Berkshire pilot who bludgeoned his wife to death will not be freed from prison

Robert Brown bludgeoned 46-year-old Joanna Simpson with a claw hammer in their family home in Berkshire in October 2010. Credit: Thames Valley Police/PA

A British Airways captain who bludgeoned his wife to death more than 13 years ago will not be freed from prison.

Robert Brown bludgeoned 46-year-old Joanna Simpson with a claw hammer in their family home in Berkshire 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.

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.

Joanna Simpson was killed in the family home as their children cowered in a playroom. Credit: Thames Valley Police/PA

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

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.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

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.

Ms Simpson’s mother, Diana Parkes, has previously urged the Parole Board to “keep him in jail” and was made a CBE in December for services to vulnerable children suffering from domestic abuse and domestic homicide.

Today she said the decision to dismiss Robert Brown’s High Court challenge against a government move to block his automatic release from prison was the “right one”.

Ms Parkes said: “I am grateful that the courts delivered a positive and swift response following the judicial review brought on by my daughter’s killer. The decision to uphold the Justice Secretary’s decision to block his early automatic release is the right one.

“Brown committed the most horrific crime against my loving and caring daughter, Jo. He must be kept in prison.”

Joanna Simpson's mother Diana Parkes and Hetti Barkworth-Nanton. Credit: PA

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.”

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.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...