A children’s author and parish councillor died after a neighbour with mental health issues shot him in the face and stamped on his head, believing he worked for Vladimir Putin and was to blame for the spread of Covid-19, an inquest heard.
James Nash, 42, was repairing the garden well outside his thatched countryside cottage when his neighbour Alex Sartain confronted him and accused him of spying on him.
Sartain, whose father unsuccessfully asked for help for his son’s mental health problems weeks before, discharged a homemade shotgun into Nash’s face.
The victim’s wife, Sarah Nash, rushed out and saw Sartain repeatedly stamping on her husband. Sartain tried to attack her but she fled to a neighbour’s house.
Following the attack in the village of Upper Enham, Hampshire, on 5 August last year, Sartain, 34, died three miles away in a crash on his motorbike while trying to evade police. Nash, who had previously worked as a graphic designer for Airbus, died three days later.
The inquest was told Sartain was detained under the Mental Health Act in September 2019 before being released from hospital into community care in April 2020. His condition deteriorated, leading to his father, John, contacting the NHS out-of-hours service in June over his concerns.
A record of this contact was passed to Sartain’s GP surgery, Adelaide Medical Surgery in Andover, but this was only filed and not brought to the attention of his GP.
The inquest was told that procedures had been changed at the practice to prevent this reoccurring, following a change in management.
Sarah Nash told the inquest at Winchester coroner’s court on Monday that she had been inside their home while her husband worked outside. She heard a “loud bang” and raised voices so went to investigate.
She told the hearing: “As soon as I opened the front door I could see a man in full black leathers stamping on the face of my husband who was flat out on his back in the garden.
“When I saw what was happening I, perhaps naively, ran straight out to him with the intention of trying to distract him.
“He was asking me what I was going to do to compensate him from the loss of income and livelihood that he suffered, that I knew what was going on and that I was part of the reason he was locked up.
“[He said] I was not who I said I was, he told me I was a Nasa scientist and knew everything about ‘Project Pandora’ and asked what was I going to do about it. All of that means nothing to me.”
Nash paid tribute to her husband as an artist and nature lover. She said: “He was a kind and generous man who wanted to help people and the community at large.
“He was inspired by everything around him, he loved to draw and create and wanted to share that with people … He wanted to help people in the village and to make the world a better place.”
She added that her husband, whom she met through the aerospace industry, enjoyed walking around Britain with her and discovering fossils.
The inquest heard Sartain had mental health issues dating back to 2008, having been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Scott Sartain, his brother, said: “Over the past few years Alex’s mental health really started to deteriorate. He often sat in his room talking to himself about spying and government agencies talking to him.
Sartain said as far as he knew, his sibling had not spoken to Nash before the incident but he heard his brother “talking about him working for Putin and not trusting him”.
Sartain’s father, John, said: “He was always on about him and that it was something about Putin and the spread of Covid.”
The coroner, Jason Pegg, ruled that Sartain unlawfully killed Nash. Pegg said: “[Sartain] believed that Mr Nash worked for Putin and Nasa and Mr Nash was in some way controlling him.”
An inquest on Sartain will be held on Wednesday.