left round the house during lockdown, a court heard today.
Ipswich Crown Court was told that Peter Hartshorne-Jones had earlier locked himself in a bedroom to avoid catching Covid-19 and at one stage thought he was infected.
Judge Martyn Levett demanded to know why Hartshorne-Jones had been a firearms licence, despite having a long history of depression, and asked whether police had made any checks on him.
But the court heard how he had lied on application and renewal forms by claiming that he had never suffered any mental health issues.
Prosecutors have accepted that Hartshorne-Jones, 51, had ‘an abnormality of mental functioning’ when he killed his wife Silke, 41, in the early hours of May 3 last year.
He blasted German-born Silke twice with a 12 bore shotgun in her bedroom at their 17th century Grade II listed home Chestnut Farm in Barham near Ipswich, Suffolk.
Hartshorne-Jones had denied her murder, and the charge was earlier dropped after prosecutors accepted his plea of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.
He was due to be sentenced today, but the hearing was adjourned after he failed to arrive from the mental health clinic where he is being held under an interim hospital order.
Corporate lawyer Silke Hartshorne-Jones who died after being shot at her home in Barham
Chestnut Farm, Barham, where corporate lawyer Silke Hartshorn-Jones was shot last year
Police at the scene after gun dealer Peter Hartshorne-Jones shot dead his wife
An earlier hearing was told that Hartshorne-Jones had made multiple calls to health professionals in the 42 days from March 16 to April 27 last year, resulting in 29 ‘call outs’ to his home by paramedics and other medical staff.
Judge Levett said that none of the three psychiatrists who had assessed Hartshorne-Jones appeared to have asked him: ‘Why did you shoot your wife?’.
He said: ‘The only thing I can find in this case was that he was affected by the assertion he makes that she left tissues around the house when he was labouring under the belief that he was suffering from coronavirus.’
Jonathan Goodman, defending, said: ‘He was asked questions on the lead up to the events of the day and gave what can only be described as vague answers.
‘He recalls certain things and was asked about whether he and his wife had been arguing, and made some unsolicited comments, saying, ‘She appears to have changed’.’
Mr Goodman said one psychiatrist had come to the clinical view that the coronavirus pandemic had created a ‘severe aggravation’ of Hartshorne-Jones’ mental health.
Peter Hartshorne-Jones, 51, had been worried about catching Covid last year in lockdown
Mr Hartshorne-Jones became psychotic and shot her twice in their bedroom at Chestnut Farm
He added: ‘He previously locked himself in a bedroom to avoid catching Covid when he thought he had it.’
Judge Levett said he had seen from medical notes that Hartshorne-Jones had been diagnosed with depression in 1996 and was prescribed anti-depressants in 2009.
He was asked on application forms and renewal forms for his firearm certificate, whether he suffered from any medical condition, and answered ‘No’.
The judge said Hartshorne-Jones had also answered ‘No’ to questions asking whether he had ever received treatment for depression, or attended a GP for ‘any kind of mental or nervous disorder’.
He said: ‘I will need to know why these answers were given and whether any checks have been made, and whether there was any need to make those checks.
‘It is a matter of fairness to family members and from the public interest point of view, that I ought to have this information available as it seems to be an important feature of the case.’
Hartshorne-Jones is said to have dialling 999 at 4.45am on May 3 last year to report that he had shot his 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 found 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 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.
A report by a consultant psychiatrist recognised Hartshorne-Jones’ ‘abnormality of mental functioning’ with ‘psychotic symptoms’ at the time of the killing.
The prosecution stated at an earlier hearing that his defence to murder ‘would be proved more likely than not at trial’.
The case has been adjourned until October 13.
Suffolk Police have been approached for comment