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Swansea man jailed for life for murdering wife and staging her suicide

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/11/2018 Steven Morris and agency
a close up of a man who is smiling and looking at the camera: Derek Potter. South Wales police was criticised in court for its initial investigation into his wife’s death. © PA Derek Potter. South Wales police was criticised in court for its initial investigation into his wife’s death.

A man who strangled his wife and then staged a hanging to make it look as though she had killed herself has been jailed for life.

Derek Potter, 64, almost got away with the murder of his wife, Lesley, 66, but two weeks before her body was due to be cremated, he confessed in a pub to a work colleague.

A pathologist found Lesley Potter had 30 rib fractures and more than 30 bruises over her neck, face, arms, back, legs and feet, and concluded manual strangulation played a part in her death.

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The initial police investigation into her death was criticised in court and South Wales police said it was reviewing its response.

Swansea crown court heard Potter, a carpenter, murdered his wife of 26 years at their home in Mumbles, along the coast from the city, on 7 April.

He rang the emergency services and told them he had found her hanging in a bedroom and tried to revive her. Lesley Potter’s death was not initially treated as suspicious.

But on 25 April, he told a colleague, Natalia Mikhailoea-Kisselevskaia: “I love my wife very much but she was doing my head in, so I had to strangle her.”

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She told the police and Lesley Potter’s body was taken from a chapel of rest and back to hospital for a detailed postmortem examination. Potter denied murder but was found guilty following a two-week trial.

Sentencing him to life in prison with a minimum of 17 years, Mr Justice Soole said: “I have concluded that you strangled her without premeditation, in a sudden and furious burst of temper, and that you there and then set about trying to cover it up by the pretense that she had committed suicide.”

The judge said Potter’s treatment of her body was an aggravating factor. “You thereby treated and exposed Lesley Potter’s naked body to that terrible indignity and dishonour,” Soole said.

“But for the intervention of Natalia Mikhailoea-Kisselevskaia, the consequent postponement of the cremation and the subsequent police and forensic investigation, you would have succeeded.”

In a victim impact statement, Victoria Bull, Lesley Potter’s daughter, said the day of her mother’s death was one of the “hardest days of my life”, as she had to tell her children their grandmother had taken her own life. Weeks later, she had to tell them their grandmother had in fact had been killed.

Nicole Njegovan, one of her other daughters, said: “I was four months’ pregnant at the time and I don’t know how she could leave me. I knew something was not right.”

The prosecution claimed South Wales police made “mistakes” in the initial investigation. Paul Hobson, prosecuting, said: “It is plain, on the day of Lesley Potter’s death, the police response was not as it should have been and mistakes were made, either of common sense or procedure, or of both.

“We know scenes of crimes [officers] attended and took photographs, but there was no wider inquiry than that. There was no action by CID and the force medical examiner.”

South Wales police said: “Now that the criminal proceedings are concluded we will consider the comments made and review the initial police response to this tragic death.”

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