Life sentence for estranged husband who killed terminally-ill woman

PUBLISHED: 17:09 13 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:27 14 August 2020

xCornelius Van Der Ploeg. Picture: NORFOLK CONSTABULARY

xCornelius Van Der Ploeg. Picture: NORFOLK CONSTABULARY


The estranged husband of a dying woman has been given a life sentence after suffocating her in what he told police was an “act of mercy”.

Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYHighfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Cherith Van Der Ploeg, 60, had been given days left to live after having been struck down by lung cancer when her former husband Cornelius Van Der Ploeg, 64, took her life at her home in Highfields, Costessey.

Van Der Ploeg admitted murder and was given a life sentence with a minimum term of five years and 187 days by Judge Stephen Holt, who said it was a “sensitive” and “tragic case” in which the “end of her life was inevitably coming”.

Before Van Der Ploeg was sentenced at Norwich Crown Court on Thursday (August 13), a moving victim statement from one of his daughter’s described how her father’s horrific and shocking actions, “although out of love and not hate” had robbed her of precious time with her mum.

Tony Badenoch QC, prosecuting, told the court the defendant had murdered his ex-wife by suffocating her and went onto tell police he did so as an “act of mercy”. Officers arrested Van Der Ploeg at the address late on Saturday, February 15 this year after they were called by the defendant’s children who had realised what had happened.

Police talk to residents in Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice talk to residents in Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Badenoch QC said the couple, who had been married for 39 years and had four children, moved to the UK in 2011.

By the time of the victim’s death they had separated, although the defendant continued to visit and support his former wife after she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019.

The court heard that at the beginning of 2020 Cherith returned home for “end of life care”, having undergone both radiotherapy and chemotherapy and had expressed a desire “not to be a burden on her family”

Mr Badenoch QC said on February 15 the defendant had asked two of his children, who were at the property in Costessey to help care for their mother, for 30 minutes “to be alone with Cherith”.

Van Der Ploeg was seen by his son with “his head on her pillow”.

The victim was later found to be pale and not breathing.

After he returned to the kitchen, Van Der Ploeg told his family “I throttled her”.

The defendant’s son would not listen to Van Der Ploeg and tried to get him out of the house.

The police were called and arrived with the defendant stating “it’s me you want”.

Van Der Ploeg told police he “hated to see his wife suffer so much”.

He went onto tell police that “she was in so much pain” and that they had previously talked about death and she had said to him “don’t let me suffer” and “he had said the same thing to her”.

He told officers “I couldn’t see her suffer any more”.

A victim impact statement, read out on behalf of one of his daughter’s, described the conflict the defendant’s actions had caused.

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 admitted her father “would not have done what he did if mum had not been in such a bad way” and insisted he was not an evil person, but said it was not his choice to make.

“I know that he did it out of love and not hate but it was not his decision to make.”

She went onto describe how the crime, “although horrific” is not what caused her the most anxiety, but the process thereafter where she was not able to grieve the loss of her mother but instead had daily visits from the police, “going over and over what dad had done” while not being able to grasp her mum was “gone forever”.

Van Der Ploeg, of Oxmoor Avenue, Hadley, Telford, broke down during the hearing.

Judge Holt added there was “no doubt at the time of her death she was suffering greatly and in serious pain from the cancer” but added it was “not right for anyone to make a choice over life or death”.

Elizabeth Marsh QC, for Van Der Ploeg, said this was an “act of mercy” which “extinguished her suffering” by acting out of love, not hate.

She said the victim was “terminally ill”, had an “end of life plan” and was twice told she had just days to live stating that she had a “settled wish to terminate her own life before pain overwhelmed her or she became a burden”.

She added the defendant insisted he did right by Cherith and by his children even if it was “wrong in law”.

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