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Son battered historian father and then set him on fire

PUBLISHED: 11:57 17 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:13 07 September 2010

By Ed Thomas THE epileptic son of an eminent Hampstead art historian beat his 81-year-old father before setting fire to the dying man s home, the Old Bailey has heard. Michael Johnson, 49, knocked Professor Lee Johnson out of his wheelchair and stamped on

By Ed Thomas

THE epileptic son of an eminent Hampstead art historian beat his 81-year-old father before setting fire to the dying man's home, the Old Bailey has heard.

Michael Johnson, 49, knocked Professor Lee Johnson out of his wheelchair and stamped on his head in an attack fuelled by years of resentment.

He then torched the bedroom where his father lay and told police when they arrived at the scene in Lyndhurst Road: "I hope he dies."

In court on Monday, unemployed Johnson admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. His father was one of the world's leading experts on the French painter Eugene Delacroix.

Sir Allan Green QC, prosecuting, said Johnson blamed his father for his epilepsy and even resented his financial help.

"Professor Johnson was in very bad health," Sir Allan said. "He had suffered a stroke in 2003 which affected his balance and he had difficulty in moving around. He used a Zimmer frame and a chairlift in the house and spent most of his time in bed.

"He was looked after by a series of carers. The defendant had been epileptic since about the age of 11 and he was dependent on his father for financial support. He did not work. Money was a point of contention between the two.

"Johnson said the £250 a month he was given was 'McDonald's money' and even sent back some of the cheques his father wrote out to him."

Professor Johnson bought his son a flat a few doors away and the son went on to marry one of his carers, a Bulgarian, in January 2005.

But the marriage was short-lived, with the pair splitting up after eight months, which further affected his relationship with his father.

Sir Allan said: "Sometimes Johnson was helpful and caring to his father but he was becoming increasingly rude and hostile and seemed to blame his father for his epilepsy. The professor was often left cut and bruised by his son.

"Professor Johnson's carer said he should not let him in the house but the professor said, 'He's my son. What can I do?'

"He once put a pillow over his face and said, 'Do you want me to kill you?' And on another occasion, Johnson threw a waste paper bin at his father's head.

"The professor thought his son hated him and told the police and social services he was scared of him but didn't press any charges."

Shortly before killing his father on July 6 2006, Johnson told a family friend how much he hated the man. "The flood gates opened," Sir Allan said. "He said he was full of hate. He said he had tried to kill him by suffocating him with a pillow. He said he was going to do it again.

"At about 10 in the morning of the attack, a neighbour saw thick smoke coming out of the professor's home. The fire alarm was going off and he rang 999.

"Johnson was found in the house saying, 'I've killed him, I've killed him. I've killed myself. I've stabbed myself with a meat thermometer.' Smoke was extremely dense and visibility was nil."

When a fireman tried to drag the naked professor to safety, the scorched skin peeled off in his hands.

Professor Johnson was rushed to hospital where doctors battled to save his life, but the 90 per cent burns were too much for his frail body and he was dead that afternoon. An autopsy revealed he died of shock caused by severe burns and head injuries.

Johnson, who has a history of violence, claimed he was suffering the effects of the epilepsy drug Kepra.

He was warned he faces an indefinite sentence in a psychiatric hospital when he returns to court for sentencing on Monday.

During his life, Professor Johnson won the Mitchell Prize for the history of art in 1987, wrote a number of books on Delacroix and lectured in Cambridge and Toronto.

He was left housebound before his death following a stroke in 2002. His French wife Michelle, who had cared for him, died a few months later following complications after hip replacement surgery.

ed.thomas@hamhigh.co.uk

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