Hard-drinking loner finds himself the centre of attention

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The Independent Online

The man supping an afternoon pint of Carlsberg beneath the wall-mounted television set at the Comus Inn in Camblesforth, North Yorkshire, seven days ago, was a creature of habit.

The man supping an afternoon pint of Carlsberg beneath the wall-mounted television set at the Comus Inn in Camblesforth, North Yorkshire, seven days ago, was a creature of habit.

Mark Hobson favoured the same seat close to the door, the same brew and the same hand-rolled cigarettes. He sometimes disappeared from the establishment for months on end but would always resurface - a quiet, isolated figure who resisted the publican's attempts to engage him in conversation. Last Saturday Hobson was drinking more than usual "as if he was drowning his sorrows", according to one of the barmaids. It was also uncommon for him to be in the pub so long without his girlfriend. And Hobson, not a man taken to pass hours of solitude by reading, was absorbed in a book.

It was a "survival manual" according to one witness and "some kind of army book" according to another. "He'd had it for a week or so. I just thought it was strange, him reading a book," said the barmaid.

It is now clear that, as Hobson read, his girlfriend Claire Sanderson, 27 - and possibly her twin sister, Diane - were lying dead on the bedroom floor at his flat half a mile away, both killed by hammer blows. Hobson, 34, proceeded to invent stories which delayed Claire's body being found and fooled his mother into driving him to within walking distance of the residential district of north York where an elderly couple, James and Joan Britton, were found stabbed to death, three hours after the sisters.

If Hobson - or "Hobo" as he is known to friends - believed that the manual offered him a means of evading detection, he was deluding himself. His closest male friend, Steve (an assumed name as he has chosen not be identified), insisted that Hobson's practical skills fell short of being able to "open a tin of beans". And the fitness levels of a man known to drink 20 cans of lager in a session will not have been high. In any case, survival experts agree that hunger would drive even a fit man from the moors above York within five days. "He might as well have read the back of a cornflakes box," said a former Royal Marine, Jonny Crockett.

By 6.40pm on Saturday, drink was providing Hobson with a more familiar way out of his troubles. Six pints to the good, he left the Comus and went to the Swan in Brayton, five miles away, where he paid for two pints of lager with a £10 note, leaving a £5.60 tip. He was back at the Comus with another man for a final two pints at 10pm and left at 11.15pm, seven hours before the twins' bodies were found.

Drink and its violent consequences have been a consistent feature of life for Hobson. They have destroyed many of the benefits of the work ethic instilled by his late father, Peter, a coal miner who worked his way up to colliery manager in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Hobson's appetite for work, though, has been undisputed in the Selby area over the past five years. He cleaned and sorted coal at Drax power station whose cooling towers dwarf Camblesforth; he worked at the packaging factory where Claire was also employed; and he latterly secured a job - coveted among his friends - with Selby's refuse collectors, Onyx.

On the production line, Hobson was "happy, easy to get on with" and quick to play pranks, according to Karl Siirak, 59, a colleague at Drax - "but he liked his drink too much". Steve considers him a fine friend but would not drink with him. "You never knew what would happen once he got started," he said. Mr Hobson's decision to move from Selby to a flat in Camblesforth with Ms Sanderson was a result of having made "too many enemies in too many fights," according to Steve.

His access to his children has also been severely restricted by his former wife, Kay, because of fears for their safety. It is understood that the failure to see his children has resulted in him being on antidepressants.

In Claire Sanderson, he met an individual who was more than willing to stand up to him. "On one occasion there were chunks out of him - bite marks on his arm and shoulder," said Steve. Countless villagers also reported hearing regular slanging matches at the flat.

A theory police are now working on is that Claire Sanderson's death may have been the result of one violent argument too many with Hobson and that Diane, who showed up unannounced at the flat after becoming concerned for her sister, died after encountering him at the end of his all-day drinking session.

But as the search enters its seventh day, Hobson's closest friends are becoming convinced that the horror of the deaths, allied to his state of depression and lack of available alcohol, may have persuaded him to take his own life.