Manhunt begins over two double murders

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The Independent Online

Across Britain, police were on alert yesterday for a man wanted in connection with two double murders in North Yorkshire. Mark Hobson, 34, was already being sought after 27-year-old twins Claire and Diane Sanderson were killed.

Across Britain, police were on alert yesterday for a man wanted in connection with two double murders in North Yorkshire. Mark Hobson, 34, was already being sought after 27-year-old twins Claire and Diane Sanderson were killed.

Detectives said a man matching Mr Hobson's description had also been sighted near the home of a frail couple in their eighties who were killed hours after the first murders, in a village 25 miles away. The sightings and the similarities in injuries the victims suffered suggest the four deaths "may well be linked," North Yorkshire Police said.

Mr Hobson, who was said to have been spotted reading an SAS survival book days before disappearing, lived at the flat where the twins' bodies were found. He was believed to have been seen at 2am on Sunday in the Wiggington area of north York, a mile or so from the £400,000 house in Strensall where the bodies of James Britton, 80, and his wife Joan, 82, were found at 11am. A man said to fit his description was also spotted at 9.15am on Sunday in Strensall.

Detectives know of no connection between the sisters and the Brittons and fear the elderly, infirm couple were targeted by someone trying to get money. Weapons were found at both murder scenes.

Mr Hobson had been dating Claire Sanderson for "some time", detectives said, and had been living for the past three months at the one-bedroom flat in Camblesforth, a village of 4,000 people. Diane was an assistant manageress at Roseby's curtain shop at the Market Cross shopping complex in Selby and lived with her parents in a bungalow in nearby East Cowick. She was visiting her sister on the night of the murders.

Neighbours heard screams during the night, and at 8am the twins' bodies were found by their father, who had arrived with Diane's boyfriend in a car. Neighbours saw them in tears in the street and one of them was shouting into his mobile phone.

Post mortem examinations show that Diane was strangled and hadother injuries. As yet, no cause of death has been established for Claire, though police say she had been subjected to a violent assault.

Mr Britton, a Second World War Spitfire pilot, was stabbed to death and had other injuries. His wife had suffered a "vicious assault including stab wounds" but cause of death is not yet known. The couple had been married for 58 years.

Mr Hobson and Ms Sanderson's relationship may have been established through work, since both had been on the payroll at the Rigid Containers factory in Selby, 10 miles from Camblesforth. Mr Hobson was dismissed two years ago but the factory's operation manager, David Barnes, said Ms Sanderson had impressed the company during a one-week placement from an agency as a process worker. "We had to lay her off because we hit a quiet period. But in February a position came up and we rang her up and offered her a job. She was always on time [and] very popular with other workers."

Mr Hobson had been a binman for Onyx, which collects refuse for Selby District Council, but he left the job last month, after seven months. Onyx declined to say why.

The wanted man, who has a two-inch scar near his left eye, is slimly built, 5ft9ins and with a shaven, balding head. He is separated from his wife Kay and has three children. Jourjina Leckie, 21, a friend of Mr Hobson's, said he had been seen in local pubs reading the SAS book and had also tried to sell a car for £400, claiming he needed the cash for a holiday.

"I thought he was sound," she said. "We would all go to the pub together to watched football on television. Claire supported Manchester United and Mark, Leeds United and they loved listening to Tracy Chapman."

The twins' parents, George and Jacqueline Sanderson, issued a brief statement through police which said: "Words cannot express how we feel about the sudden and unexplained deaths of our two beautiful daughters. We would urge anyone who has any information to contact police."

A friend of Diane Sanderson at the shop where she worked said: "She was a lovely, hard-working colleague and a really good friend. All of us here are devastated. We are just hanging around not knowing what to do with ourselves. I didn't know Claire but if she was anything like Diane she will be sadly, sadly missed." Diane is believed to have worked in the shop for 10 years.

A neighbour of the Brittons, whose wife found the bodies, said: "It was just terrible, such an awful tragedy. They were just a lovely couple. They really were the salt of the earth. It has absolutely shocked everybody around here and, as you can imagine, it has affected my wife very badly. I just feel for their daughters who have been informed, I'm told."

The neighbour said he or his wife visited the Brittons every morning to check they were OK and to see what help they needed. "Mr Britton had some sort of Parkinson's-type disease which meant he shook and was quite frail. Mrs Britton wasn't very strong at all. They had carers going in and different people came in to help them."

Despite Mr Britton's illness and frailty, he still enjoyed tending his immaculate garden. The neighbour said: "He still found the strength to use his ride-on mower, which he greatly enjoyed."