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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 17:19 GMT
Sword suspect 'unfit for trial'
nigel jones
MP Nigel Jones was badly injured in the alleged attack
A man accused of stabbing a Liberal Democrat councillor to death with a samurai sword and wounding an MP has been declared unfit to stand trial.

Robert Ashman, 50, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was accused of murdering Andrew Pennington and attempting to murder the town's MP Nigel Jones during an attack at the latter's office in January 2000.

andrew pennington
Andrew Pennington died from multiple stab wounds
On Thursday a jury ruled Mr Ashman was unfit to stand trial following a seven-day hearing at Bristol Crown Court during which they heard evidence from two psychiatrists.

The jury was told Mr Ashman suffered from a mental condition which left him paranoid and delusional and would therefore not be able to fully understand the proceedings.

'Persecution complex'

Psychiatrist Dr Jacqueline Short, who was asked by Mr Ashman to assess his mental state, had previously concluded he was fit to stand trial.

But she told the court his condition had deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks.

She said she concluded, after more than 14 visits to Mr Ashman while he was on remand, that he suffered from delusions and a persecution complex leading him to believe there were conspiracies in the criminal justice and political systems.

Dr Short said: "He had conspiracies involving the masons, antiques trade, horse racing and the South African elections.

"Little things became evidence of a much wider conspiracy. It is indicative of a major mental disorder known as paranoid psychosis."

'Perfectly sane'

Mr Ashman, a part-time barman and father-of-two, had claimed he was perfectly sane and wanted his trial to go ahead.

Robert Ashman
Robert Ashman wanted to stand trial
The court was told that Mr Ashman's mental health problems began more than 10 years ago when he lost his job and his home.

His marriage collapsed, several business ventures failed and his home was repossessed in March 1998.

The final straw came in August 1999, said Dr Short, when Mr Ashman's sister died and just two weeks before the stabbing incident he suffered a head injury when he fell off his bike.

He was arrested in connection with the attack at the Liberal Democrat party offices in St George's Street, Cheltenham on 28 January.

Mr Pennington, 39, bled to death after being stabbed 16 times. Five of his wounds went all the way through his body.

Mr Jones suffered cuts to his hands in the incident and needed 57 stitches.

The pair were preparing for one of their Friday night surgeries at about 4pm when the attack took place.

'Conspiracy'

Mr Ashman claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy involving Gloucestershire County Council, Mr Jones and others.

He told Dr Short: "The things that have happened to me have been engineered to happen without me being aware."

Next week a separate jury will have to decide whether Mr Ashman actually committed the attack and if so whether it was murder or manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.

If found guilty of murder he could face life in prison, but if found guilty of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility he would be sent to a mental hospital.

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28 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Nigel Jones: A constituency man
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