Life for man who arranged wife's death

A "RUTHLESS" Colchester businessman who hired two hitmen to kill his heavily pregnant wife has been jailed for life.David Cullinane, 34, left Moroccan-born Soumia, 27, in the hands of two men at a Kent railway station after becoming convinced she was having another man's child.

A "RUTHLESS" Colchester businessman who hired two hitmen to kill his heavily pregnant wife has been jailed for life.

David Cullinane, 34, left Moroccan-born Soumia, 27, in the hands of two men at a Kent railway station after becoming convinced she was having another man's child.

Mrs Cullinane's body was found "considerably disfigured" with serious head and neck injuries in Dene Park, near Tonbridge, on March 16 last year, Croydon Crown Court was told.

Sentencing Cullinane for conspiracy to murder yesterday , Judge Neil Denison QC described the killing as a "cold blooded and callous and evil crime''.

The judge told him: "You organised the murder of your pregnant wife and then led her in effect to her place of execution - it is difficult to imagine a more cold-blooded and callous and evil crime.''

Gordon Hoppie, 41, and Michael Stapley, 21, who were paid £10,000 in total to kill Mrs Cullinane, were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder and were both sentenced to life imprisonment.

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Cullinane was also sentenced to five years, to run concurrently, for obstructing a coroner in the execution of his duty, intending to prevent him from holding an inquest. He had denied the charge.

Hoppie and Stapley, who had pleaded guilty to the same offence, were each jailed for three years to run concurrently on that charge.

The judge said that he would recommend Cullinane should serve at least 16 years in prison.

During the seven-week trial, the court was told that Cullinane, of Rectory Close, Colchester, was first questioned by detectives following the discovery of his wife's passport at a car park in Tonbridge.

Bruce Houlder QC, prosecuting, said Cullinane initially told detectives he had "paid to get rid of her''.

But in a later interview with police after his arrest, Cullinane claimed he had merely paid for her to return to Morocco.

The court heard that Hoppie, of Hadlow Road, Tonbridge, and Stapley, of Turner Road, Tonbridge, had "almost certainly'' killed Mrs Cullinane in the back of a van after she was brought to Marden railway station by her husband.

All her belongings and means of identification were stripped from her and then dumped in a car park in Tonbridge.

Cullinane had never reported his wife missing and it took nearly three weeks for her body to be identified.

Traces of Mrs Cullinane's blood were later discovered in a white van which had been hired from a Tonbridge-based company, the jury was told.

Mr Houlder said it "may never be known'' who actually struck the fatal blow, but added that Cullinane must have played a part in his wife's death.

In police interviews, Hoppie claimed he had been hired simply to dispose of the body which Cullinane was supposed to deliver.

But when Mrs Cullinane was brought to their van, Stapley attacked and killed her with a shovel, Hoppie said.

Stapley denied any involvement in the killing but told police he agreed to help Hoppie dump the body.

A Kent Police spokesman said a post mortem examination had shown that Soumia Cullinane suffered "horrendous injuries'' to her head and neck, which were caused by a heavy-bladed instrument such as a machete or meat cleaver.

Her jaw was broken and her skull fractured. Her scarf, with some of her teeth and fragments of jaw bone, were also discovered along the track in Dene Park.

It took officers weeks to identify Mrs Cullinane because of her injuries - an appeal for information was eventually made on BBC's Crimewatch programme.

Although this did not yield any results, the investigation was given a boost when a bag containing Mrs Cullinane's belongings was found in Tonbridge, near a freshly dug hole which police believe may have been her intended grave.

The senior investigating officer on the case, Detective Chief Inspector David Gutsell, said: "This appears to have been a well-planned effort by David Cullinane to get rid of his wife.

"The planning was let down, however, when Hoppie and Stapley failed to dispose of the body properly.

"If Soumia had been buried in what we believe to have been the planned grave, near Halfords at Tonbridge, it is likely she would never have been found and this murder might never have come to light.

"It is clear that Cullinane is a ruthless individual with no regard for the life of the mother of his young son or the life of the almost full term baby she was carrying.''

He said the meticulous police work had involved months of scanning CCTV footage and tracking communications between the parties.

"I have nothing but praise for the team who have been investigating this atrocious murder for the past 11 months,'' he said.

"We welcome today's convictions but our thoughts go out to the children affected by this case and Soumia's family in Morocco.''

Two other men, Alex Woolston, 30, of Manor Fields, Putney, west London, and David Ozorio, 31, of Dawes Road, Fulham, west London, were acquitted of conspiracy to murder.

All five defendants had denied the charge.

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