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It was not his decision to make - children devastated by murder of mum

PUBLISHED: 05:40 14 August 2020 | UPDATED: 11:15 14 August 2020

Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The former husband of a woman dying of cancer might have ended her suffering by taking her life, but his actions have only acted to exacerbate the pain being felt by his devastated family, as PETER WALSH reports.

xCornelius Van Der Ploeg. Picture: NORFOLK CONSTABULARYxCornelius Van Der Ploeg. Picture: NORFOLK CONSTABULARY

Cornelius Van Der Ploeg, 64, is starting a life sentence after he admitted murdering his former wife Cherith, 60, at her home in Costessey in February.

Van Der Ploeg, a former driving instructor, had taken it upon himself to end the life of his former wife of 39 years, who had been suffering from cancer and had been told she had just days left to live, by suffocating the mother-of-four to death.

She had undergone both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, had lost much of her sight and ability to speak and had even talked about going to Switzerland to end her life, but could not go through with it as she did not want to implicate her children.

And so by doing what he did, Van Der Ploeg robbed his children of the chance of maybe just a few more precious days with their mother - a former nurse who had spent her life caring for others - before she died.

Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYHighfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The case has tragic similarities to that of Michael Virgo, 81, who in January was ruled by a jury to have killed his wife, Doreen, 89, at the Grays Fair Court care home in Costessey in July last year.

Virgo, who has dementia, was charged with murder but found unfit to stand trial.

He was due to be made subject to a hospital order, pending medical reports, after a jury at Ipswich Crown Court unanimously decided that Virgo, formerly of Buxton, did the act, namely kill his wife.

Unlike Virgo, Van Der Ploeg was not deemed unfit to face court proceedings and admitted the murder of his wife at a previous court hearing last month.

Police talk to residents in Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice talk to residents in Highfields in Costessey where a body of a woman has been found, and a man arrested. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

But like the Virgo case, this too is a sad and tragic case which has had a devastating impact on the lives of the victim’s children.

The defendant might have believed that he was ending his wife’s suffering but he has in fact extended the pain and suffering of his children who have lost a mother without the chance to say their final goodbyes.

They must now also accept that their father, who had no previous convictions, is a murderer.

In a victim impact statement read out in court, one of the defendant’s daughters admitted she wrestled with how to feel about her dad.

She said he was not an evil man and probably thought he was helping his former wife who was “so very, very ill” but insisted it was not his decision to make.

The daughter does not know whether she will speak to her father again after his horrific crime.

She said her mother, a “strong, independent and private woman”, did not want to be in the position she found herself in with the disease having taken so much from her.

Members of her family, including daughter and her three siblings, spent time looking after their mum as did the defendant in the time leading up to her death.

The victim’s daughter said her dad had “whatever he could” to help his former wife despite having been separated from her for two years.

But ultimately his actions, however well-intentioned have totally devastated a family.

Detective Inspector Lewis Craske from the Norfolk and Suffolk joint major investigation team (MIT) said it was a “sad” case and feels for the family left to pick up the pieces.

Describing Van Der Ploeg’s actions, Det Insp Craske said: “In his view it was an act of mercy to either help Cherith or help the family to be able to move on.”

But he insisted that view was “misguided” and all he achieved was to rob her family of the precious time she had left with them.

He said: “That was taken from them by him and his decision to do what he did. I feel really bad for the family. It didn’t end like they expected it to end. They didn’t expect to be told by their dad that he was a murderer.

“He didn’t say to the family what he was going to do but just acted on his own decision to do it.”

The actions have not only devastated a family, but those who knew her, including neighbours who all spoke so very highly of her.

A pensioner, who wanted to remain anonymous, but who lived near to the victim in Costessey, said “I understand she was a well-respected nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital which makes it more sad because she was someone who was helping others. The people that knew her and spoke about her have said what a lovely lady she was.”

Memorial in tribute to murdered nurse to be installed at N&N site

A terminally ill former nurse who was murdered by her ex-husband will forever be remembered at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital where she worked following the installation of a permanent memorial at the hospital.

Born in Rhodesia, mother-of-four Cherith Van Der Ploeg, 60, qualified as a nurse in 1998 and worked firstly in Johannesburg before becoming a staff nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich and being struck down with cancer.

A statement from the NNUH, which described her as a “much-loved colleague” and “mentor” said: “Dedicated, inspiring, courageous, kind and special. Tributes to Cherith Van Der Ploeg will form a permanent memorial to the Staff Nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

“A memorial tree artwork features tributes from colleagues to the nurse, known as Cherry to her colleagues, and friends in the interventional radiology department at NNUH. The memorial will be placed in the staff room of the new Norfolk Centre for Interventional Radiology at NNUH as a constant reminder of the type of person and nurse we should all aspire to be.”


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