UK

British Airways killer ‘must be kept in prison’, victim’s mother says

Robert Brown bludgeoned his 46-year-old wife Joanna Simpson with a claw hammer in their family home in October 2010.

Robert Brown was jailed for 26 years in 2011
Robert Brown’s release blocked Robert Brown was jailed for 26 years in 2011 (Thames Valley Police/PA)

The mother of a millionairess bludgeoned to death by her husband more than 13 years ago has said the British Airways captain must stay behind bars after he lost his freedom bid.

Robert Brown killed his 46-year-old wife Joanna Simpson with a claw hammer in their family home in October 2010 as their two young children cowered in a playroom.

The killing was the subject of a recent two-part ITV documentary The British Airways Killer.

Brown’s High Court challenge against a Government move to block his automatic release from prison was dismissed by Mr Justice Ritchie on Wednesday.

Ms Simpson’s mother Diana Parkes, who was made a CBE in December for services to vulnerable children suffering from domestic abuse and domestic homicide, said the decision was the “right one”.

She added: “Brown committed the most horrific crime against my loving and caring daughter, Jo.

“He must be kept in prison.”

Joanna Simpson
Joanna Simpson Joanna Simpson (Thames Valley Police/PA)

Brown, who was jailed for 26 years in 2011, claimed that “political motivation” amid a media campaign against his release improperly contributed to a decision to refer his case to the Parole Board.

His lawyers argued at a hearing in London earlier this month that Justice Secretary Alex Chalk’s referral was unlawful.

However, the judge wrote there were “good grounds for believing” that at release Brown posed a “high risk to the public of serious harm” and needed full and proper assessment.

Ms Simpson’s best friend Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, who also chairs domestic abuse charity Refuge, said: “This is a landmark decision which has the potential to open up this new power to other dangerous offenders on determinate sentences who chose not to engage in rehabilitation, which is all too common in cases of serious and fatal domestic abuse.”

A spokesperson from the Joanna Simpson Foundation added: “We now hope that the Parole Board sees the same level of threat to the public as have the court and the Secretary of State for Justice and continues to block Brown’s early automatic release.”

Brown was cleared of murder after a trial, but admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, with a psychiatric report saying he suffered from an “adjustment disorder”.

Aged 47 at sentencing, Brown believed he was “stitched up” by a prenuptial agreement and was affected by stress linked to his divorce, a judge was told.

He was due to be automatically freed on licence halfway through his sentence in November last year, but Ms Simpson’s friends and family urged Mr Chalk to intervene.

In October 2023, the minister used new powers to have Brown’s case reviewed by the Parole Board, an independent body that carries out risk assessments on prisoners to determine whether they can be safely released.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk Justice Secretary Alex Chalk (Lucy North/PA)

Brown’s lawyers argued the referral was “an obvious attempt to seek to reverse engineer justification for a decision that was in reality prompted and obtained through conscious or unconscious political bias”.

His legal team said the risk posed by Brown had not increased and that he had been “subjected to a high-profile campaign through the media and with politicians that has sought to block his release”.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) rejected his allegations, arguing that Mr Chalk “in no way seeks to ‘go behind’ or ‘disapply’ or ‘fail to respect’ the sentencing court’s decision”.

Lawyers for the department said Mr Chalk believed Brown “would pose a significant risk of serious harm to the public if released on licence”, adding that the offender had “persistently refused to engage in the rehabilitative elements of his sentence”.

Mr Chalk’s referral, enabled through a “power to detain” provision introduced through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, overrode Brown’s automatic release.

Brown, formerly of Winkfield in Berkshire, was sentenced to 24 years for manslaughter and a further two years for an offence of obstructing a coroner in the execution of his duty.

He killed Ms Simpson one week before the finalisation of their divorce and dumped her body in a makeshift coffin in Windsor Great Park.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said: “Joanna Simpson was brutally killed in a cowardly, senseless attack that left two children without a mother and caused irreparable harm to her family and loved ones.

“Public protection is my number one priority which is why I blocked Robert Brown’s automatic release using powers we introduced to keep offenders who still pose a risk behind bars. I am pleased the High Court has dismissed his claim on all grounds.”