Farmer who murdered wife in 1982 ordered to serve at least 18 years

·4-min read

A retired pig farmer who murdered his wife and dumped her body in a septic tank in 1982 has been ordered to serve life with a minimum term of 18 years.

The sentence passed on David Venables means he would have to reach the age of 107 before he can even apply for parole.

The 89-year-old, who had rekindled a long-standing affair shortly before killing Brenda Venables at their farmhouse, showed no emotion last week as he was found guilty by a 10-2 majority verdict.

David Venables court case
Brenda Venables in the garden of Quaking House Farm, where her body was discovered in 2019 (West Mercia Police/family/PA))

A month-long trial was told Mrs Venables’ body was found in 2019 during work to empty the septic tank at Quaking House Farm, Kempsey, Worcestershire, 37 years after the 48-year-old was reported missing to police.

Her husband, of Elgar Drive, Kempsey, tried to blame Gloucester serial killer Fred West for the murder, while his legal team suggested Mrs Venables may have killed herself.

Passing sentence at Worcester Crown Court on Wednesday, High Court Judge Mrs Justice Tipples said Venables had perpetrated the gravest of crimes.

The judge told the killer, who showed no emotion in the dock, that he was responsible for many aspects of his wife’s mental illness.

Addressing the motive for the murder, she told Venables: “I am sure you killed Brenda Venables to remove her from your life and the complications she may have presented to you in any divorce proceedings.

“There is no doubt an element of greed and selfishness.”

The judge added: “I do not accept that your life expectancy must be short.”

The judge also rejected defence claims that the killing had been carried out in the heat of the moment, telling Venables the whole process of disposing of the body in the septic tank, and then leaving no trace, must have required considerable planning.

She told the pensioner: “You killed Brenda Venables in her own home, where she was recuperating with an injured leg and suffering from depression. You were Brenda’s husband and she should have been able to trust you.

“Your complete lack of respect for Brenda is obvious from your decision to dispose of her body in the septic tank.

“The fact that is what you did with her body is disgusting and repulsive.”

Venables showed no emotion throughout the judge’s lengthy sentencing remarks, but could be heard shouting “no” repeatedly after he was taken out of the courtroom towards the cells.

Human remains found in septic tank
The septic tank where Brenda Venables’ remains went undiscovered for 37 years (Richard Vernalls/PA)

Venables’ lawyers claimed during the trial that Mrs Venables may have left her marital home and “either killed herself or met with or encountered someone who wished her harm”.

The pensioner told jurors he had woken up in the morning to find his wife had vanished, but he was convicted of murdering her on either May 3 or May 4 1982.

The victim’s skull and other bones were discovered in the underground tank on July 12 2019, six years after Venables had sold the property for more than £460,000.

Prior to the life term being imposed, defence barrister Timothy Hannam QC invited the court to consider if the defendant had killed his wife “in the heat of the moment” with a “fleeting” intention to kill.

The disposal of the body in the tank was indicative of a rushed and panicked attempt to cover up the crime, Mr Hannam said.

Mr Hannam added: “The simple fact of the matter is that he is 89 years old and whatever minimum term is imposed today he will die in prison.”

Describing the prospect of Venables living to 100 in prison as illusionary, Mr Hannam added: “Because of that reality it will be a whole life tariff in effect.

“That is a significant point, we submit, to make on his behalf.”

In a joint victim impact statement submitted to the court, the family of Mrs Venables said: “Brenda’s disappearance was devastating for her parents who were in their 80s.

“Brenda was their main carer, shopping and looking after them, so the impact on them was both emotional and practical.

“They just couldn’t understand how Brenda could simply disappear. Her father Harold longed for her return and never gave up hope.

“He died heartbroken two-and-a-half years later.”

Relatives of Brenda Venables
Nieces and nephews of Brenda Venables listen outside court as a statement is read by their family liaison officer, Detective Constable Claire Masters (Matthew Cooper/PA)

The family statement added: “The horrendous circumstances in which she was found have been very difficult for her whole family to come to terms with.

“The thought that Brenda lay there for over 37 years undiscovered whilst the septic tank continued to be used is simply unthinkable.

“We will never be able to forgive David Venables as a family for what he did. It’s impossible to come to terms with the fact that Brenda’s life was taken by the very person who should have loved and protected her.”

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