Flamstead man given life imprisonment for murder of grandmother Christine Ford
PUBLISHED: 17:21 03 January 2020 | UPDATED: 09:23 04 January 2020
A Flamstead man has been sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his 71-year-old neighbour after becoming infatuated with her.
Brian Coote, 65, was sentenced at Luton Crown Court after pleading guilty during a hearing on Thursday, January 2, and will serve a minimum of 15 years.
Coote, who was described as an "oddball" in the village, pleaded guilty to murdering his neighbour Christine Ford in July last year at the historic almshouses where they lived, after she spurned his advances.
He had previously brought Christine a bracelet, which she did not want, and when he asked her for a kiss at a village fete she said 'no'. He also told her that if he won the lottery he would buy a house for the two of them.
Christine, a grandmother of four who was described as "attractive and vibrant", was not interested and told Coote they could just be friends.
While Coote was normally scruffy, the day before the murder he smartened himself up, showered, combed his hair and put on a fresh polo shirt and jeans. His change in appearance was noted by other Flamstead locals because it was so unusual.
The following day, July 25, Coote continued to appear well-dressed around the village. He visited the local pub then left at around 6.30pm to return to his almshouse. Christine had been out with her grandchildren, but was now home alone.
Coote attacked Christine at his almshouse cottage at some point between 7.15pm and 8.20pm. He struck her with a hammer, fracturing her skull, and stabbed her 18 times in the neck, chest and abdomen with a knife, causing fatal wounds. The attack may have started outside, as blood was found on a plant pot.
Prosecutor Mary Prior said: "She must have fought back because of the cuts in her hand and she must have suffered a prolonged and painful death. Even on his own account, he said she was conscious after the hammer strike."
After the murder, Coote laid out her lifeless body in his kitchen in a posed position with her arm behind her head. He then fled the scene in his car, hiding out in his nearby allotment and sleeping in his car until the police found and arrested him.
The court was told that Coote never gave an explanation as to why he murdered Christine. Detectives believe his sudden 'sprucing up' could have been part of an attempt to impress his neighbour and win her affections.
Miss Prior said that Coote, a gardener and car mechanic, had lived all his life in Flamstead with his parents until their deaths. In the village he was known as an "odd individual".
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Christine, a former hairdresser, had moved to Flamstead in 2014 to be closer to her son, his wife and their two young children. She tended the flowers at the nearby St Leonard's Church, played a big role in the life of the church and visited elderly villagers. Her own parents, both aged 95, were still alive and she visited them regularly to help with their care.
Miss Prior said Coote did not like others using the communal pathway at the rear of his property, or when Christine's grandchildren visited or she hung out extra washing on the line in her garden. He was unhappy about the noise when she went to empty her bins. Unsent letters and notes expressing his annoyance with Christine were found in his home after her death.
At the time of her death, Christine was planning to move to a larger almshouse with a bigger garden, but she still got on with Coote and continued to be a "good and kind neighbour" to him.
Miss Prior said that Coote developed feelings for Christine in the months prior to her death. She said: "He would make out to others in the village that Christine Ford had strong feelings for him, which was not true. She had no sexual or romantic interest in him."
Judge Andrew Bright was told that Christine's family are haunted by the fact that in her final moments she would have been alone and terrified. Her 95-year-old parents said in a letter to the court that they never expected to attend the funeral of their first child.
Coote's barrister, Jonathan Woodcock, said the defendant was believed to be a "gentle giant" by villagers, and said the offence was "out of character and baffling".
In a statement, Christine's family said: "On behalf of all of Chris's family we would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, with special thanks to our family liaison officers Jo-Anne Kerr and Barry Townson, who have been a constant support to us. We do not know how we would have got through this without them. Also a special thank you to Justine Jenkins, who has led the investigation along with her team.
"We are relieved that this has come to a conclusion today, however it will never bring our beautiful mother Chris back; we miss her dearly every day.
"We will have to live with the truly horrific actions of Brian Coote for the rest of our lives, but we will do everything in our power to make sure that she isn't remembered for the frenzied, brutal and cowardly way that Brian cut her life short.
"Instead we will endeavour to make sure she is remembered for the loving, caring, unassuming and beautiful person she was, and for how much joy she brought to so many people. We will keep her memory alive for her grandchildren that she adored, and whom adored her.
"As a family we will now start to rebuild our lives, but Chris will never be far from our thoughts."
Detective Chief Insp Justine Jenkins, from the BCH Major Crime Unit, led the investigation and said: "Our thoughts remain with Chris's family and friends at what continues to be a very difficult time for them.
"Coote inflicted a brutal, unprovoked and prolonged attack on an innocent grandmother who was vibrant and full of life. She absolutely doted on her family and life will never be the same for them without Chris.
"No sentence will ever make up for what they have been through and what they have lost, but I hope that it enables them to begin the grieving process now they don't have to relive events through a trial."