Man admits Thorntons worker murder

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A 21-year-old man has admitted murdering an economics graduate who was battered to death in woodland near her workplace.

David Simmonds, of Derby Road, Heanor, Derbyshire, pleaded guilty at Nottingham Crown Court today to the murder of 25-year-old Jia Ashton.

The body of Chinese-born Mrs Ashton was discovered in Sleetmoor Woods, near Somercotes in Derbyshire, on March 13, three days after she was last seen leaving her job at chocolate-maker Thorntons.

Detectives launched a high priority inquiry after Mrs Ashton's music teacher husband Matthew reported her missing on the evening of March 11.

She was eventually found by a mountain search and rescue dog in Sleetmoor Woods. Detectives think she would have been walking her usual route home down a road known locally as the Yellow Brick Road when she was attacked.

Speaking at a media briefing earlier this week, Detective Superintendent Terry Branson said she was subjected to a sustained and brutal attack, in which there was no evidence of any weapons being used.

Simmonds, at 6ft 2in and 19 stone, was more than three times the weight of Mrs Ashton, who stood at a petite 4ft 11in, weighed six-and-a-half stone and wore a size two shoe.

Mr Branson said: "Whilst I believe this may well have been a chance meeting in the woods on March 10, thereafter what took place was not chance, not coincidental.

"It was a sustained violent and brutal attack on a young woman, a result of which was that she did receive horrendous injuries to her head and significant compression to her chest, resulting in trauma to her heart, which was the cause of her death."

All her injuries were consistent with having been kicked and punched, he added, and there was no evidence of a sexual attack.

She was found some distance from the site where detectives believe she was attacked but it is not clear if she ran there or was dragged.

Mr Branson said Mrs Ashton was last seen leaving Thorntons just after 5pm on March 10 before walking through the woods with her hood up and listening to an MP3 player.

Her body was found some 545 yards from some of her belongings, which included her glasses, her music player and earphones, her mobile phone, which had been snapped in two, five buttons from her coat, and an umbrella cover.

Her handbag was found around 15ft up a tree close to her body.

Detectives believe Simmonds scattered her belongings around the woods to conceal the crime.

He also covered her body with various tree branches and logs.

Fingerprints and DNA evidence were recovered from her glasses and her phone but Simmonds was not on any national databases so was not matched.

He was eventually arrested on May 5, eight weeks into the investigation, and charged with Mrs Ashton's murder on May 6 after officers searched the local register of homeless people following accounts from witnesses of having seen a dishevelled and unkempt man in the woods around the time of the murder.

Simmonds, who has a tattoo behind his right ear at the top of his neck, appeared in court wearing a brown long-sleeved grandad-style shirt and dark jogging bottoms.

Mr Ashton, who was in court with his mother Sue, stared at him as he was brought into the dock.

Simmonds spoke only to confirm his name and was remanded in custody to appear at Nottingham Crown Court on October 7 for sentence.