Gemma Finnigan’s killer Daniel Johnson from Boldon jailed for life

Cannabis smoker and murderer at 15, he killed a woman 16 years later while on licence:

A killer who strangled and stabbed his partner because he believed she was possessed by the devil has been given a life sentence – 16 years after killing another innocent person.

Schizophrenic Daniel Johnson will serve a minimum of 20 years in jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility three days into his murder trial.

He met his victim Gemma Finnigan, shortly after being released on licence for the 1996 joint murder of David Younes in North Kenton which he committed when he was just 15, but the true nature of his crime was never revealed to the 24-year-old victim or her family.

After weeks of bizarre behaviour, Johnson, 33, struck at 3.30am on Friday, September 13, last year, strangling and beating his partner until she was unconscious. He then walked to the kitchen and collected three knives which he used to stab her in her back and front 14 times in their flat in Church View, Boldon Colliery, South Tyneside.

Johnson then drove to Kenton School, in Newcastle, where he broke in and was found wandering round stripped to the waist, covered in blood.

The defendant had claimed insanity due to suffering psychotic episodes, but on Thursday when three independent psychiatrists agreed his case instead fell under diminished responsibility due to his mental state at the time, he decided to plead guilty.

He will serve his sentence in a prison rather than Rampton Hospital, Nottinghamshire, where he has been detained since the offence.

A serious case review has now been launched into the death, with the Finnigan family criticising the Probation Service for failing to notify them of Johnson’s earlier conviction.

On November 3, 1996, Johnson and a 17-year-old friend were trying to steal a car in Kenton, Newcastle, when they got involved in a confrontation with passer-by Mr Younes, 32. Johnson struck him over the head with a metal bar while his co-accused repeatedly stabbed him. A year later Johnson was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years for his part, later shortened to 12.

In a statement read to the court, Gemma’s mum Jennifer, who broke down in tears at the conclusion of the hearing, said: “Gemma was a wonderful daughter and special to everyone who same into contact with her.

“She was what I would describe as a ray of sunshine who made everyone around her feel worthwhile. All she ever wanted was to help others and make people happy.

“I feel angry and let down by the Probation Service as they did not tell me or Gemma about his involvement in the first murder. Had Gemma known about this we would never have welcomed him into our home and Gemma would still be here.”

After the sentencing, Gemma’s sister Kristi Allen, 17, added: “20 years is nowhere near enough to make up for what he did to Gemma.”

Meanwhile, consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr James Stoddart, who works at St Nicholas Hospital, Newcastle, told Mr Justice Green that Johnson’s use of drugs like cannabis, which he grew at home, was likely to have exacerbated his psychotic behaviour.

Mr Justice Green, sentencing, told Johnson: “In my view even though your responsibility was diminished you still bear some responsibility.

“You refused to obtain medical assistance. Had you sought help for your condition this terrible tragedy might never have occurred at all.

“This offence was also likely to be drug related and you used extreme violence to obtain knives which were then used upon Gemma, who was utterly defenceless at the time.”

He added: “In my view you pose an extremely serious and potentially lethal threat to society and a threat that is not possible to say will necessarily ever go away.

“You have now committed two acts of extreme violence over a period of 16 years.”

Toby Hedworth QC, mitigating, said his client was full of remorse, having been supported by Gemma and her family after his release from prison.

He said: “He will have to live for the rest of his days with the knowledge that it was he who snuffed out the light of her life.”

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Barron, of Northumbria Police, welcomed the sentence.

He said: “As we have heard during this trial, this means he had a mental illness at the time he killed Gemma.

“Johnson is a violent individual who attempted to argue he was insane at the time of the killing as an excuse for killing Gemma Finnigan.

“It is clear he knew what he was doing and must now accept responsibility for his actions.

“Gemma died in tragic circumstances and our thoughts are with her family at this very difficult time. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for the dignity that they have shown throughout our investigation.

“We worked closely with the CPS throughout the investigation and I’d also like to thank them for their support.”

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