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Braintree district: Man admits killing vicar
12:11pm Thursday 4th October 2012 in News
A man accused of murdering of a vicar and a retired teacher carried out a burglary in which a note threatening to "kill Christian scum" was pinned to the table with knives, a court heard today.
Stephen Farrow, 48, admits the manslaughter of Rev John Suddards but denies murdering the clergyman between February 12 and 15 this year on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
He also denies the murder of Betty Yates between January 1 and 5 this year. Both victims were found stabbed to death in their homes.
Opening the case, prosecutor Michael Fitton QC told the jury of eight men and four women that Farrow, of no fixed address, has admitted a separate charge of burgling Vine Cottage in Thornbury, South Gloucestershire, between December 21 last year and January 3 this year.
Mr Fitton told the jury a note was found on the kitchen table following the burglary that read: "Be thankful you did not come back or I would have killed you, you Christian scum. I f**king hate God."
The prosecutor told the jury: "There are two charges for you to decide upon.
"They relate to different individuals and different places.
"The first is the murder of Betty Yates between the 1st and 5th of January this year. Betty Yates was found stabbed to death at her home in Worcestershire by police officers on the 4th January.
"The last time any of her friends or family saw her alive was late afternoon on Monday 2nd January.
"The defendant has pleaded not guilty to that count. He denies killing her. He denies any responsibility for her death at all.
"His case is that he was not at her house or in the area she lived on the day she died.
"Our case is that he was there and that he killed her and that he intended to kill her."
Mr Fitton added: "Count two is the murder of Reverend John Suddards.
"The Reverend Suddards was found stabbed to death by police officers on February 14.
"The last time any of his friends or family saw him alive was late afternoon on February 13.
"The defendant pleaded not guilty to that charge, but there is a significant difference in his case.
"Stephen Farrow admits he killed the Reverend John Suddards, what he denies is the charge of murder, he will only admit a charge of manslaughter."
Mr Fitton said Farrow is claiming a partial defence arising from his mental condition.
"He claims the defence of diminished responsibility.
"The prosecution recognise and accept the defendant has a relevant mental condition, a mental disorder, I will call it, but we do not accept that his mental disorder diminishes his responsibility for what he did to entitle him to that defence."
The court heard Farrow admits burgling Vine Cottage and stealing cash, a radio and jewellery amongst other items.
Mr Fitton said the three charges span a period of eight weeks and there are links between them and the burglary, the first offence in the time sequence.
Farrow was arrested in Folkestone, Kent, in February thanks to a tip-off from the public after Avon and Somerset Police launched a nationwide manhunt.
Mr Suddards, 59, was found stabbed to death at his home in Thornbury on February 14, while Mrs Yates, 77, was stabbed at her cottage in Bewdley, Worcestershire, on January 2.
Mr Suddards's body was found by workers who had arrived at the vicarage next to St Mary's Church in Castle Street. News of his death sent shockwaves through the clergy and the close-knit community, about 11 miles north of Bristol.
He had only taken up his post in July last year, having come from the diocese of Chelmsford in Essex. The former barrister moved to the area after serving at St Nicolas Church in Witham, Essex, since 2001 and before that at Great Yeldham parish, and St Andrew's in Halstead.
Mrs Yates was found dead at the bottom of the stairs at her home on the banks of the River Severn on January 4, having been killed two days earlier.
High Court judge Mr Justice Field is presiding over the trial, which is estimated to last up to six weeks.
Mr Fitton told Bristol Crown Court the first of the three offences related to the burglary, near Thornbury vicarage, at Vine Cottage.
Its owners, Alan and Margaret Pinder, had left the cottage to spend Christmas away, the court heard.
"They left home on December 22 and when they came back on January 2 they discovered the house had been burgled," he said.
"Entry was gained by forcing a window at the back of the property."
The court heard the home had been subject to an "untidy search", with food and drink discarded, half-eaten, in the kitchen. The contents of drawers in the home had been strewn all over the floor, Mr Fitton added.
"And on the kitchen table there was a note, pinned using two kitchen knives," he said.
"It was written in a curious, disguised style of writing. But it is what it says that is of significance."
The jury was shown an image of the note, written in capital letters in red ink, with a "squirly symbol" in the top right-hand corner.
It read: "Be thankful you didn't come back or we will have killed you, Christian scum. I f****** hate God."
Mr Fitton said the contents "meant nothing" to the Pinders, who are not religious.
He added: "It offers a disturbing insight into the mind of whoever wrote it."
The court heard there was "strong (forensic) support" that some of the boot markings discovered at the scene matched those recovered from the defendant later.
Mr Fitton said Farrow "may have contributed to the low-level DNA" on the handle of one of the knives found piercing the note.