THEY were newly weds living in a country cottage.

Yet one morning, George Lewis inexplicably bludgeoned his wife Beatrice to death, the attack with a claw hammer so savage that its head left a dozen imprints on her head and neck.

Then he went downstairs, lit a fire, and made her a cup of tea which he brought to their bedroom.

The former cable maker then changed into his best clothes and leaving their Lower Upham home, went to a bus stop, telling a villager that he had suffered "a bit of bad luck" - his wife had been called away after his mother-in-law had suffered a heart attack.

It was not until two days later that Lewis was stopped in Leicestershire by officers on motor patrol and made a startling confession: "The police in Southampton want me. I have murdered my wife. I hit her on the head with a hammer."

They immediately contacted Hampshire CID and a team led by Detective Inspector Bill Rowe went to the house in Stroudwood where they discovered the body of his wife - known as Trixie to her friends - lying on the bed.

The couple had lived at the cottage, which lay 100 yards from a country road and in a belt of trees, since their marriage in March, 1963.

Previously 31-year-old Mrs Lewis had occupied a flat in Shirley Road, Southampton, with her mother. She had been a Guide captain and a church worker at Southampton Central Hall Methodist Church where they were wed. The couple had met while she was making a hostel visit as a church worker.

She had not made any close friends in Upham but was known at a farm some 100 yards from their home as a quiet, reserved woman who enjoyed taking her black labrador for walks.

But on June 19, she was dead.

Rowe travelled to Leicester where in a brief interview to account her death, Lewis said: "Yes, I know, I will tell you about it, if I can remember."

He was brought to Eastleigh police station to be formally charged with murder, simply replying when asked if he had anything to say: "I understand. I have made a statement."

On June 22, Lewis, 48, who had slightly greying hair and wearing a brown suit with an open necked shirt, appeared before the town magistrates.

Following a succession of remands, he appeared before Mr Justice Phillimore on December 15, pleading 'Not Guilty.'

As he opened the prosecution's case, Sir Joseph Maloney QC confirmed the facts of the case were not being challenged by the defence, who were led by Norman Skelhorn QC. The state of his mind was the issue.

He then related how Lewis had launched a devastating attack on his wife, fracturing her skull, with the hammer which was recovered in the fire place with its head burnt off.

In his interview statement, Lewis recalled seeing it lying on the floor by the side of their bed.

"All I remember now is picking it up. I hit my wife, I don't know how many times I hit her. I went downstairs. I lit the fire. I made a cup of tea. I took a cup of tea upstairs for my wife. I saw she was dead."

Dr John Hill, professor of psychiatry at Middlesex Hospital, who had not seen the defendant but had studied encephelograph records of his brain impulse, said they indicated a brain injury early in life and the presence of epileptic activity.

His testimony was supported by his mother who confirmed his had been a difficult birth and within two days he suffered convulsions.

Two doctors were called by the Crown in rebuttal.

Both Dr Lionel Torrance, senior medical officer at Winchester Prison and Dr William Milligan, physician superintendent at St James' Hospital, Portsmouth, declared they had found no evidence that the time of the killing that Lewis had been suffering from any abnormality of the mind to sufficiently impair his mental responsibility for his acts.

In his closing speech, Skelhorn told jurors: "It is not the defence in this case that Lewis was mad. It was an utterly motiveless killing."

Why, he asked, did he get up in the morning and batter his wife to whom he was devoted unless there was something mentally wrong with him.

Maloney accepted that he had probably endured epileptic fits throughout his life.

"But what has that to do with this crime?" he maintained. "It is not suggested he had an epileptic manifestation when he slaughtered his wife."

In his brief summing, the judge commented: "It looks a pretty motiveless crime when one remembers this couple were apparently living happily together."

It was true, he warmed jurors, that he had suffered from brain damage in infancy and his life from the age of about 13 had been a pattern of anti-social behaviour but there was no record he had been violent.

Lewis was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter.

Asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed, Lewis in a barely audible voice replied: "I have nothing to add. It's all been said."

The judge then sentenced him to life imprisonment.