Inquest told of double death tragedy

FINANCIAL pressures led a ‘devoted’ Friston man to strangle his wife before throwing himself to his death from cliffs, an inquest has heard.

John Phelps went from a man who had ‘more or less everything to a man who had more or less nothing’, according to his son David.

Mr Phelps’ body was found at the bottom of cliffs near Beachy Head on March 14, hours, after his wife Jennifer was found dead in bed at the couple’s cottage at Friston Place Estate.

After police were alerted to an abandoned car at Crowlink, they went to the couple’s home and saw a note on the stairs addressed to one of Mr Phelps’s sons which read, ‘Don’t go upstairs. Call the police’.

An inquest into their deaths was held at Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court last Thursday where evidence from their son Robert confirmed they’d had financial difficulties.

A statement read on Robert Phelps’ behalf said that he received a text message shortly after 4.45am on March 14 from his father – using his mother’s mobile – asking him to come to Friston.

He texted back asking why, but never received a response. He heard nothing until his brother Richard called to say that his parents were dead.

He said he believed his dad had killed his mother because he ‘would not have wanted to leave her behind to cope with all the financial pressures alone’.

The inquest heard how 64-year-old Mr Phelps was described ‘as a very successful, hard-working and proud man’ and that the couple were devoted to each other.

The statement from son David added, “He saw it as his role to provide for his family.

“Sadly he went from a man that had more or less everything to a man who had more or less nothing.”

Neighbour Karen Heathfield said the couple appeared very much in love, while another neighbour, Christine Ebrey, said she would often see them walking along holding hands.

Annemieke Milks, who lives in Crowlink, found Mr Phelps’ car with another neighbour, Cynthia Cousens.

The keys were still in the ignition and a jacket and scarf were found at the cliff edge.

PC Toby Spires went to the couple’s home and found the note addressed to Mr Phelps’s son Robert, the note on the stairs and Mrs Phelps lying in bed under the duvet.

Post-mortem results showed Mrs Phelps died from asphyxia due to compression of the neck, while Mr Phelps died from multiple injuries.


Coroner Alan Craze recorded a verdict of unlawful killing for Mrs Phelps and a verdict of suicide while the balance of the mind was disturbed for Mr Phelps, adding that he felt Mr Phelps had become depressed.

Following the inquest Detective Inspector Carwyn Hughes, senior investigating officer on the investigation, said, “This was a tragic situation in which a very proud man, who hitherto had dearly loved his wife, killed her through his perceived despair of the financial situation he found themselves in.

“Instead of seeking help or letting others know the extent of the problems he took the terrible decision to murder her, and kill himself.”

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