Stressed Afghanistan soldier ‘shot Leeds landlady dead’

Judith Garnett. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Judith Garnett. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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A FORMER soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress reaction following a tour in Afghanistan shot his landlady in Leeds after developing a fascination with guns and killing, a court heard today.

Aaron Wilkinson, 24, of Alma Street, Woodlesford, Leeds, is accused of murdering 52-year-old Judith Garnett by shooting her in the chest and head in her home in January 2011.

A jury at Bradford Crown Court heard that Wilkinson seemed disappointed at not having fired a single shot while in Afghanistan and had a desire to see what it was like to shoot someone.

Opening the trial, prosecutor Richard Mansell QC said Wilkinson was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress reaction (PTSR) by an Army doctor and had since also been found to suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome, or a similar condition.

He denies murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, claiming he had “gone crazy” and “lost his head” when Mrs Garnett asked him to move out of her home.

The court heard Mrs Garnett was shot three times.

The first two shots were fired from a distance of around 4ft, with the first bullet hitting her in the chest and the second grazing the side of her face.

The third shot was fired into her head from very close range, possibly with the gun in contact with her skin, the jury was told.

Mr Mansell said the prosecution did not accept that Wilkinson’s medical conditions affected his ability to exercise self-control.

The prosecutor said it was more likely the killing “may have had something to do with a fascination with guns and killing and a desire to see what it was like to shoot someone, something which he had not managed to achieve in Afghanistan”.

The court heard that Wilkinson joined the Territorial Army in his late teens and went on a six-month tour of duty of Afghanistan in 2009.

Mr Mansell said that, while on tour, Wilkinson suffered a minor shrapnel wound to his side and may have been the victim of bullying.

The prosecutor said he spoke of being investigated by the military police about an incident in which Afghan civilians had been killed.

“Witnesses who saw him on the months leading up to the killing thought he was somewhat preoccupied with the whole experience,” Mr Mansell said.

“He carried his shrapnel around in a jar and was proud of the fact he had been injured. He also spoke about the fact that he had not managed to kill any enemy soldier whilst in action and seemed disappointed at not having fired a single shot.”

Wilkinson had worked for Mrs Garnett at her game farm in Woodlesford for around 10 years and moved into her attic room as her lodger after an argument with his mother.

Mrs Garnett’s sons Andrew and John also lived and worked at the farm and had both seen him handle a gun.

Mr Mansell said: “(Andrew) described him as safe and sensible and a capable shot but thought he was obsessed with guns, getting quite animated in discussions about them.

“John Garnett, his brother, had noticed how, following his return from Afghanistan, he would hold his shotgun, not in the traditional manner for firing at game, but as if it were an Army rifle.”

The court heard that Wilkinson’s relationship with Mrs Garnett had become strained in the weeks leading up to her death as she was disappointed with how little he was doing around the house and farm.

Mrs Garnett was twice seen to slap Wilkinson across the face during arguments.

On January 24 2011, the day of the killing, Mrs Garnett had been out shooting with her sons, returning home at around 8.30pm.

Wilkinson made an emergency call to the police at 8.43pm, in which he admitted to shooting Mrs Garnett and said he wanted to hand himself in.

In his police interview, he told officers that Mrs Garnett had returned home and accused him of being “lazy, thick and cruel” before telling him to pack and move out and throwing his shotgun into the attic room.

He said he remembered loading and firing the gun before realising what he had done, making the gun safe and calling the police.

Mr Mansell said Wilkinson’s version of events did not “stand up to scrutiny” and suggested that “the killing was more likely a pre-meditated shooting, perhaps an act of revenge for the wrong she had done to him in telling him to pack his bags and leave”.

The prosecutor said Wilkinson had managed to maintain self-control in a “situation of high stress” in Afghanistan.

Wilkinson appeared in the dock today wearing blue jeans, a white short-sleeved shirt and a grey tie.

He sat with his head resting on his knees as Mr Mansell opened the case to the jury.

The trial continues.