Musician 'kept body of teacher to fulfil macabre fantasy'

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The Independent Online

A musician murdered a special needs teacher and repeatedly molested her body in order to fulfil a "bizarre and macabre sexual fantasy", a court heard yesterday.

Graham Coutts, 35, is accused of strangling Jane Longhurst, a friend of his girlfriend. It is alleged that he stored her body at an unknown location for 11 days before moving it to a storage warehouse where he kept it for a further three weeks

A jury sitting at Lewes Crown Court in East Sussex was told that Mr Coutts visited the body every three or four days. Warehouse staff were eventually alerted by the pungent smell from the unit.

The court heard that the guitarist, who also worked as a part-time cleaning products salesman, then took the body to a woodland nature reserve and set fire to it.

The disappearance of Ms Longhurst, 31, a popular teacher at a special needs school in Brighton, East Sussex, and a talented violin player, on 14 March last year led to a nationwide search. Her burning remains were spotted by a motorist on 19 April at Wiggonholt Common, near Pulborough, West Sussex.

John Kelsey-Fry QC, for the prosecution, said: "This defendant murdered Ms Longhurst by strangling her to death in satisfying his bizarre and macabre sexual fantasy.

"The Crown allege that, having killed her and had his way with her, he did not dispose of her body but kept her somewhere known only to him for 11 days before moving her body to a storage unit hired in a false name. He kept the body for almost a month, visiting it regularly, every three or four days, until the smell became pungent and began to attract attention."

The court heard that Mr Coutts, of Hove, who denies murder, was claimed by police to have trawled the internet searching for images of women who had been murdered and raped after their killing.

Search terms such as "strangled women" and "rape murder mpegs" had been found on the memory of the musician's computer along with 809 pornographic images, it was claimed.

Mr Kelsey-Fry said: "Of these images, over 85 per cent can be categorised as 'asphyxiation and strangulation', 'rape, torture and violent sex' or 'genuine deceased appearance'.

"These images accessed by the defendant after the death of Jane Longhurst when he alone had access to her body in the storage unit, graphically show the fantasies he enjoyed."

Mr Coutts is alleged to have killed Ms Longhurst on the day of her disappearance - after she had phoned the flat he shared with Lisa Stephens, his pregnant girlfriend. The court heard that the guitarist then hired a storage unit on the outskirts of Brighton under the name of Paul Kelly and transferred his victim's body there in a large white box.

Staff noticed the pungent smell near the unit hired by Mr Coutts had disappeared after the Easter bank holiday weekend when he paid two visits to the site. Suspicious about the smell, they called the police.

As the jury was shown CCTV footage of Mr Coutts leaving the complex carrying the box a day before the teacher's remains were found, the defendant broke down crying.

The court heard that, when detectives searched the unit, they found many of Ms Longhurst's possessions, including a phone, purse, credit cards, swimming costume and towel. Also found was a condom containing Mr Coutts' semen and DNA from the teacher.

The teacher had been in a happy, stable relationship with her boyfriend, the court heard.

The trial continues.