St Leonards murder trial: Murder accused turned rifle on shooting range employee before fleeing

A man accused of shooting two women dead in a St Leonards home stole a semi-automatic rifle from a shooting range he had booked two days previously, a jury has been told.

Craig Savage, 35, of no fixed abode, is facing trial at Lewes Crown Court charged with the murders of his wife of five years Michelle Savage, 32, and her mother Heather Whitbread, 53, at an address in Bexhill Road, St Leonards, on March 16, 2018.

Craig Savage arriving at Lewes Crown Court

Craig Savage arriving at Lewes Crown Court

He also faces a charge of possessing a firearm with the intent to endanger public life on the same date.

Mr Savage has pleaded not guilty to these charges.

On Monday, he pleaded guilty to robbing Ryan Graves – a deputy manager at 1066 Target Sports – of a firearm, described in the charge as an M4 semiautomatic .22 calibre rifle, earlier in the evening of March 16.

Benjamin Aina QC, prosecuting, told the jury Mr Savage had ‘planned and executed the fatal shooting’ because his marriage had broke down about a month before.

He also took the jury through emails between Mr Savage and 1066 Target Sports from two days before the shooting where the defendant asked if he and a friend could book a ‘live fire’ at 6.30pm that Friday.

In one email, Mr Savage asked whether it was busy during that time and later took up the offer of booking out all the lanes so he and his friend could ‘have the place to ourselves’.

The next day, he emailed 1066 Target Sports to say his friend had dropped out and that he would have to ‘swing back another time’, the court was told.

He arrived at the complex at about 5pm on the Friday of the shooting and was met by Mr Graves in reception, according to Mr Aina.

In a statement read to the court, Mr Graves said Mr Savage had mentioned he had prostate cancer during the evening and that he did not have much time left to live. During the live fire, according to Mr Graves, Mr Savage spoke about religion, rifles, made reference to a police assisted suicide and said he wanted ‘to be remembered as a man’.

Mr Graves said the defendant went to the toilet while he reloaded the magazines for him and once Mr Savage returned he sat in the corner before standing, picking up the rifle and aimed it at the chest of Mr Graves.

Mr Graves’ statement said: “He said ‘I don’t want to hurt you but I will need you to open the door.

“I weighed up the options and felt I had no option but to open the live range door and he ran straight out.”

Mr Aina said Mr Savage then got in his car and embarked on a ten minute journey to Bexhill Road.

He said: “At approximately 7.40pm, Raven Whitbread, her mother Heather Whitbread and her sister Michelle Savage were in the sitting room eating a Chinese takeaway. Her grandmother Patricia Groves was in the annex – they were all relaxing.

“Suddenly, Craig Savage smashed through the lounge window and Raven was told by her sister and mother to hide as she was seven months pregnant.”

Raven Whitbread said she saw Craig Savage standing over her sister and then her body jolt before she ran into the annex to call the police.

At Lewes Crown Court, on Monday (October 15), the jury was played CCTV footage which showed Craig Savage approaching the property, breaking in, the sounds of 19 shots and then the defendant leaving via the front of the property three and a half minutes later with his rifle in full visibility.

Mr Aina said it is Mr Savage’s case the rifle discharged accidentally after he tripped and became involved in a struggle with his ex-wife.

He added: “This is not just an accident that the gun has gone off. There are shots, there are pauses of 14, 15 seconds before more shots. Then there is a gap of 45 seconds before another shot.

“If it was an accident you would hear all the shots in one go.

Mr Aina also took the jury through emails between the defendant and his ex-wife from February 16 to February 25 where Mr Savage repeatedly asks his ex-wife to put all the ‘lingerie, handcuffs and sex toys in a box’ so he could burn it. In one email, Mr Savage said there was ‘no way’ he could leave that for the next man.

Mr Aina said that on the evening of March 16, police found Mr Savage’s rucksack he had been wearing when he entered the property containing a number of items mentioned in the previous emails.

He said: “Police found his Ford Focus, seized a moustache, a face mask and a pair of goggles. Left of the site, police found an armour plated vest in two parts. They also found a camouflage vest.

“Inside the vest, police found some grey duct tape, some black ties and found some lubricant oil. In that rucksack there was some natural lubricant oil.

“The crown say he had the handcuffs that you saw were being disposed. And when they searched his property they found a white metal handcuff key amongst his property attached to car keys. This matched the handcuffs he disposed of after the shooting.

“It is likely Craig Savage had these items because he intended to force Michelle Savage to have sex with him.”

Mr Aina also took the jury through an online web form Michelle Savage had completed on February 26 alerting Sussex Police to an incident on February 23 when the defendant is alleged to have threatened to share pornographic images of her online unless she had sex with him. When she refused, Mr Aina said Mr Savage uploaded thousands of pictures with a caption inviting people to download and share them.

The defendant also accused his ex-wife of infecting him with a sexually transmitted disease but Mr Aina said the accusation was not true.

He added: “What you have is a man who, after everything his ex wife has said, wants to force her to have sex with him, pretends she gave him an STD which was simply not true and you also have him carrying out a threat on revenge porn.

“On her birthday, one week before she was killed, Mr Savage was slashing her tyres and pouring paint on her car.

“What you have to consider was whether this was an accident or part of a planned execution of his wife and mother in law having tried everything else.”

The trial continues.

Related stories:

St Leonards murder trial: Defendant ‘shot estranged wife, mother-in-law and dog a month after marriage broke down’

St Leonards murder trial: Man accused of killing women appears in court