Three die in family shooting at luxury home

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The Independent Online

A husband shot dead his estranged wife and their teenage son before apparently turning the gun on himself at a £1m country house the couple had built as their "dream home".

A husband shot dead his estranged wife and their teenage son before apparently turning the gun on himself at a £1m country house the couple had built as their "dream home".

Julia Pemberton called 999 to report seeing an armed man, but when police stormed her Berkshire home they discovered the woman's body, along with her husband, Alan, and son, William.

The teenager was found in the front drive where he had apparently tried to flee. A shotgun was found at the scene. Police say there are no other suspects involved in the triple killing.

The house, called Old Hallowes, set in three acres of grounds on Slanting Hill in Cold Ash, Hermitage, had recently been put up for sale.

Neighbours said it had been Julia and Alan Pemberton's "dream home" when they had it built four years ago, but their relationship had since broken down.

Police yesterday defended the five-hour gap between the original 999 call from Mrs Pemberton and the discovery of the family dead in their home.

The emergency call was made at the house at 7.10pm on Tuesday, but armed officers did not storm the building until 1.45am. The senior investigating officer said police had to secure the area and ensure the safety of people living near by.

Local residents spoke of their shock and described the family as "good neighbours".

About four years ago the Pembertons bought an old house previously owned by a teacher, and knocked it down to build a five-bedroom luxury home with a minstrel gallery.

But the property had recently been put up for sale at £975,000, after Mrs Pemberton had reportedly told her husband, a financial adviser, that she wanted a divorce. As well as their son William, the couple, who were in their forties, are believed to have a teenage daughter, thought to be at college.

After the 999 call on Tuesday, armed officers sealed off the roads around Slanting Hill and brought in a police negotiator to deal with an apparent hostage situation.

But when the officers eventually entered the property they found the bodies of the husband and wife inside and the son on the drive. All appeared to have died from gunshot wounds, although post-mortem examinations have yet to be completed.

Explaining the delay, Detective Inspector Steve Reschwaam, from Thames Valley Police, said: "We did not know exactly what was happening. You have to bear in mind this was a very dark, secluded lane. "We did not know if there was still a gunman in the property, waiting to pick off anyone else who entered.

"We have to take full account of the protection of the public before anything else. We were not about to rush into an unknown, dangerous situation and put other people at risk."

Asked whether police had received any complaints of domestic violence previously from the address, Det Insp Reschwaam said: "I am not in a position to confirm or deny that, because we really don't know at this point."

Cecilia and Nigel Aldridge, neighbours of the dead family, believed Mrs Pemberton was divorcing her husband.

"She was going to divorce him, but there was no one else involved. He must have been driven out of his mind," said Mr Aldridge.

"They had just built the house. It was probably only finished about three years ago and they are selling it now, but who will want to buy it after these murders?"

Graham Taylor, headteacher at Downs School comprehensive, where William Pemberton was studying for his A-levels, said: "This news has come as a terrible shock for all of us. Will was a popular boy. Our immediate concern, of course, is for the other students who have been visibly shaken. We are offering counselling for any member of staff or pupil from the school, especially in the sixth form."

Anthony Calvertz-Jons, a neighbour, said: "It's absolutely terrible. They were very nice people, all very nice looking, and good neighbours. They'd only been here a while and then three years later - bang and it's all over."

Mr Calvertz-Jons and his wife, who would not give her first name, said they had heard a noise last night and had ventured outside their home to find out what was happening and were confronted by armed police, who told them to get back and stay inside.

Mrs Calvertz-Jons said: "We had just sat down to dinner when we thought we heard some shots. At first we thought it could be deer as there are deer round here, but then we went outside and saw what was happening."

She said they had lived in the neighbourhood since 1986 and the family had introduced themselves when they moved in about two years ago.

"She popped round with a couple of bottles of wine when she first moved in, which was really nice. They seemed like lovely people. A For Sale sign was put up a while ago at the house and we thought something might be wrong, but we don't know."