Couple battered to death

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A QUIET COUPLE in their 70s, Joan and Martin Lawrie, were found battered to death in their village home early yesterday.

Police have refused to comment on mounting speculation that the deaths had been a murder and suicide.

"At this stage we just don't know what has happened," said a spokesman for Thames Valley Police. "We have not had the post-mortems so we cannot comment. We are treating both deaths as suspicious."

Mr Lawrie was in his back garden, apparently having fallen or been thrown from an upstairs window. He had head injuries. Mrs Lawrie was in a downstairs living-room. She had severe head blows and injuries on her neck, possibly caused by a knife or saw. A claw hammer was found.

A neighbour in Freeland, near Witney, Oxfordshire, had seen Mr Lawrie lying in the garden and called the emergency services, thinking he had collapsed. Paramedics discovered Mrs Lawrie. Police have sealed off the pounds 130,000 house, in Church View, for forensic science examination.

Mrs Lawrie taught at the local Church of England primary school before retiring 10 years ago. Both were members of the Methodist church. Mr Lawrie was a retired construction worker.

George Williams, who lives opposite the Lawries, said he had known the couple since they moved to the village 35 years ago.

"They were very close neighbours, a well established part of the village. The village is devastated," he said. "They were lovely to chat to. They were nice and good people. The last time I saw Martin was on Thursday."

Paul Harding, landlord of The Oxfordshire Yeoman, added: "Nothing like this has ever happened before around here. This kind of thing will shatter Freeland."

At the Methodist church in the village about 20 villagers gathered for a special service. The Reverend Stainer Smith told the congregation: "Today's service will be shorter than usual, due to the shattering news which has devastated the village.

"Martin and Joan were such lovely, wonderful people who gave their life to God, and we gather here, bemused, perplexed and bereaved."

The post-mortem examination results are expected today.