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'I still regard him as a friend': Ex-UKIP councillor defends old colleague found guilty of murder

PUBLISHED: 13:53 19 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:57 19 July 2018

Bill Mountford. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Bill Mountford. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Archant © 2012

A former UKIP councillor has come under fire after declaring that he won't turn his back on his friendship with an old colleague later convicted for murder.

Former Royal Marine Stephen Searle, previously a UKIP councillor for Stowmarket, throttled his wife Anne of over 40 years in December last year after she discovered he was having an affair with their daughter-in-law.

He was jailed for life this week after Ipswich Crown Court heard how he made a 999 call after the killing, telling the call handler he had killed his wife by suffocating her.

But Bill Mountford, also a former UKIP councillor who served with Searle on Suffolk County Council, said: “I worked alongside Stephen Searle and found him to be a very loyal, conscientious and hard-working councillor.

“He was totally dependable over the four years we worked together and I came to regard him as a friend.

Former Stowmarket councillor Stephen Searle who was found guilty of murdering his wife, Anne Picture: CONTRIBUTEDFormer Stowmarket councillor Stephen Searle who was found guilty of murdering his wife, Anne Picture: CONTRIBUTED

“When I heard about what happened, I was saddened to hear that and I was equally saddened to hear of his conviction - because I feel extremely sorry for his wife and for Stephen himself, who will probably spend the rest of his life in jail.”

Speaking of the time they worked together on the county council, Mr Mountford said: “At that time I found him to be a very decent bloke.

“I still regard him as a friend and I’m not the sort of person who will turn his back on someone because they’ve made a tragic mistake.”

His comments were criticised by Suzanne Jacob OBE, chief executive of the domestic abuse charity SafeLives, who said: “We still live in a society in which a man can kill a woman and we offer our sympathy not to her and her family, but to the man who took her life.

“Enough. We should all be deeply ashamed and frightened of that.

“Comments like Bill Mountford’s are incredibly harmful and sadly all too common.

“Far too often we see domestic abuse portrayed as an isolated incident that has got ‘out of hand’, rather than what it is - a pattern of control and abuse that sadly ends with the murder of two women a week in the UK.

“Media coverage has an effect on the public perception of these crimes and it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure we get rid of victim-blaming stereotypes and place the responsibility firmly where it belongs – with the perpetrator.

“Our thoughts are with Anne’s family and friends, and we would urge anyone who is afraid of their partner or worried about a friend to seek help.

“Anyone experiencing domestic abuse deserves to be believed and supported, and the abuse is never the victim’s fault.”

Mr Mountford also defended the 999 call Searle made after the killing, where Searle told call handlers: “I’ve just killed my wife...bit different for you tonight I expect. Happy New Year.”

Mr Mountford said: “I believe he was in a state of shock where he was wondering what the hell was going on.

“I don’t think there was anything malicious in what he said. He’s not got some sort of sick sense of humour.”

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