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Violent drug user given life sentence for caravan murder

|News, Violent crime

A former amphetamine user from north Derbyshire has been jailed for life for the murder of a man in a caravan at a Shirebrook allotment in January 2020.

Leon Smith (28) attacked Andrew Jackson in the caravan he called home in the early hours of 26 January. Mr Jackson, affectionately known locally as ‘Catman’, was beaten up and killed by a stab wound to the leg that caused him to bleed to death. Mr Jackson lived in the caravan on the allotment on Prospect Drive and was a well-known figure in the local community, particularly among users of the allotment.

Mr Jackson’s body was found on the allotment the following morning after extensive damage to his caravan had been noticed. At first there were no obvious clues as to who was responsible for the attack, but following extensive investigations by Derbyshire police, Smith was identified as the only possible culprit when a series of different strands of evidence were put together. Smith was charged with Mr Jackson’s murder and tried at Derby Crown Court. He was found guilty on Tuesday 7 December and today sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 14 years.

James Whyley from the CPS said: “This was a challenging case to prosecute as there was no single piece of evidence which alone proved Smith’s guilt. However, as the police identified Smith as the suspect by piecing together all the different strands of evidence, so we were able to build a strong case to demonstrate to the jury that he was the only person who could have been responsible.

“Andrew Jackson was a popular character who was always offering to help people out with practical tasks or lending them tools. Leon Smith subjected him to a vicious, prolonged attack and left him to die. He has today faced the consequences of his actions with a sentence that reflects the cruel and unprovoked nature of his attack.

“Mr Jackson’s death and the tragic circumstances in which he was found caused a great deal of shock to the local community and those close to him. Our thoughts and sympathies are with them.”

Building the Case

With many cases like this, a suspect is identified early on from their dealings with the victim or DNA evidence recovered from the scene. In this instance there were no obvious candidates and no DNA evidence available. The investigation, and therefore the case to be presented to the jury, linked different seemingly circumstantial events before and after Mr Jackson’s death to identify Leon Smith as the culprit.

It was clear from witness accounts from people nearby that the suspect had to be known to Mr Jackson. His caravan was close to a stable housing two dogs, who would bark loudly if anyone unknown was nearby. There were no such disturbances on the night of the murder. Smith had previously visited the allotment and Mr Jackson’s caravan.

At the time of the murder, Leon Smith was under the influence of cocaine and amphetamine. He was reported to have admitted to a witness that he felt like killing someone earlier in the evening.

CCTV showed Smith leaving the house where he was staying, which was only metres from the allotment entrance, and walking towards the allotment, carrying a distinctive gun bag. This was a few minutes before a witness from a nearby house witnessed an altercation at the allotment where Mr Jackson’s caravan was located. Smith would have had to have seen the attack if he was not involved. That same witness reported seeing a man fitting the description of Smith going onto the allotment and behaving aggressively. The witness heard this suspect raising his voice to Mr Jackson.

Smith also gave a different account of his movements to the police, including a highly improbable account that much later that evening he had come near to the caravan but turned round and gone in the opposite direction.

The area where the attack took place was remote and secluded. Despite a comprehensive examination of local CCTV footage, nobody else was seen approaching the area.

A very significant piece of evidence was a bruise discovered when Mr Jackson was examined by a pathologist. This matched the distinctive pattern of the pad fitted to the end of the butt of an air rifle owned by Smith. He was seen carrying the weapon to the allotment.

Smith had also been on a spiral of increasing drug use. On the day after the attack, Smith abruptly stopped using drugs. The CPS was able to use this as evidence that he had been involved in a significant event that had caused this sudden change in behaviour.

All placed together, this evidence presented a compelling case to the jury. People giving eyewitness accounts were supported in court to ensure they were able to give their best evidence.

Notes to editors

  • James Whyley is a Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS East Midlands

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