Did cancer treatment cause depression which ended in double killing?

16 January 2014

A note on R v Redfern, Sheffield Crown Court, 15th and 16th January 2014.

In June 2013 Peter Redfern was a 70 year old living quietly in retirement in Wath near Rotherham with his wife and their adult daughter. He had kept himself fit and exercised regularly until his late 60s.  Persistent back pain lead to investigations and eventually a diagnosis was made of myeloma an incurable form of bone marrow cancer.

He began chemotherapy treatment with a powerful cocktail of drugs but after a few days he reported having an adverse reaction including a widespread rash, loss of appetite, feeling shaky and difficulty sleeping and the treatment was suspended.  Some of the drugs were changed but again after a few days he reported a recurrence of much the same symptoms.  Again treatment was stopped.  6 days later he was at home with his wife sitting on the bed together when he suddenly strangled her.  He then realised that their daughter was due home from work shortly and considered that she would be quite unable to cope with finding her mother and best friend dead and her father responsible for her death.  He therefore decided that he would have to kill her on her return from work.  When his daughter came home he hit her over the head with a hammer and killed her.

Studies of the drugs involved showed that a very small percentage of those treated with a corticosteroid called Dexamethasone have reported serious adverse psychiatric reactions.  Expert opinion was that Mr Redfern was suffering from depression and that it was likely the drugs he was being treated with were responsible.    The killing of his wife appeared to be impulsive and in the circumstances the prosecution accepted a plea of not guilty to murder of his wife but guilty to her manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.   The degree of conscious thought apparently involved in the decision to kill his daughter suggested that in her case his capacity for rational judgment was not substantially impaired and Mr Redfern decided to plead guilty to the murder of his daughter which he did at Sheffield Crown Court on 15th January.   Today Mr Redfern was sentenced to life imprisonment on the count of murder with a minimum term for 17 years.  On the count of manslaughter the judge imposed a concurrent sentence of 12 years.

This was a truly tragic case.  A mother and daughter killed, another life turned upside down and a family destroyed.  Now Mr Redfern who is not currently receiving any treatment for his cancer knows he will die in prison.

Mr Redfern was represented by Mark George QC of Garden Court North Chambers and Kath Goddard of Bank House Chambers Sheffield, instructed by Grayson, Willis, Bennett, Sheffield.

The press covered the case widely, including BBC News, the Daily Mail, the Yorkshire Post and local newspaper Sheffield Star.

Mark George QC is a barrister and Head of Chambers at Garden Court North Chambers.

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