Published: 13:14, 12 March 2019
| Updated: 07:06, 13 March 2019
A paranoid schizophrenic went to his next door neighbours in "a blind rage" and killed a mother and her daughter, a court heard.
As well as inflicting fatal stab wounds on Margaret Harris, 78, and Sharon Harris, 55, Jack Ralph also attacked the mother’s husband 76-year-old David Harris.
Ralph later admitted he was in “a black rage”, adding: “I don’t know what came over me.”
When his mobile phone was checked it showed an internet search the evening before asking: “How long for murder?”
The 28-year-old former chef, of Carpenters Lane, Hadlow, denies two charges of murder and one of attempted murder.
Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC said there was no issue that Ralph stabbed the three victims and the issue was one of insanity.
Maidstone Crown Court was told he had lived next door to the family with his mother for about 18 years and there had never been any trouble between them.
At about 7.30am on September 29 last year, Ralph went next door and knocked. Mr Harris opened the door and when Ralph just looked at them, he thought: “What’s wrong with you Jack?”
Ralph then pulled a large kitchen knife from behind his back. The door was slammed and Mr Harris and his daughter tried to keep it shut.
But he managed to get inside. Mr Harris ran to get a rolling pin to try to stop him, but he kept “bashing” him with the knife.
“He was repeatedly stabbed as he retreated into his home,” Mr Bennetts told the jury. “David Harris was on the floor and managed to get to the telephone in the living room and dialled the emergency services before he passed out.”
Margaret Harris had stab wounds to her neck which severed arteries. Her daughter died from a wound to her upper left chest which severed a major artery.
Mr Harris was treated at Kings College Hospital in London for four wounds, one of which was close to an artery which, if severed, could have proved fatal.
Police officers arrived at the house at 7.55am and found both the back and front doors were locked. They saw a body lying in the hallway.
“It is the prosecution case that at the material time he did know what he was doing was wrong..” Mr Bennetts, defending
Entry was forced and Margaret and Sharon Harris were found badly injured. They were declared dead at the scene. Mr Harris was in the living room.
Ralph had returned home, where he took off his bloodstained jumper. At 7.46am, he tried to make a telephone call to cancel his car insurance.
When an officer went into the house, Ralph was sitting on a sofa with his hands above his head.
After his arrest, he asked to make two phone calls – one to Swift Car Insurance and the other to cancel his mobile phone contract.
He told an officer: “I’m in full regret.”
Mr Bennetts said four psychiatrists had established Ralph was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time.
Two of them agreed he did not know what he was doing was wrong, while the other two disagreed.
But said Mr Bennetts: “It is the prosecution case that at the material time he did know what he was doing was wrong.”
When fit to be interviewed, Mr Harris said there had been no problems at all with Ralph previously.
He had known Ralph, his mother and two siblings for about 18 years. “We always got on well together,” he said.
He added that his wife used to talk Ralph “a hell of a lot about all sorts of things”.
Mr Harris said he had recently seen Ralph sitting outside on a warm evening and told him not to get a suntan. He had never seen him with a weapon.
Mr Bennetts said Ralph was known to the local mental health services since 2017 and was subject to non-statutory supervision by the community health team.
He had been taking his medication.
Asked if he was wearing a grey hoody when he launched the attack, he replied: “I was in a blind rage. I think I was wearing that hoody, yeah.”
He said he believed the staining on it was blood “most likely all three of them”.
Repeating he was in a blind rage, he described being strong with both hands because he had done Brazilian jiu jitsu.
He added he was “fully trained. I’m a strong guy.” He said he had also done weight training.
Asked if anyone grabbed hold of him, he said he could not remember and had blacked out.
Ralph said Margaret Harris did not like him smoking cannabis in the back garden as it went into their windows.
About seven months earlier he wrote the family a letter, saying he was sorry for snapping at them. In the note left on top of a toaster in the kitchen he called them “amazing neighbours” and told them they deserved a better neighbour than him.
Ralph had the knives because he had been a chef. A knife with blood on it was found on the kitchen worktop.
David Harris described in a filmed interview how he was attacked after he opened the door to Ralph.
“We were talking calmly,” said. “He hesitated. I said: ‘I have got to go.’ With that, he pulled a knife from his side and struck me in the neck.
“I tried to slam the door. I didn’t have any strength left. I tried to get inside with my daughter. My wife came downstairs wondering what the commotion was.
“He just went mad, by the sounds of it. I don’t know. I just said ‘He has got a knife’ and that was it.”
Mr Harris said he had been “a bit surprised” to see Ralph at the door and thought “something had gone wrong”.
He explained that Ralph’s mother worked away and her son was left alone looking after their dogs.
It was about five minutes from the time of the conversation to when he was attacked.
“He just stood there basically, staring at me,” he continued. “I thought: I don’t know what you are doing Jack. What do you want?
“His demeanour didn’t really change. He just asked how we were. That’s all he said. There was nothing to suggest what was about to happen.
“I had no idea what his intention was, apart from coming at us with a knife. I don’t know if Margaret spoke to him.
“The amount of blood I was losing, it was gushing out of my neck. I dashed to the phone and called the emergency services before I passed out.”
Mr Harris said of the weapon: “It looked like a carving knife, about an 8in blade and 1.5in wide. It wasn’t just a long knife. It is more like a butcher’s type knife.
“As soon as he brought it from behind his back I thought ‘Blimey’. I could see the size of it and I thought: Get out of the way.
“It came from his right-hand side. He just slashed out and that was it. I know he had nothing in his left hand whatsoever.
“When I saw the knife coming, I yelled: ‘He has got a knife.’ I couldn’t shut the door. He managed to get inside and I couldn’t hold him off.”
He said of his wife and daughter: “I never saw what happened to them unfortunately.”
He added: “Because he caught me in the shoulder, he put me one-sided. I didn’t have my walking stick with me at the time.”
If the defence is made out, the jury will return not guilty verdicts by reason of insanity on the murder charges.
If the defence is not made out, the jury will go on to consider whether he is guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
Diminished responsibility is not a defence to attempted murder. If the defence of insanity is rejected, he will be guilty of attempted murder.
The trial continues.
More by this authorKeith Hunt