A City banker who killed his unfaithful wife after she asked for a divorce was found guilty of manslaughter yesterday but acquitted of murder after the jury agreed that there was no proof he had intended to take her life.
Neil Ellerbeck, a 46-year-old executive at HSBC, strangled Kate Ellerbeck, his wife of 14 years, during a heated argument at their home in Enfield, north London, last November.
During the trial, the court heard that the investment manager had bugged more than 127 hours of his wife's phone calls after learning that she was having three affairs. He too was involved in an extra-marital affair with a former girlfriend.
The prosecution suggested that Ellerbeck, who earned £136,000 a year before bonuses, had "squirreled away" upwards of £500,000 and feared his wife would be awarded a large sum in a divorce settlement.
Yesterday, a jury at the Old Bailey cleared him of murder and convicted him instead of manslaughter on the grounds of lack of intent. He will be sentenced today.
During the three-week trial the court was told that the Ellerbecks' relationship had been unsteady for some time. Mrs Ellerbeck had been seeing Martin Perry, an old boyfriend, Guiliano Vilardo, an Italian chef who worked at the Ritz Hotel, and Patrick McAdam, her 13-year-old son's tennis coach. Her husband had been sleeping with his ex-partner Julie Ring.
Suspecting his wife's infidelity, Ellerbeck bugged her telephone conversations using a dictaphone and also monitored her text messages. But in court, Ellerbeck claimed that he was not jealous of the fact that his wife was having sex with other men, saying that he understood why she was doing it.
He told the jury: "I don't believe I am jealous. I didn't ask her to stop doing anything. I didn't confront her about these chaps. In a way I understood. She was using these friends as shoulders as well. Julie was mine." He also said that he felt "sad" about recording his wife's phone calls and that he would sometimes buy her flowers after listening to the recordings.
On the day she died, 14 November 2008, the Ellerbecks had dropped their 11-year-old daughter at a school entrance exam. They were on their way home when they started arguing about the girl's education.
Once inside the couple's £600,000 house, the court heard, Ellerbeck had suggested making his wife a cup of tea when, according to his police interview, she said: "Tea's not going to make things better – haven't you got the hint yet? Why are you still here?"
He said that he told her he was not going anywhere when she replied: "Maybe I'll just divorce you." He claimed he tried to leave and she grabbed him. A physical struggle ensued, during which Ellerbeck said he gave his wife "a decent shove", admitted that he "pinned her down" and hit her "with the heel of my hand quite hard up to her face".
Ellerbeck said he then left the house to collect his daughter. He said that when he left, his wife was "very pale, breathing very quickly, panting". When he returned, she was face down in the hallway. He called 999 but when paramedics arrived, one said: "I don't think there's much we can do here."
In the weeks leading up to her death, Mrs Ellerbeck had confided in her sister, Susan Reed, about her failing marriage, saying that she suspected her husband was spying on her and that she feared he might hit her.
Yesterday, following the verdict, Mrs Reed read a victim impact statement to the court. She said: "I love and miss my sister very much and will do so for the rest of my life. It is just terrible to know that my brother-in-law has done such a horrific thing and he will have to live with this for the rest of his life."Reuse content