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3 February 2014, 15:06
A jilted man has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years for murdering his former lover at her country cottage after failing to rekindle their romance.
A judge said Phillip Brown, 46, committed a "dreadful crime'' by smothering Deborah Levey, 44, with a cushion at Cherry Tree Cottage in East Ashling, near Chichester, West Sussex.
After killing her, Brown then set about eliminating suspicions of foul play, including sending her bogus text messages expressing false concern about her whereabouts.
Brown was "possessive and controlling'' of twice-married mother-of-one Ms Levey who told friends he had a "Jekyll and Hyde'' character, jurors heard.
At Lewes Crown Court last week, Brown, of Latham Road, Selsey, West Sussex, was convicted of murder following seven hours of deliberation at the end of a four-week trial.
Sentencing him today, Judge Anthony Scott-Gall told him: "This was a dreadful crime where you killed a decent, hard-working, loving mother and valued member of society.
"You have not shown a flicker of remorse. The tears that we have seen you shed were crocodile tears replete with self-pity.''
Judge Scott-Gall told Brown: "The jury has convicted you on the most compelling evidence of the murder of Deborah Levey.
"The jury saw through the web of deceit and lies that you embarked upon during the course of your defence.''
The judge said that Ms Levey, a care scheme manager, was a "vulnerable'' woman who had wanted to be in love with someone.
"However, you were not the caring, loving man that Deborah wished for. Your relationship began in early 2012 and at first it went well but then cracks began to appear,'' the judge said.
The judge described Brown as "jealous and possessive'' and that when he failed to rekindle their relationship he "flipped'' by smothering her with a cushion.
The body of Ms Levey was found just after 7.15am on January 28 last year by a colleague who called on her as they were meant to travel to London for work.
Prosecutor Mark Dennis QC told the trial that at first glance there was nothing to indicate her death was suspicious.
There were no obvious signs of injury, no break-in at her home and no suggestions that the property had been burgled.
But Mr Dennis said there were three features about the scene which raised questions.
One was the way in which Ms Levey was found dead on her sofa covered by a blanket up to her neck.
It "appeared contrary to what you would expect had the deceased covered herself'', Mr Dennis said. He added that fresh love bites were found on her neck.
And thirdly Ms Levey's mobile phone was found dumped at the bottom of a fish tank near the sofa on which she was found dead.
A post-mortem examination was unable to find evidence that Ms Levey died from natural causes, but it did rule out suggestions she may have self-harmed or overdosed.
Mr Dennis said there were "tell-tale signs'' that death was by asphyxia. By suffocating Ms Levey's mouth, death would have occurred within 60 seconds and left minimal outward signs of injury.
He said that "having gone round to the deceased's home that Sunday afternoon with the intention of trying to win her back and restart their relationship, and having spent time together, both drinking and engaging in no doubt earnest and genuine conversation about their future, there came a point when the fragility of their relationship was exposed once again''.
He added: "But this time it led to tragic consequences. Sadly, it would have taken but a moment for the defendant to have given vent to his anger and frustration if he was failing in his ultimate dream and finding himself once again rebuffed.
"The deceased, who was by then heavily in drink, would have been in no position to have resisted a sudden outburst of aggression at the hands of the defendant.''
Mr Dennis said it would have taken a few moments to suffocate Ms Levey, particularly if she was taken by surprise, and that there was "little doubt'' that the intention was to kill or cause very serious harm.
"The prosecution submit that the defendant knew that only too well, hence the need to stage the scene - to make it look like the death was occasioned by natural causes, then to try to cover his tracks by sending bogus text messages as if they were genuinely meant, and hence his resolute denial to the police that he had entered the deceased's home or been in her company that day.''
An "intense relationship'' formed quickly between Brown and Ms Levey after they met through work in January 2012, a year before her death.
Brown was so fond of Ms Levey he recorded her mobile telephone number on his contact list as "my wife'', the court was told.
By the summer of 2012, the relationship started to fail and Brown and Ms Levey broke up more than once, but the break-ups were relatively short-lived.
Matters between the couple finally came to a head on November 7, 2012 when Ms Levey found out Brown had cheated her out of £10, Mr Dennis said.
Brown had agreed to sell some of her jewellery for her to help her cover costs for a week when she was due to be off work for an operation.
Although he received £131 in cash for the jewellery he sold, Brown only handed over #121.
It was "the final straw'' for Ms Levey, according to Mr Dennis, and she ended the relationship there and then.
But Brown would not accept the relationship was over and two weeks later he went to the hospital where she was having a hysterectomy.
It was the "last place and time'' that Ms Levey wanted to be confronted by Brown, and he was eventually asked to leave by hospital staff.
She remained off work until January 21, but Brown still pursued her, sending her text messages, many of which were "hurtful'', Mr Dennis added.
In one, Brown told her: "You've taken our chances away of having a baby.'' He also threatened to kill himself if she did not take him back.
Brown also sent her a picture text purporting to show him cutting his own forearm, with an accompanying message saying: "Look what I've done to myself, I can't live without you.''
One witness described a selection of the messages sent to Ms Levey as "like extremes of a Mills and Boon romance to a Stephen King horror''.
In his defence, Brown denied murdering Ms Levey, saying he "loved her to bits''. He added: "I couldn't imagine spending a day without her.''
He told jurors he was not at her house on the day she died, and that he was ``angry and annoyed'' at being accused of murder.
Brown did admit to sending hurtful messages to her, including ones in which he called her a "slut'' and had "hoped she would die''.
He said there was "no excuse'' for sending the texts to her, saying they were the "worst thing I could have ever done''.
Brown also admitted anonymously emailing her employer, falsely accusing Ms Levey of breaching a confidentiality agreement a month before she died in an apparent bid to ruin her career.
Asked to explain why he sent the email, Brown said: "I can't really explain the reasons. I was angry and upset about the whole state of our relationship.''
He added that he was "devastated'' he had sent the email which could have potentially wrecked her career, saying Ms Levey was "brilliant'' at her job.
In mitigation, defence counsel Sam Stein QC said Brown was of previously good character who had not been in trouble for more than 20 years.
He said: "By all accounts, we know that he was a hard-working man working in a relatively modest occupation as a driver.
"Through that work he sought where he could to support his family, and one of the many tragedies associated with this case is that he will not be seeing in real terms his grandchildren grow up.''
An unrelated charge of attempted rape that Brown had faced, dating back to 2001, was ordered to lie on file.
etective Superintendent Ian Pollard, of the Surrey and Sussex major crime team, said afterwards: ``This was a complex and painstaking investigation.
"We worked very closely with forensic scientists and the pathologist, as well as with the Crown Prosecution Service and our counsel, Mark Dennis QC, to show that Brown's claim never to have been in Debbie's home on the day of her death was a lie.
"He evidently thought he could mask his evil act of smothering Debbie with a string of distractions, false clues and stories.
"But we were eventually able to show, to the satisfaction of the jury, that he was indeed the killer, and justice has now been done for Debbie and her family.''