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26 January 2015, 11:07
The family of a murdered Black Country pensioner say they are devastated after the man accused of the killing was found dead in his prison cell.
Leo Barnes, 33, from Balsall Heath, Birmingham, was on trial for the murders of 80-year-old Cynthia Beamond, from Halesowen and Philip Silverstone, 67, in his flat in London.
Barnes was found hanging in his cell at HMP Hewell in Redditch yesterday morning, West Midlands Police said.
He had been due to be cross-examined over the killings at Wolverhampton Crown Court on Friday last week, but had complained of feeling ill.
Mrs Beamond's daughter said the family and her mother had been denied justice.
Beverley Hadley said: "We are devastated as a family that the man we believe is responsible for the brutal murder of my beloved Mum is not going to face justice for this horrendous crime.
"On Friday 27 June 2014 my life changed forever when my Mum and best friend went missing.
"Without Mum, every day of our lives is painful and empty.
"Every day I wake up thinking about her and believing that this whole nightmare is just a dream, but then the realisation hits me over and over again that it is not a dream. It really is that nightmare.
"We have been deprived of those valuable final years of Mum's life and those precious moments with her to say our final goodbyes.
"She is missed by everyone who knew her and her loss has left a huge void. Our lives have been devastated and changed forever. As a family we are now suffering our own life sentence.''
Police said an investigation will be held into Barnes' death but it is not regarded as "suspicious''.
Detective Inspector Caroline Corfield, who led the murder inquiry, said: "I am shocked to hear about the death of Leo Barnes, who was found dead in his cell at HMP Hewell by prison staff.
"Family liaison officers have been supporting the families of both Cynthia and Philip - and officers have also notified Mr Barnes' next of kin.''
Barnes gave evidence in his defence last Thursday, telling jurors that his alleged victims died at the hands of an intruder and a Polish man who went "absolutely wild'' after a sexual encounter.
The self-confessed cocaine dealer told jurors he witnessed assaults on Mrs Beamond and Mr Silverstone, but had done nothing to harm them.
Wearing a dark suit, blue tie and white shirt, Barnes told the jury that Mrs Beamond, whom he knew from childhood, was still alive when he left her house.
The following day, he told the court, he drove to London, arriving at Mr Silverstone's flat in Belsize Park at about 11pm.
During his evidence, Barnes denied attacking Mrs Beamond with a saucepan and killing Mr Silverstone using a jack he had taken from a hire car.
A Prison Service spokesman said: "HMP Hewell prisoner Leo Barnes was found unresponsive in his cell at about 6.05am on Sunday 25 January 2015.
"Paramedics attended but he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
"As with all deaths in custody, the Independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will conduct an investigation.''