Friday, 26 June 2009

Wanted by the Police - A Shock Phone Call

Soon after the start of my new job the police rang me. Just looking forward to my first cup of tea (well, I am a civil servant now!)when my phone rang. It was the police, phoning from Guildford.

The policeman asked me to confirm my full name and address. Satisfied with my reply he said: "I'm sorry to have to say this but your brother, John, is in custody. He has given your name as next of kin."

At first I didn't understand what I'd just heard. John has been arrested? Must be some mistake. John, about six years younger than I, was a colour sergeant in the Queens Own Regiment. Married with five young children, John joined the army as a boy entrant at age 16. He'd steadily worked his way up the ranks to his present position. No, definitely a big mistake by the police.

"What's this all about officer?" I asked.

"Well sir, your brother shot and killed his wife last night. He walked into the police station and gave himself up. He wants you to come to the station please."

After a few seconds I recovered my senses enough to say that I'd get there as soon as I could. I had no car; I get to work by train from Norfolk to London so I had to get to Guildford by train. My department boss said I could go immediately. What a terrible start to my first few days in the new job!

I'll keep this tragic tale as concise as I can.

John was an armoury instructor. His regiment was based in Guildford, where he lived in married quarters. He was posted to Northern Ireland during "the troubles" and did a six-month tour.

On return to Guildford he heard that his wife, Doreen, had been having an affair. He went to the armoury, took out an automatic rifle and six rounds of ammunition. Went back to his house and fired the six bullets, killing Doreen instantly.

I visited him in the cells at Guildford. He seemed strangely calm. He simply told me what he'd done. His children had been taken into care. He was alone in this cell and it all seemed unreal, a dream ... a nightmare.

There was little I could do. He was remanded in custody, in Brixton prison, until his trial at the Old Bailey in London.

Social Services asked me if I could look after the two young sons of John until other arrangements could be made. My wife and I agreed. One lad, Geoffrey, was 7 and his younger brother, Stephen, was 5. We had seen them infrequently in the past as we had moved about a lot. They came to live with us in Norfolk.

I visited John on remand in Brixton a few times. On my final visit he said he wanted me to adopt his two boys. I said no. Out of the question. I had children of my own and more were planned. John angrily condemned me for refusing. He told me he didn't want to see me again. I felt hurt, but had to make allowances for his state of mind. However, he was adamant and refused to see me when I applied to visit him again.

His trial opened. I did not attend. A member of the Queen's Own Regiment told me that the judge accepted a lesser plea than murder. The judge said that the army had taught John how to kill; that was true. John served under two years in prison. He was automatically dismissed from the army. What had been a successful career, with good pension prospects, was quashed.

Geoffrey and Stephen were taken back into care; they were fostered but we lost track of them. John's three daughters were similarly fostered. One of the girls is now married and living in America. That's all I know about this tragic affair.

This was a difficult phase in life for me and my family. It was not a good start to a new career but needs must when the devil drives. We are all driven to make a living - well, almost all of us. And that means work.

Whom was the wit who said "If work was so bloody marvellous then the gentry would have snapped it all up years ago!"


The Bug said...

I agree about work, but I worry that I would be able to keep myself occupied without it...

Terrible tragedy about your brother. It's always doubly shocking when the person does something that you consider to be out of character.

PhilipH said...

Thanks LubberlyBug. Why oh why did you choose that nom-de-plume? I know the Beatles did something similar; do you sing? ;-) said...

Hello from a former RCAF serviceman.
Man, didn't they educate us?
Educate us for life, I guess.

Empthise with your blog...Except in my family, I was something of the black sheep.

PhilipH said...

Hi Ivan,
You're so right; the RAF did me a power of good. When did you serve in the RCAF? Do you ever write about those days?

My email, if you don't have it:

Regards, Phil

Donnetta Lee said...

My goodness, Phil. That is a shocking story. Goes to show you never can tell. Very, very nice writing style. I'll visit again. Best. D

PhilipH said...

Nice to see you Donnetta. I really did love your "Before She Died ..."

I wonder what my poor sister in law, Doreen, was thinking before she died. Such a callous murder; unthinkable that anybody should pay with their life, based on rumour or gossip.

Regards, Phil

the walking man said...

Phillip...Quite the interesting reading you have wrote in this space. My first impression is that thus far you've lived your life and lived it well.

Loved your little scam with the cigarettes, a lad's got to get by as he can eh?

Shame about your brother and his offended sensibility...wrong time for the wrong hand to have a gun in it.

ivan@c said...


Served ground crew, radar, l957-'63

Initially trained as pilot, but it did not go well. Went solo anyway.

Funny, I never undertook to write about those days.

PhilipH said...

Ivan, There has to be plenty of good material in those six years of RCAF times.

Pilot training! What an amazing experience THAT must have been! And then you learned solo? Again, how many people can say that?

If I could afford it I'd be taking flying lessons right now. For sure I would. Flying in a glider or small plane is so exhilarating. So come on, tell all.


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PhilipH said...

Hello Geoffrey! Yes, that was some surprise to read your comments. Why did you delete the third one? What's your email? Are you on facebook? I've had two of your sisters, Carol and Lesley, get in touch with me a few months ago. Hope all is well with you. I now live in chilly Scotland, far from Croydon of course. My email is if you want to send a message.
Cheers for now, your old uncle George and auntie Pat.

geoff said...
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PhilipH said...

Your childhood days were horrific and you still, it seems, bear the scars engraved in your mind's eye and memory. I had no idea that my brother John was such a monster. He was a true Jekyll and Hyde type of person, and no mistake. I saw him and his family only on those few times when he was on leave. Do you recall coming to our house in Norbury in the early 1970s? And the last time we saw YOU was in 1974, in Norfolk; you and Stephen came to live with us for a short while. I never met my dastardly brother John after he told me to "fuck off" when I visited him in Brixton prison while he was on remand, pending trial.
What is your EMAIL address? And do you know if your Dad is still alive? Your sister Lesley insists he is DEAD! But I cannot find out officially. Lesley believes in all this spiritualist stuff and this is why she 'KNOWS' he's dead - because this psychic woman says so!
The only one of my four brothers I kept in close touch with was Geoffrey. Sadly, Geoff died in April 2009 of kidney cancer. He was 18 months younger than me. I was the oldest of five boys; no sisters. Thanks for your posts. It would be easier, perhaps, if you used email to me:
By the way, everybody knows me as George. I only use my first name, Philip, on the blog. My Dad was also a 'Philip' so my parents always used my middle name, George, and it has stuck! Bye 4 now.

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Jo Thrower said...

Wow I really did not expect to find anything at all in my search!

Doreen was my Nana's sister - I am making a family tree for my father for christmas and by chance thought I would see if I could find out anything about her murder.

Thank you for having written this. Would you mind if I printed it off and put it with the rest of the information I have found for my family tree? I wouldn't like to without your approval first.

PhilipH said...

Hi Jo,

Glad to be of help. Copy and print as you wish. If I can be of more help please email me at

It's strange how the internet tentacles spread out. Doreen was a cheerful soul whenever she and the family came to visit us in Norbury, south London and we have some happy memories of her. I've not had contact with my brother for many decades now and have no wish to in the future. Via the blog I was contacted by Judy, Doreen's first daughter (not fathered by my brother) who wanted me to contact Lesley and Carol, (Judy's half-sisters).

I wish you good luck in your family tree project and I'm so very sorry that it includes a tragic episode.

Kindest regards,

Philip George Harfleet.

Snowbrush said...

I am floored by the judge's suggestion that people in the military who commit murder should be held to a lower standard of accountability because the military trained them to defend their country. I'm also outraged that the judge considered two years an adequate sentence for what was surely first degree murder. When people in America vote for conservative candidates for political office, they often cite the fact that liberals are "soft on crime," and it is true that liberals tend to look for mitigating factors and favor lighter sentences, whereas conservatives focus on personal responsibility and deterrence. I assumed that John's wife had relatives, and I wonder how they felt about the sentence.

PhilipH said...

Snowy, Doreen's relatives were totally devastated, as were Pat and l. But the worst casualties, apart from poor Doreen, were the five children. Their lives were badly hit, some ruined, after this tragedy.