Couple 'murdered in woods after crossing drug dealers': Brothers deny killing after human remains found in ashes from woodland fire

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A YOUNG couple whose disappearance baffled their families were blasted to death with a shotgun after falling foul of drug dealers, a court was told yesterday.

Gary Pettitt, 25, and Jean Larkin, 24, were buried in shallow graves in a remote wood and then dug up and burned on a bonfire until little more than ashes remained, Liverpool Crown Court was told.

Two brothers, Frank and Jimmy Mullen, of no fixed address, deny murdering the couple and burning their bodies in woodland at Chorley, Lancashire. Frank, 34, admits conspiracy to supply ecstasy, but Jimmy, 26, denies this charge.

The court was told that the couple disappeared on 27 April. Miss Larkin's father went to their flat and found the lights and television on and their dog left alone.

Henry Globe QC, for the prosecution, said Mr Pettitt's death was the result of some involvement he must have had in dealing in ecstasy. 'For some reason that may never fully be known, he ended up in the Chorley area together with Jean where both of them were shot,' he said.

The jury was told that Miss Larkin helped Mr Pettitt run his business, Calypso Blinds, from a shop in Aigburth. She was last seen driving their red van at about 8.30pm on 27 April. On 6 May the van was found in a car park at Manchester Airport. Records showed it had been there since 1.55am on 28 April. DNA tests confirmed that pieces of bone found in the woodland near Chorley could have come from the couple. Mr Pettitt's dentist identified a bridge and teeth embedded in a small piece of jawbone. Hair and jewellery belonging to the couple were also found.

The court was told that police discovered seven brass shotgun cartridge cases, four of which had been fired from a gun borrowed by Frank Mullen, who had said he wanted it 'to shoot rabbits in Liverpool'. Tools found at the scene had probably been used to break up the bodies to make them easier to burn, Mr Globe said. Accelerants had been used, and the fire might have been relit.

'The murderers clearly wanted them to disappear without trace and, given what little evidence was left behind, you may conclude that they very nearly succeeded,' Mr Globe told the jury.

He alleged the Mullen brothers were involved in drug supply and distribution. On the evening of 27 April they left the home of a couple they were staying with in Chorley dressed in camouflage outfits and returned at 11.30pm. 'Both were sweating profusely and had to use towels to dry themselves. They were both psyched up as if they were on drugs, but they were not on drugs. They said nothing except to ask for some food.'

The next day they left and Frank Mullen returned the gun to the man from whom he had borrowed it. Both barrels had been fired and about half a dozen cartridges were missing.

The same man had earlier taken Frank to the woodland site after he asked about good camping spots.

The case, which is expected to last up to six weeks, was adjourned until today.