Former soldier jailed for life for murder of ex-wife and her mother

Craig Savage.
Craig Savage.

A former soldier jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering his estranged wife and her mother.

After two hours of deliberations, a jury found Craig Savage, 35, of no fixed abode, intentionally shot dead Michelle Savage, 32, and Heather Whitbread, 53, at their home in Bexhill Road, St Leonards, on March 16, 2018.

The jury – which contained ten women and two men – at Lewes Crown Court found Savage not guilty of possessing a firearm with the intent to endanger life.

Savage previously pleaded guilty to robbing a range manager at 1066 Target Sports of an M4 semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle on the day of the shootings.

During his trial, Savage told the court he was at fault for the deaths of Ms Savage and Ms Whitbread but denied their murders.

He told the court he had intended to kidnap his ex-wife on March 16 and have the police kill him in front of her in a ‘cop-assisted suicide’ as revenge for her ending their five-year marriage a month before.

However, prosecutors claimed Savage drove to Ms Savage’s address with the intention to kidnap her but when that plan did not work, he decided to ‘execute’ her, her mother and her pet dog Zeus.

The court was previously told, on the day of the shootings, Savage drove from his friend’s house in Uttoxeter to a shooting range at 1066 Target Sports.

While there, Savage robbed Ryan Graves, an employee at the complex, of the rifle used in the shootings at gunpoint before getting in his car and driving ‘slowly’ to the property in Bexhill Road, St Leonards, Savage told the court.

Savage said he fired five shots at the base of a window at the front of the Bexhill Road property and used the muzzle of the rifle to move shards of glass out of the way before climbing in.

At the time, Ms Savage was eating a Chinese takeaway with her mother Ms Whitbread and her sister Raven Whitbread who was then seven months pregnant, the court was told. Ms Savage’s grandmother Patricia Groves was in an annex at the back of the property, jurors were told.

Savage claimed, once inside the house, a struggle ensued with his ex-wife – who he said had ran at him like a rhino once he got into the house – and the gun went off in ‘every direction’.

While Savage was inside the property, 14 shots were fired in four separate groupings, according to ballistics expert Robert Griffiths.

A pathologist found seven shots were fired at Ms Savage - some in a downward trajectory - causing 13 wounds. She was found in the sitting room, the court was told.

Six shots were fired at Ms Whitbread, with most bullets hitting her back, according to the pathologist. The court was told she was found in the hallway.

Both Ms Savage and Ms Whitbread were each found to have a muzzle mark surrounding at least one wound, according to the pathologist, suggesting the rifle was ‘against or close’ to the bodies when it was fired.

One shot was fired at Ms Savage’s dog Zeus, the pathologist concluded.

The court was told Savage was inside the property for approximately three minutes.

In CCTV footage shown to the court during the trial, Savage is seen walking away from the property after the shootings with the rifle in full visibility in his right hand.

Armed police officers who were responding to the robbery from 1066 Target Sports were also seen in the CCTV footage chasing Savage down Bexhill Road and shouting at him shortly after he left the property.

Savage is then seen turning, dropping to a knee and pointing his rifle in the direction of the armed officers.

Prosecutors claimed Savage intended to shoot the police but his gun jammed, before he ran into the car park towards the beach where he was arrested approximately two hours later.

Savage told the court he heard a noise before turning towards the police. He said he hoped officers would shoot him but when they did not he decided to flee the scene to ‘create space’ so an ambulance could attend the two injured women. He denied firing his rifle at police.

The jury at Lewes Crown Court previously heard the defendant and Ms Savage - who lived together in Bexhill Road with Ms Whitbread for seven years - met nine years ago when Savage worked on the doors at a pub in Bracknell.

They had been married for five years before they split on February 12, 2018.

Savage moved out of the property on the day the relationship ended and went to live with a friend in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, the court was told.

The court was previously read text messages and emails between Savage and his estranged wife from February 15 to February 25 where the accused became increasingly aggressive and threatening, prosecutors claimed.

The court was told of an occasion Ms Savage took some of her ex husband’s belongings to him in Uttoxeter when the accused threatened to share pornographic pictures of her if she refused to sleep with him.

When she refused, Savage went through with the threat on March 3, the court was told.

On March 7 - the eve of Ms Savage’s birthday - Savage slashed her tyres and poured paint on hers and her family’s cars, the jury was told.

The court was told Ms Savage reported her ex-husband to the police at the end of February - after he had made threats to share revenge porn - as well as at the start of March after he vandalised her car.

A spokesman for the Independent Office for Police Conduct said: “Our investigators are exploring final lines of enquiry relating to the contact Sussex Police had with Michelle Savage prior to her death and the death of her mother Heather Whitbread on 16 March 2018.

“We have gathered and analysed CCTV footage, obtained statements from police witnesses and conducted interviews. We have also provided family members and Sussex Police with regular updates as the investigation progresses.

“One member of civilian staff was informed that their conduct may have breached the standards of professional behaviour. This does not necessarily mean that misconduct proceedings will follow.

“Once we have concluded all lines of enquiry and finalised our report it will be shared with all interested parties namely family members and Sussex Police. At that stage we will consider releasing more details from our investigation.”

The court was also told Savage accused his estranged wife of infecting him with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which was later found to have been a false accusation.

The court was also read a text Savage sent his father the day before the shootings when he spoke of the ‘indescribable hatred’ he had for his ex wife.

Prosecutors claimed it was this ‘indescribable hatred’ which drove him to execute Ms Savage and Ms Whitbread.

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’Indescribable hatred’ drove Craig Savage to murder, court is told