Triple killer Theodore Johnson: Demands for an inquiry into why he was free to kill again
Former director of public prosecutions Keir Stamer wants answers
04 January, 2018 — By William McLennan
AN urgent investigation is needed to discover how a man who was twice convicted of killing his partners was freed to murder a third victim, legal experts have said.
Theodore Johnson this week pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to murdering his former girlfriend, Angela Best, at his flat in Dartmouth Park Hill after she left him and began a relationship with a new man. The 64-year-old, who worked at a motor garage in Tottenham, struck Ms Best six times with a claw hammer and strangled her with a dressing gown cord on December 15, 2016. He then drove to Hertfordshire and threw himself in front of a train, suffering massive injuries including the loss of his right arm and left hand.
He was rushed to the Royal London Hospital where doctors saved his life. He was charged with murder at the end of January last year after weeks of intensive care. Following his conviction on Tuesday, the triple killer’s history of violence against women, which spans more than three decades, can now be revealed. In May 1981, while living in Wolverhampton, he attacked his wife, Yvonne Johnson, with a vase and an ashtray, before pushing her from the balcony of their ninth-floor flat. He was convicted of manslaughter on the basis of provocation in November 1981.
The couple had two young children. Within five years he was released from custody and moved to London with a new partner, Yvonne Bennett. In September 1992, after she began a relationship with another man, he strangled her with a belt at their flat in Finsbury Park. He handed himself in to police after a botched suicide attempt and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, after doctors agreed he had severe depression and a personality disorder.
He was sent to a psychiatric unit, but was freed in 1997 after being judged fit for release by a Mental Health Tribunal. Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer, who was the head of the Crown Prosecution Service before entering Parliament, told the New Journal: “Angela Best lost her life in truly awful circumstances. It’s clear that there now needs to be a serious case review to understand how her killer, given his history, could have been in a position to commit this crime.”
Mr Starmer’s calls for an investigation were echoed by Harry Fletcher, the director of the Victims’ Rights campaign.
He told the New Journal: “It is extremely worrying that three partners have been killed by the same person. There is a need for an urgent review of the criteria used to judge whether somebody is fit for release from a psychiatric institution. “There also needs to be a complete review of the circumstances regarding the supervision and monitoring of this individual.”
Responding to the news, Jackie Sebire, a senior police officer in Bedfordshire, said that “we must look at ways to improve risk assessment and information sharing”.
Questioned about Johnson’s release, the Ministry of Justice referred the New Journal to Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, who run mental health services in the two boroughs. The trust said they had commissioned an “independently-chaired report” into their contact with Johnson, who has been in their care since 2004.
A spokesman said: “We can confirm that he was seen in compliance with the conditions imposed by the Mental Health Tribunal who oversaw his earlier discharge in 1997.” They added: “We would like to offer our deepest sympathies to the family of Ms Best for their tragic loss.”
An inquest into the death of Ms Best is due to take place at St Pancras Coroner’s Court later this year. It is expected to look in more detail at the contact between Johnson, mental health services and the justice system. Johnson changed his plea to guilty on the first day of trial. He had earlier admitted killing Ms Best, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter, not murder, due to diminished responsibility.
He will be sentenced tomorrow (Friday).
Violent past: Victim ended relationship after discovery
THEODORE Johnson’s third victim, a grandmother and mother-of-four, had ended the relationship with him shortly before he murdered her, having recently learned of his violent past.
By the time Angela Best discovered that he had killed at least one of his previous partners, the 51-year-old had spent nearly two decades in an abusive and controlling relationship. On the day she was killed, having been hounded with calls and messages, she went to his home to help him attend an appointment. Her offer of assistance was met with brutal violence. A neighbour told the New Journal in December last year that, shortly after her killing, he saw officers attempting to comfort an inconsolable man at the crime scene.
The neighbour said: “This guy was saying stuff like: ‘I told her not to trust him. This has happened before. I’ve been telling her, I’ve been telling her. I can’t believe this has happened again’.”
Before Johnson changed his plea to guilty, averting a lengthy murder trial, prosecutors are understood to have been preparing to tell the jury that he was prepared to kill Ms Best, rather than watch her live a happy life with another man. They were expected to lean heavily on his previous convictions and what that showed about his propensity for violence.
Ms Best’s death has added further pressure for the introduction of a compulsory domestic violence register, which means anyone entering a relationship with a convicted abuser would be informed of their history. Under current legislation, known as “Clare’s Law”, men and women can ask police if their partners pose a risk to them. But there is no duty to inform potential victims if they do not make a request for information.
Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer said: “This case is a tragic reminder that domestic violence is a serious and pernicious crime that has no place in our society. We must redouble our efforts to protect its victims, so that injustices such as the one now facing Angela’s family, are not repeated.”