A terminal cancer patient who killed his wife and daughter while taking a combination of chemotherapy drugs has been jailed for life and told he must serve at least 17 years behind bars.
But Mr Justice Stephen Males said the sentence was ‘in a sense academic’ because Peter Redfern, aged 70, is suffering from terminal cancer and will die in prison.
Redfern had been taking part in a drugs trial when he put a bag over the head of his wife Jean and strangled her - then waited for his daughter Sarah to get home from work and bludgeoned her to death with a hammer.
He admitted the manslaughter of his 67-year-old wife on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and pleaded guilty to his 33-year-old daughter’s murder.
Today he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for his wife’s killing and life with a minimum of 17 years for murdering his daughter, to run concurrently.
Mr Justice Males said: “In your case the setting of a minimum term is in one sense academic because your age and the cancer from which you suffer make it as certain as anything can be that you will die in prison.
“Nevertheless it is important that the minimum term should mark the gravity of your crime.”
He said the murder of his daughter was aggravated by the use of the hammer and the fact it had taken place in her own home where she should have felt ‘secure and protected’.
“Instead she suffered a cruel death at the hands of her own father,” he said.
“We cannot imagine how she must have felt in what must thankfully have been those brief moments before she died with a bag over her head and hammer blows raining down.”
Referring to the killing of Jean Mr Justice Males said: “Although your responsibility was diminished, you did still intend to kill.”
Graham Reeds QC, prosecuting, told Sheffield Crown Court at the time of the killings Redfern may have suffered an ‘adverse drug-induced psychiatric event’ caused by the steroid being used to treat his terminal bone marrow cancer.
“He has never been able to explain why he killed his wife, but has always maintained the only thing he can think of was it must be linked to the treatment he had for cancer,” Mr Reeds said.
“He had no motive or wish to harm Jean in any way. He acted without premeditation or thought, entirely on the spur of the moment.”
Mr Reeds said Redfern had been taking a ‘cortico steroid’ called dexamethasone, alongside regular chemotherapy drugs. The combination has been found to cause ‘drug induced psychiatric events’ in one per cent of patients.
Redfern, a retired gas fitter of Sandygate, Wath, bowed his head as the prosecution case was outlined.
Mr Reeds QC said he and Jean met when they both worked for British Gas in Rotherham, and they married in 1968.
They moved into their family home in Wath shortly afterwards, and Sarah was born in 1980.
“By all accounts they were a close-knit family who socialised together, rather than with outsiders,” said Mr Reeds. “They took their holidays and day trips as a family, and Jean and Sarah were described as best friends.”
But in May 2013 Redfern was diagnosed with untreatable bone marrow cancer.
Mr Reeds said: “He was offered chemotherapy and entered into a national trial which involved treatment with particular drug combinations known to have beneficial outcomes.”
On July 4 Redfern stopped taking his medication due to loss of appetite, and started another combination of drugs which he stopped on July 11.
Then, at 6.43pm on July 22, Redfern rang 999 and told the operator, ‘My name’s Peter Redfern and I’ve just killed my wife and daughter’.
Police arrived to find Jean’s body in the bedroom and Sarah face down on the kitchen floor.
Jean had been asphyxiated and Sarah beaten to death with a hammer. Both had plastic bags over their heads, secured with white electrical flex.
Redfern told police he was feeling depressed, anxious and worried about his future, and concerned about how his wife and daughter would manage if he died.
He told a psychiatrist when he realised he had killed his wife, he could not let his daughter live to see what he had done and decided to kill her too.
Mark George QC, defending, said it was a ‘totally tragic case’ which was ‘the most appalling, devastating blow to everyone involved’.
He said his client would probably die in prison.
“When you have a man who has reached the age of 70, who has led an utterly blameless life, and something as devastating as this happens, it’s hard to get away from the feeling that - in some way perhaps not entirely understood or easily articulated - there was something about the effect on him for the treatment he had for cancer which precipitated this catastrophic chain of events,” he said.
DCI Chris Singleton, from South Yorkshire Police, said: “Peter Redfern killed his wife and daughter in an attack that was shocking and impossible to understand. Only he knows why he committed such a violent act.
“Jean and Sarah were as close as a mother and daughter could be.”