Murder case raises concerns over crossbow danger

Helen Pidd North of England editor
·3-min read

A coroner is to raise concerns at a national level about the danger posed by crossbows after opening the inquest of a man murdered with one by a neighbour in a dispute over noise.

Housing officer Shane Gilmer, 30, was killed by Tony Lawrence, who lived in the adjoining semi-detached house in Southburn, a village in east Yorkshire, and had broken in via their shared loft. The 55-year-old also shot Gilmer’s partner, Laura Sugden, who was 20 weeks pregnant with their child.

She survived after receiving life-saving treatment and went on to have a healthy baby girl, Hull coroner’s court heard on Monday.

Senior coroner Prof Paul Marks expressed his surprise that the purchase of such crossbows was “completely unregulated”, telling the inquest he would be writing a report to the chief coroner expressing his concerns about the weapons, under “section 28” regulations designed to prevent future deaths.

The jury at Monday’s inquest heard that shortly before the murder, Lawrence, 55, had recently been served with an eviction notice after complaints from Gilmer and Sugden.

The couple told their joint letting agency that Lawrence had threatened Gilmer with an axe after he complained about Lawrence playing music and his TV too loud, and that they suspected he was dealing cannabis from the property. Sugden believed her daughter’s asthma had got worse because of cannabis fumes seeping into her bedroom from a shared air vent.

They also informed Humberside police but were told that it was “our word against his”, Sugden told the jury.

The agency did not tell Lawrence why he was being evicted, but he suspected his neighbours were responsible. Shortly after he was told to leave, two lots of horse manure were dumped in the couple’s garden, Sugden said.

Giving evidence on Monday, Sugden described how Lawrence launched his attack after she and Gilmer returned from a night out on 12 January 2018.

She said she went upstairs to put the electric blanket on when she noticed a black mark on the carpet underneath the loft hatch.

It later emerged Lawrence had secretly knocked down a wall dividing their shared loft and broken in via the hatch, lying in wait in Sugden’s older daughter’s bedroom. He killed Gilmer with a single crossbow bolt to the body.

Sugden told the jury Lawrence called her a “lying bitch” after she tried to claim she had nothing to do with his eviction. He said he had been listening to her conversations through the wall for a year. When she asked for mercy after saying she was pregnant, he said he already knew.

He then shot her in the head, but she managed to pull the arrow out and ran to a neighbour’s house for help. As she was escaping, a car “zoomed past”, which she assumed was Lawrence making his getaway.

The pathologist, Dr Matthew Lyall, told the jury Gilmer had a previously undetected heart abnormality, which may have made him more vulnerable to blood loss.

He said that although it was the first crossbow murder victim he had examined, other colleagues had dealt with similar cases. “This is happening all around the country,” he said.

Hearing this, Marks said it would “strengthen my resolve to make a section 28 report” about the “completely unregulated” market for this “deadly and vicious weapon”.

The inquest continues.