Craig Savage murder trial: Defendant tells court deaths were all his fault

A man accused of double murder told a court his estranged wife and her mother's deaths were all his fault.

Thursday, 25th October 2018, 3:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th October 2018, 7:45 pm

Craig Savage, 35, of no fixed abode, denies murdering Michelle Savage, 32, and her mother Heather Whitbread, 53, at their home in Bexhill Road, St Leonards, on March 16, 2018.

On Thursday (October 25) Savage, dressed in a navy suit and white shirt, appeared on the witness stand.

At the start of his testimony, he said: “I loved my wife more than air.”

Craig Savage. Picture by Eddie Mitchell

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Mr Savage told the court he drove from Uttoxeter - where he had been living with his friend since breaking up with Michelle Savage on February 12 - to 1066 Target Sports on the day of the shootings.

The defendant has admitted robbing Ryan Graves, a range manager at the complex, of an M4 semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle at gunpoint.

After taking the weapon, Savage said he got in his car and made his way ‘slowly’ to Ms Savage’s address.

He told the court he parked up and made his way to the house wearing his work clothes and carrying a bag which was holding the rifle.

Once he arrived at the house, Savage said he took the rifle out of the bag and used it to break in through the window.

He told the court: “(I) took aim at the base of the window frame. I shot it to break the glass. Used the muzzle to break the shards. I stepped through, slipped on the glass and dragged my leg, sliced my thigh, I tripped and I fell.”

Once inside the house, Savage said: “I looked up and Michelle came running at me like a rhino and bang straight into me, no hesitation, no fear.

“Her first instinct at seeing a nutjob with a gun was to protect her family.

“She came steaming at me and smashed me on the side of the head.

“She squeezed the trigger and five rounds went into the living room. I prized it out of her hand.

“She went into the hallway, I followed her. She sprayed gas in my face, I grabbed the can, pulled it out of her hand and she grabbed the rifle kicking me, punching. The rifle was going off everywhere. She weren’t letting up.

“She kept going, kept going, kept going.”

Cross-examining, Benjamin Aina QC told Savage that 19 bullets were fired on the evening of March 16.

He said five were fired at the window frame to allow Savage to enter the property, seven were fires at Ms Savage, six at Ms Whitbread and one at Ms Savage’s pet dog Zeus.

Mr Aina added: “There wasn’t a single indiscriminate shot.

“Once you got into the house, every single shot went through a living creation, either Michelle or Heather or the dog.

“If there was this struggle why is that there is not one shot that went into the floor, the ceiling, whatever?”

Savage said the occupants in the sitting room were packed in tightly but insisted there was ‘no aiming’ of the shots.

Alan Kent QC, defending, asked Savage how he thought Ms Savage may have ended up with a bullet wound in her hip.

He said: “That one I do get.

“We were struggling. I tried to stop her but I didn’t have enough.

“I just said ‘just stop now’.

“She (Ms Savage) just grabbed the magazine and kneed me between the legs and the chamber just went off. I remember that one. Oh I remember that one. Down she went.

“It’s not what I wanted. It’s not what I was there for.”

Mr Aina told Savage it was the prosecution’s case he had entered the house to execute his ex wife and her mother due to muzzle marks on both of their bodies. The trial had earlier heard from a pathologist who said these muzzle marks would have been caused by the rifle being against or fairly close to the body when it was fired.

Mr Aina said: “Mr Savage this was an execution. Your rifle was pointed at your wife’s arm while it was down by her side and caused the muzzle mark on her clothing.”

Savage replied: “Finishing her off by shooting her in the arm? Yeah that makes sense doesn’t it.”

Mr Aina said Savage had an opportunity to let go of the gun and ‘drop it’.

He told the court: “You say that your plan went wrong.

“The shots that the jury have heard took place over a period of one minute and 50 seconds. You were in the house for just over three minutes. There was over a minute when shots stopped.

“As far as you were concerned Michelle and Heather were still alive. Why didn’t you call for an ambulance? There were mobile phones all over that house. Why didn’t you use one of these phones to call for an ambulance? Why didn’t you drop the gun, run out into the street screaming ‘help there’s been a terrible accident’, anything to save the woman that you say you loved? Or perhaps things had gone exactly as you planned.”

Earlier in the trial, the jury was played enhanced audio from a CCTV camera outside the property.

Mr Kent QC asked what the defendant was doing during a brief silence when no shots were fired, before he left the property.

Savage said: “I picked myself up, picked the weapon up. I managed to get the magazine off.

“Heather was down by the front door.

“Michelle was by the fireplace, she was laying on her stomach. I ran over to her, knelt down beside her and I couldn’t see any blood.

“I think she blinked. I was just sat.

“I didn’t know what to do. She’s just there and I just thought ‘I need to get a medic in here’ and I had a gun in my hand.

“I thought ‘the medics won’t come in while I’ve got a gun in my hand so I’ve got to create space’. I’m sorry.

“I went into the hallway where Heather wasn’t moving, grabbed the key, left the door open and I just marched. I just moved. Then the police finally showed up.”

Mr Savage told the court he was ‘praying’ both Ms Whitbread and Ms Savage were still alive.

Once outside the property, Mr Savage said he heard a challenge from behind, spun, raised his weapon and ‘looked down the side’ of the rifle.

He added: “I could see the whites of his eyes. I waited for the muzzle flash but I didn’t hear it.

“Michelle popped in my head. I had to keep moving. I turned and walked away.

“All I could see down the side was people in living rooms. I just thought I’ve done enough for one day.

“There were two dead people in that house who shouldn’t be dead. All day long it is my fault. I have never said otherwise - not to you, the doctors, no one. All day long it is my fault.

“I didn’t come here to dodge anything, I just came to tell it straight.

“The only one who was meant to get hurt that night was me.

“My overriding purpose was to create space. An ambulance wouldn’t go near the house if I was running around. I needed to get way so they could get in.”

Asked why he took aim at the police after leaving the property, Savage said he wanted to have the back of his head ‘blown out’.

Savage denies a charge of possessing a firearm with the intent of endangering public life.

The court heard Savage had changed the magazine in the rifle before leaving the property.

Mr Aina claimed Savage did so because he was planning to escape and could only do so by challenging the police.

He told Savage: “Why did you put a fresh magazine in the gun? I am putting it to you because you were thinking of making an escape and thinking about what you were doing.

“As you were leaving the house you dropped a magazine and stooped down to pick it up. You were picking up that magazine to have all the tool kit on you to fight the police at that stage.

“That is why you crouched down and aimed your gun at the police, to challenge them.

“That is why you knelt down and pointed the rifle because you wanted to escape. You pulled the trigger. Luckily for the police, the gun jammed.”

Savage told the court that after he saw the police, he ran from the car park and headed south over the railway tracks and onto the beach.

While on the beach, he said he aimed the rifle at his forehead but did not ‘go through with it’ because he ‘did not deserve an easy death’.

The court was told Savage had met Ms Savage in Bracknell nine years ago when he was working as a bouncer on the doors at a pub.

He told the court he was left ‘speechless’ when he first saw Ms Savage.

The couple lived together in Aldershot for a couple of years before moving to Ms Whitbread’s house in St Leonards to save money, the court was told.

Savage, who had lived at Ms Whitbread’s house until February 12 when he and Ms Savage split, described life within it as ‘toxic’.

He told the court: “I was the lightning rod for the mother in law. She was just on me all the time, all the time.

“The doors had to be shut. Every now and then it would get left open. Instead of saying close the door she would go from zero to ten. I see the door open, I would close it. She would say ‘I had that door open for a reason, I wanted the draft to come through’.

“She had it in her head I had sabotaged the kettle to make it loud so then I wasn’t allowed to make tea before I went to work.”

Savage was appearing at Lewes Crown Court for the first time since last Tuesday (October 16).

Asked by Mr Kent why he had not turned up to court for more than a week, Savage said: “I didn’t go not guilty to swerve anything. I’m not here to fight the case I just want it straight.

“I just want to have my say and put everything straight and then just lock me up.”

Savage denies murder.

The trial continues.