Jury sets free couple in 'lawnmower murder' trial: Woman and her ex-lover cleared of conspiracy to kill

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The Independent Online
THE LOVERS in the lawnmower plot murder trial, Susan Whybrow and Dennis Saunders, were cleared yesterday of conspiracy to murder.

The jury at the Old Bailey took four hours to reach its verdict, almost exactly three years after a jury had convicted the pair. In 1991, Saunders was jailed for 10 years and Whybrow for eight, but they were released on bail this year when the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial after ruling that the interventions of Mr Justice Ian Kennedy at the first trial amounted to hostility, sarcasm and 'naked mockery' and denied them a fair trial.

Mrs Whybrow 53, trembled as the verdicts were announced yesterday and left court in tears. Mr Saunders, 57, a flying instructor, said: 'I am delighted, just look at me.' Asked if he was still in love with Mrs Whybrow, he replied 'No, no.'

Summing up in the six-day retrial, Mr Justice Sachs told the jury of eight women and four men that they had to decide whether Mrs Whybrow was 'a scatterbrain or a manipulative woman obsessed with her lover' and determined to get rid of her husband. They also had to consider whether Mr Saunders truly believed Mr Whybrow was beating up his wife, or whether he was part of a plot to kill him.

The pair have always admitted conspiracy to cause the barrister actual bodily harm. But they insisted the plan was just to beat him up, to teach him a lesson for hitting his wife.

Mr Saunders, of Colchester, Essex, and Mrs Whybrow - who now lives with her mother at Ivybridge near Plymouth, Devon - walked free because they have already served their 12-month sentences for causing actual bodily harm.

According to the prosecution, the couple planned to kill the barrister by staging a fake accident with a lawnmower in the 12-acre gardens of the Whybrows' pounds 300,000 home at Leavenheath, near Colchester.

Mr Whybrow told the court his wife lured him into a trap by telling him: 'I want sex now in the sitting room.'

The plan was to attack Mr Whybrow from behind so he could not struggle. Mrs Whybrow backed him into the arms of Mr Saunders, who quickly bundled her husband to the floor. He was trussed up, gagged with tights and blindfolded, the jury was told.

As Mr Saunders frogmarched Mr Whybrow to a spot on a steep bank above the garden lake, Mrs Whybrow fetched the sit-on lawnmower, which the prosecution claimed was to be used to stage a fake accident to cover the murder.

The pair reportedly got the idea after Mr Whybrow read to his wife from a newspaper how a man accidentally drowned when his mower overturned, trapping him in a water-filled ditch. But hearing the motor, and fearing 'something nasty' was about to happen, Mr Whybrow broke free and ran off.

(Photographs omitted)