Ex-soldier Aaron Wilkinson sentenced for killing woman


The family of a woman who was shot dead by a soldier left mentally scarred from the war in Afghanistan said today they were appalled at the length of his sentence.

Gamekeeper Aaron Wilkinson, 24, was jailed for a minimum of five years at Bradford Crown Court for killing 52-year-old Judith Garnett by shooting her in the chest and head.

But he will not be released until he no longer poses a threat to public safety.

Wilkinson was cleared in April of murdering Mrs Garnett but admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mrs Garnett's brother, Chris Higgins, said the sentence had "flattened" her relatives.

Speaking to journalists outside court, he said: "The family are appalled with the decision. It has flattened the family and we are going to appeal against it."

At the time of the killing, Wilkinson was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a tour in Afghanistan during which he witnessed three Afghan soldiers being blown up by an improvised explosive device and suffered a shrapnel wound during an intense two-day battle with the Taliban.

He has also been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, or a similar condition, since his return from war in 2009.

Wilkinson, wearing glasses, a dark suit, white shirt and tie, showed no emotion as he was given the indeterminate jail sentence for the public protection with a minimum term of five years.

The former soldier, of Alma Street, Woodlesford, Leeds, joined the Territorial Army at 19 and went on a six-month tour of duty of Afghanistan in 2009.

Following his return from Afghanistan, Wilkinson moved into Mrs Garnett's attic room.

The court heard that Wilkinson had known Mrs Garnett since he was 13. He worked on her game farm and she acted as a mother figure to him.

Judge Justice Kenneth Parker said: "She was the one person who had showed you kindness, generosity and even maternal affection."

While staying in Mrs Garnett's attic, he applied to join the regular Army but his application was turned down.

He found it hard to adapt to civilian life and motivate himself and his relationship with Mrs Garnett began to deteriorate.

On the day of the shooting, January 24 last year, Mrs Garnett returned home and shouted at him for not letting her dogs out, calling him "thick" and a "cruel bastard".

The judge rejected Wilkinson's account that he shot Mrs Garnett three times after she threw his shotgun up through the hatch into his attic bedroom and told him to "pack his bags".

He said he could not believe Wilkinson's account that Mrs Garnett stood in the attic room and watched Wilkinson load the gun with two cartridges before shooting her.

He told Wilkinson: "I am satisfied that you had already loaded that gun. When she came to the attic you gave her no choice to say or do anything, you simply gunned down a defenceless woman."

Wilkinson said he could not explain why he shot Mrs Garnett and said it was as though he was in a "trance".

The jury accepted that the combination of Asperger's syndrome and PTSD had left Wilkinson unable to fully exercise self-control at the time of the attack.

But the judge rejected the idea that he could not exercise any at all as Wilkinson loaded a third cartridge into the shotgun and shot Mrs Garnett in the head, having already shot her twice.

He said: "There was an element of calculation in which you could have paused and made greater efforts to restrain yourself.

"After you had fired the first two shots either instinctively as you say, or with some calculation I think, you then calmly loaded a third cartridge and that is a moment where you could have made greater efforts to restrain yourself.

"You made death certain and you made the killing that much more horrific."

Mrs Garnett's sons are now orphans and her father has outlived her, the court heard.

The judge said: "This was a brutal killing of a woman in her own home. Her sons, who when young lost their father in a car accident, now have no mother.

"Your victim's elderly father has had to live to see his daughter die in the most shocking and distressing circumstances."