Belfast Telegraph

Shocking: MLA’s verdict on 10-year term for man who murdered his wife

By John Mulgrew

A 10-year prison sentence given to a father-of-three for killing his wife who planned to leave him has been branded “shocking”.

Christopher Harper (45) was jailed for a minimum of 10 years yesterday after his conviction last month for murdering his wife Suzanne (40).

She was found stabbed to death on August 20, 2010, in the bedroom of the home they’d shared at The Manor, a quiet cul-de-sac off Portadown's Brownstown Road.

Stormont justice committee member Peter Weir expressed unease at the sentence.

“This does seem a very shocking low tariff; life should mean life. For taking someone’s life there should be a much stiffer sentence than 10 years,” he said.

“At the end of the day, while there can be emotions involved, it’s a very flimsy excuse for taking someone’s life — and we need to send out a clear signal.”

The DUP MLA added it also sent out a “disturbing signal regarding violence towards women”.

Yesterday Judge Kevin Finnegan QC told Harper that what he had done was “a selfish and evil act,” although he accepted that his remorse, at the time and since, “was immediate, genuine and profound”.

The Craigavon Crown Court judge, sitting in Newry, however added that Harper’s conviction “should make it clear to the public that no spouse should ever be exposed to physical harm or threat, never mind death, merely because of a decision to end a relationship with their partner.”

Harper, who admitted stabbing his wife once in the neck, always denied murder, maintaining he was a broken man who snapped over cutting remarks from her and a declaration that “nothing had changed,” meaning that she was leaving.

However, Judge Finnegan said that while Harper accepted responsibility for causing his wife's death, he could not give him the normal credit for a full plea.

And he added that it was “ironic that the tariff that the court must impose” on him for depriving his children of their mother “will also deprive them of the presence of their father”.

Judge Finnegan said that the Harpers, who were also grandparents, were married from February 1987.

And while there were some disagreements, there was no history of domestic violence.

Later Judge Finnegan said that, while Harper lost his self-control “that fateful morning”, Suzanne's vulnerability had not arisen from “any planning, premeditation, opportunism or gratification” on Harper's part.

Her death, said the judge, was the result of a stab wound to the neck which had severed at least one artery.

During his eight-day trial at Armagh Courthouse last December his defence QC Martin O’Rourke said Harper was no “cold-blooded killer... but a broken man” at his “wits’ end”.

Mr O’Rourke also added that Harper was “consumed with guilt and remorse”.

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