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Retired police officer, 79, given hospital order after shooting terminally ill wife in 'pact'

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An elderly retired police officer shot dead his terminally ill wife before turning the gun on himself after telling their family the couple couldn’t live without each other.

Former soldier John McDonald Smith, 79, was devoted to wife Carol, 76, and spent the final days of her life caring for her at their home in Bexhill, East Sussex, after she was discharged from a hospice.

In an email to his children, Smith wrote: ‘I do not wish to live without your mum. This is not a slight on any of you. I love you all and I just don’t wish to live without your mum.’

On February 5, 2021, the couple’s son Andrew visited them and saw his mother in ‘severe pain’ with her face turning blue. Smith showed his son a revolver and in the early hours of the next morning, shot dead his wife before turning the gun on himself.

Incredibly, Smith survived and still has the bullet lodged in his head.

At Lewes Crown Court, the former soldier was handed a custodial hospital order after pleading guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and possession of a firearm. 

John McDonald Smith, 79, was devoted to wife Carol (pictured), 76, and spent the final days of her life caring for her at their home in Bexhill, East Sussex

John McDonald Smith, 79, was devoted to wife Carol (pictured), 76, and spent the final days of her life caring for her at their home in Bexhill, East Sussex

In the early hours of February 6, 2021, Smith shot dead his wife Carol before turning the gun on himself. Incredibly, he survived and still has the bullet in his head

In the early hours of February 6, 2021, Smith shot dead his wife Carol before turning the gun on himself. Incredibly, he survived and still has the bullet in his head

The former soldier, who served in the Far East before joining Surrey Police, broke down in the dock as prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC described that it was obvious his wife did not have long to live when she came home to die in February last year.

‘She kept saying, “I want to die, I want to finish,”‘ Mr Bennetts said.

Andrew Smith visited his parents at their home on what was to be their final day together.

Mr Bennetts said: ‘When he was alone with his parents, his mother was in severe pain. His father said, “When you go, I go” and his mother nodded in agreement to this.

‘He said he would be going straight away, immediately.’

Smith showed his son the revolver and said the skin turning blue around her nose and chin was a sign his mother was going.

‘Andrew left the room,’ Mr Bennetts said. ‘Shortly afterwards, there was the sound of gunshots. At 2.02am, she was pronounced dead and he was arrested.’

The revolver was recovered from the house.

Police and forensic investigators explore the scene of the shootings at Mr and Mrs Smith’s home in Bexhill, East Sussex

Police and forensic investigators explore the scene of the shootings at Mr and Mrs Smith’s home in Bexhill, East Sussex

John Smith survived and still has the bullet in his head, lodged between the brain stem and carotid artery.

In an email on February 5 shortly before the shootings, Smith wrote to his children: ‘Your mum and I had been married for 47 years.

‘In our late 70s, it was never really likely we would clock up many more years. If she was to pass away before me, I would like go right away.’

Smith was interviewed in hospital by officers and became distressed at learning he would make a full recovery. Upon hearing of his wife’s death, he said: ‘I’m glad… she was in a lot of pain.’

Smith was sectioned under the Mental Health Act soon afterwards.

The court heard Smith cared for his wife for many years and the family were concerned for his mental health when it became clear she did not have long to live. 

Another son, James, said that his father told him he could not live without his wife.

In a statement, he said: ‘I feel it is important for his sake for the court to know, he would have wanted to stop her pain.’

Son-in-law Michael Hewson described how he had given his Smith a pistol and ammunition to hand over to authorities when he was still a serving police officer. Smith also claimed to have found another gun at around the same time and kept both.

At Lewes Crown Court, the former soldier was handed a custodial hospital order after pleading guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and possession of a firearm

At Lewes Crown Court, the former soldier was handed a custodial hospital order after pleading guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and possession of a firearm

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Marco Picchioni told the court there had been a degree of preparation and planning and recommended returning Smith – who had a history of depression and suicide ideation – to hospital for further treatment.

Tom Nicholson Pratt, defending, said: ‘There is nothing to contradict his love and devotion to her. 

‘Her condition was difficult for both of them, but he lovingly attended to both of their needs.’

The lockdown restrictions apparently took a toll on the mental health of both husband and wife, leaving him feeling ‘helpless’ to alleviate her suffering. 

Judge Christine Laing QC told Smith it was clear he adored his wife.

‘She was your wife for more than half of your lifetimes. She had limited mobility and was in severe pain.

‘You ended her life by placing a gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger.

‘It is the duty of the court to uphold the sanctity of human life in all circumstances, no matter what personal views people may have.

‘You were rightly charged with her murder and the crown have accepted your responsibility was diminished by reason of your mental health at the time. 

‘You were a devoted couple, still very much in love with each other and could not contemplate life without the other. This was not a situation where you had had enough or wished to be free.

‘You and Carol decided neither of you wished to live without the other. You shot her to ensure she would not be resuscitated again because having shot her, you shot yourself. 

‘As somebody who had worked in service of the public for most of your adult life in the army and police service, you can be considered as somebody of exemplary character.’ 

Judge Laing told Smith he would be returning to hospital where it would be for psychiatrists to decide if and when he was to be released.

‘Today, you will be going back to the hospital and it will be for the doctors to decide when and if it is safe to release you.’

The judge thanked Mr Bennetts for dealing with a very difficult and very tragic case.

Before he was helped out of the dock and down the stairs to the cells, Smith said: ‘Thank you, your honour. Thank you.’ 

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