£30,000 hitman found guilty of murder

By John-Paul Ford Rojas,Press Association
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:28

A swimming world record holder who became a contract killer after blowing a fortune on a flamboyant lifestyle in Thailand is facing life in jail today.

Hitman Paul Cryne flew back to Britain to commit the "perfect murder" for a £30,000 fee to pay off his debts but now faces the prospect of dying in jail.

The 62-year-old, who still holds a Guinness underwater swimming record, was caught because of a crime he had committed more than three decades earlier.

Cryne left few clues for detectives when he carried out the "execution" of frail 52-year-old Sharon Birchwood in December 2007, the Old Bailey heard.

Mrs Birchwood was strangled and left "cruelly trussed up" with parcel tape and electrical cord on her bed at her home in Ashtead, Surrey.

Cryne - cleared in 2005 of another murder, in Thailand - had been hired to kill her by her ex-husband, who he knew from the country's expatriate community.

Graham Birchwood, 54, stood to gain a £475,000 "pot of gold" on her death and went shopping in Epsom to create an alibi for the time of the murder.

At first the plan seemed to work as DNA traces found on Mrs Birchwood's hand, and on the roll of tape used to bind her, did not match up to any on the national police database.

But the breakthrough came when a sample found on the lip of a cup from Birchwood's mother's house in Banstead - where Cryne had stayed in the build-up to the killing - tallied with those at the scene.

Also on the cup were fingerprints, matching police records from 1972, when Cryne was jailed for seven years for holding his girlfriend hostage.

Detectives were able to trace him to Thailand's expatriate community and take a DNA sample, before extraditing him to face trial.

Mark Dennis QC, prosecuting, said: "The police were able to unravel the plot, thereby frustrating the otherwise perfect murder."

Birchwood was jailed for life with a minimum term of 32 years in June last year after being convicted of murder at Croydon Crown Court.

Cryne was found guilty of carrying out the killing by an Old Bailey jury today.

The court heard that Birchwood had needed the money tied up in his ex-wife's bungalow and life insurance policy to pay off £150,000 debts built up after a string of business failures in Thailand.

Cryne, who boasted that he could incapacitate a man with a single blow, seemed to offer a solution.

The former bodyguard, who was originally from the Manchester area and had later lived in Devon, was said to be "proud of being a street fighter".

He was an expert diver who had entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1985 for underwater swimming distance in 24 hours. Cryne and another man had swum 49 miles off the coast of Qatar using scuba equipment.

In the 1990s he had set out to begin a new life in the sun when he won a £500,000 payout after being hit by a boat while diving off the Maldives.

But divorced Cryne, who lived a flamboyant lifestyle in the Thai resort of Pattaya, including relationships with a string of women, ran out of money. By 2007 he had debts of £11,000.

In 2005 he was cleared of murdering another expatriate, Robert Henry, who was shot six times.

Cryne frowned in disbelief when today's verdict was returned, before shaking his head and muttering to himself.

Judge Jeremy Roberts said: "He may be right in thinking that he'll die in prison."

Cryne will be sentenced tomorrow.