Man jailed for five years for strangling wife to death ‘was given unduly lenient sentence’

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·4-min read
Anthony Williams was found guilty of manslaughter but cleared of murdering his wife Ruth during lockdown. (PA/Gwent Police)
Anthony Williams was found guilty of manslaughter but cleared of murdering his wife Ruth during lockdown. (PA/Gwent Police)

The five-year prison sentence handed to a man who strangled his wife to death was “unduly lenient”, MP Harriet Harman has said.

Anthony Williams admitted choking his wife Ruth to death in March after worrying about finances on 28 March last year, shortly after the first shutdown began.

He had struggled with anxiety and depression and said he began throttling his 67-year-old wife at their home in Cwmbran, South Wales, after she told him to calm down, Swansea Crown Court heard.

But he denied murder, pleading guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, which he was jailed for on Thursday.

Harman said she was asking for the case to be referred.

Read more: 'Lenient' jail terms given to PC Harper's killers won't be extended, court rules

Judge Paul Thomas said on Thursday the case was "tragic" but 70-year-old Williams' mental state was "severely affected at the time".

“The overwhelming greatest tragedy here is a lady of 67 who had so much to live for, had her life ended by an act of great violence at the hands, literally, of a man she loved for very nearly 50 years," he added.

Harman said: "The fundamental problem is that this shows a fault line in the murder/manslaughter charging.

"There’s a loophole in the law, a fundamental flaw, which gives excuses to a man who kills his wife, which he would never get away with if he killed his neighbour.

"If he went out in the street and killed a neighbour, there would be no question of him facing a murder charge.

"You get a discount for it being your wife and you get a discount for it being in her own home where she should feel safe."

Harman's fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips said Dawn Butler spoke out about the case.

Phillips contrasted it to the maximum prison sentence available for arrivals to England who lie on their passenger locator forms amid new quarantine procedures.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said: "It is clear that women who resist male violence are punished most severely, whereas men who throttle their wives to death for no apparent reason are just “tragic” figures."

Williams told police that after he put his hands on her throat, Ruth got out of the room but he chased her downstairs and grabbed her by the throat again as she tried to unlock the front door to escape.

Harriet Harman speaking at the International Congress of Parliamentary Women's Caucuses at Dublin castle today.
Harriet Harman has asked the attorney general to refer the case. (PA)

A pathologist said they could not rule out the use of a dressing gown cord that was found in the home.

Williams told officers after being arrested: "I am sorry, I just snapped, I am sorry."

The court heard his money worries were "trivial". His daughter Emma said the couple was not argumentative and that he was a "gentle giant" who "wouldn't hurt a fly".

Ruth Williams was not murdered, jurors at Swansea Crown Court found. (PA/Gwent Police)
The five year sentence given to Anthony Williams for killing his wife has been criticised as lenient. (PA/Gwent Police)

The court also heard from psychologists. One said that Williams' depression and anxiety were "heightened" by lockdown and affected his self-control, and he had been affected by retiring and losing his purpose and structure.

However, another said Williams had no documented history of depression and "no psychiatric defences" were available to him, insisting the pensioner "knew what he was doing at the time".

Watch: What you can and can't do in lockdown