Wheelie bin killers jailed for life

By Crown Court Reporter in Crime

Two men have been jailed for life for murdering a former Teignbridge drug user whose body was found dumped in a wheelie bin.

Drug dealer Thomas Killen and addict Brett Edwards attacked victim James Woodhouse over a £700 cocaine debt and left him dying in a squalid flat in Exeter.

Mr Woodhouse - whose descent into drugs dependency and debt saw him dossing down with pals in Teignmouth and taking shoplifting sorties to Newton Abbot to pay for his habit - was knocked unconscious during the punishment beating.

He suffered at least two heavy blows and died from an injury to his neck which he suffered as he fell over.

His attackers fled the flat but Edwards returned after a few days, found Mr Woodhouse dead, and then tried to dispose of his body using a stolen wheelie bin.

He was caught on CCTV as he and a friend stole the bin from a store behind shops at St Thomas. He got the bin into the flat at Okehampton Road but was not strong enough to get the body into it.

Police found 30-year-old Mr Woodhouse’s body swathed in bedding and jammed half-in and half- out of the bin which was lying on its side on the floor.

Edwards was the tenant of the flat but had moved out and lured former army sniper and charity worker Mr Woodhouse into stay there so Killen could beat him up in revenge for an unpaid £700 drug debt.

A judge branded Edwards as a Judas for having set up the attack and told both men they had increased the misery of the victim’s family by concealing the body for so long they were not allowed to view it.

Killen, aged 33, of North Lawn Court, and Edwards, aged 37, of Okehampton Road, both denied murder but were found guilty.

They were both jailed for life by Judge Sir John Royce at Exeter Crown Court. He ordered they both serve a minimum term of 17 years.

He told them:"Mr Woodhouse had a job as a manager at a charity and was described as reliable, outgoing, and funny. His recreational use of drugs developed into an addiction and he became heavily dependent on heroin and crack cocaine.

"He was sucked into a drug dealing world as a runner to pay for his addiction. Killen, you are a much bigger fish in that world. By October 2016 Mr Woodhouse owed you a debt of about £700. It is clear from this case that drugs debts result in beatings.

"You, Edwards, purported to be a friend of Mr Woodhouse. If ever there was a Judas in this murky plot, it was you. You lured him to your flat and betrayed him to Killen. You set him up.

"He was frightened of Killen and there is no way he would have thought for a moment of allowing him in but for your trick. The two of you went there intent on violence. He must have been terrified and have realised you had betrayed him.

"Only you know precisely what happened, with two of you there and being part of this vicious assault. It is clear the truth has not been told by either of you.

"This poor defenceless man stood no chance and the two of you were apparently uninjured. You left him unconscious and possibly dead. You locked him in and left.

"A dead man’s body decomposes and that is what happened. You did not care a jot. You, Edwards, boasted about what you had done while Killed stayed in the shadows.

"In this case we have had the unattractive spectacle of you each trying to blame each other for this young man’s death. The fact that his body was found in such a condition has had a profound effect on the victim’s family."

The Judge praised the investigation team which was led by Detective Inspector Greg Dawe and said the investigation had been very thorough and successful.

During the trial the jury heard how Mr Woodhouse, aged 30, had been a soldier, a window salesman, and charity fund raiser before his life was destroyed by his addiction to cocaine.

Within the a couple of years of starting to use the drug he had lost everything. He was sponging beds for the night with friends in Teignmouth and Exeter, living rough, or staying at a caravan near Crediton.

He died at a housing association flat in Okehampton Road, Exeter, which Edwards had shared with his mother until her death last year.

He could no longer bear to live there because of his memories of her and was in the process of being evicted when he invited Mr Woodhouse to stay there.

Mr Woodhouse owed money to Killen and at least one other gang of drug dealers and there was a bounty on his head which would be paid to anyone who could track him down and beat him up.

At the time of his death in November he was paying for his own habit by selling drugs for others but his use of cocaine was so great that he used what he should have been selling and got even deeper into debt.

Edwards was a heroin addict who made his living as a full time professional shoplifter. He was so well known in the centre of Exeter that he stayed away from its shops.

He bribed fellow drug users into giving him lifts to towns around the area, including Plymouth, Newton Abbot and Sidmouth on shoplifting trips. They would split the proceeds and sell the stolen goods so they could buy heroin.

Edwards’s life had also been wrecked by drugs. At one time he had been a chef, working at the Plume of Feathers in Okehampton, but lost a string of jobs because his addiction made him unreliable and unemployable.

He met Killen through his thieving. Killen, is a convicted cocaine dealer who had gone back into business after been released after serving a five year sentence imposed at Exeter Crown Court in 2012.

A sinister aspect of that case is that he was found with a replica police uniform, complete with utility belt and stab vest, stored alongside his £8,000 stock of drugs at a lock-up garage in Coates Road, Exeter.

He was a fitness fanatic, body builder and personal trainer whose ambition was to set up his own gym. He bought stolen tubs of proteins and dietary supplements from Edwards.

Killen had supplied drugs to Mr Woodhouse in the past and was owed money by him. Killen claimed it was only £200 and he had written it off, but Edwards said it was £700.

Both men were driven by Killen’s girlfriend to the Okehampton Street flat at lunchtime on November 11 last year. The prosecution said that either they both took part in the fatal attack or that Edwards shared responsibility because he helped Killen find the victim.

They left Mr Woodhouse either unconscious or semi conscious in the flat and a few days later Edwards googled a description of his open eyes and gasping breath to find out the likely outcome.

He went back at least twice over the next eight days, probably finding the body on the first occasion and returning to try to dispose of it.

He persuaded his friend Colin Murphy to help him steal a commercial wheelie bin from sheds behind the St Thomas shopping precinct and he wheeled it to the flat but was unable to get the body fully inside.

During a five week trial they blamed each other for the killing. Killen said Edwards duped him into giving him a lift to the flat and he had stayed in the doorway while the Edwards attacked Mr Woodhouse. He claimed he walked out and left them fighting.

Edwards initially told friends he and Killen had carried out the attack together but told the jury he had not been at the flat at all and only learned of the attack when Killen told him a few days later.

The case exposed the murky world of drugs into which Mr Woodhouse had descended. He came from York and was known as Woody or Northern because of his accent.

His family and friends who had worked with him were distraught at how he turned from being a funny, cheerful, and successful salesman to being unemployed, unemployable and homeless.

Mr Woodhouse had previously worked for Safestyle Windows in Plymouth and as a charity fundraiser in Exeter but former colleagues told the jury how he had been destroyed by drugs.

Friend Jason Smith said he and his wife made repeated efforts to help Mr Woodhouse and encourage him to seek help for his heroin and crack addictions.

He said they had taken him into their home during the summer of 2016 after finding him living in squalor at a flat in Brunswick Street, Exeter, where he was surrounded by rubbish and used pipes and needles.

He had stayed until September when he was thrown out after being caught using drugs in his room.

He said:"That was the last time I saw him. He was crying and apologising. When I first knew him he was a funny, reliable man who was always there when you needed him.

"I would not have met my wife but for him and he was the best man at out wedding. He is still the best man I have ever known.

"By the time I last saw him, he was withdrawn and totally the opposite of how he had been."

Christopher West, who worked with Mr Woodhouse at Safestyle in Plymouth said:"When I first knew him he took pride in his appearance but he changed so much in the last six months of his life and was looking quite bad.

"I had been out of touch for about a year and knew he had been using heroin and he looked completely different. My girlfriend did not recognise him. I advised him to get help.

"He was all over the place and became homeless for a while. I let him sleep in my car in Teignmouth a few times and he was also living in a caravan near Crediton.

"The last time I spoke he was saying about how he wanted to sort out his life and get off drugs."

He said Mr Woodhouse had told him he owed money for drugs and had mentioned a debt of £2,000 to a Liverpool gang called Frankie, which had offered to pay anyone who beat him up.

After his death Mr Woodhouse’s family released a tribute through the police.

They said:"We are left absolutely devastated by his death. James was a larger than life character who had a wicked sense of humour.

"He lived life to the full and was the life and soul of the party. We are all very proud of the person he was, and are particularly proud of the recent fundraising work he did raising money for charities.

"We miss him dearly but will forever have many, many happy memories of him."

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