Septic tank murder allegation based on guesswork, farmer’s defence team says

The prosecution case against a retired farmer accused of murdering his wife in 1982 is based on guesswork and speculation, his QC has told a jury.

Lawyers acting for David Venables, 89, told Worcester Crown Court it would have been an “act of madness” for him to have hidden his wife’s body in a septic tank close to their marital home.

Prosecutors claim the pensioner murdered his wife Brenda and dumped her body in the tank at Quaking House Farm in Kempsey, Worcestershire, where it was discovered in 2019.

Human remains found in septic tank
The cover of the septic tank at the property in Kempsey, Worcestershire, where Brenda Venables’ remains were found in 2019 (Richard Vernalls/PA)

Venables, who has previously claimed Gloucester serial killer Fred West may have been responsible for his wife’s death, has told the trial he searched in vain for her after waking up to find her missing on May 4 1982.

He reported his wife’s disappearance later the same day, and claims police did search the tank during their initial inquiries.

In his closing speech to jurors on Friday, defence barrister Timothy Hannam QC questioned why Venables, now of Elgar Drive, Kempsey, would have sold the farmhouse if he knew his wife’s body was inside the tank.

The lawyer, who suggested that Mrs Venables’ death may have been suicide, told the court: “It would have been an act of madness for him to put Brenda Venables’ body in his septic tank. It was way too close to home.”

Venables had got someone else to empty the tank on at least one occasion, asked a contractor to add an extra chamber to it, and then sold the property in 2014, Mr Hannam said.

The QC asserted: “Everything he has done since is inconsistent with him putting Brenda in the septic tank.

“Who in their right mind would ask someone to empty a septic tank knowing that their wife’s body was in it? Who on earth would do that?”

Urging the jury to return the “only fair verdict” of not guilty, Mr Hannam said: “There was no direct evidence whatsoever of how Brenda Venables came to die or about how her body came to enter the septic tank.

“The Crown’s case is circumstantial. We say it’s based on a series of assumptions mixed with guesswork and speculation.”

Mr Hannam said a friend of Mrs Venables’ instinct at the time of her disappearance was that the 48-year-old might have drowned herself in a water butt.

The QC told the jury: “It’s far from incredible that she may have chosen to kill herself in the septic tank and it has to be incredible for you to dismiss that as a possibility.

“It (the tank) was very close to the house.”

A worker or a passer-by may have replaced the lid of the tank, Mr Hannam suggested, due to it posing a danger while open.

“There was no suicide note, but so what,” Mr Hannam added. “In Brenda’s mind there was an uncaring husband and no children to apologise to.

“Suicide, we say, cannot fairly be dismissed out of hand.”

Mr Hannam said of the tank: “The Crown’s case is that no one else could possibly have known about it.

“There were lots of footpaths in the vicinity of the farmhouse and the septic tank. It’s not secluded at all.

“The village policeman, the first on the scene, he remembered seeing a concrete pad or slab. It was not invisible.

“It was a major error by the Crown to claim that it was when opening the case to you.”

Mr Hannam added: “The evidence does not support the case. It’s true that there were was no sign of a break-in but it’s also true that there was no sign of a disturbance at all.”

The defence QC invited the jury to conclude that Mrs Venables had left the house clothed rather than in her nightie, because her clothes were found with her skeleton inside the tank.

Mr Hannam added: “Had she been woken by a noise? Had she agreed to meet anyone? Had she just got up in her depressed morning state and gone for a wander?

“We know she was profoundly mentally unwell at the time. It is not beyond the realms of reason that she simply walked out of the house that morning and either killed herself or met with or encountered someone who wished her harm.

“How after 40 years do you rule that out as an impossibility?”

During his closing remarks, Mr Hannam also asked the jury to consider the “comprehensive” police search in 1982, which involved a helicopter fitted with thermal imaging equipment.

Venables denies murder. The trial continues.