Man who shot his wife 'had hired a hit-man'

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The Independent Online

An abusive husband who shot his wife dead as she hid in a cupboard wrote a suicide note saying he had hired a hit-man to kill her in case he failed, an inquest was told yesterday.

Alan Pemberton punched his estranged wife Julia in the mouth after calling her a "fucking whore" and shot her four times at close range with a 12-bore shotgun. Moments earlier, Mr Pemberton, 48, had killed their 17-year-old son, William, outside their £1m mansion in Hermitage, Berkshire. He later turned the gun on himself. Mrs Pemberton's terror during her last moments were recorded in a desperate 16-minute 999 phone call.

The inquest at Reading civic centre heard the millionaire financial adviser was obsessed with taking revenge on his 47-year-old wife for trying to divorce him and accusing him of raping her.

Detective Inspector Steven Reschwamm, the investigating officer, said an undated note in which he admitted having a contract out on his wife was found in a black briefcase in Mr Pemberton's BMW, parked nearby on 18 November 2003, the day of the killings. The note read: "I have paid a substantial amount of cash to have her killed if I fail myself."

He also wrote that he wanted Mrs Pemberton to tell their son that the allegations of sexual abuse were untrue. "I hated to think that I died with my children thinking I had raped their mother. My anger for what she has done and the callous way in which she has done it left me with no alternative but to take my revenge."

Det Insp Reschwamm said Thames Valley Police had found no evidence that Mr Pemberton had paid a hit-man but it was clear "he had been prepared to do this for some time".

John Cownley, a family friend, had earlier testified that Mr Pemberton was a "proud father" but added that he was stressed by a legal battle with a business partner and his wife's allegations of sexual abuse. He spoke of Mrs Pemberton's fear that her husband would kill her: "She did say on a number of occasions, 'if Alan kills himself, he'll kill me first'."

The inquest heard how Mrs Pemberton had suffered years of abuse by her husband, who had threatened to kill her. On the evening of her death, she phoned 999 at 7.11pm. Officers arrived nearly 40 minutes later at 7.50pm, after some difficulty in locating the house.

Peter Bedford, the Berkshire coroner, described Mr Pemberton's "desperation" and "callousness" as he recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. He exonerated Thames Valley Police of blame.

The couple's daughter, Laura Pemberton, 20, who was away at Cambridge University when the killings took place, said afterwards in a written statement: "As you can imagine, it has been a very difficult time for me since the tragic loss of my family last November. Now that the inquest is over I would like to try to get on with my life. I am very grateful to everyone who has supported me through the past months, especially my family and friends."

Mrs Pemberton's brother, Frank Mullane, called William "a hero" for attempting to save his mother's life. "William took it on himself to stand before his father. He took two shots at point-blank range on the porch. It appears he then went round the side of the house to call his father back whilst bearing these wounds," he said.

He criticised shortcomings in Thames Valley Police's domestic violence policy and said he had not had an "adequate answer" as to why police waited nearly seven hours to enter the house at 1.53am the following day.