Published: Wednesday 8th October 2014 by The News Editor
An elderly dog-breeder shot his partner and her daughter in a “dreadful display of violence” after he claimed they had been tormenting him, a court heard.
John Lowe loaded his shotgun to put down four dogs at his farm near Farnham, Surrey, but instead turned the weapon on 66-year-old Christine Lee before shooting her daughter, Lucy Lee, twice, after she had been “running for her life” from him before returning to confront him, jurors were told.
The 82-year-old denies at Guildford Crown Court two charges of murder on February 23 this year and a third charge of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.
Mark Dennis QC told the jury that a “desperate” 999 call was made by Lucy, 40, saying that Lowe had killed her mother and she believed she was about to be killed as well.
Mr Dennis said: “The female caller was in a frightened and frantic state, saying that a man called John Lowe had just shot her mother and that she was herself running for her life.
“Moments later, showing extraordinary courage, the caller indicated that she had made the decision to go back to the scene of the incident, saying as she ran: ‘I’m gonna go back for him but I’ll die’, followed by ‘I’m nearly outside the house and I fear he’s going to shoot me’.
“Her last words to the operator were: ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be alive if I go back in there. He shot my mum. Bye’.
“Those were indeed her last words to anyone save possibly to John Lowe who moments later was to kill her with two shots from a shotgun.”
Mr Dennis continued: “When the police arrived at the address they were met with a scene of carnage. A guard dog was lying dead on the ground at the front of the house.
“The caller, Lucy Lee, was lying dead or dying on some garden steps at the rear of the house, her mother, Christine Lee, was lying dead or dying in the living room inside the house and three further dogs were found lying dead in out-buildings near to the house.
“All these victims of violence had been killed by shots from the same shotgun.”
Explaining the reason for the killing was not fully known, he added: “Still at the property was 82-year-old John Lowe, now resigned to his fate – the rage or loss of temper that had caused such violence by now having subsided.
“Upon arrest he made no apology for shooting the two women, merely commenting: ‘They’ve been giving me s*** for weeks.
“The two victims are not here to give an account of what led up to this dreadful display of violence nor to respond to any accusation or suggestion that the defendant has sought, or may now seek to make following their death.
“Only he knows the true reason why he lost his temper in such a lethal way.
“However what is clear in the prosecution submission is that the defendant would have to know full well what he was doing.
“Indeed, having already fired a fatal shot into Christine Lee, and then firing a shot into Lucy Lee, the defendant would have had to have re-loaded the shotgun before then firing the second, fatal shot into Lucy’s chest and doing so at very close range.”
Mr Dennis explained that Christine Lee had formed a “close relationship” with Lowe, providing him “care and assistance” and she had been staying at his house at the weekends for a few months before her death.
Her daughter, Lucy, lived with her partner elsewhere but would spend time at the defendant’s home to assist her mother.
But Mr Dennis said that the defendant, who had fallen on hard times, had complained about the mother and daughter interfering in his affairs.
Lowe had told a motor mechanic who had come to the property to repair a vehicle: “Those two between them drive me f****** mad, they want to know about the ins and out of everything’.”
Mr Dennis said that he added “that they wanted to know and control everything about the house and finances”.
He added that Lowe made several complaints about the mother and daughter after he was arrested.
Lowe told officers: “I’m glad the torment’s over with these people. I couldn’t take it anymore. F*** it. They treated me like s***. I only got the gun this morning to put the dogs down.
“Came in and Lucy shouted ‘What are you doing. You’re not going to put my mother down’.
“They barracked me and I pulled the trigger. I don’t even know if I meant to.”
He also said: “If that cow hadn’t gone all f****** mental at me, I wouldn’t have gone and pulled the trigger. I didn’t mean to pull it.”
He added: “It was funny how she got shot. I’d loaded the gun to put down four dogs. The gun went off completely by accident as they were pushing me out of the conservatory.”
Mr Dennis said that in police interviews, Lowe said that he had shot Christine by accident and had tried but failed to kill himself after he had shot the two women.
He said: “The essence of his account was that he had been under increasing stress owing to the way that he was being treated by Christine and Lucy.
“He maintained that he had killed Christine by accident. He claimed that the shotgun had a loose safety catch and a hair trigger. Neither of those claims was found to be the case when the shotgun was examined by a firearms expert.
“However, although he would say Christine was shot by accident he was vague about how Lucy came to be shot, frankly finding himself unable sensibly to explain it.
“He stated that having shot both victims he then went and shot dead the four dogs.
“He claimed that he had been intending to take his own life thereafter, he claimed that when he finally saw the police approaching the house, he had twice tried to shoot himself but found that on both attempts the gun failed to go off for some unknown reason.
“This is a man who has known and used shotguns for many years who has fired and reloaded at least once. You might have thought if he had wanted to commit suicide he of all people would have known how to, but that is what he said anyway.”
Mr Dennis said: “However much the defendant may try and justify his actions in his own mind, or try to put a gloss on his actions, there can in truth be no justification for such violence.
“Anger or loss of temper may explain a person’s conduct but it cannot excuse it or provide a defence.
“It is difficult to see how the deliberate firing of a shotgun at unarmed, defenceless victims could be done without the intention either to kill or at the very least to cause really serious harm to those persons. In either state of mind that would amount to the offence of murder.”
Mr Dennis said that Lowe can only have intended to kill Christine and her daughter, both of whom he shot at close range. He said evidence suggested that he shot Christine as she was in a “cowering position” as he stood over her.
He said he then went on to kill her daughter with two shots. Mr Dennis said: “The defendant, in effect, ended her life in the same heartless way as he used to dispose of the lives of the four dogs.”
He said the defendant had a “matter-of-fact” manner when he was arrested. Mr Dennis said that Lowe “simply waved” at officers who arrived at the property before he later surrendered.
Armed police and a police helicopter were scrambled to the scene but they were unable to approach the house until about 35 minutes after the alarm was raised.
He said: “By then, all the shootings had finished and the defendant was now back inside the house, no doubt contemplating his next course of action.
“He would inevitably have seen the armed police officers as they approached and started to encircle the house.
“At one point, officers caught sight of the defendant inside the conservatory. They shouted at him but he simply waved at them before disappearing further into the house.
“A few moments later, an officer heard the sound of ‘two to four loud clicks’, sounds which were consistent with attempts at discharging a shotgun.
“There were, however, no more shots, and moments later the defendant emerged empty-handed and finally surrendered himself to the police, confessing that he had shot two people who were now both dead.”
The jury was shown photos detailing where the bodies of the two women were found, as well as where blood stains were discovered by forensics officers.
Mr Dennis said Christine was killed by a single shotgun shot fired at her upper chest at the close range of approximately 1ft or less.
He said Lucy received a shotgun shot to the back of her head from about 9ft and a shot to the upper chest from close range of about 1ft.
Mr Dennis said the defendant had previously worked as a game-keeper, which is where he might have learned to shoot and handle guns.
He said he later became a successful dog breeder but had recently ceased to hold a licence for the business he created at the farm, which he called Keepers Cottage Stud at Waverley Lane, Tilford, and which he had bought in the late 1960s.
Mr Dennis said: “By 2014 he was living a rather meagre existence at his home near Farnham. In 2012 his long-term partner Susanna Wilson sadly died, leaving him to look after the property and the remaining collection of small animals that he kept in the grounds.”
He said Christine’s other daughter, Stacey, lived with her partner in a caravan in the grounds for a period in 2013 but it was her mother and sister who were regular visitors.
Mr Dennis said: “It would appear that for the defendant it was a difficult period of adjustment.
“He may well have had something of a love-hate relationship with Christine and Lucy, welcoming their help but at the same time resenting their interference in his life and routine.
“He showed no apparent concern for his two victims, leaving them where they lay.”
Mr Dennis said that some people became “ill-tempered and cantankerous” as they grew older but this was no justification for murder.
“Such bad traits which may develop as we get older do not excuse or cannot full explain his conduct and cannot excuse acts of murder, however much we may feel sympathy for an elderly person.”
He added: “His age provides no excuse for his conduct, there is no evidence of any mental incapacity that could somehow explain his actions.”
The trial continues.
Published: Wednesday 8th October 2014 by The News Editor