Jane Lee (51) was stabbed to death by her estranged husband, Robert Lee (51). Lee had been released on bail for an earlier strangulation attack on Mrs Lee. Robert Lee has been sentenced to Life imprisonment, with a minimum of 19 years. Lee had a history of being violent towards previous partners, and serious questions should be raised as to why the legal system would release such a violent man after the earlier attack.
Mail on Sunday (13 May 2008 )
Husband stabbed wife to death just weeks after getting bail for trying to strangle her
By Chris Brooke
A man murdered his wife just weeks after being arrested for trying to strangle her and being freed on bail by magistrates.
The prosecution wanted Robert Lee, 51, kept in custody for the alleged attempt to kill her, but he was released by the court and six weeks later stabbed his wife Jane to death in a frenzied street attack.
The shocking failure to protect the innocent mother-of-two was revealed at Sheffield Crown Court as Lee was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 19 years before being considered for parole.
Lee, who had a record of assaulting his partners in drink-fuelled attacks, could have been locked up when he throttled his 51-year-old wife, but the authorities didn’t take the incident seriously enough.
Lee straddled his wife in the bedroom, put his hands around her neck and told her “I will f****** kill you” before she lost consciousness.
Neighbours, alerted by her screams, called police and officers knocked on the door as she came to.
But bizarrely they arrested her instead of him, believing she was drunk and could commit a breach of the peace, the court heard. In reality she was also suffering from the effects of the attack.
Mrs Lee went outside for fresh air and was seen “staggering” around in the back garden. She was “agitated” and told police she had “dreamt” she had woken up after her husband had strangled her.
Mrs Lee was locked in police cells until the custody officer noticed signs of strangulation and she was taken to hospital.
The casualty doctor said the marks on her neck were the worst symptoms of strangulation she had seen in 12 years.
Lee was arrested. He denied strangling her and said he acted in self defence after she attacked him, but he was charged with grievous bodily harm with intent and kept in custody.
However, two days later his solicitor persuaded magistrates it was safe to let him out pending trial. It was a tragic mistake.
Lee was forbidden under the terms of his bail from contacting his wife. But on 30 November last year he lay in wait for her outside a house where she worked as a cleaner.
Nicholas Campbell, QC, prosecuting, told the court he armed himself with a baseball bat and two knives.
She saw him approaching as she went to get into her car, but he grabbed her as she ran away and “frogmarched” her down the street.
Annette Eaden, a passer-by pushing her grandson in a pram, saw Lee hitting her with the bat and “had the courage to intervene”, telling him: “Don’t do that to her.”
Mr Campbell said Lee lied by telling her he had caught his wife in bed with another man. Meanwhile, his wife was screaming “please don’t do this Bob.”
Lee threatened Mrs Eaden with his knife when she tried to dial 999 and she ran away. Moments later she watched from behind a hedge as Lee repeatedly stabbed his wife. He took her keys and fled in her car.
By the time help arrived Mrs Lee was already dead.
Lee travelled 50 miles to Grimsby and was arrested several days later in her car.
Mr Campbell said the twice-married defendant who worked as a handyman had five children from earlier relationships.
Explaining his history of violence he said the relationship with his previous partner “ended violently” when he was convicted in December 2004 of common assault.
The court heard he grabbed his girlfriend around the throat and “squeezed”, as well as grabbing her by the arm.
Lee met his second wife Jane Gracie in November 2005.
They were both single and the following Spring he moved in to her house in Locke Street, Barnsley.
The relationship hit problems due to his heavy drinking and she asked him to leave. The court heard in December 2006 Lee tried to get back into the house by drilling open the front door and was arrested.
The couple sorted out their problems and married the following February, before his drinking again drove them apart, said Mr Campbell.
In one incident he “took a hammer to their wedding rings and squeezed them with a pair of pliers.”
In May Lee twice grabbed his wife’s arm and threatened her. She had the locks changed and police arrested him after he tried to force his way inside.
In a statement at the time Mrs Lee said: “I feel scared and nervous. I have been a strong woman but it’s knocking my confidence.
“His increasing behaviour has made me worried what will happen if he drinks and flips again.”
In July when the case came to magistrates court Mrs Lee refused to give evidence about the assault and Lee was only fined for criminal damage.
A further “reconciliation” followed, before the rows began again in the run up to the “strangulation” incident on 20 October.
Two days later he was bailed by magistrates and on 29 October Lee allegedly broke the terms of his bail by phoning his wife at home.
However, the judge was not told of the alleged breach when he extended Lee’s bail at Sheffield Crown Court the next day.
By the time of the murder, Mrs Lee had decided there was no possibility of them getting back together and was starting a new life, the court heard.
Lee was due to stand trial for murder and attempted murder, but pleaded guilty to both offences at the 11th hour after the lesser charge was reduced to assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Judge Alan Goldsack said committing the murder whilst on bail was an “aggravating” feature, but he said the decision by magistrates to release Lee was ‘understandable’ given the information they had at the time.
The judge said the prosecution had “untested” evidence that Lee had a “history of attempting to strangle his former partners.”
Outside court Detective Superintendent Martin Bates said: “I can only describe the crime as an execution and a public one at that. The murder of Jane Lee was a brutal and dreadful act.
“It was an horrific crime and a horrific scene.”
The victim’s grown-up son Carl Gracie said: “Never has the word devastated been more fitting, why anyone would want to harm her beggars belief.”