Husband strangled wife 'during a nightmare'

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The Independent Online

A man suffering from a sleep disorder strangled his wife while dreaming he was attacking an intruder in their camper van, a court heard yesterday.

Brian Thomas, 59, accepts he caused the death of his wife Christine, 57, while they were holidaying in Aberporth, west Wales. But Paul Thomas, prosecuting, told a jury at Swansea Crown Court it was a "highly unusual" case and that they did not seek a verdict of guilty to murder or manslaughter.

He said the prosecution sought a "special verdict of not guilty of murder by reason of insanity". The alternative, he said, was simply not guilty. Mr Thomas said the defendant, from Neath, south Wales, had been happily married and he and his wife had two grown-up daughters.

But he said Thomas had a history of sleep walking and other sleep disorder behaviours and that he behaved in a strange way during episodes. On the night Mrs Thomas died in July last year, he said, the couple had parked their camper van in a car park.

But, he said, while they were trying to sleep a number of young people had congregated there with their cars, screeching their tyres, and Thomas decided to move their van elsewhere. The prosecution said that at 3.49am Thomas made a 999 call to police saying he thought he had killed his wife.

In the phone call, he said he had been dreaming he was fighting with the "boy racers" who had disturbed him and his wife earlier that night. He told police he thought one of them had broken in and that he had put him in a headlock, but when he woke up he realised it was his wife and that she was dead.

The prosecution said Thomas had been assessed by sleep experts. Both experts, it was said, had come to the conclusion that Thomas killed his wife while in the middle of a sleep disorder when his behaviour was involuntary.

They agreed that his violent behaviour was consistent with automatism, the prosecution said, and that his mind had no control over what his body was doing. Mr Thomas said it was the prosecution's case that the defendant had suffered insane automatism caused by an internal condition.

He said the defence would argue it was non-insane automatism caused by external factors, particularly the stress caused by the boy racers.