Murderer branded 'Devil incarnate'

BRANDED the Devil incarnate by his victim's family, a murderer will serve at least 20 years in prison after executing a mother in front of two of her daughters.

Colin Adwent

BRANDED the Devil incarnate by his victim's family, a murderer will serve at least 20 years in prison after executing a mother in front of two of her daughters.

Besotted John McFarlane, of Bockhill Road, Bury St Edmunds, was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Old Bailey yesterday after admitting shooting Mary Griffiths three times with a gun used to stun animals before they are slaughtered.

McFarlane pleaded guilty to murder at Ipswich Crown Court on November 6.

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Although the 40-year-old was infatuated with the mother-of-three from Bullrush Crescent, Bury St Edmunds, his love was unrequited.

Questions are now being asked after it emerged that a psychiatrist deemed the suicidal McFarlane was well enough to be treated at home just over a day before the murder. An Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry is also under way after it emerged that Ms Griffiths had contacted police for advice a few hours before her murder at around 2.45am on May 6.

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Officers were due to come round to see her the next day.

Thirty relatives of the fitness instructor heard prosecutor Steven Harvey QC tell the Old Bailey that Ms Griffiths received a Facebook message from McFarlane two hours before she was killed.

It read: "They say there is nothing worse than a woman scorned. Well, watch this space because when someone rips out your heart and stamps on it then they deserve the same."

It was part of a number of texts and messages on the social networking site which McFarlane, a stockman and slaughterman at Denham Estates, near Bury St Edmunds, had sent leading up to the murder.

The court heard Ms Griffiths, a fitness instructor, had gone to bed on the second floor of her home with her middle daughter Hannah, 10, after becoming upset the previous evening.

Friends of Ms Griffiths had also been concerned about her distress, along with McFarlane's state of mind, and had been at the house a few hours earlier.

Ms Griffiths and Hannah were awoken around 2.45am by McFarlane smashing his way through their glass back door with an axe.

On his way to the bedroom, he switched off the mains electricity and then ran upstairs in the dark. He burst into Ms Griffiths' bedroom, where she had managed to light a lamp.

In a statement to police Hannah said: “I saw John come in and he grabbed on to my mum and tried to strangle her.''

Hannah's elder sister Jessica, 13, was awoken by the commotion and went to her mother's room to try and help. Jessica attempted to push McFarlane off her mum, along with Hannah.

By this time he was leaning over Ms Griffiths and shaking her. Ms Griffiths was repeatedly shouting “Help, help'', Mr Harvey said.

Hannah eventually managed to push McFarlane off her mother by using her feet, but then he shoved her out of the way.

Ms Griffiths was bundled down two flights of stairs and into the hallway.

Jessica managed to open the front door and Ms Griffiths went outside screaming for help, pursued by McFarlane, who was hitting her over and over again.

Once outside Hannah and Jessica tried to pull McFarlane off their mother, but were unable to do so.

They tried to get neighbours' attention by shouting and knocking on doors.

Hannah said she heard a gun shot as Jessica continued her attempts to get McFarlane off her mother. McFarlane then struck Jessica with the bolt gun, which he had taken from Denham Estates.

Ms Griffiths was also trying to push him away, but he pinned her to the ground, knelt beside her and hit her about the head and body.

Ms Griffiths was covered in blood by this time.

The court was told Ms Griffiths was shot three times after McFarlane reloaded .22 cartridges into the gun. Ms Griffiths was hit twice in the chest while outside and once in the shoulder while in her bedroom.

One of her neighbours, Angus Maxwell-McDonald, saw what was happening from his window. He later described the shooting as an execution, adding: "It was almost quite clinical."

A detective inspector in Suffolk Constabulary, David Rutterford, who was with his partner Cecilia Hull in a nearby house, was awoken by Ms Griffith's screams.

By this time McFarlane was fighting with the two young girls. They were crying and distressed.

Mr Rutterford approached McFarlane, who appeared quite calm and told him he had a gun, and not to come any closer or he would be shot.

Although Mr Rutterford could not see a firearm he backed off and McFarlane fled.

Ms Hull went to Ms Griffiths who identified her attacker as McFarlane.

A nurse who lived in the area gave Ms Griffiths mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while the nurse's husband and son assisted with heart massage.

However, Ms Griffiths died.

Her death had a traumatic effect on her three children. Jessica, who had a cut on her head, was distraught because she believed she had not done enough to protect her mother. She said: “Does mummy know I tried so much to save her.''

Jessica then asked Ms Hull: “Do you think mummy will be mad because I wasn't able to fight him off.''

Hannah was worried McFarlane would come after her next and was also going to get her sisters.

Their younger sister Sophie, nine, had remained in her bedroom throughout. She was described as having feelings of guilt. Sophie felt she had not been “brave enough to fight the bad man or to try and save mummy''.

Shortly before he struck, McFarlane made sure police were sent to Denham Estates by reporting a burglary in the rifle store.

Mr Harvey said the call was made from near Bury St Edmunds police station to ensure police were distracted and so McFarlane could see officers had responded.

After Ms Griffiths was murdered McFarlane sent more text messages, following others he had sent out in the days leading up to the killing.

One, to a friend, said: "Well, no one saw this outcome, did they? Well, it had crossed my mind a few times. You said it was good to get angry. I am so angry and hurt and Mary needs teaching a lesson that if she rips out my heart and stamps on it then I will ..."

McFarlane was eventually found in the back garden of a house in Bockhill Road, laying face down on decking, having cut his arm with a knife.

While mitigating, Jonathan Goodman for McFarlane, said his client, who has a history of depression going back many years, had made his latest suicide attempt last weekend shortly after he pleaded guilty to murder at Ipswich Crown Court.

Prison staff had prevented him succeeding.

Sentencing McFarlane to a mandatory life sentence for murder, with a 20-year minimum incarceration, Mr Justice David Bean said: “A neighbour who witnessed the killing from a window described it as 'clinical', 'deliberate' and 'like an execution'.

“The consequence is that three generations of Mary Griffiths' family have suffered a tragic and devastating loss. Her children have been deprived of a loving and caring mother. Her parents have had to endure the appalling experience of attending the funeral of their own daughter.''

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