A pensioner smothered her husband of 53 years after he smiled at her when yet another financial problem hit their marriage, a judge has said.
Janet Dunn, 73, snapped and pressed a pillow against 81-year-old husband Anthony’s face in their bedroom, then fled their home in Ponteland, Northumberland, and made a serious attempt to kill herself.
The court heard that experts agreed their relationship was one of coercive control.
The “quiet and shy” great-grandmother was jailed for five years and three months at Newcastle Crown Court after she admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Psychiatrists agreed that, at the time, Janet Dunn was in a depressive episode and anxious, causing her judgment to be substantially impaired.
Peter Glenser QC, prosecuting, said Mr Dunn was known to make grand financial gestures which rarely came off and the couple would borrow money from family which they were unable to repay.
In the period before the killing, they faced having their home of 36 years repossessed.
‘It was the smile that finally caused you to snap’
Judge Paul Sloan, sentencing, said on the morning that she smothered him, it arose that yet again they would have to ask for a loan from a daughter.
He said: “He simply smiled, telling you to go ahead.
“You interpreted that smile as demonstrating a completely uncaring and unfeeling attitude.
“After decades of compliance and submission, it was the smile that finally caused you to snap.
“The anger and frustration you had repressed for years boiled over.”
The couple had three daughters and their middle child died last year aged 47, after which Mr Dunn’s health deteriorated.
He had become more dependent on his wife, worrying if she left him alone, the court heard.
Although not violent in their relationship, he had been verbally abusive and said she would be left “treading on eggshells”, particularly earlier in their marriage.
Relationship was one of ‘coercive control’
Mr Glenser said the husband was quick-tempered and liked to be in control of everything.
Psychiatric experts agreed their relationship was one of “coercive control”, the barrister added.
The judge agreed, telling the defendant: “As a result of his behaviour and conduct towards you, your confidence and self-esteem were eroded.”
After smothering her husband, Dunn drove to a nearby lake and tried to kill herself in her Mercedes but was seen, slumped and unconscious, by a dog-walker who raised the alarm, the court heard.
Their two surviving daughters provided victim statements but they were not read out in court.
John Elvidge QC, defending, said: “This is an extraordinary case. The facts and the background that have been uncovered are extremely sad and distressing.”
He added: “In spite of it all, Mrs Dunn did love her husband. She is desperately sorry for taking his life and for what she has done to their daughters.”
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Steel, of Northumbria Police, said: “This has been an incredibly awful case which I’m sure will have shocked the local community, and has resulted in the death of Mr Dunn.
“Our thoughts remain with his family as they continue to come to terms with this tragic incident. This guilty plea will spare them a trial and the added stress that can bring.”