Monday 20 November 2017

Lodger 'kills landlady' in row over two baths a day

Jesse Harper accused of pushing Joanna Doman down stairs at Bath home when she confronted him over 'expensive habit' of taking bath twice a day

Joanna Doman died in hospital on 11 May, the day after being admitted with head injuries
Joanna Doman died in hospital on 11 May, the day after being admitted with head injuries

A lodger killed his landlady by pushing her down the stairs in a row over using too much hot water by having two baths a day, a court heard.

Jesse Harper, 22, hit out at his landlady Joanna Doman, 55, when she confronted him over his "expensive habit" of taking a bath twice a day.

Prosecutors allege Harper pushed Mrs Doman down the steep staircase of the cottage on May 11 this year causing fatal injuries, from which she died later at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.

She had told friends she was frightened of Harper and wanted him to move out of her two bedroom home in Peasedown St John, near Bath, Somerset.

 Mrs Doman's elderly mother, Josephine Farr, overheard the alleged attack because she was on the telephone to her daughter at the time, Bristol Crown Court heard. She told police that she heard a muffled sound and then the phone line went dead.

Anna Vigars, prosecuting, said: "Joanna Doman died from severe head injuries and this case is about how she got those injuries. She was pushed down the stairs of her cottage by her lodger Jesse Harper and the prosecution say he meant to push her down the stairs.

"As she was standing at the top of the stairs trying to turn off the hot water Jesse Harper pushed her away in anger and it was that which led to her falling down the stairs and ultimately her death."

Mrs Doman had invited Harper to rent her spare room for £40 a week in November last year, having been introduced to him by her partner Mike Gulliford.

But shortly after Christmas, friends noticed their relationship was deteriorating with "niggly arguments" and by the time of her death Mrs Doman had asked Harper to leave.

 "One area of friction was the rent. He was no longer working and he had no income and he had not yet signed on," Mrs Vigars said. "She noticed he had an expensive habit with the necessity for him to have a couple of baths a day and the need to heat the water.

"Other people had noticed Jesse Harper talking about pushing her down the stairs and talking of killing her. No one is suggesting that he had a plan to kill her - just that it shows how angry he was with her."

Mrs Vigars added: "She had got to the stage where she was scared of Mr Harper and was frightened of him and how he reacted when she asked him not to use so much water and to pay the rent."

On the weekend of her death, Mrs Doman had moved out of the cottage following an argument in which she slapped Harper around the face but returned each morning to feed her cats.

At 8.45am on May 11, next door neighbour Stephen heard raised voices coming from Mrs Doman's home for about five minutes and an hour later Mrs Farr rang her daughter.

"After a few minutes, the conversation just stopped and Mrs Farr heard a muffled sound and the line just went dead," Mrs Vigars said. "She thought she heard a scream and that's the point Joanna Doman was falling down the stairs."

 Mrs Farr tried ringing her daughter, but when she could not get an answer she dialled 999 and alerted the police. In the meantime, Harper put Mrs Doman in the recovery position and fled visiting his mother's nearby home and then his former partner in Radstock.

Harper told his ex-partner that he had bent down to switch on the emersion heater outside the bathroom and Mrs Doman had kicked him in the face, so when he pushed her away she fell down the stairs.

"Whether he did in fact push her away in self-defence or whether he was angry and assaulted her and pushed her to get her away, so that he could have the hot water for his bath," Mrs Vigars said.

When he was arrested, Harper told police: "She came up the stairs and pushed me and she fell down the stairs, how is that my fault?"

He later told police that the pair met on the stairs and his landlady "shoulder barged" him to get past and she fell backwards down the stairs.

Harper, of Peasedown St John, Bath, Somerset denies a single charge of manslaughter. The trial was adjourned until Tuesday.

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