Tory council leader suicide


Tory council leader ‘shot dead wife then killed himself in murder suicide’ at their home in sleepy Norfolk village

Prominent: Conservative Councillor Mr Johnson was a member of North Norfolk District Council for Cromer ward and former mayorProminent: Conservative Councillor Mr Johnson was a member of North Norfolk District Council for Cromer ward and former mayor

A Tory council leader shot his wife dead outside their bungalow and then turned the gun on himself, police fear.

Keith Johnson, 58, and his 44-year-old wife Andrea were discovered by police after neighbours called emergency services just before 3pm.

Police are not looking for any suspects in relation to the incident in the quiet Compit Hills housing estate in Roughton, near Cromer, Norfolk.

Nearby neighbour David Stow said he heard a single gunshot on Sunday. ‘At first I didn’t think anything of it,’ he said, ‘But then I saw the police arrive and realised it must be something serious.’

A community in shock: Keith Johnson, 58, and wife Andrea, 44, were found shot dead near their home on a leafy housing estate at around 3pm yesterday. Pictured, the couple at the Olympic torch relay, when it passed through Cromer on July 4

A community in shock: Keith Johnson, 58, and wife Andrea, 44, were found shot dead near their home on a leafy housing estate at around 3pm yesterday. Pictured, the couple at the Olympic torch relay, when it passed through Cromer on July 4

Norfolk Police were called to the couple’s home after ‘concerns were raised for the safety of a resident on the housing estate’.

Officers discovered Mrs Johnson’s body in what is believed to be their front garden and her husband’s in a nearby back garden.

An air ambulance attended the scene.

Mr Johnson was a Conservative councillor for North Norfolk District Council, former Mayor of Cromer and a familiar face in the local area.

It is understood he had been with his wife, a customer service worker at Homebase, for 18 years, and they were married in 2004.

The couple did not have children of their own but Mr Johnson has children from a previous marriage, as well as grandchildren.

The couple were described as ‘prominent and much-loved’ figures in their community.

Cromer deputy mayor David Pritchard said: ‘My wife and I were deeply shocked and upset to hear of the deaths of Andrea and Keith Johnson.

‘Keith and Andrea were a lovely couple and I was not aware that they were having any problems.

‘I know that Keith was a beater for pheasant shoots and I know from conversation that they kept a shotgun in their house.’

Search: Officers discovered Mrs Johnson's body in what is believed to be their bungalow's front garden and her 58-year-old husband's body in a nearby back garden

Search: Officers discovered Mrs Johnson’s body in what is believed to be their bungalow’s front garden and her 58-year-old husband’s body in a nearby back garden

She did not have children of her own, but she doted on his grandchildren.

‘Keith was very well thought of in the town. In fact he was very well known and respected across the whole district.

‘For the last couple of years he was a good friend of mine. We have been out with them to social events many times and I always found him great company.

‘We spent time with both of them on Friday and Andrea was happy and as chatty as usual and Keith was helping organise the street market ahead of the Cromer Christmas lights-up.

‘Politics apart, the four of us had become good friends and he had introduced me to many people in various functions we attended.

‘I had observed Keith in meetings and could see that he genuinely loved helping people and serving his electorate. He had the honour of being the Cromer town mayor for seven consecutive years and that was a reflection of his ability, popularity and dedication to the people and town.

‘Andrea and Keith will both be missed by me, my wife Helen, and hundreds of other people who knew them.’

The area around the couple’s £230,000 bungalow remained cordoned off by police last night, with Norfolk police conducting forensic searches to establish the sequence of events.

A tent protecting evidence was seen in the couple’s front garden, yards away from a second tent in a neighbour’s garden.

Mrs Johnson’s Porsche Boxster was parked on the couple’s front lawn, with Mr Johnson’s Mercedes E220 on the driveway.

Initially, no-one was allowed in or out of the cul-de-sac housing estate, but restrictions were relaxed on Sunday evening to people to get into and out of their homes.

Derek Houlston, whose garden backs on to the couple’s property, said: ‘We moved in a month ago and they made us very welcome – he even offered to help sort out our bins with the council.

‘She was bubbly and really friendly. We used to see her walking her dog.

‘He was always very friendly too but we saw him doing his paper round – which she got him to do to keep fit – on Saturday and he seemed really depressed.

‘I said hello but he just kept his head down and didn’t respond.

‘He looked so down and miserable. It was not like him – he usually had some banter.

‘It’s really sad because they seemed like such a lovely couple.’

A woman who lives nearby said: ‘It’s a huge, huge shock. We cannot believe it. It’s so quiet up here. If you thought of any place where this sort of thing would happen, it certainly wouldn’t be here.

‘The average age here is very high. I only walked past their house with my daughter about 15 minutes before it all happened. It’s so terribly sad.’

Another local woman said last night: ‘It’s chaos here. There are police cars and ambulances all over the place. We heard a shot, and initially thought it might be someone shooting on the field behind.

‘Now we’re worried, because we know lots of our neighbours.’

A neighbour, who did not wish to be named, told North Norfolk News this morning: ‘I didn’t find out what happened until this morning. They were quiet, friendly people. I’m feeling awful today.’

Quiet estate: A tent was set up in a neighbouring back garden after officers were called to the scene at around 3pm yesterday

Quiet estate: A tent was set up in a neighbouring back garden after officers were called to the scene at around 3pm yesterday

Mr Johnson, elected as council leader earlier this year, had opened a Waitrose supermarket in North Walsham on Friday and oversaw the launch of Cromer’s Christmas market at the weekend.

Geoff Agness, one of the stallholders at Cromer’s Christmas market, said: ‘I would like to say how shocked I am to hear the news. I was a trader at the Christmas lights switch on. Keith welcomed me and remembered I had taken part last year. I am numb with shock.’

Mr Johnson also posed for photographs in his local newspaper to urge organisations to take on a redundant annexe of the North Norfolk District Council headquarters in Cromer.

Cromer mayor Gwen Smith said: ‘I don’t know what was behind this awful tragedy. I don’t think anybody does at the moment. I didn’t know there was anything wrong.

‘Keith was very well known locally and involved in almost everything He was a very experienced person and he was always supportive of me.

‘He and Andrea were very lively, happy and extrovert. They always went everywhere together and they seemed very close – more than most people. Everybody is so surprised and shocked.

‘When the Olympic torch came to town we had a bit of a do in a restaurant and Andrea was there in her red, white and blue dress.’

Mr Johnson, who helped organise the torch relay through Cromer, said at the time: ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the residents of North Norfolk. I would encourage all residents to make every effort to support the Torch and its carriers.’

Shattered peace: Compit Hills, pictured, where the bodies were discovered after a shot was heard

Shattered peace: Compit Hills, pictured, where the bodies were discovered after a shot was heard

Detective Superintendent Peter Hornby, who is leading the inquiry into their deaths, said: ‘Whilst I understand this is a very shocking incident for the neighbours of the two people involved, I can reassure them that, at this stage, we are not looking for anyone else in connection with it.’

Mr Johnson began his career in local government with Sheringham Urban District Council in 1972.

He was a member of Cromer Town Council for 29 years and was mayor of the seaside town from 1997 to 2004.

During this time, he sailed around the coast of Britain aboard HMS Cromer, as a guest of the Royal Navy.

He had been a football referee for many years, officiating at the Womens FA Cup Final as well as matches at Norwich City’s Carrow Road ground.

In 1998 he was appointed secretary to the Anglian Combination Football League for teams in Norfolk and north Suffolk.

His profile on the North Norfolk District Council website said that he was looking forward ‘to many more years being of service to the District, and to Cromer’.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he was ‘deeply shocked’ by the news.

‘I’ve known Keith for some years through his work on the council and we both attended the wedding of a mutual friend a few years ago,’ he said.

‘We’ve always been on very good terms despite the fact I’m Lib Dem and he was a Conservative.

‘I didn’t know Andrea beyond seeing them both at civic events but she was always good for a friendly chat.

‘I share the community’s sense of disbelief and my heart goes out to all of their family and friends.’

Sheila Oxtoby, North Norfolk District Council CEO, said: ‘It is with enormous shock and huge sadness that we have learned of the deaths of Council Leader Keith Johnson and his wife Andrea.

‘Keith was a highly respected and much loved Member of North Norfolk District Council. He will be greatly missed by the Council and his death is a great loss to the whole community. Keith and Andrea were well known by many people in the district and our thoughts and prayers go out to both their families and close friends.’

North Norfolk District Council Deputy Leader, Tom FitzPatrick, said: ‘I am sure that everyone in North Norfolk and many much further afield will share the deep sense of loss that I and all my colleagues at the District Council feel at this terrible news.

‘Keith was a great champion for North Norfolk and a great friend, and he worked tirelessly for the Council and for the people who live here. We will all miss him hugely.’

In September, Mr Johnson expressed frustration over the fact that plans to revamp a popular park had stalled.

‘We want to get this in motion,’ he said. ‘But whatever we try to do there seems to be unease.

‘For some reason, perhaps because we suggested it, people don’t like the idea of the outdoor gym.

Respected figure: Usually cheery Mr Johnson was seen 'looking depressed' on Saturday, according to neighbours

Respected figure: Usually cheery Mr Johnson was seen ‘looking depressed’ on Saturday, according to neighbours

Whatever we do at North Lodge Park, we will be knocked back, so we will get the community trust set up and move it on that way.’

Local councillor and landowner Benji Cabbell-Manners, a close friend of the couple, told the Eastern Daily Press: ‘He was really enthusiastic. He was a great person for binding the community together.

‘He was doing a really fantastic job as the leader of the district council, getting everybody involved. Andrea was a nice, vivacious girl.’

Breckland council leader William Nunn said: ‘Terrible news about the Leader of North Norfolk District Council Keith Johnson and his wife. He was a great man to work with.’

Denise Burke, chairman of North Norfolk Labour Party, said: ‘The death of Keith is a tragedy and a massive loss to Cromer and north Norfolk too.

‘Keith has been a real public servant throughout his life and will be sorely missed by the whole community. He was much respected across the political spectrum. Our thoughts are with Keith’s friends and family at this time.’

Ian Hall, general manager of Cromer Pier Pavilion Theatre, said: ‘We are stunned to hear of such a tragedy. Keith has always given us so much encouragement at the pier with both he and Andrea coming along in person to support Seaside Special shows and the many community events held here over the years.’

Twitter was filled with tributes from horrified friends and colleagues.

Local journalist Steve Downes ‏tweeted: ‘On a personal level, I am deeply shocked. Keith Johnson was a good contact. But also a good friend.’

Trevor Ivory, a Tory councillor in the area, added: ‘Terrible news about Leader of the Council, Keith Johnson, and his wife. They were good friends and Keith worked tirelessly for the District. ‘

And local resident Charlotte Ainsworth ‏added: ‘Starting to think that Compit Hills isn’t such a quiet place to live anymore…’

The Conservative party said it had no comment at this time.

 

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