Musician guilty of strangled teacher's murder

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The Independent Online

A musician was found guilty today of strangling a teacher to fulfil a "bizarre and macabre" sexual fantasy.

Graham Coutts, 35, of Waterloo Street, in Hove, East Sussex, kept 31-year-old Jane Longhurst's body in a box in his shed for 11 days, before moving it to a storage unit in Brighton for a further two weeks.

The special needs teacher's burning naked body was finally found on Wiggonholt Common near Pulborough, West Sussex, on April 19 last year.

Coutts denied murder at Lewes Crown Court. The jury deliberated for nine hours and 10 minutes before reaching a unanimous verdict.

Judge Richard Brown sentenced Coutts to life imprisonment, ordering that he must serve a minimum of 30 years. He said to Coutts: "Everything that this court has heard about Jane Longhurst shows her to have been the sort of person whose life enriched all those who came into contact with her.

"Her undoubted love of her partner, her music and her life, screamed out of every page of the evidence I have heard in this case. In seeking perverted sexual gratification by way of your sordid and evil fantasies, you have taken her life and devastated the lives of those she loved and of those who loved her.

"By persisting in your denials, you have put those loved ones through the ordeal of this courtroom and have forced them to relive the last moments of her life and the unbelievable degradation of her body. You have shown not one jot of remorse."

Members of Miss Longhurst's family shouted "yes", and "pervert" and "pig", as the defendant was taken down to begin his sentence.

Coutts attacked Miss Longhurst, 31, a talented viola player and popular special needs teacher, at his ground floor flat following a chance phone call on her day off.

She called to have a chat with Coutts's pregnant girlfriend Lisa Stephens, 37, but ended up agreeing to meet the defendant for a swim, prosecutor John Kelsey-Fry QC told the court on the opening day of the trial.

Coutts persuaded her to go back to his flat where he strangled her with a pair of nylon tights, which were later found embedded in her neck. As he killed her, he fulfilled a "bizarre and macabre" lifelong desire to rape, strangle and kill a woman.

Coutts, who confessed to having a fetish for women's necks, then placed the body in the foetal position in a cardboard box, which he kept in the garden shed for 11 days.

Worried Miss Stephens might find his "trophy", Coutts used a false name to hire a five foot-wide storage unit in Brighton, where he kept Miss Longhurst's body, visiting it 10 times.

On April 18 the smell of the decomposing corpse, which had been detected by staff at the Big Yellow Storage Company, forced Coutts to move Miss Longhurst.

The following day he drove the body to an RSPB bird sanctuary on Wiggonholt Common, near Pulborough, West Sussex, where he set it alight with petrol.

The trial heard that Coutts had surfed the Internet for violent images of strangled dead women on gruesome websites featuring necrophilia, asphyxiation and rape during a seven-year addiction to pornography.

Records taken from his computer revealed he used the web to fuel his fantasy on the day before Miss Longhurst was murdered, and again after he had burnt her body.

Workers at the Big Yellow Storage Company provided the vital evidence in the hunt for the music teacher's killer. They told police there had been a bad smell at the company in Coombe Road, which had vanished shortly after Coutts, posing as Paul Kelly, had removed a package.

Detectives searched unit C50 rented by Coutts and found a catalogue of damning evidence.

Inside a box was a condom with Coutts's semen on the inside and on which was found Miss Longhurst's DNA. Also found were her clothes, swimming costume, mobile phone and purse, together with a petrol can.

When Coutts was arrested on 25 April and questioned by police he remained silent, saying only: "I can't talk about it."

But six months later he invented an extraordinary defence, claiming Miss Longhurst had consented to asphyxial sex on March 14 after falling into his arms while upset.

The jury dismissed Coutts's claim that Miss Longhurst held his hand to her throat, squeezing it harder, before agreeing to try something "different".

Minutes after tying the tights around her throat, Coutts claimed she died suddenly on his chest.

The defendant also said he had failed to reveal what he had done with Miss Longhurst's body in a desperate attempt to protect his unborn twins.

He feared Miss Stephens, who gave birth on October 11, would miscarry.

Miss Longhurst's mother Liz, sister Sue and partner Malcolm Sentance, sat quietly throughout the 11-day trial.

Outside the court, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Dennis said: "The verdict today was the right one for Jane, for her family and for the public.

"When Jane was first reported missing on March 13 last year, a huge police operation began.

"It quickly became apparent that something terrible had happened and she would not be returning home."

Mr Dennis said officers would like to thank all the witnesses who had come forward, particularly the ex-girlfriends of the defendant, who had been "very courageous".