Stephen Farrow found guilty of murdering vicar John Suddards
By This is Bristol | Friday, November 02, 2012, 14:53
Stephen Farrow has been jailed for life after being found guilty of the murders of a Thornbury vicar and retired teacher from Worcestershire.
Murdered Thornbury vicar John Suddards
Drifter Farrow killed the Reverend John Suddards after leaving a chilling note when he burgled a nearby home, saying he hated God.
Over the course of a month-long trial at Bristol Crown Court a jury heard he claimed to have been abused by a priest as a child and had contemplated crucifying the clergyman, as well as killing the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Homeless Farrow admitted the manslaughter of The Reverend Suddards but claimed diminished responsibility on the grounds of mental disorder.
He admitted that, over last Christmas last year, he burgled Vine Cottage in Thornbury, where the macabre message was left.
But he denied that he went on to murder 77-year-old Betty Yates at her home in Worcestershire in January, and then 59-year-old Rev Suddards at his Thornbury vicarage in February.
Farrow was handed two life sentences after being found guilty this afternoon.
The Honourable Mr Justice Field said: "In my view a whole life sentence is appropriate in each of these dreadful, horrific killings.
"You acted sadistically; to put a knife deep into the body of Betty Yates as she lay helpless on the floor, having arranged her head, is obvious sadism. You did that because you wanted to put that knife into her to have the pleasure of doing so."
The judge said how Farrow had kicked Rev Suddards to the ground and told him "hurry up and die".
The judge said: "There were seven deep knife wounds, he was helpless, and that was sadistic."
Michael Fitton QC, prosecuting, said between December 21 last year and January 3 this year a break-in occurred at Vine Cottage, a detached property adjacent to St James Church cemetery.
He told the court the intruder forced a back window and “trashed” the home, scattering items across the floor and stealing jewelery, a gold watch and a Roberts radio.
The burglar even helped himself to food and drink, which they left half eaten on the kitchen table.
Mr Fitton told Bristol Crown Court: “On the kitchen table was a note. It was pinned using two kitchen knives. It was written in a curious, disguised style of squiggly writing.
“It said: ‘Be thankful you did not come back or we would have killed you, Christian scum. I f***ing hate God’.”
The court heard the message meant nothing to householders Alan and Margaret Pinder, who had been away for Christmas and New Year and were not overtly religious.
Crime scene investigators detected a boot print from a magazine on the floor, which forensic scientist Patrick O’Shea later linked to Farrow’s footwear.
The jury also heard Farrow may well have left low-level DNA on the handle of the large kitchen knife used to pin down the note.
Mr Fitton said Farrow was arrested in Folkestone on February 19 , and police searched his rucksack and found the radio taken from Vine Cottage.
On March 8 the gold watch stolen from Vine Cottage was found in a bonfire near Beachy Head, where the defendant had camped before his arrest.
The jury was shown several photos of Betty Yates’ idyllic home on the banks of the River Severn in Bewdley, Worcestershire.
The 77-year-old retired special needs teacher enjoyed an active lifestyle, the court heard, which included keeping fit, art classes, a discussion group and book cub as well as being a committee member for a mental health charity.
The court heard that on Friday, December 30, Farrow was seen in the Bewdley area and sold jewellery to a shop in Kidderminster, giving his address as Stan Lewis’ guest house, Bewdley.
When Mrs Yates failed to meet friends for an arranged walk, police investigated and gained entry to her home at Riverscroft on the morning of January 4.
What greeted them was the body of Mrs Yates, lying face down in a “recovery style” position at the foot of the stairs, with her head resting on a cushion and a knife protruding from her neck.
The jury heard her killer had stabbed her four times to the neck and head, slicing her jugular vein. There were no defensive injuries to her hands.
Mr Fitton said investigations revealed she had been bludgeoned by one of her own walking sticks, which was found upside down and damaged, with her blood on, in a walking stick stand.
The court heard the killer didn’t ransack or steal from the home but, after bludgeoning his victim, he put her head on a pillow, replaced the walking stick and drew the blinds.
Mr Fitton said: “We suggest a cool mind, and clear and focused actions done in order to assist him.”
Police found Farrow’s boot mark on an exercise matt her grand-daughters bought her for her birthday on December 28.
Farrow said the boot print was made when he went to the house on December 30.
Farrow declined to attend court for the majority of the trial and did not give evidence.
Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Tim Rogers told Bristol Crown Court he believed drifter Farrow suffered from a rare personality disorder which bore psychopathic hallmarks.
He said though Farrow was not mentally ill, his condition meant he was unable to exercise self-control or guilt.
Rev Suddards' sister, Hilary Bosworth, said: "My brother John was a good man, who dedicated his life to serving God and helping other people. He was a much loved uncle to my three children, and a dear friend to so many, and he is greatly missed. In the nine months since John died, we have experienced all the grief of losing a loved one, but we have also had to come to terms with the fact that John's life was taken, in a very violent and totally unprovoked attack, in his own home.
"Thankfully for all concerned, only six days after the offence, Stephen Farrow was arrested. This brilliant piece of police work was largely down to DCI Simon Crisp, and his team at Avon and Somerset Police, without whose clear and quick thinking, courage and dedication to the task, Farrow may not have been apprehended. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him, and all those involved, for their determination to get justice for John."
Senior Investigating Officer in the Betty Yates case, Detective Chief Inspector Neil Jamieson said: "Without a shadow of a doubt this is one of the biggest criminal cases that West Mercia Police has investigated in recent years.
"The team of officers who worked on this inquiry were horrified at the nature of the violence used in the murder of Betty Yates and the callous disregard for life.
"The most important thing for us was to bring the offender to justice and in doing so ensure we did our very best for Betty's family. That was all the motivation we needed."
Betty leaves behind her two children Hazel and David and many other family members and friends. In a statement they said: "We should all be relieved and thankful that Stephen Farrow is off the streets of Britain today. It is clear from his own words that had he not been caught he would have continued to kill others and leave more misery in his wake.
"We have seen at first hand the complexity of this enquiry and we want to thank the police and everybody involved for their tireless work, their attention to detail and their consideration throughout this process.
"In the most difficult of times you rely on your friends and family and we thank all of you for your help and good wishes over the past months.
"For our mother there is now some public justice but our personal loss remains raw and will continue.
"For us it is important that our mum does not become defined by the brutality of her death but is celebrated for the 77 years of her life. She will be remembered by her family, friends, colleagues and pupils as a woman who was kind, determined and above all good fun. We are not in denial about the circumstances of her death but we can and do choose to keep her memory in the joy she gave in life; to do otherwise would be a betrayal."
CPS Senior District Crown Prosecutor Sian Sullivan said: "From the beginning of the joint investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service worked closely with both Avon and Somerset and West Mercia police forces. As the reviewing lawyer I have personally handled this case throughout and must thank all the families for their cooperation and understanding under such difficult and emotional circumstances.
"We will never know what went on in Steven Farrow's mind as he took the lives of Reverend Suddards and Betty Yates but we hope their families take some comfort in the knowledge that he has today been convicted of two offences of murder and that he previously pleaded guilty to an offence of burglary. We must now await the sentences imposed by the court and we anticipate they will reflect the brutal nature of these crimes and the devastating effect they had on the victims' families and the communities in which each played such an active role."