Killer pig farmer loses bulk of fortune to ‘social pariah’ ex-wife

john searles strickland murder
The scene of the 2012 murder of Philip Strickland, of which Searles was convicted - Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast

A High Court judge has ruled a murdering pig farmer’s ex-wife should win the bulk of their £1 million fortune in their divorce after she became a “social pariah”.

Wealthy pig farmer James Seales is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of killing Philip Strickland with a shotgun in 2012.

Alison Seales, 55, who was with her husband for 19 years, told a High Court judge that she was “terrified” of her violent ex and is “psychologically scarred from her many years of living in an abusive relationship” with him prior to his incarceration.

Now, Judge Evan Bell has handed her a £750,000 share of their £1m fortune after ruling that Seales’s “conduct” in “the carrying out of a murder” should lead to him getting a lesser share of the family money now that the divorce is being finalised.

Strickland, 36, from Comber, Co Down, Northern Ireland, was killed on the evening of January 11, 2012, when he was shot in the leg and face with a shotgun.

Philip Strickland
Philip Strickland, 36, was murdered with a shotgun in 2012 - Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast/Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast

Seales, 66, of Raffrey, Co Down, has always denied being at the scene of the killing and said he was at home watching Emmerdale, but the jury rejected his claim and convicted him of murder and of possessing a shotgun with intent.

Nine years after he was sentenced, Seales represented himself in a divorce hearing last month, during which his wife’s KC Adele O’Grady asked Judge Master Evan Bell to hand her an unusually large share of the family fortune due to the fact her husband is a killer.

‘Psychologically scarred’

Ms O’Grady asked the judge to take into account the husband’s murderous “conduct” as well as the negative effect that Mrs Seales says living in a relationship with him has had on her.

Judge Bell, sitting in the Family Division of the Northern Irish High Court, said in his ruling that Mrs Seales suffers from symptoms linked with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Her doctor’s evidence was that there was no doubt that the wife had been psychologically scarred from her many years of living in an abusive relationship,” he continued.

“She remains terrified of her husband and of the fact that he could persuade others to physically harm her.”

The judge said Seales wanted to split their wealth 50/50 “given the duration of the marriage”, adding: “The husband considered that… I ought not to take into account his criminal conviction for murder and the consequences that the wife alleged flowed from it.

“Secondly, the husband also denied any domestic abuse of his wife.”

The judge found as a fact that the wife had suffered domestic abuse at the hands of Seales, pointing out the judge at his murder trial had been told by his sons that he was “an angry wee man”, finding they “both had a miserable childhood under the thumb of your bullying, domineering father”.

‘Never right since then’

Giving evidence, Mr Seales refused to accept his conviction would have had a “devastating effect” on his wife or that she had been made a “social pariah” in her area.

However, Judge Bell said: “I am also satisfied that the husband’s conviction and its aftermath has had a profound impact on the wife’s ability to earn a living. She gave evidence that she was not able to work due to her anxiety.

“At one stage she did get a job but said that she ‘just fell to pieces’. She finds it difficult even to leave the house unless she is accompanied by someone else.

“After her husband was arrested she had a breakdown and regards herself as ‘never right since then’. She told the court that life had been non-existent since then.

“The lack of gainful employment would obviously make it difficult for her to obtain a mortgage in the future. Unsurprisingly, she wants to move from the current matrimonial home.

“This case is, in my view, the paradigm example of a conduct case where the husband’s conduct is so outrageous that it would be utterly inequitable to disregard it. I am therefore compelled to take both aspects of the husband’s matrimonial conduct into account in the division of the matrimonial assets.”

The judge ordered that the £188,000 cash currently being held by solicitors ought to be released to the wife immediately.

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