City insurance executive, 62, avoids jail after assaulting his ‘petrified’ girlfriend by grabbing her throat and lifting her onto her tiptoes in row outside his £1.6m west London flat

  • Howard Hames Burnell convicted of assaulting his then-girlfriend Mary Phillips 
  • He was ousted from job at insurance giants Apollo when news of attack broke
  • Burnell placed on twelve-month community order and fined more than £1,000 

A City insurance executive has avoided jail after he grabbed his ‘petrified’ girlfriend by her throat and lifted her onto her tiptoes in a row outside his £1.6million west London flat.

Howard James Burnell, 62, was convicted of assaulting his then-girlfriend Mary Phillips in the doorway of his flat in Richmond, where they both lived, after a dinner date on March 14.

The former head of Marine & Energy Liability was ousted from his lucrative directorship at insurance giants Apollo when news of the late-night attack broke.

Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court heard how Burnell, a divorced father-of-two, inflicted bruising to the throat and thigh of Ms Phillips when they rowed after an evening out. 

Howard James Burnell, 62, (pictured right), a City insurance executive, was convicted of assaulting his then-girlfriend Mary Phillips after a dinner date on March 14

 Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court heard how Burnell, a divorced father-of-two, inflicted bruising to the throat and thigh of Ms Phillips (pictured) when they rowed after a dinner-date

‘Parliament intends to make strangulation a separate offence because it is so scary and frightening and Mary was frightened by this,’ magistrate Timothy Nathan told him. 

Burnell was placed on a twelve-month community order, which includes a three-month electronically-tagged curfew between 7pm and 7am. 

He must also attend fifteen days of Probation Service-approved rehabilitation; pay Ms Phillips £400 compensation; £620 in court costs and a £95 victim surcharge. 

Burnell was also made subject to an indefinite restraining order prohibiting him contacting his ex-girlfriend or visiting her new address in Kent.      

‘He lost his employment. He fell foul of the regulatory body and was dismissed and lost a substantial amount of equity in that partnership when this case was reported,’ said Neville Gray, defending.

‘He does not envisage ever being able to work again after working in the industry for many, many years and is deeply ashamed and apologetic for what happened.’

Burnell was placed on a twelve-month community order, which includes a three-month electronically-tagged curfew between 7pm and 7am. Pictured: The flat block in Richmond

Ms Phillips told the trial the pair had enjoyed a restaurant meal earlier on the evening of March 14. 

‘We shared one bottle of wine, but Mr Burnell likes his alcohol so it could have been two,’ she said.

While travelling home the couple fell into an argument, with Burnell telling his partner of nine years: ‘You have crossed the line’.

He stormed off ahead, shutting Ms Phillips out of the home they shared, which he owns. 

‘He positioned himself in the doorway,’ she told the court from behind a screen. ‘He said: “You insulted my parents,” and was very aggressive, more than usual.

‘He was red, his eyes were evil-looking. The hatred. His hand came up and grabbed my throat and I was lifted up on to my tiptoes and was in sheer fear.

Burnell must also attend fifteen days of Probation Service-approved rehabilitation; pay Ms Phillips £400 compensation; £620 in court costs and a £95 victim surcharge. Pictured: Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court

‘I thought he was going to headbutt me. I was absolutely petrified.

‘He also used the door to bar my way and that bruised all of my leg and the bruise was under my jaw for a week and my neck was painful.’

Burnell denied throttling his ex-partner, suggesting she may have sustained injuries as she tried to barge her way into the flat against his wishes.

Ms Phillips was forced out that night with just a travel bag, leaving behind her collection of mink coats and tens of thousands of pounds worth of jewellery, silver and crystal.

‘The victim states the defendant’s verbal abuse had been escalating and was worse when he was in alcohol and this was the first example of physical abuse,’ said prosecutor Suleman Hussain.

‘She says his mood swings are erratic and states: “I feel my future safety is at risk if Howard’s in one of his moods. If he loses control he becomes abusive and bullying.

‘My health has deteriorated both mentally and physically since the assault, with stress and anxiety attacks and periods of uncontrollable shaking”.’

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