Drugged bass player ‘remembers nothing’ of former Leeds artist’s death

Natalia Strelchenko pictured on one of her concert programmes

Natalia Strelchenko pictured on one of her concert programmes

A DOUBLE bassist has told a court that he recalls “virtually nothing” of the events leading up to his pianist wife’s death after taking a mix of diazepam and alcohol.

John Martin told jurors at Manchester Crown Court, “I perfectly understand that I must be the man behind it”, but denies the murder, or the manslaughter of Russian-born former Leeds artist Natalia Strelchenko.

It is alleged that “controlling” Martin, 48, strangled and beat to death Ms Strelchenko, 38, who was also known by the surname Strelle in a loss of temper at their home in Newton Heath, Manchester, on August 30 last year.

She was found with severe head and neck injuries at their home on the couple’s second wedding anniversary and died in hospital a short time later.

Martin, giving evidence-in-chief, said he had been suffering with depression and that he had unwittingly taken diazepam for around six weeks prior to his wife’s death, believing it to be his anti-depressant medication.

Martin said, following an argument with Ms Strelchenko on August 29, he drank four cans of cider at their home before going to the working men’s club where he had another pint of cider and then returned home.

The court heard that earlier he had discovered their house had been advertised on Homes For Exchange and, although he was upset, he claimed he was not angry.

He said: “I just sat down on the floor and poured myself a glass of wine. I started to drink it. Natalia was angry because I was drinking wine and she tried to take it away from me.

“Everything is very blurry for me. I can’t recall anything after that point. I don’t really have any clear memories after that.

“I still love her very much. I would never wish to do such terrible things to her. I recall virtually nothing.”

His counsel Stuart Denney QC asked him: “Do you remember going upstairs?”

Martin answered: “No actually not but I assume that I will have gone after her.”

Mr Denney continued: “Do you have any memory of pushing Natalia or together falling down the stairs?”

Martin replied: “No, no recollection.”

He was further asked: “Do you have any memory of hitting or strangling Natalia?”

“I had a flashback that I strangled someone but I’m not sure if I have been told it by police. I’m not sure if it’s some kind of imagination,” Martin said.

Mr Denney asked: “Do you have any recollection of saying you wanted to kill Natalia?”

He answered: “No.”

“Do you accept that on evidence you killed Natalia?”

Martin replied: “Well according to what the witnesses described...I perfectly understand that I must be the man behind it.”

Mr Denney asked: “You say you still love her, how do you feel about that fact you killed her?”

“I feel terrible,” Martin said.

Ms Strelchenko had played the piano from the age of eight and went on to gain entry to the prestigious St Petersburg State Conservatory in her homeland, the jury has been told, and at the “peak of her powers” performed in concerts with a full orchestra.

A former artist in residence at Leeds College of Art, she moved to Manchester in 2009 following the breakdown of her first marriage three years earlier, before she began a relationship with the defendant in late 2010.

Martin told the court that he had suffered with depression since 2005 and that his GP would prescribe him the anti-depressant Escitalopram for three months at a time which he would take 10mg per day.

The computer science and maths graduate who worked for computer giant IBM before becoming a freelance musician said that from April 2015 his mental health deteriorated.

He said that he began taking what he believed to have been his medication but that the unmarked tablets had been diazepam.

“I guess they were prescribed to Natalia. I started to take them 10mg every morning. I did that until the day of the events.

“At first they seemed to help me, I was surprised that I was tired by them. By the middle of July I started to feel that I was not in a normal state. I was getting upset at the smallest of things and I couldn’t see it when it happened everything was getting big for me.”

He told the court that taking the diazepam was “the biggest mistake of my life”.

When asked by Mr Denney if he was aware that diazepam could have a “paradoxical and aggressive response” and when taken with alcohol could increase the effects, Martin responded: “No absolutely, no way. I would never have taken the two together, absolutely not.”

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