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28 September 2012, 15:27 | Updated: 28 September 2012, 15:30
A remorseless cannabis grower involved in high-level organised crime has been jailed for 21 years for the murder of a man whose body has never been discovered.
James Evans killed Murray Thompson in a Watford flat on the afternoon of April 21 2010 before disposing of his body and attempting to cover up his tracks with the help of two accomplices.
Despite no motive or even a weapon, the 24-year-old from Watford was convicted of murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice following a painstaking police investigation by Hertfordshire Police.
The 'chief executive' of the Watford drug operation, Lee Sullivan, 47, was also jailed today for eight years for producing cannabis and conspiring to pervert the course of justice by helping to cover up the murder, as well as intimidating witnesses.
It can now be reported for the first time that a third man involved in the cover up was jailed last year for seven years. Amit Agar, 32, from Chorleywood, was convicted of conspiring to produce cannabis and conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Mr Thompson and Evans were described in court as 'cannabis gardeners' for the drug operation run out of five flats in Watford, Hertfordshire.
The 34-year-old from St Albans, who worked as a courier for a firm in Hemel Hempstead, vanished on the afternoon of April 20 2010 after last being seen entering a flat which Evans was inside at the time.
Judge Gullick, sentencing at St Albans Crown Court, told Evans: "In the early hours of the evening on Tuesday, April 20, you murdered Murray Thompson in a flat in Watford. Thereafter you removed his body from the flat and disposed of it - it has never been found.
You then began to cover up what you had done. You removed such traces of the blood as were apparent in the flat by washing it away, you redecorated the flat, you purchased new carpets. You threw away the mobile phone you had been using at the time and tried to scrap your car - which the jury may well have concluded was used to transport the body. It is frequently said that the worst experience that can be endured by a parent during their lifetime is to bury their own child, in this case an only child. It may well be that is incorrect, and it is the experience of not being able to bury your dead child, whom you know is dead, that is far worse. I have no doubt that you know the whereabouts of that body and I would be dumbfounded if those who have stood, or are standing in the dock with you, do not know the whereabouts as well. This is a close-knit conspiracy involving but four people - one of whom is now dead."
The judge added that Evans, who was described as the 'skivvy' of the operation, did not have the ability or expertise to dispose of the dead body by himself.
Prosecutor John Price QC said the family of Murray Thompson have announced a £5,000 reward for anyone who can give details on the location of their dead son's undiscovered body.
The judge added that if information about the whereabouts of the body is put forward by any of the defendants it would be a mitigating factor in their sentence.
Alongside the 21 year life sentence for murder, Evans was also handed three years for conspiracy to produce cannabis, ten years for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice - relating to the disposal of the body - and two years for another charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice following the cover-up of the killing.
Sullivan was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for conspiracy to produce cannabis after pleading guilty and three-and-a-half years for three charges of intimidating a witness, to run consecutively.
A two year sentence for perverting the course of justice, relating to his involvement in the cover-up will run alongside the ten year prison term. He was cleared of one count of intimidating a witness.
The judge commended Hertfordshire Police for bringing the three men to justice in what he described as a 'painstaking' operation which was 'not helped by a series of people telling lies' and gave thanks for the investigating team's unwavering efforts.
But he added: "Clearly with the absence of a body your inquiry will never been closed."
Following the verdict yesterday, Murray's father, Tony Thompson said: "This has been a long ordeal, with two trials over a combined 14 weeks of court. I'm naturally pleased with the verdict. I hope now we can start moving on with our lives, however Murray is still daily in our thoughts. Until we put him to rest, it'll always be nagging in our minds about where he is. I would like to thank DI Kent and his team for their hard work and persistence over the past two and a half years, and QC John Price and his assistant Sandra Beck for being so supportive throughout the trial. I'd also like to thank my friends for their daily phone calls and support at court, as well as the jury for their patience and dedication to the trial."
Speaking about the sentence, Detective Inspector Jerome Kent from the Joint Major Crime Unit, who led the investigation said: "We are much clearer with what happened on the day Murray was murdered but the exact motive is still not known. The jury were confident that James Evans was responsible for his murder and I'm pleased with today's sentence. I hope their time in prison will allow Evans and Sullivan to reflect on their crimes and lead them to doing the decent thing and telling police where Murray is now so his parents can have closure.
I renew my appeal for information about the location of Murray's body and would urge anyone with information to contact us via the Herts Police non-emergency number 101 or Crimestoppers, the independent charity, anonymously on 0800 555 111."