Fernhurst murder trial: Michael Griffiths tortured for diamonds

Michael Griffiths
Michael Griffiths

FERNHURST murder victim Michael Griffiths was brutally tortured for £40,000 worth of diamonds thought to be kept in a safe – but they were later found stored in picnic flasks.

AT the trial of seven people charged in connection with the murder of Fernhurst man Michael Griffiths, a jury heard Mr Griffiths said goodbye to the friend he had spent the evening with at 11pm on January 23, 2013, and made his way home – arriving around 11.30pm, where ‘burglars lay in wait’.

The fatal fire in Michael Griffiths' home PICTURE BY EDDIE MITCHELL

The fatal fire in Michael Griffiths' home PICTURE BY EDDIE MITCHELL

He was brutally tortured for £40,000 worth of diamonds thought to be kept in a safe – but they were later found stored in picnic flasks.

Mr Griffiths, 59, a jewellery-maker and antiques buyer, was found dead by fire crews at his home in Old Glebe, Fernhurst, on the morning of January 24, 2013.

Prosecuting, Christine Laing told jurors Mr Griffiths’s body was found slumped behind his front door. He had suffered extensive injuries all over his body and his hands and feet were ‘hog-tied’.

Mr Griffith’s brown holdall – which he used daily – was later found by fire crews at the back of his house and upon being searched by police, two diamonds with an estimated worth of around £40,000 were found stored inside two picnic flasks which had removable compartments.

Police at the scene in January 2013. PICTURE BY EDDIE MITCHELL

Police at the scene in January 2013. PICTURE BY EDDIE MITCHELL

His car remained unlocked on the driveway and the door was not properly shut.

Miss Laing said he walked inside carrying a large box of postcards his friend had given him, intending to come back outside to collect his bag.

He received a call on his home phone at midnight, from close friend Craig Smallbone, who then phoned Mr Griffith’s mobile exactly one minute later. Neither was answered, and Miss Laing added: “The defendants, Cowdrey, Munford and Krafft, were in Mr Griffith’s home.”

At 7.08am on January 24, Mr Griffiths’s neighbour Dorothy Young and dog-walker David Cousins heard a loud bang and Mrs Young could smell smoke.

Mr Cousins walked past the property at 6.50am, and saw Mr Griffith’s brown holdall at the foot of the driveway. When he walked back past at 7.10am, it had gone. By 7.38am, the fire brigade had been called and a severe fire had taken hold of the property.

Mr Griffith’s house was described as an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ where he hoarded antiques and bric-a-brac, much of it of ‘menial value’. He didn’t advertise his business, but relied on personal recommendations.

The workshop in his house contained a large safe filled with valuable items, many made for private clients.

A key was found in the safe that did not fit the lock when the house was examined by the police. The keys to the safe were found in a small keybox attached to the underside of the bath.

The jury was told a window of the property had been forced open and accelerants including petrol were used around the house, as well as on Mr Griffith’s neckerchief, which his close friends say he was never seen without.

Miss Laing said: “When firefighters arrived, one squeezed through the front door and behind it was a male’s body. He appeared to have no legs below the knee, leading the fireman to believe he was an amputee.

“It soon became apparent this was no tragic accident.

“The burglars were ruthlessly prepared to use violence. His reluctance, or inability, to hand over the diamonds cost him his life.

“These were professional, organised, calculating people. The degree of planning demonstrates that this was no ordinary burglary. All signed up to this enterprise, knowing that Mr Griffiths may be subjected to serious violence.

“He was attacked soon after he got home. By 12.15am, he was dead or dying.”

It was common knowledge Michael owned diamonds and he had appeared on the Antiques Roadshow.

A post-mortem held at St Richard’s Hospital on January 25 revealed Mr Griffiths’ legs had been ‘hog-tied’ and examination showed significant injuries to his head and body, caused by more than one weapon.

His ankles had been tied using his own apron and a scart lead wrapped around his hands and feet, intertwined with another electrical cable.

There were patterned markings to his forehead and chin, similar to the print on the bottom of a training shoe.

He suffered several fractured ribs in the assault.

A pathologist report said compression was placed on his neck, using his neckerchief.

The cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head, and compression to the neck causing him to choke to death on his own vomit.

Mr Griffiths regularly wore a large gold ring on his right hand. There was no sign of it when his body was found and it has never been recovered.

An iPad owned by Kerry Rudder was found in the house she shared with Simon Penton. On it were searches for diamonds, auctioneers, Fernhurst, police uniforms, Michael Griffiths, Antiques Roadshow, smoke, death, deceased and witnesses.

In Mr Griffith’s back garden, a gold Zippo lighter was found engraved with the initials AFK – the initials, the prosection says, of Damian Krafft’s late father. When Zack Cowdrey’s home was searched by police, a pair of pink Vans shoes were found, in a men’s size 5-5.5 – the same size, said Miss Laing, as Harvey Munford wore. She added: “There were two areas of bruising on Michael Griffiths’s face. Expert examination on the soles of the Vans and post-mortem photos show a stamping action, with a pattern matching the heels and mid-soles of Vans. A small-sized men’s shoe is responsible for the bruising.”

The seven defendants deny the charges against them. The trial continues.

Seven defendants in six week trial

PROCEEDINGS are taking place at Hove Trial Centre. The trial started in February 14, and is expected to last for around six weeks.

Seven defendants are now standing trial in relation to the murder.

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

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

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

Zack Cowdrey, 23, of Meadway, Staines, denies murder, 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 cause of justice. He denies murder.

Rebecca Rogers, 39, of Pool End Close, Shepperton, denies conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

All the defendants, except Bartholomew, live in south-west London, in the Staines/Sunbury area.

They were arrested and interviewed by police between May 30 and June 11.

Rebecca Rogers was initially released, but later re-arrested after her phone records showed a text message sent from the Fernhurst area on January 24.

999 call made just one day earlier

ON January 22, two men knocked on Michael Griffith’s front door, claiming they were police and there was ‘nothing to worry about’.

The court heard that rather than open the door – which he never did unless he was expecting someone – Mr Griffiths instead opened an upstairs window and asked them to step back from the porch so he could see their uniforms. One appeared to move further inside the porch to avoid being seen. They then threw snowballs up at him, shouting ‘trick or treat’, and ran off.

The jury were played a 999 call Michael made immediately after, at 8.20pm.

He said: “I thought I ought to let you know because I was scared.” When asked if he was okay, Michael replied: “Yes, I’m a bit shaken.

“I just thought you should be aware of it. Somebody much older than myself – you don’t know what could happen if they opened the door.”

“The call handler thought it was nothing more than youths making a nuisance of themselves,” said Miss Laing.

“Mr Griffiths obviously thought it was something much more sinister – burglars trying to get him to open 
the door. Unfortunately, he was right.

“Failing to gain entry on January 22, they returned on January 23. Mr Griffiths returned home and the burglars lay in wait for him. These were professional, organised, calculating people.”

No-one else in the area was visited by the men that night.

He said one of the men was wearing a high-visibility jacket, the other was much shorter.

The prosecution alleges that, because of the height difference, it could have been Munford and Krafft, or Munford and Cowdrey.

Michael’s brother Peter said: “He rang me at 10.20pm and said two men had come to his door, trying to get inside.

“I asked him to text me the next morning to let me know he was okay. He was worried.”

“It really spooked and upset him,” added Michael’s best friend, Peter.

“He told me about it twice the following day. He smelt a rat.”

Friends and family mourn a ‘popular and well-liked man’

MICHAEL Griffiths was a popular, well-liked and hard-working man, and a valued member of the community.

Born on May 30, 1954, in St Luke’s Hospital, Guildford, he had an older and a younger brother.

“Michael was generous with his time and money. He loved people, loved to chat, and was a very interesting man,” said his younger brother, Paul.

“He had been shooting since he was nine or ten years old. On Friday nights, he used to go the Fernhurst working members’ social club and would eat scampi and chips.

“He would often pop round my house and we would have an Irish coffee together.

“But he didn’t turn up on the evening of January 23, so I went to bed.

“Our mother died three years ago, and we got together regularly, meeting every week. We were very close. Michael never had any enemies and this has come as a deep shock to our family.”

Michael’s best friend of 46 years, Peter Hart, said they were ‘as close as brothers’.

On the day of Michael’s death, they had been out shooting squirrels – something they had done 
as a service to landowners for 35 years.

“He forgot his lunch that day, but had a couple of flasks in his leather holdall, which he’d had for years. We got back to my home in the afternoon and I cooked us a curry and we watched a film together, then some television.”

When asked if antiques were a passion of Michael’s, Peter said: “That is an understatement.”

Michael’s neighbour Dorothy Young said he was a ‘kind, intelligent chap’, and ‘got on well with everybody’. Her husband Kenneth added: “You couldn’t have asked for a better man as a neighbour.”

Other jewellers described Mr Griffiths’ skills as ‘superior’, saying customers would request to see him directly, and he was always happy to oblige.