Judge 'burned in shed while his wife brought in laundry'

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The Independent Online

A judge's wife brought in the washing from her garden and closed the house windows as her husband burned to death yards away in a shed after announcing that he wanted a divorce, an inquest has heard.

Andrew Chubb, 58, died some 90 minutes after returning to his farmhouse near Chard, Somerset, in July 2001 and breaking the news to his wife.

After a previous inquest in 2001, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, claimed there was "not a shred of evidence" to suggest murder but that suicide could not be ruled out. The body was cremated before a pathologist could determine whether or not he had died before the fire.

But last year, Kerry Sparrow, the judge's mistress, won her battle for another inquest to be held.

Mr Chubb's wife, Jennifer, was released without charge and moved to Australia having sold the £1m marital home. She could not be compelled to attend yesterday's hearing in Glastonbury, Somerset.

Neighbours yesterday described the "strange" and "controlling" behavior of Mrs Chubb after hearing an "earth-shattering" explosion in the garden. They described how she gathered in the laundry as the shed was engulfed in flames, before closing the windows to ensure that sparks didn't get inside.

Witnesses say she was immediately adamant her husband had killed himself. Peter Evans, a gardener, was the first on the scene and told the inquest: "I remember her being certain her husband had committed suicide." And Beth Luck, a neighbour, said Mrs Chubb told her that Mr Chubb had taken his life.

Mrs Luck expressed doubt at this claim yesterday. "It was like she was trying to create a background of mental instability which I don't think was there," said Mrs Luck. She added that Mrs Chubb had had a conversation with another neighbour that evening in which they had discussed insurance policies, and said that companies "paid out" for suicide. "This is very strange stuff to be saying to someone within half an hour of her husband being incinerated," Mrs Luck said.

The court heard a transcript of a 999 call in which Mrs Chubb repeatedly implied that Mr Chubb had killed himself. "Oh my God, oh my God, he's done it quite deliberately," she said.

Paul Dunkels, QC, a barrister on the south-west circuit with Mr Chubb, described being told of the affair by Mrs Chubb who had discovered it two weeks earlier: "Jennifer said he told her he did not love the girl, that he wanted to end the relationship but she [Ms Sparrow] had threatened to go to the newspapers. She said he had asked her for a divorce but said he didn't love the other woman."

William Freestone, a GP who knew the couple for 15 years, said Mrs Chubb insisted on inspecting Mr Chubb's remains. He said: "We looked at the remains of Andrew's head lying on a hay bale. Jenny said: 'Oh, I see what's happened now. He's poured petrol everywhere, laid down in the hay and set fire to himself.'"

He pointed out it was odd to have calmly collected the washing while he burned.

The inquest continues.