A man has been jailed for life with a minimum tariff of 30 years after he was found guilty of murdering Hastings man Karl Bunster in December 2015.
Ben Walton, 49, formerly of Cowick Hill, Exeter, Devon, was found guilty of murder and two counts of perverting the course of justice following a trial at Croydon Crown Court, which concluded on Tuesday (August 1).
His girlfriend Stacey McClymont, 29, was found not guilty of murder but guilty of perverting the course of justice. She was jailed for two years but released from custody after time served on remand was taken into consideration. They were both sentenced on Wednesday (August 2).
The sentencing came after a six-week trial, which started on June 26 at Croydon Crown Court. An earlier trial was begun but abandoned in November last year.
The court heard that both Walton and McClymont accepted that Karl Bunster, a 37-year-old scaffolder who worked in the Hastings and St Leonards area, was dead although both denied they had carried out the killing.
Karl had previously been in a troubled relationship with McClymont, and was last seen entering her home in Mann Street, Hastings, on December 17, 2015. His body has never been found.
During the trial, McClymont told the jury that Walton had shot Karl in the house, while she cowered in fear in an upstairs bedroom.
She told the court that she had not reported the shooting because she was in fear of Walton, believing that he would kill her and her children if she did contact the police.
Walton also denied killing Karl and said that he had returned to McClymont’s house in the early hours of December 18, 2015 and found Karl there.
Karl was already dead and had a deep stab wound in his neck. Walton was unable to say who was responsible for Karl’s murder, but said he could not discount McClymont of being the killer.
Walton also claimed he had helped McClymont dispose of Karl’s body by putting his body in his van and dumping it in a nearby skip.
However the Crown Prosecution Service, disputed both McCylmont’s and Walton’s version of events, arguing that while the pair may have played different roles in the actual events of that night, they shared the common intention to kill Karl and take part in his murder.
The CPS argued that Karl was shot and killed and that McClymont and Walton worked together to pervert the course of justice by concealing the crime.
The court heard that the couple had disposed of Karl’s body, cleaned the scene of the crime and the van that had taken the body away.
The jury herd evidence from a police forensic examination of the house, which found traces of Karl’s blood.
His blood was also found inside Walton’s van and on a licensed rifle owned by Walton, which was in a locked gun safe in Walton’s flat in Cambridge Gardens, Hastings.
The police investigation also found evidence that in the week between Christmas and New Year 2015, Walton had been seen around the Exminster Industrial Park in Exeter, Devon burning something in a metal bin. He was seen close to a storage container he had first rented on December 10. Enquiries also revealed that Walton had also hired a freezer that he kept in the container and that he had been seen using a jet wash to clean off tyres in the back of his van before deep cleaning the inside of the van.
A few weeks after the murder, McClymont and Walton had got engaged and spent six months living together in a new home in Exeter. They were living here when they were arrested and charged with murder and perverting the course of justice.
On Tuesday (August 1) Walton was convicted of murder and perverting the course of justice, while McClymont was found guilty of perverting the course of justice.
Detective Superintendent Jason Taylor, who led the investigation for Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: “This was a challenging investigation throughout.
“Not only were there many conflicting reasons why Karl Bunster may have gone missing from the outset, McClymont and Walton repeatedly lied and tried to distance themselves from the crime.
“Without Karl’s body it was not clear what had happened and it required a painstaking and detailed investigation to prove both that Karl was dead and that a murder had taken place.
“Sadly we have also not been able to find Karl’s body. I would urge anyone who knows where his body is, or has any information that can help find Karl, to come forward to give his family and friends’ closure.
“I also want to praise the courage of many of the witnesses in this case who came forward and provided the vital information needed to help convict this pair.”
Family and friends of Karl said they wanted to thank all those involved in the investigation into Karl’s death and bringing those responsible to justice.
A family spokesman said: “Nothing can compensate for our loss, we would now like to be left in peace to grieve and try to come to terms with the distressing and devastating circumstances of Karl’s death.”