A MAN has been convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after he killed two next-door neighbours in Hadlow, near Tonbridge. He will be detained indefinitely in a high-security psychiatric hospital.
Jack Ralph was found guilty by a jury at Maidstone Crown Court yesterday [Tuesday] after he stabbed Margaret Harris, 78, and her daughter Sharon, 55, to death on Carpenters Lane on September 29 last year.
He had been charged with two counts of murder. He also stabbed Mrs Harris’s husband David, 76, and was convicted of the original charge of attempted murder.
As reported in the Times last week, Ralph had Googled ‘how long for murder?’ the night before he attacked them with a carving knife in what he called a ‘blind rage’.
The 28-year-old former chef and labourer had lived next to the Harris family with his mother Julie for 18 years.
He knocked on the back door of their house at 7.30am and attacked them with an 8in blade.
The court heard Ralph had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2017 and was under ‘non-statutory’ care of a community health team.
He told psychiatrists he had heard voices ‘commanding’ him to kill his neighbours who were in ‘God’s bad books’
He was prescribed anti-psychotic medication, and took a dose half an hour before the attack.
He told psychiatrists he had heard voices ‘commanding’ him to kill his neighbours who were in ‘God’s bad books’.
He said he had seen one of the Harris family wearing a red coat during the days leading up to the incident and thought this meant they were going to attack his mother.
Ralph, who is being held in Broadmoor Hospital, was charged with two counts of murder and one of attempted murder.
Judge Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb asked the jury if they found him not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
On the count of attempted murder, she asked the seven women and five men whether they found him not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty.
All the verdicts were unanimous and returned within two hours of the jury retiring.
Mrs Harris was stabbed three times to her neck, her daughter suffered a fatal chest wound and Mr Harris sustained four stab injuries to his neck, ear, back and forearm.
If the neck would had penetrated 1mm deeper, the court heard it would ‘in all likelihood’ have proved fatal.
Mr Harris was able to dial 999 before collapsing. He also suffered a heart attack and underwent surgery to repair a major neck artery.
The police found Ralph sitting on a sofa in his living room. He told them: “I blacked out. I don’t know what came over me.”
Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC said four psychiatrists agreed Ralph was suffering from schizophrenia and his responsibility was diminished.
The defence had argued that he was affected by his mental health condition to the extent that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.
No one from the Harris family, including their two sons, were able to attend the trial or provide police with victim personal statements.
‘Mr Harris’s absence speaks eloquently of the unnatural horror of what you did’
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb told Ralph: “The devastation that you have wrought on that innocent family will be a legacy Mr Harris has to face every day.
“His absence in word and body speaks eloquently of the unnatural horror of what you did and the endless suffering he and all the loved ones will endure.
Jonathan Higgs QC, defending, said the court’s ‘paramount’ concern was ensuring public safety, adding: “That is best achieved by Mr Ralph remaining under medical supervision at Broadmoor, no doubt for a considerable time and until that time those caring for him take the view, if at all, that public safety can be achieved in some different format.”
Mr Harris told police there had been no difficulties between his family and Ralph, and that everything leading up to the attack had been ‘completely normal’.
‘We’ve always got on well together…We had a perfect relationship, no problems at all,’ said Mr Harris.
In a video-recorded interview played in court, Mr Harris said there had been no difficulties between his family and Ralph, and that everything was ‘completely normal’.
He described how he was surprised to see Ralph and they chatted for about five minutes on the doorstep.
He and his daughter then tried to shut the door on Ralph when he pushed his way in brandishing the knife, and then Mr Harris tried to fight him off with a rolling pin.