Teacher's 'sordid and evil' murderer jailed for life

An unemployed musician who strangled a teacher to fulfil a "bizarre and macabre" sexual fantasy was jailed for life yesterday.

The jury at Lewes Crown Court took just over nine hours to find Graham Coutts, 35, guilty of murdering Jane Longhurst, 31, a special needs teacher.

Ms Longhurst's body was found burning on a common in April last year, after Coutts had first kept her in a box in his shed for 11 days before transferring her to a storage unit he visited regularly.

As he ordered him to serve a minimum of 30 years, Judge Richard Brown said: "Everything 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 those who loved her."

By persisting in his denials, the judge said, Coutts had forced the young woman's family and friends to relive her last moments and the degradation of her body. "You have shown not one jot of remorse," he added.

Miss Longhurst's family, who had sat quietly in court as Coutts claimed she had consented to asphyxial sex with him, shouted "yes" and "pervert" as he was taken down to the cells.

In an statement afterwards, her mother Liz Longhurst, 72, said pressure should be brought to bear on internet service providers to close pornography sites of the type that had fascinated Coutts "so that people like Jane's killer may no longer feed their sick imaginations and do harm to others".

Outside the court, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Dennis said: "A very dangerous man has been put away."

The court heard that Coutts attacked the talented viola player and popular teacher at his ground floor flat in Hove, East Sussex, on 14 March following a chance phone call from her on her day off. She agreed to meet him for a swim, later returning to the flat, after calling for a chat with his pregnant girlfriend Lisa Stephens, 32, John Kelsey-Fry QC, for the prosecution, said. Coutts strangled her with a pair of tights, which were later found embedded in her neck.

As he killed her, the court was told, he "had his way with her", satisfying a "bizarre and macabre" lifelong desire to rape, strangle and kill a woman.

He then placed the body in his garden shed but, worried Ms Stephens might find his "trophy", Coutts used a false name to hire a five-foot wide storage unit in Brighton. The box was later found to contain a condom with his semen and Ms Longhurst's DNA. It also contained her clothes.

On 18 April, the smell of the decomposing corpse, detected by staff at the Big Yellow Storage Company, forced Coutts to move Ms Longhurst to Wiggonholt Common, near Pulborough, West Sussex, where he set light to her. The court heard that Coutts had surfed pornographic internet sites such as "necrobabes" and "death by asphyxia" for violent images of strangled women for seven years.

In evidence considered inadmissible during the trial, a former girlfriend, Sandra Gates, revealed he had made a frightening prediction as far back as the 1980s. She told police that Coutts had once said: "I get the most awful feelings that I am going to strangle, kill and rape a woman."

During the same period, she discovered pornographic photos of naked women in his home. Around the neck of each girl he had hand-drawn a hangman's noose.

Upon his arrest on 25 April, Coutts refused to say anything but later claimed that Miss Longhurst had consented to asphyxial sex and died suddenly on his chest.

He insisted he had hidden her body in an attempt to protect his girlfriend, Ms Stephens, from miscarrying. She was pregnant with twins.

Yesterday, Ms Longhurst's partner, Malcolm Sentence, 34, said that Coutts' attempt to clear himself by claiming the murder was an accident had been the "biggest insult".

"We have to get on with our lives without this lovely person. That's something we all have to live with," he said.

He added: "But Graham Coutts is subhuman, there is no truth in anything that he said from the word go."