St Leonards murder trial: Accused '˜aimed rifle at police' after fatal shooting of two women

A man accused of murdering his ex-wife, her mum and her dog, aimed his stolen semi-automatic rifle at an armed police officer who had attempted to apprehend him, a court has heard.

Tuesday, 16th October 2018, 6:19 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th October 2018, 6:25 pm
Armed police at the scene on the night of the shooting
Armed police at the scene on the night of the shooting

Craig Savage, 35, of no fixed abode, is accused of murdering his estranged wife Michelle Savage, 32, her mother Heather Whitbread, 53, and her pet dog Zeus at a property in Bexhill Road, St Leonards, on Friday, March 16, 2018.

Mr Savage denies these charges as well as a single charge of possessing a firearm with the intent to endanger public life.

On Tuesday (October 16), Lewes Crown Court heard from police sergeant Thomas Milne who arrived on the scene seconds after Mr Savage had left the Bexhill Road property where Michelle Savage and Heather Whitbread’s bodies were found.

Craig Savage arriving at Lewes Crown Court. SUS-181015-110544001

CCTV footage from outside the property showed PS Milne, who has been with Sussex Police for nine years, arriving at the scene and shouting ‘armed police, stand still’ in the direction of Mr Savage who was walking away from the property towards a car park with his rifle ‘clearly visible’ in his right hand.

PS Milne, with his own firearm drawn, is then seen approaching Mr Savage and stopping approximately eight metres from the accused before Mr Savage turns, kneels down and aims the semi-automatic rifle at PS Milne.

PS Milne told the court: “I kept my firearm pointed at him (Mr Savage) as he had pointed his at me.

“I shouted at him to put the weapon down and I repeated this request about three times.

“He did not say anything and still had the gun pointed at me. I believed he was going to shoot me.

“His eyes looked like they were focused on me and he was holding the weapon very steadily. He was not making any unnecessary movements. He was very professional in the way he moved.”

PS Milne said he did not hear any bullets fired before Mr Savage ducked down out of his sight towards the car park.

Approximately two minutes later, according to PS Milne, further police vehicles arrived on the scene enabling him and his colleagues to enter the property where they found the bodies of Michelle Savage, Heather Whitbread and Zeus, Michelle’s pet dog.

Police constable Jayan Shah, who was in the same vehicle as PS Milne responding to reports of a rifle robbery from 1066 Target Sports, said they were driving down Bexhill Road when he saw Mr Savage leaving the property and ‘making no effort to conceal his weapon’, the court was told.

He said he then saw Mr Savage rotate ‘180 degrees and point his rifle in the direction of PS Milne’.

PC Shah said he was ‘convinced’ Mr Savage had fired a round in the direction of PS Milne due to the way the defendant had manoeuvred and positioned himself.

He said he shouted at his colleague ‘Tom, has he just shot at us?’

He told the court: “To this day, I am absolutely convinced he took a shot at us. When I asked Tom the question, it was less of a question but more to seek confirmation he had fired a shot and that Tom was alright.

“In my mind, I was convinced he had (fired the weapon) but I could not be sure and I still can’t be sure now.”

The jury at Lewes Crown Court also heard from Ryan Graves, the range officer and deputy manager at 1066 Target Sports, who Mr Savage admits robbing of the M4 semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle and threatening him with it on the day of the shooting.

Mr Graves said, while in the live range, Mr Savage had told him he had pancreatic cancer and did not have long to live.

He said Mr Savage took numerous toilet breaks during his hour slot at the live range which Mr Graves put down to his cancer.

When Mr Savage returned from the toilet for the final time, he sat in the corner of the room and Mr Graves said he mentioned wanting to be remembered as a man and made reference to a police assisted suicide.

Mr Graves said Mr Savage pulled two magazines containing between 24 and 30 rounds each towards him before standing up and grabbing the rifle.

Benjamin Aina QC, prosecuting, took Mr Graves through the statement he provided police and said: “Before you even had time to think of what to say, he (Mr Savage) stood up with the rifle which, at first, was pointing downward and you said to him ‘let’s talk’.

“You tried to persuade him to put the rifle down and talk to you. There was a short moment you thought that was what he was going to do. He then told you he didn’t want to hurt you, and that he thought you were a nice guy.

“There were tears in his eyes and then he said to you ‘I am sorry to do this, step away and let me go out, I want to go out and up the A21’.

“You responded by saying ‘put it down, let’s talk. We can talk about it and help get you through’.

“You then stepped towards him to tell him to put the rifle down. He then lifted the rifle up, moved his finger to the trigger and pointed the rifle at your chest. You lost your nerve and decided the best thing was to open up the range and let him leave.

“Before he left reception, you said ‘you don’t have to do that, put that rifle down, we can talk about things’.

“The defendant said ‘I can’t do that, it’s not going to end well for anyone’. He got more abrupt saying ‘open the door, open the door’.

“As he left, he told you to leave it five minutes before you called police. As soon as he left reception you made sure police were called. He left with the rifle and two large magazines with 24-30 bullets loaded in each as well as the magazine which you had just loaded for him during toilet break. You said you saw the two magazines in his trouser pocket.”

Mr Graves said he was able to provide police information about Mr Savage which the suspect had included in a form he was required to complete before entering the live range.

Mr Aina claims Mr Savage left 1066 Target Sports shortly before 8pm and embarked on the ten minute drive to Bexhill Road where, the crown argues, he executed his ex-wife and her mother.

Alan Kent QC, defending, told the court that ‘because of Mr Savage’s actions, two women have lost their lives’.

He told the jury: “We don’t pretend he is not responsible for their loss of life.

“Because what he did by stealing that gun loaded with ammunition and breaking into that house with that loaded firearm was of course a dangerous and unlawful act.

“Once in the house however, the plan in his mind went so badly and tragically wrong. As he said, he was the one who was supposed to die that night, not Michelle and not Heather.

“He was a broken man by March 16. He had been with Michelle for almost ten years, married for five. She had become his world, she had become his life.

“When the relationship broke down, his whole life collapsed. His breakdown manifested itself in extreme behaviour, in anger, upset, despair and some may conclude hatred but he tried everything he could to get her back.

“We don’t ask you to like him but we do ask you to acknowledge the emotional depths he had sunk and the desperation he had felt.”

Earlier in the day, Mr Aina took the jury through the pathology report which showed Michelle Savage had been shot seven times in a downward trajectory.

Mr Aina said Heather Whitbread had been shot six times and each entry wound was on her back, suggesting she had been moving away from the suspect. Heather Whitbread’s body was found in the hallway.

The pathologist report concluded Michelle Savage’s dog Zeus had been killed by a single bullet wound.

The trial, at Lewes Crown Court, continues.

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