B￼arbara Coombes was a quiet, middle-aged lady.
The mum-of-one had no friends or hobbies.
At 63, she’d never worked and rarely left the small town she grew up in.
But timid Barbara was juggling two terrible secrets... and after 12 years of deceiving everyone around her, she realised she had to tell the truth.
When she made her way into her local police station on January 7 this year, officers perhaps expected her to report a small neighbourhood disturbance or something lost. But the mild-mannered mum had actually come to report a violent death – a death that had happened at her own hands.
‘I murdered my father 12 years ago,’ she blurted.
Incredibly, in the house where they lived together, Barbara had beaten her 87-year-old dad, Kenneth Coombes, and watched him bleed to death. She then rolled up his body in an old carpet, hiding it from her daughter Islay, then 18.
The following day Barbara explained how she’d ordered a tonne of soil and then buried his body in their back garden under a tree. It was here – just metres from her bedroom window – that he’d lain for over a decade. But Barbara’s motive was the second secret she’d harboured for years.
She claimed she’d suffered a lifetime of abuse at her father’s hands. It started when she was just five years old and she told psychologists he had raped her hundreds of times throughout her life. He may even have been the father of her first child, David, who died shortly after birth.
On the day of Kenneth’s death, he’d ordered Barbara, then 51, to do some digging in the garden. Taking a break, Barbara had come inside and noticed a box of photos on the dining room table. On closer inspection, she saw they included explicit images of children. There were also naked photos of herself as a baby in the pile.
Suddenly fearing she may not be her father’s only victim, she said that she just ‘snapped’.
Taking the spade she had been using, she hit him over the back of the head. As he turned around she hit him a second time, slashing his throat with the blade edge of the tool.
After Barbara buried him and cleaned up, she carried on life as normal. She told her daughter he had died suddenly from blood poisoning and been cremated. The neighbours just assumed he had moved away.
Without telling anyone he had died, his pension and benefits continued arriving and, over the years, Barbara fraudulently claimed more than $330,000. Housing officers made several attempts to checkon Kenneth’s welfare, but were repeatedly sent away by Barbara.
On one occasion, when Kenneth would have been 99, she even claimed he was at a Buddhist retreat. But the net started to tighten and in January, after a housing officer demanded a face-to-face meeting with Kenneth, Barbara realised she couldn’t lie any longer. That’s when she made her shocking confession.
In April she appeared at Manchester Crown Court where she denied murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
She also admitted preventing a decent burial, and fraud for the falsely claimed benefits. The court heard that she’d suffered a lifetime of extreme physical and verbal abuse from her father, who was described as a ‘violent bully’.
The prosecution, who in light of Kenneth’s death, could not contest the claims, questioned whether she showed any remorse for her crime.
The prosecuting QC brought up how Barbara had shown ‘little or no emotion’ when reporting her crime.
Defending, Martin Heslop QC, said: ‘This has to be one of the most tragic cases to come to the courts. ‘This now 63-year-old lady of previous good character killed her father following 40 years of extreme sexual, mental and physical abuse at his hand,’ explaining that, in effect, he had treated her like a sex slave.
He told the court she was caught in a ‘catch-22’, unable to stop claiming the money because she could not admit to anyone that her father was dead.
Judge Justice Timothy King said he did not accept she acted in self-defence. However, he accepted she killed while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression as a result of the abuse. He noted that Barbara had attempted suicide several times during her youth and self-harmed throughout her life.
Sentencing her to nine years in jail, he said, ‘I accept the effect of the abuse over the years on you has been devastating. The history of abuse may explain but not justify the taking of life. ‘Some members of the public may think the sentence wholly inadequate given what you did. Others may say it is far too much given the history of abuse. I have no doubt it is an appropriate sentence.’
In a victim impact statement Islay said her heart was broken at what had happened and how she had been deceived, but that she would stand by her mother.
‘I hope when this is done we can repair our relationship to something approaching normal,’ she commented.
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