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Nazia Parveen North of England correspondent
Classical musician John Martin found guilty of killing wife on their second anniversary after assault in Greater Manchester home
John Martin with Natalia Strelchenko. Photograph: Social Media
The husband of the classical concert pianist Natalia Strelchenko has been found guilty of murdering her on their second wedding anniversary.
Strelchenko, 38, who used the stage surname Strelle, died shortly after being assaulted in her home by John Martin in August last year.
Martin, 48, showed no reaction as a jury convicted him of murder at the end of a three-week trial at Manchester crown court. Martin was cleared of the attempted murder of a youth, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
A Home Office postmortem examination found Strelchenko had died from head and neck injuries.
Strelchenko’s family said she had been “much loved” adding, “we will never forget Natalia or the many memories she has given us”.
In a statement, her family said: “She was extremely talented with much life ahead of her. She was taken from us in August in completely unnecessary circumstances. We cannot express how devastated we are that her life has been stolen from her.”
“We miss Natalia every minute of every day. We can try to repair our heartache although no matter how long the sentence is, it will not bring Natalia back or make our loss any easier.”
The Norwegian pianist of Russian origin had performed at prestigious venues all over the world, including London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Französischer Dom in Berlin.
Martin, a concert double bass player who also played at high-profile venues globally, had denied killing his wife.
The trial heard he was jealous of her success and it can now be revealed that in September 2013 Martin was jailed in Norway for threatening to kill her. He spent 60 days in an Oslo prison after attacking his wife on two separate occasions.
Prosecutor Robert Hall told the trial that Martin sometimes physically restrained Strelchenko to prevent her leaving the house. “Natalia complained he controlled her and was very jealous – made worse by the fact her career had taken off, while his had not.
“They would also argue regularly about financial affairs. Those arguments and tensions would on occasion reach a high level. Often, once the heat of the arguments had died down, what would follow would be apologies from this defendant.”
At 1am on Sunday 30 August last year, Strelchenko was found with severe head and neck injuries at the couple’s home.
In the months and weeks leading up to her death the jury heard that the couple had frequently argued, sometimes in public, with Strelchenko’s friends becoming increasingly concerned.
A month before her death, Martin had thrown Strelchenko out of their home. Police were called during the dispute over a mobile phone bill. Strelchenko did not return to the house and instead went on a musicians’ course. Martin then contacted her friends saying he wanted her back.
The jury heard that Strelchenko’s former husband tried to persuade her not to go back to Martin and instead live in a flat she owned in Belfort, France. She was due to start a job in the country on 7 September 2015.
Strelchenko eventually moved back to the Newton Heath property but tension between the couple continued to grow. Friends said the couple, who married in Norway in 2013, would argue two to three times a day.
On 27 August, a Polish violinist friend of Strelchenko’s came to visit and the two recorded songs together. Martin grew angry and contacted a family friend “upset and angry” that she had invited other musicians to their home.
On 29 August, the couple argued again after Strelchenko advertised their family home on a property exchange website, with Martin becoming “anxious” and “distracted”.
That night, Martin disappeared from the house for a number of hours and on his return just before midnight was in a “threatening mood”.
The court heard that the Polish violinist saw Martin throw her and himself down the stairs, before strangling her. The friend fled the property and called the emergency services while Martin continued to beat Strelchenko.
The following day, Martin was arrested for murder but he said he could not remember attacking his wife. Throughout his trial Martin denied murder and manslaughter but accepted that he “must be the man behind it”.
He had claimed that he had been suffering from depression and had taken a cocktail of drugs and alcohol on the night of her death which had caused aggression and subsequent memory loss.
Jurors were told that Martin had mistakenly used diazepam in place of his anti-depressant medication for around six weeks prior to the incident.
He claimed the mix of alcohol and the drugs had impaired his ability to form a rational judgment, and disabled his ability to exercise self-control and understand the nature of his acts leading to him attacking his wife.
But prosecutors said that “controlling” and “volatile” Martin had tried to “camouflage his guilt” in claiming that he could not remember the events surrounding Strelchenko’s death.
David Harley, the senior Crown prosecutor from Crown Prosecution Service North West, said that it had been an “appalling crime”. He added: “John Martin killed his wife Natalia Strelchenko in a vicious rage in their own home. He was motivated by anger and, fuelled by alcohol, he lost his temper and violently attacked her, even admitting to her friend who tried to stop him that he wanted to kill her. It was the prosecution case that he intended to kill her or cause her very serious harm and therefore was guilty of murder.”
Martin will be sentenced on Monday.