Murder accused says victim was 'absolutely fine' when he left him

A house remains cordoned off by police ion Halstead Road in Aldham following an incident.

A house remains cordoned off by police on Halstead Road in Aldham - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A 28-year-old man accused of murdering an 83-year-old Essex pensioner who was beaten and strangled to death in his home during a burglary has told a court the victim was “ absolutely fine” when he left him.

Giving evidence at Ipswich Crown Court, Leighton Snook said he had gone to Donald Ralph’s home in Halstead Road, Aldham, on December 28 with a 16-year-old friend to ask if he could borrow Mr Ralph’s  car.

Snook told the jury that he was hoping to be involved in the theft of 90 ounces of cannabis from an outbuilding in the Colchester area but needed to borrow a car to do the job.

He said he  had known Mr Ralph for a number of years and had decided to ask him if he could borrow his car. 

He said Mr Ralph had let him into his house and had agreed to let him borrow his car “for a day or so.”

Snook said that while he was in Mr Ralph’s home he had dropped his face mask as he took it off and Mr Ralph had picked it up for him.

He said that before leaving he had given Mr Ralph a hug and thanked him for lending him his car.

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Asked by his barrister Isabella Forshall QC: “What physical state was he in when you left?”

Snook said: “He was absolutely fine.”

Asked whether he had tightened a neck warmer round his neck or kicked and punched his head, Snook said: “No. He was a friend.”

He told the court that the 16-year-old boy who had accompanied him to Mr Ralph’s house had remained outside.

Snook, of no fixed address, denies murder, burglary and theft of Mr Ralph’s car.

The 16-year-old, who cannot be named because of his age, denies murder and theft of Mr Ralph’s car but has pleaded guilty to a charge of burglary, jurors were told. 

The 16-year-old has chosen not to give evidence during the trial.

It has been alleged that the defendants were seen on CCTV travelling near to Mr Ralph's home by taxi during the afternoon of Monday, December 28.

Simon Spence QC, prosecuting, has told the court that Mr Ralph was beaten until he bled and strangled to death.

"His landline telephone was ripped out of its socket to prevent any calls being made", said Mr Spence.

Two of Mr Ralph’s guns - a self-loading Ruger Rifle 22 RF and a Browning 12 bore over and under shotgun - were stolen from the property. 

Mr Ralph's blue Volvo was also taken from his driveway and was used by Snook and the teenager to travel to Hastings in Sussex the following day.

Mr Spence alleged that Snook and the teenager wanted to "obtain money or to take items to raise money".

Jurors were told Snook was related to Mr Ralph by step-marriage and prior to his death, Mr Ralph received a call from a man, believed to be Snook, saying he needed £6,000 to £8,000 which was owed to a drug dealer. 

The trial continues.

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