Condemned killer to appeal against verdict

Butchered tourists: Briton vows to contest Singapore's imposition of statutory death penalty despite overwhelming evidence
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The Independent Online
STEPHEN VINES

Hong Kong

IAN MACKINNON

London

A Briton sentenced to death on the gallows in Singapore for the murder of a South African tourist yesterday signalled his intention to appeal against the verdict.

John Martin Scripps, 35, from Letchworth, Hertfordshire, who is alleged to have killed and butchered at least three other holiday makers, is the first Westerner to be sentenced to hang under Singapore's mandatory death penalty for premeditated murder.

Scripps appeared bewildered as the verdict was delivered by Mr Justice T S Sinnathuray.

The judge said he had no doubt that Scripps was guilty of murdering Gerard Lowe, a 32-year-old South African brewery engineer, while on the run from jail in Britain.

Using butchery skills acquired in Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight, Scripps carefully dissected Mr Lowe's body, wrapped it in black plastic bin-liners, and dumped it in Singapore harbour.

Although convicted of just one murder, Scripps is suspected of a string of others around the world, the victims being those he met and took into his confidence while travelling.

Two killings, of the Canadians Sheila Darmude, 48, and her son Darin, 23, were carried out in Thailand within days of Mr Lowe's murder in Singapore.

Mr Justice Sinnathuray said: "There were striking similarities between the cases in Singapore and Thailand", where the Canadian pair had been clubbed with a hammer and their bodies dismembered at the beach resort of Phuket. Canadian police have closed their files on the case.

Officers in Mexico also believe that Scripps, a convicted heroin trafficker who changed his name to John Martin, killed a British tourist, Timothy McDowall, 28, a London management consultant, in the resort of Cancun.

The Singapore court was told how Scripps preyed on foreign tourists, befriending and then killing them to get hold of their money and travel documents.

However, the skill he showed in murder was not matched by the extraordinary carelessness with which he carried around the murder weapons and possessions of his victims.

Scripps had himself unwittingly provided most of the evidence used to convict him, including the murder weapon, the butchers' knives, a powerful "stun gun" and some handcuffs.

He had carried these items from Singapore to Thailand and back again, where, on arrest, his bags were also found to contain the passports and other identification documents of the victims, along with some of their clothes.

Countering the welter of damning evidence against him Scripps maintained in court that while he had killed Lowe it was an accident in reaction to a homosexual pass.

But in eight days on the witness stand he did little to help his cause. Mostly evasive, at times he contradicted himself and on occasion he seemed to incriminate himself by volunteering details about his criminal past.

After the verdict, his mother, Jean, 58, a former hotelier on the Isle of Wight, said the Home Office must share the blame for Scripps' grim trail, because officials failed to heed her warnings not to allow him prison home leave, from which he absconded, as he had done twice before.

"The Home Office have buried their head in the sand over this," she said. "They know full well that if I had done what they told them this would never have happened. I begged them not to."

Scripps' solicitor, Edmond Pereira, said he had indicated that his client wished to exhaust all avenues to avoid the gallows. "He would like to see the case through appeal, through all the channels."

The legal process could continue until March, culminating in an appeal for clemency to the President of Singapore.

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