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Building boss given life for murder

PUBLISHED: 10:30 25 November 2008 | UPDATED: 07:48 01 August 2010

A BUILDING boss who killed his fiancée by crushing her head under the wheels of a Land Rover before hiding her body and fleeing to Thailand has been jailed for life.

A BUILDING boss who killed his fiancée by crushing her head under the wheels of a Land Rover on Beccles bypass before hiding her body and fleeing to Thailand has been jailed for life.

A hunt for Christopher Caunter, 36, was launched after clumps of scalp and hair of his girlfriend Deborah Townsend were found near a layby on the A146 in Beccles in 2005.

Miss Townsend's family let out shouts of “yes” from the public gallery and wept as Caunter was convicted of her murder yesterday, at the end of a six-week trial at Ipswich Crown Court.

Jurors had been told by the prosecution that the couple had driven to Lowestoft after Caunter was tipped off that his building business in Essex was being raided by the Inland Revenue. The pair spent the evening of July 14, 2005 drinking heavily in the Norfolk Arms pub, but started to row as Caunter drove them towards Norwich in the early hours. After Miss Townsend got out of the hired Land Rover, Caunter mowed her down, injuring her legs so severely that she was unable to stand up, before reversing over her head, killing her instantly.

After picking up his girlfriend's body and putting it in the passenger seat, Caunter drove on, stopping once in a layby to transfer it to the boot.

After phoning his brother Robert, Caunter drove to a fishing lake near Chelmsford, where he cleaned blood off the outside of the vehicle using wet-wipes brought by his brother. He covered Miss Townsend's body with towels and shirts and left it in the Land Rover, before changing his clothes at the home of a friend, Joseph Brown.

Caunter took £20,000 in cash and flew to Thailand, where he stayed until he was extradited in 2007. His brother phoned the police to tell them where they could find Miss Townsend's body.

Caunter, of Hullbridge in Essex, denied murdering Miss Townsend, who was 35, claiming she had jumped from the moving vehicle. He said he drove for a while before deciding to go back for her, but was unable to remember if he had reversed or done a u-turn to return to the spot where she lay. He accepted that he could have run over her by accident, and said he transferred her body to the boot because he was “freaked out” to have it next to him.

Caunter, wearing jeans and jumper, showed no reaction as the unanimous verdict was delivered, after just over 10 hours of deliberating at the retrial. A jury was unable to reach a verdict last November.

The court heard earlier in the trial that Caunter, who stands 6ft 6 and weighs 18 stone, had a temper like a “volcano exploding”.

Sentencing him to life in prison, with a minimum of 21 years to be served, Judge John Devaux said: “The evidence has shown that you have been violent in the past on a number of occasions and that you are a danger to others.”

After the verdict Miss Townsend's uncle, Alan Phillips, said: “We can at least be rest assured that now, not only has justice been done, it has been seen to be done. We hope that after all the efforts that have been made to convict Christopher Caunter, who is solely responsible for this vile and cowardly act of her murder, that he finds his years of incarceration long, hard, and painful to endure.”

Superintendent Rick Munns, of Suffolk Police, said: “The jury were faced with a difficult case and have found the offence proved.”

He said that due Caunter fleeing the country, only now do Miss Townsend's family know of the events leading to her death, adding: “We hope that, through the process of bringing Caunter to trial, it will help them find some peace and closure.”

Robert Caunter, of Barking, and Joseph Brown, from Romford, both 39, denied assisting an offender. They were found guilty and will be sentenced on December 22.

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