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Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 19:00 GMT
Ashman: Family man turned killer
Robert Ashman
Robert Ashman: Jury decided he was unfit to stand trial
Robert Ashman's life seemed far detached from the image of a crazed sword-wielding attacker.

He was from a middle-class family, his father a war veteran who served in Saigon. He was married, had a good job and two children.

But redundancy, bankruptcy and divorce eventually triggered a mental disorder that transformed him into a killer.

Ashman and his wife, Beryl, bought a 115,000 six-bedroom mansion in the affluent spa town Cheltenham in May 1990, which they renovated before moving in with their daughters, Kirsti and Lucy.

andrew pennington
Andrew Pennington died four days before his 40th birthday
But after the former drainage engineer lost his job with the Severn Trent water company, the move sparked a spiral of debt and mental illness for Ashman.

Lloyds Bank started repossession proceedings, several loans failed to materialise and his marriage ended in 1996, after 25 years.

With debts reaching 41,000, Ashman was heartbroken by the realisation that he would not be able to give his daughters the future he would have wished.

'Obsessive, not dangerous'

He visited Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones' Friday night surgeries at least 50 times over eight years in a bid to persuade the MP to campaign on his behalf.

But when he decided to strike back at the system which he blamed for robbing him of his job, his home and his family, Mr Jones and his assistant Andrew Pennington were on the receiving end.

Friends, colleagues, and staff from the MP's office who had listened repeatedly to Ashman's money worries, had dismissed him as obsessive, but not dangerous.

Nigel Jones, MP
Nigel Jones had written Ashman a character reference
Psychiatrist Dr Jacqueline Short said Ashman suffered from delusions and a persecution complex which led him to believe he was the victim of conspiracies in the criminal justice and political systems.

When Ashman started to believe Mr Jones was a part of that conspiracy, he snapped.

Dr Short said losing your house, job and marriage did not necessarily lead to such a breakdown.

"But if you are vulnerable, especially when they are combined, that can precipitate mental illness."

Violent history

Ashman had a history of a volatile temper. In May 1992 he broke the ribs of a council tax collector after being served a summons for non-payment.

Ashman escaped jail after Mr Jones wrote a reference in his defence saying the attack was out of character.

Crisis combination
1990: Buys luxury home
1992: Attacks tax collector
1994: Threatens burglar
1996: Marriage ends
1998: Loses home
1999: Sister dies
2000: Kills Andrew Pennington
Mr Jones, his hands still scarred from the sword attack he suffered, now admits the character reference was a mistake.

Ashman's temper also emerged when a burglar broke into his home two years later.

Ashman pulled a penknife on the thief and told him: "If you try anything, remember I have got this."

He even went on the Kilroy television chat show after the burglary and urged others to take the law into their own hands.

Later, his volatility reached a climax when he entered Mr Jones' office and pulled out a 3ft curved Samurai sword.

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