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Musician 'beaten to death in fit of temper'

Published 23/02/2016

John Martin is on trial at Manchester Crown Court
John Martin is on trial at Manchester Crown Court

A talented pianist was strangled and beaten to death in a loss of temper by her musician husband, a jury has heard.

Norwegian double bass player John Martin, 48, was said to have been jealous of Russian-born Natalia Strelchenko, 38, because her career had taken off while his had not.

Ms Strelchenko, also known by the surname Strelle, was found with head and neck injuries at their home in Newton, Heath, Manchester, last August, on the couple's second wedding anniversary.

Opening the case at Manchester Crown Court, Rob Hall said: "This is quite simply a case of anger. Pure and simple anger.

"This defendant was not getting what he wanted and reached a point where he lost his temper in a very dramatic fashion."

Describing her injuries, he said: "The blows inflicted upon Natalia Strelle by this defendant were of such severe force and of such number that her central and left-sided facial bones were left free floating from the rest of her skull.

"Her jawbone was snapped in half and indeed, in addition to that, other parts of her skull were severely fractured

"Even though she was rushed to hospital soon after that assault, she was declared dead about a hour after."

Martin denies the murder, or the manslaughter, of his wife.

He has also pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of a male youth who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Ms Strelchenko had played the piano from the age of eight and went on to gain entry to the prestigious St Petersburg State Conservatory in her homeland, the jury was told, and at the "peak of her powers" performed in concerts with a full orchestra.

She moved to Manchester in 2009 following the breakdown of her first marriage three years earlier, before she met the defendant a year later.

Mr Hall said the pair soon embarked on a romantic relationship, but it was one which was "marked with tensions".

The prosecutor said: "She complained that the defendant controlled her. He was very jealous if she was out without him ... jealousy made worse by the fact that, to all intents and purposes, her career had taken off while his had not.

"They would also argue regularly about such matters as financial affairs and who should keep the house clean."

He said the tensions would at times reach "quite a high level" and on occasions the defendant would physically restrain her from leaving their home.

The court heard that police had been called over previous arguments between the pair.

In February 2013, officers attended a former address in Newton Heath when they were arguing.

Nine months later, police were called to their home in Culcheth Lane - scene of the alleged murder on August 30 last year - when Martin tried to force his way through the front door of the property after a row on the phone.

In early August last year, the defendant threw Ms Strelchenko out of the house in anger, the jury was told, because he was not prepared to pay her mobile phone bill any longer.

Following that incident, Martin texted his wife's music publicist in which he said: "She drives me crazy and must be stopped when it happens."

Ms Strelchenko temporarily moved back in three days before her death ahead of starting a job in France - where she had a second home - the following month.

Martin was said to have become "very upset" the day before his wife's death when he discovered she had advertised the address on a property exchange website for people who wanted to swap homes for short periods, rather than stay in hotels.

A separate dispute followed over eating arrangements when Ms Strelchenko and friends arrived home in the early evening which led to the defendant drinking cider alone in the garden shed.

Martin later left the house for a couple of hours in which time he texted a friend: "Hopeless" and sent another message which read: "I felt completely lonely all this summer"

Mr Hall said the defendant eventually returned, with his mood said to be "particularly threatening".

A Polish violinist friend stayed the night and said she witnessed the defendant throwing Ms Strelchencko and himself down a full flight of stairs before he strangled her.

The woman ran to a neighbour's house and raised the alarm, the court heard.

When police attended Martin was in an upstairs bedroom and when arrested on suspicion of assault he repeatedly shouted: "Kill me."

Some of Ms Strelchenko's blood was found on a white double bass case in the house, the court heard.

Martin was later re-arrested in custody at a local police station on suspicion of murder and replied: "I don't remember anything."

He went on to say: "All I remember is I woke up here."

Mr Hall said that essentially Martin's position had not changed and he maintains he has no memory of the events of August 30.

The prosecutor told the jury: "The mental state of the defendant will become an important consideration for you as the trial progresses."

The trial, estimated to last up to three weeks, continues on Wednesday.

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