Defence begins in ‘complex’ Fernhurst murder trial

Michael Griffiths
Michael Griffiths

IT has taken more than two weeks for the prosecution to give evidence in the Fernhurst murder trial and now the 14 defence barristers have started to put forward their arguments.

Antiques dealer and jewellery maker Michael Griffiths, 59, was found dead at his home in Old Glebe, Fernhurst, on January 24, 2013.

Michael Griffiths's house

Michael Griffiths's house

The jury today (March 5) heard how Mr Griffiths’s home was under surveillance by burglars in the days leading up to his death.

The defence for Simon Penton, Mr Charles Bott began to state his case.

Penton, 43, of Markway, Sunbury, denies murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but has admitted conspiracy to burgle homes in Loxwood, Poynings and a home near Godalming as well as Mr Griffiths’s home.

Penton is the long-term partner of Kerry Rudder and together they have six children, one of whom is the partner of defendant Damian Krafft.

Penton, who is originally from the Portsmouth area, told the jury he has been committing burglaries since the age of 17, and continued to do so until 2013.

He has 13 previous convictions for offences relating to burglary and said he ‘specialised in country houses and antiques.’

Mr Bott asked: “Have you committed burglaries other than those which you have been convicted of?” Penton replied, “yes.” When Mr Bott asked if it was ‘a few or a lot’, Penton replied: “A lot.”

He added: “In 25 years I have never, never, attempted violence.”

Asked if he had a conscience about breaking into people’s homes and stealing their property, he replied: “Yes, but I didn’t when I was younger.”

The court was told Penton has two convictions for violence, though neither were related to a burglary. He told the jury about one incident in 2005 in which he visited a pub with his family.

“I was racially abused as I left the pub and felt threatened so went to my car and got a crowbar,” he said.

The jury heard how Harvey Munford worked as a labourer with Penton, who is a builder and plasterer by trade.

He claimed he planned to burgle the home of Michael Griffiths and only involved third parties - it was his own ‘project’.

Penton attained information about Mr Griffiths from a ‘criminal friend’, who gave him the information over Christmas 2012. The friend had ‘dealings with Michael Griffiths that weren’t satisfactory’, but Penton has refused to name the friend, who deals with antiques in London.

He said: “I was told Michael Griffiths had a small safe in his house, full of gold. My friend also mentioned diamonds and antiques.

“The plan was to take the safe.”

Penton explained how he scoured Fernhurst looking for Mr Griffiths’s home, on the assumption there may be an advertisement outside for the auction house he worked for, or there would be antiques in the garden.

He later found the house, and approached it on the evening of January 19 with Harvey Munford to remain ‘unseen’. Mr Griffiths was at home at the time.

“The information I had was this was a man who goes out regularly, so we hung around for about an hour but established he wasn’t going out that night.”

“When Harvey and I go out into the country we use my car but I couldn’t pull it up to the house. We needed a driver and another person to lift the safe.

“It was down to Harvey to get somebody he knew and trusted.”

Mr Bott said: “It is no secret that person was Zack Cowdrey.”

Penton said his son in law, Damian Krafft, was asked to provide the transport. But, said Penton: “I had no idea the car (he used) was registered to my daughter.

“I only found out weeks later and was angry.”

On why he chose Mr Griffiths’s house, Penton said: “It was a small house, no alarm, no security, and the man was often out until late at night. It seemed like an easy job.”

On January 22, Mr Griffiths phoned 999 after two men came to his door and tried to get into his house, under the pretence they were police officers.

The men were Zack Cowdrey and Harvey Munford.

While the pair attempted to gain entry to the house, Penton waited in a lay-by. “They aroused suspicion by saying they were police, by mistake,” he said.

Judge Michael Lawson QC asked: “How does somebody say ‘I’m a police officer’ by mistake?”

Penton replied: “That wasn’t part of the plan. I decided not to go any further with it, I wasn’t happy about what Zack had said about being police officers. “It was a situation that could have been completely avoided. I called the whole thing off.”

However, Penton went back to Old Glebe the next day.

On January 23, 2013, Munford, Krafft and Cowdrey were in Michael Griffiths’s home while he was with his friend. He made his way home around 11pm.

Penton did not see Zack Cowdrey again until they were arrested. He saw Harvey Munford later that evening, who was in a ‘state of shock’.

“He said Michael Griffiths had come home and tried to grab them. There had been a fight, and the man had a heart attack. I couldn’t believe it. I was upset for Harvey, but angry with him.”

Mr Bott asked: “How do you feel that a burglary you had planned led to a man dying?”

Penton said: “I’m gutted and devastated. I was concerned that Harvey had to go through something like that.”

The judge asked him: “You didn’t mention the victim at all? Your first concern was for Harvey then yourself.”

Penton denied any involvement with the fire that destroyed number 35 Old Glebe.

The jury also heard how the burglary at Poynings on May 24, 2103, to which Penton has pleaded guilty, came after he found the house in Country Life magazine.

Seven defendants stand trial

Simon Penton, 43, of Markway, Sunbury, denies murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but has admitted conspiracy to burgle homes in Loxwood, Poynings and a home near Godalming as well as Mr Griffiths’ home.

Kerry Rudder, 43, also of Markway, denies murder, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to burgle a home in Loxwood.

Damian Krafft, 27, of High Street, Shepperton, denies murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Zack Cowdrey, 23, of Meadway, Staines, denies murder, but pleads guilty to manslaughter, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to burgle Mr Griffiths’ home.

John Bartholomew, 72, of Cross Street, Portsmouth, denies murder and conspiracy to commit burglaries in Loxwood, Fernhurst and Poynings.

Harvey Munford, 23, of Monks Way, Staines, has admitted conspiracy to burgle homes in Loxwood, Poynings and Godalming, conspiracy to burgle Mr Griffiths’ home and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He denies murder but has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Rebecca Rogers, 39, of Pool End Close, Shepperton, has pleaded not guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The ‘most complex case’ ever seen

THE murder of Michael Griffiths has been described by both a forensic pathologist and a police inspector as the ‘most complex’ case ever seen.

Giving evidence at Hove Trial Centre, DCI Jeff Riley from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team said of his visit to number 35 Old Glebe: “It was certainly the most complex scene I have ever dealt with.”

The chief investigating officer throughout the murder enquiry, he told jurors his team had sent 152 items to the crime lab for further DNA testing.

Scene of crimes officers spent some 19 days at the home of Mr Griffiths, working alongside biologists and fire investigators.

They conducted a ‘staged approach’, recovering items including a Zippo lighter, Mr Griffiths’s brown leather bag, a brass Buddha statue, a candle stick holder and a glass paperweight. They also tested the piece of electrical flex used to bind Mr Griffiths’s hands and feet.

When tests failed to recover any DNA other than that of Mr Griffiths, police instead undertook an intelligence-led investigation, using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras, mobile phone data, and evidence from mobile cell sites.

Also called to give evidence was forensic pathologist Olaf Biedrzycki, who was asked by the coroner to conduct the post-mortem on Mr Griffiths at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, on January 25 last year.

Mr Griffiths had been ‘hog-tied’, with his ankles bound together using his own apron. A scart lead had been wrapped around his legs and intertwined with an extension cable, binding his hands and feet.

Doctor Biedrzycki told jurors there was still a strong smell of petrol on Mr Griffiths’s neckerchief and his wallet had been found near his body, containing £70.

He had a number of lacerations and bruises on his head and body, many caused by a blunt object. His skull had been cracked and his neck and four ribs were fractured.

The pathologist determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, rendering Mr Griffiths unconscious. Compression on his neck caused him to choke on his vomit.

The trial continues.