Three appeal judges ordered the release of Janet Gardner after hearing that she had been reduced by years of unremitting violence to a state of 'helplessness, hopelessness and depression' before she finally and fatally retaliated during one of the many onslaughts from Peter Iles.
Her freedom, coming only weeks after the same court ordered the release of another victim of domestic violence, Kiranjit Alhuwalia, was yesterday welcomed by defence lawyers and women's groups, who regarded the ruling as a significant recognition of 'battered wives' syndrome' - even though the judges emphasised that their decision was made in the 'exceptional circumstances' of her case.
Lord Justice Leggatt, sitting with Mr Justice Rougier and Mr Justice Sedley, had before them a psychiatric report - not available at her 1991 trial - which showed Mrs Gardner was suffering from a severe depressive illness triggered by years of abuse at the hands of Mr Iles, with whom she had had a volatile five-year relationship.
They heard she still bore the scars of one incident in which he tried to cut her throat. She had been beaten, kicked and punched, sometimes needing hospital treatment. She had initially sought to separate from him, even seeking an injunction to keep him away, but her will to help herself had been finally broken by his persistence in tracking her down. Sometimes he would drive his car alongside her in the street and leap out and punch her.
Her shame caused her to try and hide what was happening from friends and family. She would make excuses for her black eyes and bruised face, the court was told. As she sunk into depression, she lost her job as a bookkeeper and spent more and more time in her home. She had tried to take her own life.
Finally at her home in Southsea, Portsmouth, when Mr Iles grabbed her round the neck and started beating her head against the kitchen doorway, she picked a knife from the wall and stabbed him seven times in the chest and neck. She told police and the courts she never meant Mr Iles any harm and yesterday outside court she said she deserved punishment for what had happened. No one should take a life, she said. But she added that society should treat domestic violence as a serious issue so that this kind of catastrophic consequence could be avoided.
At her trial in Winchester Crown Court, her plea of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation had been accepted by the jury. Yesterday she was appealing against the five-year prison term. Edward Fitzgerald, her barrister, told the court that hers was a case deserving of the court's mercy - the sentence of five years was manifestly too long.
The appeal judges substituted a probation order saying she had spent long enough in jail to 'expiate in some measure the guilt she must feel for the rest of her life'.
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