Scalp on the road murder trial begins

A man fled to Thailand after murdering his fiancée by driving his Land Rover into her and then reversing over her head, a court heard.Christopher Caunter, 35, went on trial yesterday for murdering Deborah Townsend, whose death came to light after part of her skull and scalp was found on the A146 at Beccles in July 2005.

A man fled to Thailand after murdering his fiancée by driving his Land Rover into her and then reversing over her head, a court heard.

Christopher Caunter, 35, went on trial yesterday for murdering Deborah Townsend, whose death came to light after part of her skull and scalp was found on the A146 at Beccles in July 2005.

Caunter, of South Avenue, Hullbridge, Essex, denies murdering her. His brother Robert, 38, of Eldre Road, Barking, and friends Joseph Brown, 38, of Mildmay Road, Romford, and Michael Briggs, 40, of Suffolk Road, Barking, also went on trial yesterday charged with assisting a murderer. They all deny the charge, and deny another charge of helping him to avoid prosecution for cheating the Inland Revenue.

Karim Khalil, prosecuting, said Caunter and Miss Townsend fled to the Norfolk Broads after discovering that the Inland Revenue had raided his labouring business in London.

Caunter had been “skimming money off the top and putting it in his back pocket”, said Mr Khalil.

The couple stayed in a flat by the Norfolk pub in Lowestoft on July 14, 2005, but they had an argument and started throwing drinks at each other. They were seen getting into their Land Rover Discovery - the last time they were seen together.

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Mr Khalil said: “Later that night, Deborah Townsend was killed. It seems at some point she must have got out of the Land Rover they were both in, either voluntarily or otherwise. He drove into her from behind, his front wheels driving into the back of her legs, causing severe fracturing to the ankles. She wouldn't have been able to walk after that.

“He then, it seems, reversed the Land Rover and drove it over her head, causing the most appalling injuries.”

He said her skull was crushed and part of it left on the road. He went on to say that Caunter put his fiancée's body, bleeding profusely, into the passenger seat before driving to Newland Hall, near Chelmsford, a secluded spot where he had been fishing with his brother Robert. He rang Robert - who says Caunter rang him and said that Deborah had died in an accident - and met him there. Miss Townsend's body was covered up and left in the boot of the Land Rover.

Caunter was driven away by his brother, and Brown and Briggs are said to have helped him get out of the country - Briggs by driving him to the south coast and onto a ferry to France, where Caunter took a flight to Thailand. He was extradited earlier this year.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that Caunter made no secret of the fact that he was wanted by police for previous incidents.

The prosecution alleged that he used his physical size - he is 6ft 7in and weighed 18 to 19 stone at the time - to intimidate others. Miss Townsend, by contrast, was 5ft tall and a tiny size six to eight.

Caunter was protective towards her, the court was told, and she may have been attracted partly by his financial success. He sent her to run errands, including picking up cash amounting to thousands of pounds.

In the days leading up to Miss Townsend's death, Caunter cashed large cheques in pubs, including one for £70,000 and one for £25,000. Mr Khalil said it showed he was making plans to leave the country “in the event of an emergency”.

Townsend, who was aged 35 when she died, had been in a string of unhappy relationships and had three children. Her eldest daughter Sarah Townsend did not like her mother's fiancé and believed he had hit her.

She said her mother changed when she was with Townsend, and that the last time she saw her mother she seemed “unhappy or scared”.

A few days later, Sarah gave birth to a baby boy, her mother's first grandchild. But by the time she left hospital her mother was dead.

The trial continues.

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