Sara Thornton is cleared of murder

Killer walks free but verdict fails to resolve legal issues over domestic violence. Will Bennett reports

Sara Thornton walked free from court yesterday after a jury found her not guilty of murdering her alcoholic husband, but convicted her of manslaughter.

Her case had become a cause celebre for women's groups because Thornton, 41, said that her husband, Malcolm, beat her up regularly. It put the issue of reforming the law on domestic violence firmly on the political agenda.

Thornton said after yesterday's verdict: "I am too tired to feel a sense of victory and there has been too much pain and at the end of the day, Malcolm died."

But the verdict after a 12-day retrial at Oxford Crown Court, ordered by the Court of Appeal, did nothing to resolve the issue of how the courts should deal with women driven to kill by repeated domestic violence.

Mr Justice Scott Baker sentenced Thornton to five years imprisonment for manslaughter, but said that the outcome was the result of evidence that she was suffering from a severe personality disorder rather than a question of provocation.

He told Thornton "I sentence you on the basis that your responsibility for killing your husband was diminished by your abnormality of mind."

Thornton showed no emotion as the jury of eight men and four women returned their verdict after deliberating for six hours and staying overnight in a hotel. She silently mouthed "I love you" to her daughter Luise moments before the jury foreman announced its decision.

Luise,18, and Barbara Garver, Thornton's sister, wept with relief at the verdict.

Across the court Malcolm Thornton's family looked shocked and disappointed by the decision. Gladys Sothers, his sister, burst into tears.

The judge's sentence meant that Thornton could walk free as she had already served five and a half years of a life sentence imposed in 1990 when she was convicted at her first trial of murdering her husband.

"I do not think that you represent a continuing danger to the public and the sentence I am going to pass will not mean that you have to return to prison," the judge told her.

Thornton never denied killing her husband but claimed that she stabbed him accidentally after a row as he lay drunk on the sofa of their home in Atherstone, Warwickshire, in 1989. The prosecution claimed that she was a "pathological liar" who killed him for financial reasons.

She lost her first appeal but what had been a domestic murder case which had passed largely unnoticed was taken up by women's groups campaigning for a change in the way courts deal with domestic violence cases.

A high-profile campaign followed which culminated in a second appeal hearing last December, at which her lawyers said that she was a victim of "battered woman syndrome" as a result of her husband's repeated violence, which caused her to lose control and kill him.

The Court of Appeal quashed the murder conviction and ordered a retrial. But the question of battered woman syndrome played little part in her second trial, during which much attention was paid to her personality disorder.

Psychiatrists told the court that Thornton suffers from a condition called dissociation, which causes her to react inappropriately to events and tell people what she thinks they want to hear.

After the verdict yesterday, Mrs Sothers said: "We basically think that the jury has bowed to feminist pressure. No one could have stood up to that."

Jean Murray, another of Mr Thornton's sisters, added: "It has cleared Malcolm's name in that she has not proved that she was a battered wife. She has just proved that she has an abnormality of mind."

But Thornton said later: "We don't know how the jury found for manslaughter, whether it was for provocation or for diminished responsibility. They did come back and ask questions on provocation and so obviously the issue was uppermost in their minds."

She said that she thought the verdict and the sentence were fair and added: "I am not saying that every woman should be sent to prison, but for me it was fair. I took a life at the end of the day."

As for her future, Thornton said she planned to write a book. "I have a vision of prisons as places of history rather than punishment. Prison was a healing place for me." She added: "I have a new life to build."

Asked about her conscience, she said: "I'm very, very judgemental of myself, probably more than anybody else. Forgive myself? Not yet."

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone