Solicitor killed by business partner, court told

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A solicitor was killed in her offices as part of a "deliberate and murderous attack" by her business partner and another man, a court heard today.

Vina Patel, 51, was found dead in her office at Cort and Co solicitors in Blackbird Road, Leicester, on January 15, 2009.

John Cort, 54, of Rutland Street, Leicester, and Brian Farrell, 37, of Queensborough Terrace, west London, both deny her murder.

At the start of a trial today, Nottingham Crown Court heard Mrs Patel was found by her husband and daughter after she did not arrive to pick the latter up from work that evening.

When the pair got to her offices they found her lying dead at the bottom of a stairwell. She had suffered a broken neck as well as other injuries.

Prosecutor Timothy Spencer QC told the court Mrs Patel may well have fallen, but suggested the evidence would show she had either fallen because she was being attacked, or had been attacked then her body arranged to make it look like an accident.

Mr Spencer said Mrs Patel's daughter, Anisha Patel, grew concerned when her mother did not turn up to pick her up from work as a pharmacist at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital.

He said: "She failed to pick up her daughter because she had been murdered,

"She had been murdered in the offices where she worked that evening.

"Her killing, say the prosecution, was the culmination of a plan devised by these two men.

"Vina Patel was a partner in that firm, that firm which bears the name of the second defendant John Cort, and he was the other partner.

"For a substantial period of time, John Cort's financial affairs had been out of control and by January of last year he was out of control."

Mr Spencer said when Anisha Patel and her father, Surendra Patel, arrived at the offices they found the lights on, Mrs Patel's BMW parked outside, and the doors locked.

They went home to collect a spare pair of keys and when they went into the building, found the 51-year-old's body at the foot of a staircase.

They dialled 999 and were instructed to straighten the body out to clear airways, but Mrs Patel was dead, Mr Spencer said.

The jury was shown pictures of the solicitor, whose necklaces had been broken. She had some blue fibres in her nostrils and by the side of her mouth, the court heard.

A pendant from her necklace was lying on the stairs, near to one of her shoes.

"It was obviously a very distressing scene for husband and daughter to come across," Mr Spencer said.

Mr Spencer said pathologist Guy Rutty, who examined the scene that night and carried out a post-mortem examination on Mrs Patel the following day, was concerned about the injuries he could see.

"In particular he was concerned about injuries to the recess areas of the face, in particular around the left eye," he said.

"Here Professor Rutty was seeing injuries within these areas of the face which did not fit with someone falling down the stairs.

"At that point there was no sign of any disturbance within her office and there were no obvious marks on the stairwell. There was nothing that indicated someone had fallen."

The court heard that a post-mortem examination found various bruises and grazes, including bruising to Mrs Patel's lower left arm consistent with being held or pressure being applied by a hand.

Mr Spencer said her neck had been broken and there were some signs of asphyxiation.

He went on: "There were no hand marks on the neck area but if hands had been applied through some sort of fabric or material that would explain the absence of any such marks.

"Hence the significance, say the prosecution, of the blue fabric which indicates precisely such a thing.

"If she did fall, why she fell is very much an issue in this case.

"If she did fall, the prosecution say she fell because she was being attacked.

"There is, however, the possibility that there was no fall at all and that she was simply attacked somewhere else, probably near the stairs, and her body arranged to make it look like it was a fall and an accident.

"The plan that these two devised would have been made to make it appear like an accident, no doubt in the hope that they would get away with it.

"The prosecution say, if you put the findings of the professor together with the other evidence in this case, it becomes very clear that this was not an accidental fall but a deliberate and murderous attack."

Mr Spencer said swabs were taken of Mrs Patel's hands - he said the swab of her right hand showed a mixed profile including her DNA and said the chance of the remaining DNA was a "billion times more likely to have come from Brian Farrell than from someone unrelated".

He added: "The prosecution say that, upon any common-sense view, that means that Brian Farrell was in contact with Vina Patel and specifically in contact with her hands."

The court was shown mobile phone evidence from the day of Mrs Patel's death suggesting Farrell and Cort had been in touch.

Mr Spencer said the evidence showed Farrell moving from using his phone near masts close to his home in Kensington, west London, then catching a train to Leicester, arriving in the afternoon.

Throughout the day, Cort's phone remained in the Leicester area, when it made and received several calls and text messages to phones belonging to Farrell, the court heard.

Mr Spencer said: "By 5.30pm Brian Farrell had moved to the area of Leicester where Cort's offices are and John Cort is in the same area of Leicester."

The court heard Cort called Vina Patel, who was in the office, on her mobile phone at 6.05pm.

After that text messages were sent between him and Farrell - to two different phones owned by Farrell, Mr Spencer said.

"It's plain that John Cort was aware of at least two of Farrell's different mobile phones," he said.

"He is receiving from one mobile, he is sending a text within a couple of minutes to a different mobile."

Mr Spencer said analysis also suggested Farrell had then caught a train back to London, arriving just before 9pm and getting home just after 10pm.