Abusive wife given life term for murdering husband after repeated beatings

Hannegret Donnelly, 55, from Aylesbury, who has been convicted at Kingston Crown Court for the murder of her husband, Christopher Donnelly, who she systematically abused including hitting him with a rolling pin.
Hannegret Donnelly, 55, from Aylesbury, who has been convicted at Kingston Crown Court for the murder of her husband, Christopher Donnelly, who she systematically abused including hitting him with a rolling pin.
Share this article

An abusive wife who killed her husband after repeatedly hitting him over the head with a rolling pin has been handed a life sentence.

German-born Hannegret Donnelly, 55, was told she must serve at least 16 years in prison after she was found guilty of murdering Christopher Donnelly, 55, at the home they shared with their four children in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

The former midwife controlled his life through "threats and beatings" and her "systematic domestic abuse" weakened his body to the point of death, police said.

Mr Donnelly contracted pneumonia after suffering 78 visible injuries, including a cauliflower ear, as well as internal injuries including fractures to his shoulder blade, spine and neck.

The former music teacher lay dead on the bathroom floor overnight before his wife dialled 999 on March 31 last year and told police she had previously hit her husband over the head with a rolling pin.

Detectives found his blood on furniture, walls and ceilings throughout their house due to the repeated beatings she had subjected him to.

On Friday, Mrs Justice Yip handed Donnelly a life sentence at Kingston Crown Court, telling her she must serve at least 16 years.

She said: "The circumstances are unusual, involving repeated incidents of violence over a prolonged period.

"It is clear Christopher experienced real physical suffering for a long period before his death.

"It is inconceivable he didn't also suffer mentally."

The couple had been married for 23 years and lived an isolated existence with their children, who were aged between 13 and 21 at the time of Mr Donnelly's death, and the family shunned modern technology including mobile phones, the court heard.

The judge said it is "hard to imagine the horror" the children must have been party to, telling Donnelly: "Your children must have witnessed your repeated violence towards their father and were present when he died."

Prosecutor Eloise Marshall QC said Mr Donnelly was unable to walk and had become disabled by January, but his wife inflicted "mental and physical suffering" until the time of his death.

She said: "We know that, and by her own admission, Hannegret Donnelly continued to assault him during that time.

"She said these repeated injuries were committed with a rolling pin. It is unclear, and the Crown can't say, if that was the only implement used."

The court heard Donnelly told police there was "something strange" in their house, which had affected both her and her husband's health and even suggested he at times "welcomed the beatings".

Tim Maloney QC, defending, said: "There was no clear intention to kill."

In a victim impact statement, Mr Donnelly's estranged brother Peter said: "My brother and his wife purported to be Christians, as I am... I must be willing to forgive.

"What I cannot do is speak for anyone else on this matter.

"Hearing most of the evidence presented in court leaves the deep impression there are three groups of people most harmed - my brother, his children and the self-inflicted harm to Hannegret."

Speaking outside court following the sentencing, Thames Valley Police Detective Chief Inspector Felicity Parker said: "This case highlights that men can be victims of domestic abuse.

"It also highlights the harm coercive control can cause.

"Hannegret told us in interview that she beat Christopher not in self-defence but because he did things she didn't like - talked about the wrong subject, was disinterested or gave the wrong look.

"Hannegret may not have thought the first hit of Christopher would end up in murder, but it did.

"Christopher without doubt suffered significantly due to her violence and she failed to call for an ambulance when it was most needed."