Wife of dead judge 'gave police conflicting stories'

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The wife of a judge who died in a fire in their garden shed changed her story about their relationship on the night of his death, an inquest heard yesterday.

Judge Andrew Chubb, 58, burnt to death less than an hour after telling his partner of 34 years that he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. His wife Jennifer, 60, gave neighbours and police conflicting stories, one about their amicable relationship and the other suggesting her husband killed himself.

Michael Cross, the first firefighter at the scene, said he was told by a police officer that Mrs Chubb had claimed her husband threatened to kill himself after a row. But, in a statement read to the court, Mrs Chubb told PC Roger Saunders her relationship with the judge was amicable and did not mention any suicidal thoughts he may have had.

Mrs Chubb went on to tell PC Saunders that her husband confessed on the night of his death to having a two-year affair with Kerry Sparrow, a 38-year-old legal secretary, and said their marriage was over. He then left their house in Chard, Somerset, to tend to the garden. Moments later, an explosion and fire engulfed Mr Chubb in a shed behind the couple's 19th-century farmhouse.

The judge, one of the prosecutors in the murder trial of the serial killer serial killer Rose West, was so badly burnt that firefighters initially failed to locate a body. A subsequent examination of the scene found no signs of foul play, the inquest at Glastonbury Town Hall was told.

PC Saunders said Mrs Chubb was seen calmly removing clothes from a washing line as the fire consumed her husband. She told the officer she had tried to discuss their marital difficulties minutes before the blast shattered the calm of a July evening in 2001.

"I went out to speak to Andrew but he was not there," she said. "I opened the garage door and I saw him leaning over the lawnmower. He was dressed in his normal gardening gear. I told him, 'You can't just cut the grass. We have to talk about this'. I then went back in the house to prepare food and pour some wine for myself. Shortly after I sat down, there was a massive explosion."

Mrs Chubb, who now lives in Australia and will not give evidence at the inquest, told PC Saunders she dialled 999 and ran from house to seek help from neighbours. The officer said she was "emotional, distressed and tearful" after her husband's remains were eventually discovered but made no mention of believing he had committed suicide.

But neighbours who tried to tackle the fire said Mrs Chubb was adamant that her husband had taken his own life. Peter Evans, a gardener, said: "I remember her being certain her husband had committed suicide."

Beth Luck, another neighbour, told the court: "Jenny was sowing the idea of suicide [but it] never gelled. She was trying to create a background of mental instability, which I don't think was there. [It was] strange stuff to say to someone half an hour after one's husband has been incinerated."

The cause of the fire is still unknown but it could be linked to the mower that Mr Chubb was working on, the inquest heard. Andy Quinlan, a firefighter, said: "It is possible fuel vapour may have come into contact with the ignition. He may also have struck a match, but no cause of fire at this point can be proven. No accelerants were found."

Last year, Ms Sparrow succeeded in overturning an accidental death verdict recorded at the first inquest into Mr Chubb's death. The second hearing continues.