Reverend John Suddards murder: Court hears of accused Stephen Farrow's previous threats to kills


A man accused of stabbing a priest and a former primary school teacher to death had previously made threats to kill an elderly woman, a court heard today.

Stephen Farrow, 48, admits the manslaughter of the Rev John Suddards in Thornbury, South Gloucestershire, on the grounds of diminished responsibility but denies murder, between February 12 and 15.

He also denies killing Mrs Betty Yates, 77, who was found stabbed at her cottage in Bewdley, Worcestershire, on January 4.

Farrow, of no fixed address, admits burgling another property, Vine Cottage, also in Thornbury, over the Christmas and New Year period that year.

Bristol Crown Court was today told Farrow has a previous conviction for aggravated burglary, dating back nearly two decades.

The jury of eight men and four women were told Farrow pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary at an address in Heath Road, Stourbridge, West Midlands in August 1994.

The owner, Stella Crow, had been the victim of a burglary four years earlier in which several items were stolen from one of her lodgers.

The court heard the owner, who was 77 in August 1994 but has since died, opened her front door to a man, "in his 20s", who initially said he was meeting someone at the property. He subsequently followed Ms Crow into the home where he produced a knife with a "12-inch blade".

Edward Burgess, for the prosecution, said the intruder demanded to go into one of the rooms. Ms Crow said she shouted for help, but the man said he knew nobody was at home.

In her statement, parts of which are disputed by the defence counsel, Ms Crow said: "He asked for money and jewellery.

"Then he said that if anyone came in, he would kill me and the dogs. He said: 'I have killed before.'

"He was holding the knife above my head in a stabbing stance," she said.

Michael Fitton QC, also for the prosecution, said forensic evidence, including links to the footwear worn by Farrow at the time of his arrest in February, connected all three cases. Scientific experts are expected to appear before the court next week.

The jury was told Mr Suddards, 59, was killed at his home just weeks after the burglary at nearby Vine Cottage.

The owners returned from holiday to find their home ransacked and a note pinned to the table with two of their kitchen knives which read: "Be thankful you didn't come back or we will have killed you, Christian scum. I f****** hate God."

The court heard there was "strong (forensic) support" that boot markings discovered at the scene matched those recovered from the defendant later upon his arrest in Kent. There was also a suggestion of Farrow's DNA being present on one of the kitchen knives found at Vine Cottage, jurors were told.

It was DNA evidence which linked the defendant to the murder of widow Mrs Yates, who lived at her home, Riverscroft, on the banks of the River Severn, the court heard.

Farrow, who knew Mrs Yates, said he saw her on December 30 and that his DNA must have rubbed on to her hand when they shared a hug. The prosecution said Farrow's DNA would have been removed the first time Mrs Yates washed her hands - something Farrow must be claiming she did not do between her meeting with the defendant and her death on January 2, Mr Fitton said.

Mr Suddards's body was discovered fully clothed on February 14 with stab wounds to the neck and chest, lying on the floor surrounded by "items of a personal nature".

A Bible lay opened against his chest, while a canvas of Christ was positioned near him.

The court heard party poppers were also placed nearby, with Farrow having embarked on a "voyage of discovery" to "arrange the scene" to his wishes. He remained in the vicarageovernight to drink bottled lager and watch DVDs, the prosecution said.

He added the items discovered at the scene were intended to "harm the reputation and memory" of the clergyman.

The jury were told that while Farrow has admitted the manslaughter of Mr Suddards they would have to decide if his "mental disorder" diminished his responsibility for murder, while they would have to decide whether he did kill Mrs Yates, a death in which he denies any involvement.

"The Crown's view is this, he is not insane, he knows the difference between right and wrong, he knows what he is doing and what he did, he did as a matter of choice," Mr Fitton said.

"He was acting voluntarily and consciously and fully aware of his surroundings. He was not killing because he was mad.

"Our case is he killed the Reverend Suddards calmly, decisively and acted that night in a manner which was focused, directed and controlled.

"We say that he is guilty of the murder of Reverend Suddards, as he is guilty of the murder of Betty Yates."

In a written statement to the court today, the owners of Vine Cottage said they felt "threatened" by the note left in their kitchen.

Margaret Pinder and her husband had spent much of the festive season away from home, leaving on December 22 and returning on January 2.

They came back to find their cottage ransacked, with items strewn all over the floor and half-eaten food left abandoned around the house.

Mrs Pinder said of the note, which said the "Christian scum" owners would have been killed if they were at home at the time of the raid, said: "I felt very threatened by the note.

"As a result, I am very worried about walking alone at night. We have increased security."

She said the reference to religion "confused me". Mrs Pinder said neither she nor her husband were church-goers, and there was no religious imagery in the home.

She said there had been a magazine in the toilet with the headline "Is God green?" but it was an ecology publication.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.

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