Life sentences for pair who shot advertising executive during botched robbery
TWO men found guilty of the murder of insurance executive Guy Hedger during a botched burglary at his Ringwood mansion have been jailed for life.
Kevin Downton and Jason Baccus will each serve at least 34 years behind bars for the callous close range shooting of Guy Hedger just before 3am on Sunday 30th April last year.
The 61-year-old sustained fatal shotgun injuries after two masked raiders broke into the Castlewood home he shared with his husband Simon Pierre Hedger-Cooper. During the hold-up the perpetrators ransacked the house and took jewellery worth £124,000.
At Winchester Crown Court on Monday, a jury unanimously convicted Downton, a 40-year-old carpenter and father-of-two, of pulling the trigger, and 42-year-old Baccus as being his accomplice. The verdicts brought an end to a high-profile eight-week trial.
Neither Downton, of Winterborne Stickland, near Blandford, or Baccus, of Verney Close, West Howe, showed any emotion when the verdicts were announced and they were sentenced.
They were found guilty of murder, aggravated burglary, possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and burgling a commercial premises elsewhere on the same night.
Sentencing the pair – who are both drug addicts – Judge Robert Jay said: “The invasion of the couple's property had been planned by both of you, and I am satisfied both of your roles were equal. This was a murder for gain, which involved the use of a firearm.”
Judge Jay said the murder had involved a significant degree of planning and premeditation but was also “amateurish and incompetent”.
He went on: “You may have been out of your depths, but the risk of taking a loaded gun into someone's bedroom was as evident to you as anyone. The tragedy that occurred was on the cards.”
Addressing Downton, Judge Jay said he had “a cold, ruthless streak” and did not hesitate to use the gun when he felt it became necessary.
Turning to Baccus, he said: “Although you did not discharge the gun, I am satisfied you and Downton were equal partners in crime. I would not describe you as a ruthless individual, but you have shown no evidence of remorse.”
But a husband and wife from Verney Close, West Howe, who also went on trial were cleared of having any involvement in the murder or its aftermath.
Scott Keeping (44) was found not guilty of murder, aggravated burglary and possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. Helen Keeping (40) – who is also known as Helen Cooper – was cleared of assisting her husband and Baccus.
The prosecution had claimed Mr Keeping was waiting in a getaway car and Mrs Keeping handled items stolen in the raid. But they insisted they were at home in bed while the armed robbery was being carried out and Baccus had stashed the stolen loot.
The jury was told the raiders, clad all in black and wearing balaclavas or snoods, got into the Hedgers’ home through a garage window. They ordered the terrified couple to lie on their bed facing a wall and warned: “We will shoot you if you do not do what we say.”
Downton stood over them with the shotgun while Baccus raided an adjoining dressing room and filled a bag with a large haul of jewellery, including Cartier watches and Tiffany bracelets.
Baccus also discovered two safes and the robbers aggressively demanded the code – which Mr Hedger struggled to remember. Mr Hedger-Cooper then pushed a panic button.
As the alarms sounded, Downton shot Mr Hedger at point blank range in the chest and he and Baccus fled to a nearby getaway car.
With Mr Hedger bleeding on the floor, Mr Hedger-Cooper rushed to his bedside table but discovered the landline phone and his iPhone had been stolen by the offenders.
He used another house phone to make a frantic 999 call for help, but despite the best efforts of the police, paramedics and hospital doctors, Mr Hedger died at 5am that morning.
A post-mortem examination found Mr Hedger, who wore a pacemaker, suffered a large injury to the left side of his chest, as well as a number of pellet wounds.
Wadding from the gun cartridge was later found embedded in his body. Further tests revealed lead in his heart, stomach, liver and a kidney.
A major investigation, led by Dorset Police’s major crime investigation team, established a Ford Focus bought by Baccus and Scott Keeping in the days before the murder was seen by a dog walker in David’s Lane, which leads to Castlewood, around 12.30am to 12.40am on Sunday 30th April.
It is believed the walker disturbed two men in it at the time – thought to be Baccus and Downton – and they left a short time later to commit burglaries of commercial properties in Verwood.
The Ford Focus was seen on CCTV to return shortly before the murder and was driven away at speed at 3.03am.
Two cigarette butts were also found discarded in David’s Lane, near where the dog walker had seen the Ford Focus. Tests showed they had Baccus’ DNA on them.
A phone belonging to Downton was linked to masts in the area of Castlewood before and after the incident. Some of the stolen jewellery was later discovered hidden in a vent in a flat in Verney Close, concealed in undergrowth in areas of open land in West Howe and in the recovered Ford Focus.
A sawn-off shotgun and cartridges were recovered from the River Stour in the Canford Magna area of Wimborne.
Judge Jay paid tribute to the thorough investigation by the police and also thanked the jury, some of whom were seen to wipe away tears, for their attention to the case.
Speaking after the sentencing, Det. Ch. Insp. Sarah Derbyshire, from the major crime investigation team, said it was a “horrendous and violent crime” and Downton and Baccus showed a “total disregard” for human life.
“Nothing will ever bring Guy back but I hope the verdict of the jury will bring some level of comfort that his attackers are firmly behind bars,” DCI Derbyshire said.
The case had been “absolutely awful” for Mr Hedger’s husband, Simon Hedger-Cooper, she went on, adding: “I just hope today's result is of some comfort to him and makes him feel safer in his home.”