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Violent husband killed wife after police handed him the house keys

Detective Sergeant Katie Smith of Northumbria Police told the court Martin was given keys for the home they jointly owned (stock photo)
Detective Sergeant Katie Smith of Northumbria Police told the court Martin was given keys for the home they jointly owned (stock photo)

By Tom Wilkinson

Police handed back the house keys to a husband who went on to murder his estranged wife in the former marital home days after he was questioned on suspicion of raping her, an inquest has heard.

Sunderland Coroner Derek Winter said he will write to the Home Secretary about the case of carer Kay Richardson (49), who was repeatedly hit over the head with a hammer and strangled by bricklayer Alan Martin.

The 53-year-old, who had a history of domestic violence, was found hanging from the loft hatch of their home in Shrewsbury Crescent, Sunderland.

Concerned family members called police to the locked house and officers broke in to find her partially clothed body in a bedroom.

Martin was living at a property in Gardiner Square, Grindon, Sunderland, at the time.

Ms Richardson was murdered on September 20 last year, two days after she had obtained a non-molestation order against her husband.

On September 7 Ms Richardson walked into a police station and told officers her husband had assaulted and raped her.

She later withdrew the rape allegation.

Martin was arrested, denied any offences and was later released "under investigation" without any conditions.

Detective Sergeant Katie Smith of Northumbria Police told the court Martin was given keys for the home they jointly owned.

The keys were found in his jeans pocket after his death.

Ms Smith explained his keys could have been withheld as part of bail conditions. Bail was not considered "proportionate" in this case, however, as there was insufficient evidence of an assault at that time and the rape allegation was withdrawn.

Ms Smith did say the popular carer was assessed by a police officer to be high risk and her case was referred into a multi-agency team that held fortnightly meetings to look protect victims.

The next meeting was held six days after she was killed.

She had engaged with domestic abuse specialist workers and intended to gain an occupancy order preventing him from coming into the property, while police received reports of at least 10 domestic violence incidents relating to Martin from 2011 to 2018, the inquest heard.

Home Office pathologist Dr Louise Mulcahy believed Ms Richardson was hit at least four times over the head, probably with a lump hammer found nearby, before she was strangled.

Her husband had lain in wait for almost two hours.

Mr Winter recorded Ms Richardson was unlawfully killed.

He said that he will write to the Home Secretary about the case to prevent deaths in the future.

The coroner felt there may be a "gap" in protecting a domestic abuse victim between a suspect being released "under investigation" and them gaining a non-molestation order.

He said suspects should face sanctions if they were released and they should be concerned about breaking them.

"If lessons can be learned, that is something that can be progressed," he said.

The victim's family requested she was referred to by her maiden name of Richardson during the proceedings.

A separate inquest for the killer will be heard today.

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