2015年4月10日星期五

John and Anne Knott's retirement home dream ended in horror



  • John and Anne Knott retired to idyllic 300-year-old cottage in Pow Green

  • But Mrs Knott was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2012

  • Her husband, John, was also battling plans for a gipsy camp near the home

  • It became too much and in 2014, he shot his wife and then killed himself




For the final weeks of his life, the world appeared to be closing in on John Knott — the agony of each day a cruel and poignant contrast to the exquisite open views of the countryside that he could see from his home.


The 71-year-old, a former construction company director, and his 70-year-old wife Anne had retired to 300-year-old Forge Cottage in Pow Green, Herefordshire, one of the most idyllic villages in England, in 2006.


At first they were blissfully happy in their £500,000, two-bedroom home, surrounded by rolling fields and a wildlife reserve. They were active members of Holy Trinity Church in nearby Bosbury, and helped out with the parish newsletter. They were keen gardeners, joined the local rambling club and attended bridge evenings and village curry nights.


For a time, retirement promised to be everything they had hoped for, but then fate dealt them a cruel double blow.



Immaculate: The beautiful home where John and Anne Knott hoped to live out their retirement in peace


Immaculate: The beautiful home where John and Anne Knott hoped to live out their retirement in peace



First came Anne's diagnosis of Alzheimer's in 2012. This blow was hard enough to bear, but it was one which she and John initially faced with as much fortitude as they could muster.


Then, in 2014, plans were put forward for a travellers' camp to be built in a field next to Forge Cottage, adding hugely to Mr Knott's distress.


Afraid that their peaceful idyll was about to be ruined, he embarked on a meticulous plan to oppose the scheme, sending out hundreds of emails to fellow villagers, writing dozens of letters of protest to Herefordshire County Council and compiling an inch-thick dossier.


Those who knew Mr Knott say that as his wife's condition rapidly deteriorated, so his obsession with fighting plans for the gipsy camp grew.


Clearly, when he shot dead his frail wife at home last August, before turning his single-barrel shotgun on himself, the pressure on him had become unbearable. An inquest this week at Hereford Town Hall recorded a verdict of unlawful killing for Mrs Knott and suicide for her husband of 37 years.


But the tragic deaths of the devoted and popular couple have left behind a bitter legacy in the village where they lived, where wealthy middle-class residents are still living cheek-by-jowl with members of the travelling community.


Construction work began three weeks ago on The Willows, the area of land next to the Knotts' cottage which was once used for grazing sheep and, until recently, a couple of horses. It will now become a 'one-family traveller site', with a mobile home and two caravans, a wash facility, a septic tank, parking for three cars and road access.


Documents from Herefordshire Council had already made clear officials' desire to increase the number of gipsy sites in the area. Targets set in 2008 were still unmet at the time of The Willows application in 2014, placing further pressure on councillors to accept the application, despite the fact that there were already three other traveller sites in Bosbury.


The application to build on the land next to the Knotts' home was made by 20-year-old Zoe Lee last May, on behalf of her younger sister Leah and her parents Dean and Shannon, a traveller family who at the time were renting a semi-detached home in nearby Ledbury.



Those who knew Mr Knott say his wife Anne's condition deteriorated rapidly (pictured together)


Those who knew Mr Knott say his wife Anne's condition deteriorated rapidly (pictured together)



According to Miss Lee's grandfather, 68-year-old Ron Smith, who lives on another traveller site with around ten caravans a mile from Pow Green, there was never an issue between his family and the Knotts.


'Mr Knott said hello to them and shook their hands when they were feeding our horses,' Mr Smith told the Mail. 'He even asked if he could use the land to access the other side [the nature reserve]. Everything seemed to be fine.


'I could understand his worry if there were loads of people moving in, but it was only going to be one family. Just the four of them. It would have been very peaceful. It was all as it should be. They were applying for planning and waiting for the result. They didn't just move in without asking.'


Letters of objection sent to Herefordshire Council, however, show that Mr Knott and his neighbours felt very differently. 'There are at least eight settled (traveller) families within a one-mile radius of the proposed site,' wrote Mr Knott. 'The area cannot sustain any more.'


He also expressed concerns that his home and neighbouring properties could be flooded by sewage from the septic tank if plans for The Willows were approved.


Mr Knott's pleas fell on deaf ears, though. Even the deaths of the couple failed to persuade the local council of the strength of local feeling. Two months later they granted planning permission for the site to be developed. A digger surrounded by mounds of earth can already be seen on the site.


'We're a bit sore about it because it is a beautiful area,' says a neighbour in Pow Green. 'We all opposed it. We even hired an expert consultant to try to get the plans blocked.


'But John was really troubled by what was going on. We noticed a big change in him when this started. He was constantly emailing everyone about it. He felt very strongly about it.


'He said that a property expert had told him the plans would knock £125,000 off the price of the cottage.'


Indeed, the cottage has now been sold for around £350,000.


It would be all too easy to accuse Mr Knott of being a 'Nimby'. But those who knew him and his wife when they were still living in Droitwich, Worcestershire, before their retirement, point out that as a man who spent his career in the construction industry, he had strong and well-reasoned views on where building sites should be allowed. Indeed, he was known to support planning applications when he felt they were reasonable.


In 2004, for example, he joined forces with Lady (Anne) Judge, his then-neighbour in the village of Elmbridge near Droitwich, to support an application by a nearby equestrian centre to replace a hay barn with a three-bedroom cottage for the owners, who were living in a mobile home at the time.


Writing to Wychavon District Council, Mr Knott said: 'I would have thought that these people were exactly the kind of people that green-belt policies allowed to live in the green belt.' Permission was subsequently granted.



Mr Knott was said to be fighting plans to build a gipsy camp in a paddock (outlined in red) close to their 300-year-old cottage - the second traveller site proposed close to their home in two years


Mr Knott was said to be fighting plans to build a gipsy camp in a paddock (outlined in red) close to their 300-year-old cottage - the second traveller site proposed close to their home in two years



Neighbours in Elmbridge remember the Knotts as warm-hearted and loving, and very hard-working.


When he was not at his company, Ashford Construction, Mr Knott was a church warden. In his younger years, he was also a keen member of a cycling group, the Saracen Road Club.


Lady Judge remembers the couple, who attended her own wedding in 1983, as 'the nicest, kindest couple you could meet.'


'It's devastating. I can't say a bad word about them. I can't understand why this would happen.'


John Knott, the son of a decorated World War II naval dental surgeon, married Anne, a farmer's daughter, in 1977. It was a second marriage for both of them.


They each had a child from their first marriages; Mrs Knott's daughter, Jane Conway, who was raised by her mother and stepfather, is now 48; Mr Knott's son, Eyan, is 45.


It was three years ago that Mrs Knott, described by one villager in Pow Green as 'a sweet, unassuming lady' was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's after becoming increasingly forgetful and paranoid.



John Knott shot his terminally ill wife Anne dead before turning the shotgun on himself after the couple apparently made a pact to die together


John Knott shot his terminally ill wife Anne dead before turning the shotgun on himself after the couple apparently made a pact to die together



The couple were very open about the diagnosis, says the villager.


'Anne told me one day: 'I've got Alzheimer's.' She was so matter of fact. They were very open about it and did all the right things.


'John went to special classes for carers and he started baking cakes. He thought the world of Anne and did everything for her. John fussed over her but she struggled over the last year.'


According to Mrs Knott's daughter Jane Conway, there was a 'big change' in her mother's condition in November 2013, when a bad chest infection turned into bronchitis and required hospital treatment.


'She seemed to age very quickly,' Mrs Conway said in a statement read at the inquest this week. 'She started to have hallucinations, and at times she didn't recognise her family.'


Family friend Elizabeth Keatley, who attended the same rambling group as the Knotts, recalls: 'Anne hadn't been diagnosed when I first met her, but she was rather forgetful and repetitive. 'She trundled along quite well for some time, but it was when she developed severe bronchitis in the autumn of 2013 and spent some time in hospital that the Alzheimer's seemed to speed up and take a greater toll.'


By then, Mr Knott was caring alone for his wife, cooking for her and keeping their pristine house immaculately clean. But the situation was deteriorating fast.


A few weeks before their deaths, Mr Knott knocked on a neighbour's door and apologetically asked her if she could remove a plastic bag which had snagged on the branch of a tree in her garden.


His wife, he explained, kept thinking it was a stranger watching her, and was very distressed.


It became increasingly clear to everyone that Mrs Knott needed round-the-clock care and would need to go into a home.


After careful consideration, John chose Latimer Court in Worcester at the beginning of August last year.


Mrs Keatley recalled how distressed he was by the situation, telling her that he had 'lost his wife'.


'John hated being without her,' she told the inquest. 'It was altogether a totally impossible situation for them both to be apart, and for her to be in care.'


In the end, Mrs Knott remained there for just four days before her husband took her home. On August 5, he left a message on a friend's answerphone saying that he was 'getting to the end of his tether'.


According to the care home manager, Karen Hancox: 'Anne was confused initially. She was unsettled and paced around.


'She was unaware of the time of day, or even that it was night. Mr Knott was concerned about planning permission near his home and he was concerned about Anne's health. I think he felt that he'd let her down.'


At the height of summer last August, Forge Cottage was at its most beautiful, with the garden at the front ablaze with flowers.



Herefordshire Coroners' Court heard that 71-year-old Mr Knott, pictured, had been devoted to his wife of 37 years, nursing and cleaning her as she struggled to cope with Alzheimer's


Some said they felt the retired director had felt guilty about letting his wife down when he moved her into a care home.


Herefordshire Coroners' Court heard that 71-year-old Mr Knott, pictured, had been devoted to his wife of 37 years, nursing and cleaning her as she struggled to cope with Alzheimer's



The scent of lavender drifted across the garden path leading to the old forge at the back of the house, where Mr Knott now led his wife, locking the door and placing the key on a workbench.


It was there that the couple's bodies were found by police on August 14. Mrs Knott's daughter, who had raised the alarm after being unable to contact her parents, was with officers when they broke into the garage.


In her statement read at the inquest this week, Mrs Conway said: 'Mum and Dad adored one another. I was shocked but not surprised. Mum did not want to continue to live like that.'


Nevertheless, the couple's apparent suicide pact has left a tragic shadow on the family.


It is undoubtedly hard that a man who loved his wife so much in life, has, in death, been named as her killer.


But those that knew them are in no doubt that the shooting was an act of love by a man who saw no other way out for either of them.


The Knotts' deaths serve as a terrible reminder of how torturous a disease Alzheimer's is for all affected by it.


'It can be extremely difficult and painful to watch a loved one lose their memories and abilities,' says a spokesman for the Alzheimer's Society. 'It is important that people know that there is information and support out there, so they don't have to struggle alone.'


But John Knott was struggling with more than just his wife's illness. He was also coping with the prospect of a development which he believed would ruin their rural idyll.


He felt he was losing not only his wife, but his peace of mind, not to mention the retirement dream they had once shared and which, in their last days, he saw turning to dust.











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