Girlfriend killer jailed for life

A BUSINESSMAN with a “volcanic” temper who killed his fiancée by reversing over her head with his Land Rover has been jailed for life for her “vile and cowardly” murder.

A BUSINESSMAN with a “volcanic” temper who killed his fiancée by reversing over her head with his Land Rover has been jailed for life for her “vile and cowardly” murder.

Christopher Caunter drove into 35-year-old Deborah Townsend during a row causing “serious and disabling” injuries to her ankle and heel before reversing over her head causing her skull to explode.

Parts of Ms Townsend's scalp and clumps of hair were later found in a pool of blood by a passer-by on the A146 at Beccles, sparking a murder inquiry, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Ms Townsend's partially-clothed body was found the following day in the boot of Caunter's abandoned Land Rover Discovery in the car park of a fishing lake at Newlands Hall, Roxwell near Chelmsford.

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Meanwhile 18-stone Caunter, of Hullbridge, Essex, fled to Thailand where he stayed until he was extradited back to the UK in 2007.

Yesterday - more than three years after Ms Townsend's death in July 2005 - her two daughters Sarah and Samantha and her mother Vivian Baptiste were in court with other family members to see Caunter finally convicted of her murder.

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There were shouts of “Yes” from the public gallery as the jury foreman returned the guilty verdict while Caunter stood impassively in the dock.

Sentencing 36-year-old Caunter, who had denied murdering Ms Townsend, Judge John Devaux recommended that he should serve a minimum term of 21 years before he could be considered for release by the parole board. “The evidence has shown that you have been violent in the past on a number of occasions and that you are a danger to others,” said the judge.

He said there was no doubt that Caunter had intended to kill Ms Townsend and he identified the fact that Caunter had seriously disabled Ms Townsend by driving into her legs shortly before her death and the concealment of her body as aggravating features of the case.

Judge Devaux said if Caunter had called the emergency services after causing Ms Townsend's initial injuries to her legs it was likely that she would have survived and “lead something like a normal life.”

He said that evidence from the scene of the incident combined with the evidence of expert witnesses showed that Caunter's claim that Ms Townsend had died after suddenly jumping out of his car during a row “simply couldn't have been true”.

In a statement read out after the hearing Ms Townsend's mother described her daughter's murder as a “vile and cowardly act” and said she hoped Caunter found his years of incarceration “long hard and painful to endure.”

“Although my family and I still carry an enormous gap in our hearts we also carry wonderful memories of our never forgotten Debbie,” she said.

“However, we can at least be rest assured that now, not only has justice been done, it has been seen to be done.”

After the case Supt Rick Munns of Suffolk Police, who spent nearly three weeks in Thailand gathering information which led to Caunter being arrested and subsequently being extradited back to the UK, said: “Our sympathies go to Deborah's family. Caunter has taken her life and then left her body with no dignity, dumping it in the boot of a car on a mid-summer's day.”

“The engagement ring she proudly wore was never found, nor was her handbag and other personal effects, leaving her family very little but memories of her.”

Also before the court during the six week trial were Caunter's brother Robert Caunter, 39, of Barking and his friend Joseph Brown, 39, of Romford who denied helping Caunter after Ms Townsend's death.

They were both found guilty and sentence on them was adjourned until December 22 for the preparation of pre-sentence reports.

The three defendants initially stood trial a year ago but the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict. Their retrial got under way last month and the present jury began considering its verdicts last Thursday.

During the trial prosecuting counsel Karim Khalil said that Caunter's temper could be best described as “akin to a volcano exploding” and the court heard evidence from Ms Townsend's daughter Sarah that she had told her mother that Caunter would “marry her to bury her”.

The court heard that Ms Townsend and Caunter fled to Lowestoft on July 15 2005 after Caunter's London business premises were raided by the Inland Revenue.

The couple had spent the evening drinking in the Norfolk Arms pub in Lowestoft and towards the end of the evening had started arguing.

They had abandoned plans to spend the night at a flat in Lowestoft and instead had got into Caunter's rented Land Rover and embarked on the journey which resulted in Ms Townsend's death.

David Etherington, QC for Caunter, said his client had not planned to kill Ms Townsend and had expressed remorse and disgust at himself for the way he had dumped her body in the back of the Land Rover after her death.

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