Police launch murder probe after family of four are found dead

A family of four including two adults and two girls aged just three and five have been found dead along with their pet dog at home in a picturesque West Sussex village.

The £500,000 property in Woodmancote is home to builder Robert Needham, 42, his mother Maureen, 77, his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and their two children Ava, five, and Lexi, three. Mr Needham, Ms Fitzgibbons and the girls were all found dead.

Mrs Needham, who was at another location away from the home at the time, said on Facebook: ‘It was Robert, Kelly and my lovely grandchildren that all died upstairs.’

Sussex Police went to the three-bedroom home at 6.45pm on Sunday after receiving a call raising a welfare concern. All four people were pronounced dead at the scene.

Detectives launched a murder probe, amid suspicions over a possible murder-suicide. Officers confirmed they are not seeking anyone else in connection with it.

Mr Needham owned a company called Needham Building Services which specialised in domestic construction, although records show this was dissolved last October. 

The killing toll during the coronavirus lockdown which began last Monday is now at nine, following three other incidents in Wales, Hertfordshire and South Yorkshire.

The Sussex murders were the latest in a string of cases at the weekend at the end of Britain’s first week on lockdown, following concerns raised when the measures were imposed last Monday of an increase in domestic violence and mental health issues. 

The other cases saw:   

  • Former Asda worker Ruth Williams found unconscious at home in Cwmbran, South Wales, at 7am on Saturday before dying in hospital – and her husband Tony Williams later charged with murder; 
  • NHS nurse and mother-of-three Victoria Woodhall, who worked at Rotherham General Hospital, killed in the street in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, at 5pm on Sunday – and her husband Craig Woodhall also later charged with murder;
  • Police investigating after the ‘suspicious’ deaths of Gary Walker, 57, his wife Caroline, 50, and their daughter Katie, 24, who were found dead after a fire tore through their home in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, on Sunday at 12.30pm. 

Neighbours of the family in West Sussex reacted with shock today at the deaths, with one who did not wish to be named telling MailOnline: ‘This is an awful, awful tragedy.

‘It is a very small community and everyone knew the family, who were lovely. We know the police are not looking for anyone else so it makes it all the more shocking.’ 

Robert Needham, 42, his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and their two children Ava, five, and Lexi, three, died in a house in Woodmancote, West Sussex, in a suspected murder suicide

Robert Needham, 42, his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and their two children Ava, five, and Lexi, three, died in a house in Woodmancote, West Sussex, in a suspected murder suicide

Robert Needham, 42, his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and their two children Ava, five, and Lexi, three, died in a house in Woodmancote, West Sussex, in a suspected murder suicide

'Lovely grandchildren' Ava and Lily (pictured) were found murdered in an upstairs room and their parents, named as Robert and Kelly, were also found dead

'Lovely grandchildren' Ava and Lily (pictured) were found murdered in an upstairs room and their parents, named as Robert and Kelly, were also found dead

‘Lovely grandchildren’ Ava and Lily (pictured) were found murdered in an upstairs room and their parents, named as Robert and Kelly, were also found dead

A blue police evidence tent sits in front of a house this morning (centre) in Woodmancote, West Sussex, after the bodies of two adults and two children were found there on Sunday

A blue police evidence tent sits in front of a house this morning (centre) in Woodmancote, West Sussex, after the bodies of two adults and two children were found there on Sunday

A blue police evidence tent sits in front of a house this morning (centre) in Woodmancote, West Sussex, after the bodies of two adults and two children were found there on Sunday

Forensics officers work at the scene in Woodmancote this morning. Sussex Police went to the three-bedroom home at 6.45pm on Sunday after receiving a call raising a welfare concern

Forensics officers work at the scene in Woodmancote this morning. Sussex Police went to the three-bedroom home at 6.45pm on Sunday after receiving a call raising a welfare concern

Forensics officers work at the scene in Woodmancote this morning. Sussex Police went to the three-bedroom home at 6.45pm on Sunday after receiving a call raising a welfare concern

Another neighbour said: ‘I looked out there were upwards of eight or 10 police cars and a couple of paramedics vehicles with both marked and unmarked police cars.

‘A lot of activity around one particular house in the lane (on Sunday night), and from there it just emerged that there had been a major incident at the house.

‘The family are, as I understand it, a close family. The house is owned by the grandmother. After her husband died some years ago the son moved back in with his partner and they, between them, had two children.

‘Recently they had been building a very large extension on the house and a brick wall outside on the frontage to replace an old hedge.

‘The owner of the house, I sometimes would take to the doctors or to the hospital because she is somewhat disabled, she has had joint replacements and suffers somewhat with rheumatism.’

He added: ‘What is sad is that we don’t know who is dead over there. The son he always seemed quite calm, collected, laid back, I would say.

Forensic officers lift up tape in Woodmancote today after the family of four were found dead. Police launched a murder investigation, amid suspicions over a possible murder-suicide

Forensic officers lift up tape in Woodmancote today after the family of four were found dead. Police launched a murder investigation, amid suspicions over a possible murder-suicide

Forensic officers lift up tape in Woodmancote today after the family of four were found dead. Police launched a murder investigation, amid suspicions over a possible murder-suicide

Police tape surrounds the garden of a house in the West Sussex village of Woodmancote this morning. Officers confirmed they are not seeking anyone else in connection with the deaths

Police tape surrounds the garden of a house in the West Sussex village of Woodmancote this morning. Officers confirmed they are not seeking anyone else in connection with the deaths

Police tape surrounds the garden of a house in the West Sussex village of Woodmancote this morning. Officers confirmed they are not seeking anyone else in connection with the deaths

‘The mother, whenever I took her out she would say, ‘he’s done this, he’s done that’ – she was quite proud of the fact that he’s got on and done the building work over there.

‘You can never tell what’s going on behind doors. I’ve never heard any sound of argument coming from the house.’ 

Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Jerry Westerman said: ‘This is believed to be an isolated incident contained to one property and in these early stages of the investigation we are not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident.’

Locals were warned of a heightened police presence, and anyone with information was told contact Sussex Police on 101 quoting Operation Cotton.

It is one of a string of murder investigations now under way after multiple domestic killings during the lockdown, with a total of nine people killed in four incidents:

VICTORIA WOODHALL, 31 – BARNSLEY, SOUTH YORKSHIRE, SUNDAY, 5pm

In South Yorkshire, a 40-year-old husband has been charged with murdering his healthcare worker wife aged 31 – with whom he had recently broken up with despite marrying her only six months ago. She was stabbed to death.  

Craig Woodhall, of Barnsley, has been charged with the murder of his wife Victoria Woodhall (pictured together)

Craig Woodhall, of Barnsley, has been charged with the murder of his wife Victoria Woodhall (pictured together)

Craig Woodhall, of Barnsley, has been charged with the murder of his wife Victoria Woodhall (pictured together)

Mother-of-three Victoria Woodhall, 31, was stabbed multiple times on Sunday evening outside her home in the village of Middlecliffe, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire

Mother-of-three Victoria Woodhall, 31, was stabbed multiple times on Sunday evening outside her home in the village of Middlecliffe, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire

Mother-of-three Victoria Woodhall, 31, was stabbed multiple times on Sunday evening outside her home in the village of Middlecliffe, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire

Forensic teams arrive to the scene of the murder yesterday after mother-of-three Mrs Woodhall was stabbed multiple times outside her home in Middlecliffe, near Barnsley

Forensic teams arrive to the scene of the murder yesterday after mother-of-three Mrs Woodhall was stabbed multiple times outside her home in Middlecliffe, near Barnsley

Forensic teams arrive to the scene of the murder yesterday after mother-of-three Mrs Woodhall was stabbed multiple times outside her home in Middlecliffe, near Barnsley

Mother-of-three Victoria Woodhall, who worked at Rotherham General Hospital, was attacked in Windsor Crescent in the Middlecliffe area of Barnsley just before 5pm on Sunday.

Women’s Aid say more resources are needed amid the coronavirus lockdown as domestic abuse cases surge

Northern Ireland’s main domestic violence charity has called for more resources as it braces itself for a surge in the number of cases due to coronavirus.

Women’s Aid urged a ‘guaranteed commitment’ from Stormont’ ministers following restrictions imposed on movement and official encouragement to stay at home.

Police are also geared up for more cases of domestic violence as homes are put under strain by extended periods of self-isolation, a senior commander said.

A Women’s Aid statement said: ‘We need resources and a guaranteed commitment across the whole of the UK to support all victims of domestic violence and abuse.

‘We are in uncharted territory and all domestic violence charities are bracing themselves for a marked increase in numbers of people coming forward.’

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said victims who are isolated with their abusers during the lockdown sparked by Covid-19 will not be forgotten.

According to Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) statistics, while overall crime has decreased, domestic abuse incidents and crimes with a domestic abuse motivation have increased.

In 2019 there were 31,705 incidents, a rise of 399 (1.3%) on the previous year and one of the highest recorded since 2004.

The number of crimes reached 18,033, an increase of 2,322 (14.8%).

There were 17 domestic abuse incidents and 10 domestic abuse crimes per 1,000 population.

Five of the 11 policing districts showed an increase in incidents and all districts had higher levels of crime.

Today, Craig Woodhall, of Barnsley, was due to appear at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court after being charged with murder. 

The couple got married just six months ago but were said to have recently broken up. They have two sons together. 

Gareth Cowley, Mrs Woodhall’s ex-husband and her childhood friend of 20 years, said his 13-year-old daughter, who he had with the NHS nurse, is in ‘bits’ after hearing news of her mother’s death.

Posting on Facebook, he wrote: ‘I can’t believe this has happened. She was the most amazing mum to my daughter even though we weren’t together anymore.

‘When we were married she was absolutely amazing and would do absolutely anything for anyone. When we split we still talked on and off.

‘To go from me and my daughter seeing her yesterday afternoon before she went back home to being told this, I really truthfully don’t know what to say. My daughter is in absolute bits.’

Police said a post-mortem carried out on March 30 found that the cause of death was ‘multiple stab wounds’. 

Tributes have been paid Mrs Woodhall and a GoFundMe page has been set up by her friends, Donna Wetherall and Kelly Sims, to raise money towards funeral costs and to help her children.

Ms Wetherall and Ms Sims said Mrs Woodhall was an operating department practitioner, who was ‘always helping others’ and ‘lived for her children’.

They said: ‘Victoria worked really hard at university, qualifying to become an ODP at the Rotherham General Hospital.

‘She will be deeply missed by friends, family and her children.

‘She was lovely and caring, always helping others, lived for her children, and sadly she was taken away at a young age of 31.’

The page raised nearly £4,000 in 24 hours and the pair who set it up said: ‘Thank you to all that donated, we are overwhelmed by the response. Vicky would truly be amazed.’

At the scene of Mrs Woodhall’s death, white-suited forensic officers wearing face masks could be seen at a property in the street.

A card on a floral tribute attached to the fence outside read: ‘Taken from us. Always in our hearts and thoughts. A loving mummy, daughter and sister. xxxxx.’ 

RUTH WILLIAMS, 67 – CWMBRAN, SOUTH WALES, SATURDAY, 7AM

In South Wales, a husband appeared in court yesterday accused of strangling his wife of 44 years at their semi-detached home.  

Anthony Williams (left), 69, is accused of killing wife Ruth (right), 67, at their semi-detached home in Cwmbran, South Wales, on Saturday, where they had been self isolating

Anthony Williams (left), 69, is accused of killing wife Ruth (right), 67, at their semi-detached home in Cwmbran, South Wales, on Saturday, where they had been self isolating

Anthony Williams (left), 69, is accused of killing wife Ruth (right), 67, at their semi-detached home in Cwmbran, South Wales, on Saturday, where they had been self isolating

Mrs Williams (pictured) was found 'unconscious and unresponsive' at the property in South Wales and died later in hospital of suspected head injuries

Mrs Williams (pictured) was found 'unconscious and unresponsive' at the property in South Wales and died later in hospital of suspected head injuries

Mrs Williams (pictured) was found ‘unconscious and unresponsive’ at the property in South Wales and died later in hospital of suspected head injuries

The couple had been self isolating at their home (file picture) in Cwmbran, South Wales

The couple had been self isolating at their home (file picture) in Cwmbran, South Wales

The couple had been self isolating at their home (file picture) in Cwmbran, South Wales

Tony Williams, 69, is charged with murdering his wife Ruth, 67, a former Asda worker, who was found ‘unconscious and unresponsive’ at the couple’s house.

Mrs Williams, from Cwmbran, died in hospital of suspected strangulation, a court heard.

Ben Williams, defending, said: ‘They were in a loving 44-year marriage – her death is a mystery.’

Williams, a retired construction worker, was remanded in custody and will appear at Cardiff Crown Court today.

Mrs Williams was found unconscious shortly before 7am on Saturday. It is understood she received her injuries hours earlier.

One neighbour described the couple as ‘devoted’ and said Mrs Williams was ‘always really nice and chatty’.

GARY WALKER, 57, CAROLINE WALKER, 50, KATIE WALKER, 24 – HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, HERTFORDSHIRE, SUNDAY, 12.30pm 

Meanwhile a married couple and their daughter were killed after a fire tore through their home in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, on Sunday evening. 

Detectives are investigating the deaths of a father, his wife and their daughter at a house in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire - which is pictured today

Detectives are investigating the deaths of a father, his wife and their daughter at a house in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire - which is pictured today

Detectives are investigating the deaths of a father, his wife and their daughter at a house in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire – which is pictured today

A floral tribute outside the property in Hemel Hempstead today after the house fire on Sunday

A floral tribute outside the property in Hemel Hempstead today after the house fire on Sunday

A floral tribute outside the property in Hemel Hempstead today after the house fire on Sunday

Firefighters smashed the front door down after smoke was spotted pouring out of a window at the end-of-terrace house where draughtsman Gary Walker, 57, his wife Caroline, 50, and their 24-year-old daughter Katie lived.

All three members of the family were pronounced dead at the scene in Hemel Hempstead.

Police are understood to be considering theories – including one family member killing the other two before setting fire to the £400,000 four-bedroom property.

Neighbour Peter Downer, 67, who raised the alarm, speculated there could have been a trigger caused by the lockdown. 

Mr Downer said: ‘What happened is not sort of in character for them. I reckon something has gone wrong. I don’t think it was accidental.

‘They were such a nice family, it is unbelievable. The coronavirus pandemic could have sparked anxieties in them, you just don’t know.

‘If people have mortgages and you don’t know how secure your job is, you are going to be worried.’ 

He added: ‘We called the fire brigade when I saw smoke coming from the toilet. We were shocked when we heard what happened. They were a quiet family and had lived here for a long time.’

Mr Downer said Gary had worked as a draughtsman, while Caroline had worked at a supermarket. Their daughter Katie, 24, worked with animals. 

This morning, the road was cordoned off and a blue police tent remained erected in the garden. A sole bunch of flowers was left at the entrance to the street.

Mr Walker and his wife had lived at the property for around 30 years. The couple also had a son, Christopher, 28, and another daughter, Sarah, 26. 

Another neighbour said: ‘They were a lovely family. They had been here for about 30 years. It is a terrible tragedy. We don’t know what happened.’ 

Detective Iain MacPherson, of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit, said the deaths were ‘suspicious’ but that they were not seeking anyone else in connection to the incident.

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