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15 December 2010, 17:47
A man who slit the throat of a love rival and buried him in the back garden has been jailed for a minimum of 27 years.
Richard Clare was yesterday (Wednesday December 15th) convicted of murder after using a Stanley knife to cut Peter McConnell's throat.
On Sunday March 21 this year, Clare killed Mr McConnell and wrapped his body in brown parcel tape. He buried him in a grave he dug in the garden of a house he was renovating.
Clare, 38, told his lover Charlotte Whitcombe that Mr McConnell, 43, had simply left and moved her into the dead man's bedroom.
Prosecutor at St Albans Crown Court Miranda Moore QC said Clare was caught when Anthony Stillwell, who lived at the house in Fern Dells, Hatfield, Herts was arrested for shop-lifting. He and his girlfriend were in the custody suite at the police station when the woman, Hayley Curr,a said: "Why don't you tell them about Peter's murder?"
Ms Whitcombe told the jury she had "on-off relationship" with Mr McConnell. By March this year they had split up and she had begun a relationship with Richard Clare.
In the afternoon on March 21 she told Mr McConnell she loved Richard Clare. She said Mr McConnell attacked her: "He punched me in the face and pulled my hair. He tried to gouge my eyes out. It was not very nice."
Richard Clare arrived at the scene on his bike and accused six-footer Mr McConnell of being a bully.
Clare and Mr McConnell bought four cans of strong lager and sat on a bench before going to the Co-op in Bishop's Rise, Hatfield to buy food. They went to the house at Fern Dells, where Mr McConnell was also staying.
Mr Stillwell was asleep or unconscious in a small bedroom upstairs when Clare cut Peter McConnell's throat so deeply that he cut his voice box.
The prosecutor said: "There was one wound, no hesitation, no struggle wounds. It was not a fight. There were no defensive injuries."
After the killing Clare went to Mr Stillwell's room and told him he had killed Peter.
Mr Stillwell said: "Richard flung the door open and said: 'I have killed Peter.' I hadn't heard anything - no raised voices nothing.
"I didn't believe it. I thought it was some sort of elaborate joke. I remember getting off the bed and walking downstairs. There was a lot of blood on the wall, a bit of blood on the floor."
He said he followed a trail of blood into the kitchen and then saw Peter McConnell's body slumped on a metal tool box. "His feet were on the floor and he was sitting on a steel box. He was slouched forward and his eyes were closed. There was quite a lot of blood by the box. It had bubbles in it.
"I bent down and looked up at him . He was not breathing. There was a scarf around his neck and it was covered in blood. I could see the wound because it was covered by the scarf," he said.
Mr Stillwell, 53, was given £3 by Clare to buy beer and was told to stay somewhere else. Later Clare told him that as long as he kept his mouth shut he would look after him.
Clare then went to "extreme and elaborate lengths" to clear the murder scene, said Ms Moore.
She said: "Flooring was ripped up, hall walls were re-plastered and Edwardian tiles were taken off. An awful lot of blood was spilt. The murder weapon was disposed off."
18 days after the killing, on 8 April, Mr Stillwell and his girlfriend Hayley were arrested for shoplifting. In the custody suite both told the police what they knew about the murder.
Clare was arrested and told detectives Mr McConnell was buried in the garden. "The body was so well covered the police did not initially see the grave. The top soil had been removed and then replaced," said the prosecutor.
After the killing Charlotte moved into the bedroom where Clare had allegedly killed her former boyfriend. It was renamed: "The honeymoon penthouse suite".
Clare of Fern Dells, Hatfield denied murdering Mr McConnell on March 21 this year. He claimed he acted in self defence.
He told the jury his victim apologised to him before he died even though his voice box had been severed in the knife attack. Clare said Mr McConnell had gone to attack him with an axe. He said: "I thought he was going to kill me. It was instinctive."
Jailing him for life with a minimum term of 27 years Judge Stephen Gullick told him: "You literally cut the throat, severed his voice box in two and he bled to death in minutes."
He said that to secure his relationship with Charlotte, Clare had "had decided to eliminate Peter McConnell from the equation."
Referring to the burial the judge told him: "You were clearly determined his body should not be found and you extinguished all trace of him."