Published: 13:00, 11 April 2014
A man who murdered his estranged wife in a jealous rage in Broadstairs has been jailed for life after a dramatic courtroom twist today.
Lee Birch has been ordered to serve a minimum of 25 years for strangling Anne-Marie Birch with a length of rope before battering her with a piece of wood in Whitness Road.
The 55-year-old, of Lymington Road, Westgate, had denied murder - and relied on the "partial defence" of loss of control, which can reduce the offence to manslaughter.
But he changed his plea to guilty at Maidstone Crown Court before the end of his trial this afternoon.
Birch, who ran the Why Not? micropub in Westgate with Anne-Marie, sobbed during his early testimony as he continued to declare his love for his wife.
The court heard Birch stalked his wife for months at the former marital home in Nethercourt Gardens, Ramsgate - flouting court orders banning him from any contact - before launching the fatal attack on November 7 last year.
Pathologist Dr Simon Poole said the rope had been looped at least four times around the victim's neck and tied with a knot. She had multiple fractures to her face and head.
The prosecution alleged Birch also intended to kill his wife's new partner Michael Daniels, but could not find him.
Passing sentence, Judge Philip Statman told Birch: "Anne-Marie-Marie Birch was 47 when you killed her and you had been married for 18 years.
"That union produced one child, Molly who is now 15 years of age.
"I have heard and accept that the deceased was a devoted mother and that mother and daughter were protective of each other.
"I have listened to a number of calls Anne-Marie made to the emergency services and she was a woman living in fear of you..." - Judge Philip Statman
"Anne-Marie stood by you for better or for worse and had no idea of the fraud you carried out (a previous conviction), and she waited for you to serve your prison sentence.
"You then went back to prison (for not paying a confiscation order) and she remortgaged the marital home to ensure the debt was paid and it was a struggle to get over that for both of you.
"In July she decided she wanted to end the marriage and you eventually left the marital home.
"You started to follow her when she and Molly would leave for school and it became deeply oppressive.
"So much so she got a non-molestation order and at the very start of the order you made it clear you would not comply with it.
"You were given a conditional discharge for breaching the order. I have listened to a number of calls Anne-Marie made to the emergency services and she was a woman living in fear of you."
Judge Statman added: "I am sure your actions were planned and premeditated and you took three pieces of rope in your van and and cut them to kill your wife.
"You knew she would be walking the dogs and you walked five miles along the beach to a secluded area and you approached her from behind and wound the rope around her neck twice.
"And in the most chilling manner, you then hit her on the head at least five times and you took her life and deprived Molly of her mother.
"You then looked for her mobile phone, took the dogs back and left your wife's body to be found by a stranger.
"You then went to the pub and had a couple of beers before you called the police and told them what you had done.
"Your conduct did cause her mental suffering prior to her death. You could use the term stalking, which you did by your own admission, but there was no violence during the marriage and I accept that.
"You did not have the strength to plead guilty at the first opportunity and sentence you to life imprisonment and you will serve a minimum of 25 years and will be on licence for the rest of your life."
As Birch was taken down to the cells he said: "Thank you your Honor for justice."
Birch claimed he had been offered decorating work and on the morning of the day he killed his wife he went to her home to collect his ladders and other equipment.
While doing so, he said, he saw some rope in the shed and cut it into pieces.
Asked what he would say if it was suggested he cut it to carry out a plan to kill his wife of 17 years, he said: "It is wrong. I would never have harmed Anne-Marie. I didn't go there to kill Anne-Marie. The rope went in my pocket."
Birch said he realised he could be seen from the house and fled because he thought he would be arrested for breaching court orders.
He went to Ramsgate harbour for a shower and later decided to go and find his wife to "have a chat".
He knew she would be walking dogs as part of their business Molly Cuddles in the Whiteness Road area of Kingsgate. He went into the field and told her they could talk.
"By this stage, I had been told Anne-Marie had a new man in her life," Birch told the jury. "I still believed there was hope. She didn't want to talk. She swore at me. She said: 'I don't want you. I don't love you.'"
She told him their daughter Molly never wanted to see him again and that she had a new man she had known for 30 years.
"I grabbed hold of her coat," he added. "I needed to talk to her. She pushed me. I slipped over. I got up. I took the rope out of my pocket and put it on the floor.
"We fell back to the ground. I had one small piece of rope to scare her into telling me everything, of what I had done. More words were exchanged.
"She was laughing. She didn't think it was serious. I put the rope around Anne-Marie's neck twice. It was quick. I strangled Anne-Marie."
Birch said he picked up a branch and struck her on the head. It broke. There were possibly five blows, he said.
Asked why he struck her, he replied: "I didn't want Anne-Marie to suffer. I was not in control of myself at this stage. It was a culmination of everything that had happened over the months.
"I don't know if she was conscious before I hit her with the branch. I tied the rope in a knot while it was still around her neck. I cuddled her. I told her I loved her and will always love her, and I was so sorry."
His barister Cairns Nelson QC asked why he killed his wife. He sobbed: "I don't know. I never would have hurt her. I never would have taken Anne-Marie from Molly. I think about it every day.
"You can't justify what I have done. What I have done is evil and it was wrong. How can I justify that? I can't."
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