Monday 14 October 2019

Wealthy farmer 'wanted to punish' estranged wife by refusing divorce, murder trial told

William 'Bill' Taylor
William 'Bill' Taylor Newsdesk Newsdesk

The son of a wealthy farmer allegedly murdered by his estranged wife has said his father had wanted to punish her by refusing to agree to a divorce.

William "Bill" Taylor was last seen at his home of Harkness Hall in Gosmore, Hertfordshire, on June 3 last year - a few days before his 70th birthday.

He was missing for eight months before a member of the public found his body in a river in February.

His wife of 20 years and her new lover are on trail for murder after text messages between the two revealed them fantasising about killing him.

Several days before he went missing, Mr Taylor's Land Rover had been seriously damaged by fire after an fuel-soaked towel was set alight inside it.

Angela Taylor, 53, and Paul Cannon, 54, both of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, deny murder, arson and an alternative charge of conspiracy to murder.

A third defendant, Gwyn Griffiths, 60, of Folkestone in Kent, is charged with murder and conspiracy to murder for allegedly assisting in the killing in exchange for money.

Taylor had twice initiated divorce proceedings - in 2014 and 2018 - but her husband had refused to co-operate.

Mr Taylor's eldest son Richard, 44, told St Albans Crown Court on Monday that his father and stepmother were living separately but his father still refused her request for a divorce.

"(My father) said she had made him suffer for 20 years, so he was going to make her suffer for five," he said.

Richard Taylor had been estranged from his father for two and a half years after a row at a pheasant shoot on their family land in 2015, and had only reconciled in the April before his disappearance.

The witness admitted smashing the wing mirror of his father's cattle truck during the row, blaming his outburst on the behaviour of his stepmother and one of his three half siblings.

"Angela was there at the gate laughing with her youngest son.

"I was sad to see his family that loved him so was just falling apart and she was there enjoying it and laughing," he said.

He also admitted punching his father in 2008 in an argument over his childhood home being left to Taylor in his father's will, although he said he was angry about his father constantly apologising rather than the contents of the will.

He said: "I've only ever hit him once and I've regretted it from that day to this and I will regret it for ever more."

During the murder investigation, Richard Taylor was questioned about his movements before his father's disappearance but he denied he was concerned about being treated as a suspect.

In one statement to police, he said: "Angela always wanted, and she succeeded, in making me and my father hate each other."

Michael Magarian QC, for Cannon, accused Richard Taylor of killing his father and seeking to frame his stepmother and her partner.

Mr Magarian said: "I suggest one of two things has happened in this case.

"Either something had happened on the Saturday (before the disappearance) where your father has been accidentally killed by you after an assault and then you've put the body on (Angela Taylor's) property - on Dog Kennel Farm - to implicate her.

"Or the alternative is that he died in some other way.

"I'm suggesting that if foul play occurred, then you did it."

Richard Taylor replied: "That's a total lie. May God forgive you."

Cannon, a farm labourer, started a sexual relationship with Angela Taylor in late 2017 while living rent-free at Harkness Hall as a lodger with Mr Taylor, jurors have been told.

The jury previously heard Angela Taylor and Cannon had exchanged messages fantasising about murdering her husband.

In the early hours of June 2, around 48 hours before Mr Taylor was last seen, Cannon messaged her saying he wanted to "get rid of that poisonous c***".

He said: "You know what I'd like to do... make love to you on his kitchen table... with him tied to a chair so he had to watch !!!!!!! Then send him to hell."

She replied: "Think that would kill him, last thing he saw was us making love xxxxxx."

DNA taken from the towel found in the Land Rover matched the profile of Cannon and also of Gavin Foulds - the adult son of Taylor from a relationship before she met Mr Taylor - who was living with her at the time.

The trial has already heard it was not possible to determine the precise cause of Mr Taylor's death because of the advanced stage of decomposition, as the body had been partly submerged in water for eight months.

Pathologist Charlotte Randall told jurors that the post-mortem examination showed "severe decomposition".

The jury heard that no natural cause of death such as disease was identified, there was no sign of blunt force injuries, and no evidence of gunshot or stab wounds.

Dr Randall told the court there was a "possible fracture of one of the delicate neck structures" called the hyoid bone, "raising the possibility of compression to the neck prior to death".

She said it is not common to sustain a fracture to the upper neck area as a result of accidental trauma.

Dr Randall also said she could not completely exclude the possibility of smothering.

She said death due to drowning should be considered due to the fact his body was found in water, but added that a test was carried out with results that supported the view that he was not alive when he entered the water.

Dr Randall said the features of how he was found were not typical of when death has occurred by suicidal drowning.

The pathologist said the cause of death was "unascertained".

The trial continues, and is expected to last for eight weeks.

PA Media

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