United Kingdom

Shropshire estranged husband, 64, is jailed for life for suffocating terminally-ill wife in Norfolk

Cornelius Van Der Ploeg (pictured), 64, asked his children if he could spend 30 minutes alone with his wife Cherith and later came out of her bedroom and said: 'I throttled her'

The estranged husband of a terminally-ill nurse has been jailed for life after he suffocated her in 'an act of mercy' when she had only days to live.

Cornelius Van Der Ploeg, 64, asked his children if he could spend 30 minutes alone with his wife Cherith and later came out of her bedroom and said: 'I throttled her.'

He admitted her murder and was told he must serve a minimum term of five years and 187 day in jail.

Norwich Crown Court heard how Mrs Van Der Ploeg, 60, was dying of lung cancer after being diagnosed with the illness in 2019.

She had lost much of her sight and her ability to speak and had expressed a desire 'not to be a burden on her family'.

But the court was told although she had mentioned ending her life at a clinic in Switzerland, she could not do so as she did not want to implicate her children.

Mrs Van Der Ploeg and her husband had split up two years earlier, but he continued to support her at her home in Highfields, Costessey near Norwich, Norfolk.

Van Der Ploeg visited her on February 15 and told two of their four children who were caring for her that he wanted 30 minutes alone with her.

He admitted her murder at Norwich Crown Court (pictured) and was told he must serve a minimum term of five years and 187 day in jail

Prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC said the couple's son saw his father with 'his head on her pillow.'

He later realised his mother who had worked in the radiology department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, was pale and not breathing.

When Van Der Ploeg, of Telford, Shropshire, returned to the kitchen, he told his children: 'I throttled her.'

But his son would not listen and tried to throw him out of the semi-detached house.

Police were called by the children and when officers arrived, former driving instructor Van Der Ploeg told them: 'It's me you want.'

He added he 'hated to see his wife suffer so much' after 39 years of marriage and had killed her in 'an act of mercy'.

Van Der Ploeg later told police 'she was in so much pain'. He said they had previously discussed death and she had told him: 'Don't let me suffer.'

He told officers 'I couldn't see her suffer any more.'

The court heard Mrs Van Der Ploeg had returned home for 'end of life care' at the start of the year after undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

A moving victim statement from one of her daughters said her father's horrific and shocking actions had robbed her of precious time with her mother.

Mrs Van Der Ploeg and her husband had split up two years earlier, but he continued to support her at her home in Highfields, Costessey near Norwich, Norfolk (general view)

She said: 'We don't know why dad did what he did. We can only assume its because it's the only thing he could do to help with mum's suffering.'

She insisted he was not an evil person and admitted he 'would not have done what he did if mum had not been in such a bad way'.

But she added: 'I know that he did it out of love and not hate but it was not his decision to make.'

The daughter described her mother as 'a strong, independent and private woman' who 'did not want to be in the position she found herself in with the disease having taken so much from her'.

She said she had been unable to properly grieve the loss of her mother while having daily visits from the police, 'going over and over what dad had done'.

The procedure caused her more anxiety than her mother's death and led to her not being able to grasp 'her mum was gone forever'.

She added she did not know whether she would speak to her father again.

Judge Stephen Holt descried it as a 'sensitive' and 'tragic case' in which Mrs Van Der Ploeg knew the 'end of her life was inevitably coming'.

The judge said there was 'no doubt at the time of her death she was suffering greatly and in serious pain from the cancer'.

But he added: 'It was not right for anyone to make a choice over life or death.' Van Der Ploeg broke down and wept during the hearing.

Elizabeth Marsh QC, defending, said he had killed her in an 'act of mercy' and had 'extinguished her suffering' out of love, rather than hate.

She said the victim was 'terminally ill', had an 'end of life plan' and was twice told she had just days to live.

Ms Marsh said she had a 'settled wish to terminate her own life before pain overwhelmed her or she became a burden'.

She added Van Der Ploeg, who came to the UK with his wife from South Africa in 2011, insisted he did right by Cherith and by his children even if it was 'wrong in law'.

Detective Inspector Lewis Craske, of the Norfolk and Suffolk joint major investigation team, said after the hearing it was a 'sad' case which had left a family 'to pick up the pieces'.

Describing Van Der Ploeg's actions, he said: 'In his view it was an act of mercy to either help Cherith or help the family to be able to move on.'

But he insisted it was 'misguided' and all he achieved was to rob her family of the precious time she had left with them.

He said: 'That was taken from them by him and his decision to do what he did. I feel really bad for the family.

'It didn't end like they expected it to end. They didn't expect to be told by their dad that he was a murderer.

'He didn't say to the family what he was going to do but just acted on his own decision to do it.'

Mrs Van Dr Ploeg was born in Rhodesia, qualified as a nurse in 1998 and worked in Johannesburg before emigrating to the UK.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital described her in a statement as a 'much-loved colleague' and 'mentor'.

It said: 'Dedicated, inspiring, courageous, kind and special. Tributes to Cherith Van Der Ploeg will form a permanent memorial to the Staff Nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

'A memorial tree artwork features tributes from colleagues to the nurse, known as Cherry to her colleagues, and friends in the interventional radiology department at NNUH.

'The memorial will be placed in the staff room of the new Norfolk Centre for Interventional Radiology at NNUH as a constant reminder of the type of person and nurse we should all aspire to be.'

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