A RETIRED gas fitter who killed his wife and daughter while suffering from the side-effects of powerful drugs he was taking to treat his incurable cancer was today jailed for life.
Peter Redfern, 70, admitted strangling his wife Jean before hours later attacking their daughter Sarah with a hammer when she came home from work. Both women were found with their heads covered by plastic bags and electrical flex round their necks.
Sheffield Crown Court heard the pensioner phoned 999 after the killings at the family’s home in Wath-upon-Dearne, South Yorkshire, and told the police operator: “My name is Redfern, I have just killed my wife and daughter.”
Redfern, described as “a person of exemplary character”, had two months earlier been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable form of bone marrow cancer, and signed up for national drug trials to treat the disease.
He had twice come off different cocktails of chemotherapy drugs, which both included Dexamethasone, a type of steroid used to treat a number of conditions, after suffering “significant adverse” side-effects, the court heard.
Expert reports referred to in court revealed that a “small number of cases” of Dexamethasone treatment had led to “adverse psychiatric events”.
The court was told that between two and five per cent of patients suffered such episodes, but that only one per cent experienced “serious adverse psychiatric events”.
Patients taking the drug are warned it can cause “serious mental health problems” such as depression, although regulators are not thought to be concerned about it being licensed for use by cancer patients.
The court had accepted a plea of manslaughter with diminished responsibility for the killing of his wife, due to his depression which can lead to “impulsive conduct and impairment of judgment”.
But sentencing Redfern to life in prison today, Mr Justice Males said there was no question of reduced responsibility for what he did to his daughter, who “suffered a cruel death at the hands of her own father”.
“You had hitherto lived a blameless life and I accept that on the evidence these tragic events would never have taken place if not for the side-effects of the drugs which you had been taking,” he said.
“Although in the case of your daughter’s killing, there is no question of a plea of diminished responsibility.”
He said despite his mental state Redfern knew what he was doing and had time to think about it as he waited for Sarah to return home.
“Having killed your wife apparently on the spur of the moment, you made a deliberate and dreadful decision that you would kill your daughter too,” he said.
“She was a young woman with most of her life before her, happy in her job as a shop assistant, and appreciated by those with whom she worked.
“Even though you were depressed, you knew what you were doing, you planned how you would do it and you had time to think about it while you waited for your daughter to come home.”
Judge Males said the three of them had formed a close and reserved family unit with little or no outside social life but still paid tribute to the family members who would continue to love and miss them.
For the killing of his wife, Redfern was sentenced to 12 years and for the murder of his daughter he received a life sentence with a minimum term of 17 years, to be served concurrently.
Mark George QC, mitigating, told the court the actions of his client on July 22 had “come as the most appalling, devastating blow to everyone involved in the case”.
He added: “He has never really been able to explain why he killed Jean. He has always maintained that the only thing he could think of was that it must in some way be linked to the treatment he had for the cancer.
“He had absolutely no motivation to harm Jean in any way. He acted without any pre-meditation or thought and it was entirely on the spur of the moment.”
Mr George added that Redfern had led an “utterly blameless life” up to that point.
He told the court that “when something as devastating as this happens it is hard to get away from the fact that in some way, probably not entirely understood or easily articulated, there was something about the effect on him from the treatment he had for cancer that precipitated this catastrophic chain of events”.
He added: “A few hours later, after killing his wife, he became aware of the fact that his daughter, and Jean’s good friend, Sarah, would be coming home and would inevitably find that not only her mother was dead but why she was dead and who was responsible.
“He felt he couldn’t allow that situation to happen and that it would be too much for her to bear. It seemed he took a decision before she returned to kill her.”
Emergency services arrived at the home in Sandygate at 7pm on July 22 to find Jean lying dead in her bedroom and Sarah dead in the kitchen. Mr Redfern’s blood-stained clothes were found in the bathroom.
Redfern had been due to face trial for murdering Jean, 67, and Sarah, 33, but yesterday changed his plea and admitted the murder of his daughter and the manslaughter of his wife. He denied a charge of murder in relation to Jean Redfern.
Graham Reeds QC, prosecuting, told the court the Crown accepted the manslaughter plea on the basis of diminished responsibility.
Mr George said: “This was a man we can all agree would never have acted in the way that he did if it had not been for the reaction caused by the taking of these powerful drugs.
“This case does begin and end with tragedy. In the course of less than a year the lives of all those involved in this case have been completely and utterly overturned and Mr Redfern and his family utterly ruined.
“He knows that there is no outcome other than that he will die in prison.”
He said Redfern had not had any medication to treat his cancer since last year and added: “We have seen that he is already looking weaker and less well than he was some months ago.”
Speaking after yesterday’s hearing Detective Chief Inspector Chris Singleton of South Yorkshire Police said: “Peter Redfern attacked his wife and daughter in an attack that was shocking and impossible to understand. Only he knows why he committed such a violent act. We will continue to support the family and are relieved on their behalf that they will not have to suffer the trauma of a trial.
“Jean and Sarah were a mother and daughter who were as close as a mother and daughter could be. Our thoughts are with Jean and Sarah’s family as they begin this next step of the grieving process,” added DCI Singleton.
Peter and Jean Redfern married in November, 1968, and met when both worked for British Gas in Rotherham before Sarah was born in 1980. In a statement released through the police shortly after the death, a member of the Redfern family described Jean as “a much-loved sister and aunt” and Sarah as a “wonderful, kind and loving niece and cousin”.
Neighbours in quiet, tree-lined Sandygate said Jean and her daughter were “inseparable” and described the family as a “unit.” Sarah Redfern worked at the Bon Marche clothing store in nearby Rotherham.
Mr Reeds said: “They were a reserved and close-knit family who tended to socialise together rather than with outsiders.”
Mr Redfern ran to keep fit but developed back problems and it was during tests for that when he was diagnosed with cancer.