A pensioner accused of killing his wife at their Black Country home is suffering from dementia and is mentally unfit to stand trial in the normal way, a judge has heard.
Pargan Singh Bhandal, 83, of Trehernes Drive, in Pedmore, Stourbridge, has been charged with the murder of his 82-year-old wife Gian Kaur Bhandal on either January 22 or January 23.
He had been due to stand trial at Warwick Crown Court in July, but that could not take place because of delays caused by the Covid-19 lockdown – and a new trial date of January 6 next year had been set.
But concerns for his mental condition, with his barrister Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC saying he was suffering from cognitive impairment, have led to psychiatric reports being prepared on him.
And at a hearing Bhandal was excused from attending, Judge Sylvia de Bertodano said there were now four reports – two original reports and two addendums from Dr Nicholas Kennedy and Dr Dinesh Maganty.
Ruling that Bhandal was unfit to plead or to stand trial, Judge de Bertodano said: “I have received written evidence from Dr Kennedy where he spoke of Mr Bhandal suffering from a significant cognitive impairment which was likely to be permanent.
“In an updated report he has reported that Mr Bhandal has late-stage dementia and had deteriorated substantially since he had last seen him, and that the situation was unlikely to change.
“Dr Maganty has also identified vascular dementia, and says that it is unlikely this man would ever be fit for trial.
“He is essentially bed-bound. He is unable to name his grandchildren and unable to remember his sons’ professions. While he knows his wife has died, he appears to recall nothing about that."
During an earlier hearing in February, it was said that at 11.13am on January 23, West Midlands Ambulance Service received a 999 call from Bhandal’s son reporting the discovery of his deceased mother in the bedroom at the address.
After paramedics had attended the police were informed – and a pathologist’s examination disclosed that she had a fractured sternum, a broken arm and several broken ribs, it was alleged.
But Judge de Bertodano ruled: “I do find that Mr Bhandal is not fit to plead or to stand trial.
“It is necessary now to move to the next stage, for a finding of whether he did the act. That is something which needs to be decided by a jury.”
Known as a ‘trial of the facts,’ it involves a jury hearing evidence in a defendant’s absence and coming to a conclusion on whether he ‘did the acts alleged.’ If the jury agrees that he did, it is not classed as a guilty verdict – and the only disposal available to a judge after such a finding on an allegation of murder is to impose a hospital order under the Mental Health Act.
But adjourning for that trial, which is expected to take five days, the judge declared: “I have bad news. We cannot keep our January listing.”
She explained that she had a ‘multi-handed murder trial’ that had to take place in that slot because it involved young defendants who are remanded in custody.
Asking whether the January date could be kept if the trial could take place at another court, Miss Bennett-Jenkins said it had been listed for many months, and that she and prosecutor Richard Smith QC were both bound to that date.
She argued: “Moving it is going to cause absolute chaos, not only for ourselves, but for the medics who have been advised of that date.”
But Judge de Bertodano responded: “There is no way I can get another court on this circuit to take the case.
“I apologise for the fact that it has to come out, and I apologise for the difficulty it causes people, but I don’t have the words to tell you how difficult it is at the moment to list cases, particularly in relation to ‘class one’ work.
“The amount of class one work [cases such as murder] we have at this court is verging on the unmanageable.
“I think the first date we will have is some time in September. We will find a new date with agreement with counsel.”
And of a September trial date Mr Smith remarked: “This is a man whose physical as well as mental health has deteriorated. I query whether this man will be answerable in life to this charge.”