Berkshire

British Airways pilot cleared of murdering wife Joanna Brown in Ascot

A pilot who battered his estranged wife to death with a claw hammer and buried her body has been cleared of murder.

The body of wealthy Ascot guesthouse owner Joanna Brown, 46, originally from the Isle of Man, was found on the Queen's Windsor Estate in Berkshire.

British Airways captain Robert Brown, 47, was convicted of obstructing a coroner from holding an inquest.

Brown had already admitted manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. He was jailed for 26 years.

The jury, at Reading Crown Court, returned its verdicts after nearly 15 hours of deliberation.

Mrs Brown's mother Diana Parkes and brother James Simpson said in a statement: "Today, there has been a gross miscarriage of justice.

Pre-nuptial agreement

"However, I would like to thank the judge for recognising the truth of what actually happened. He got away with murder in name only.

"Robert Brown is an intelligent man and has had five months on remand to contrive a cunning plan to make out he was suffering from diminished responsibility, which has manipulated the evidence and subsequent verdict."

Sentencing Brown, Judge Mr Justice Cooke told him: "You intended to kill, you intended to conceal the body and to hide the evidence of the killing."

During the eight-day trial the court heard Brown had been consumed by anger during the course of his marriage, and a pre-nuptial agreement signed in 1999 had caused him "continuing resentment".

When his wife filed for divorce, it set in motion three years of protracted legal wrangling which was still continuing at the time he killed her.

The court had heard how on 31 October, last year, he drove to the former marital home, Tun Cottage in Ascot, to drop off their two children. He was armed with the claw hammer, jurors were told.

On arrival, and with the children out of sight, Brown hit his wife around the head with the hammer at least 14 times.

Jurors heard he then bundled the children into his car, wrapped his wife's body in plastic sheeting and dumped it in the boot before driving to woodland where he had already dug a hole and put down a makeshift coffin.

The couple's daughter later told police she heard her parents "hitting each other" before she watched "Dad put Mum in the car because he... hurt her".

Brown, of North Street, Winkfield, was arrested the following day after he contacted police.

Plastic crate

They had already been called to investigate the disappearance and discovered spots of blood on the drive and in the hallway of Mrs Brown's mock-Tudor mansion.

After confessing to the killing Brown led officers directly to the secluded burial site.

In the "robust plastic crate" - likened to those sold at DIY stores - investigators found Mrs Brown bound with a strap and garden ties.

On top of her body were rolls of tape, more garden ties, latex gloves, plastic footwear and two white paper overalls.

Image caption Brown had prepared the grave he used on the Queen's Windsor Estate before he killed his wife

An archaeologist told the court the grave could have been dug a "matter of weeks earlier", but Brown told police he had lowered the box into the earth as long ago as January 2009, as a symbolic gesture to bury the "sham" of his marriage.

Mrs Brown's body was found on its side inside the box. She had suffered extensive fractures to her skull and facial bones, along with a brain injury from which she would have had no hope of recovering, the court heard.

Brown said he killed his wife after an argument over schools.

He said he had been suffering from "severe stress" and an "abnormality of mental function" which substantially impaired his self-control.

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