Died 14th March 2003
Jane Longhurst (31) was strangled to death in a flat in Waterloo Street, Brighton, Sussex on 14th March 2003. Her body was desecrated and later found burning in woodland in Wiggonholt Common near Pulborough, West Sussex on 19th April. Graham Coutts (then 35) was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Jane Longhurst was a very popular special needs teacher and talented viola player, who lived in Shaftesbury Road, Brighton, with her partner. She worked at a local school and assisted with the Brighton Youth Orchestra.
Coutts was the partner of Ms Longhurst’s close friend, Lisa Stevens, also a teacher. He killed Jane Longhurst at the flat he shared with Ms Stevens in Waterloo Street, Hove. He is believed to have raped her when she was unconscious and to have sexually abused her body when dead. He kept the body for 35 days, at first in a shed, and later, in a storage box, at the Big Yellow storage warehouse in Brighton. He visited her body at the warehouse on several occasions for short periods. Detectives found a used condom and strongly suspected sexual activity. On 18th April, Coutts wheeled the box containing Ms Longhurst’s now very de-composed body to his car, kept it overnight and then the next day drove out to the countryside and set her body on fire.
Liz Longhurst believes her daughter had been “groomed” by Coutts so she wouldn’t suspect him. She said “I think about Jane all the time. I still have questions. I do think about how much planning he had done. Had he been watching Jane, just biding his time? She went to his home to see the new kitten he and Lisa had bought. I feel that even that was a ploy to reel her in. Jane was so gentle, so trusting. She was easy bait.”
Police believe Coutts may have been particularly attracted by Jane Longhurst because she was pretty and had an air of innocence about her. She also looked very young and had a very beautiful neck. Her mother described her as a “very spiritual person”.
Jailing Coutts for life, Judge Richard Brown said: “Everything that this court has heard about Jane showed her to be the sort of person who enriched all those who came into contact with her. The undoubted love of her partner, her life, her work and her music and her family screamed out of every page of the evidence I have heard in this case. In seeking perverted sexual gratification by way of your sordid and evil fantasies you have taken her life and devastated the lives of all those she loved and who loved her. By persisting in your denial you have put them through the ordeal of this courtroom and have forced them to live the last moments of her life and by the unbelievable degradation of her body you have shown not one jot of remorse.”
Coutts had had a fascination with strangling women since he was 15 years old and had a history of abusive behaviour towards females. Former partner Sandra Gates reported that he once said: “I want to rape and strangle a woman.” This was some 10 years before he killed Ms Longhurst. Another ex-partner told how she caught him hiding in a wardrobe watching her young daughter undress. The woman was so worried she persuaded him to seek professional help. Two former girlfriends of Coutts were reported to have agreed to his requests for “consensual” strangulation.
Coutts saw a psychiatrist with the old Brighton Health Authority in the early Nineties but after an initial consultation refused treatment. He told a doctor that he feared he would one day kill a woman. The court heard he regularly viewed extreme pornography on the internet and for some 8 years, downloaded thousands of pictures involving murder, rape, strangulation and necrophilia. Records show he was active on the internet on evenings immediately before and after killing Jane. The night before her death he downloaded pictures of dead women, strangulation, rape and murder.
After sentencing, Ms Longhurst’s sister Sue Barnett and her mother Liz Longhurst wept in the public gallery. Coutts’ former partner, Sandra Gates, leant towards him over the dock and shouted in his face: “You pervert.”
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Dennis, who was in charge of the case, said outside court: “A very dangerous man has been put away and I’m very pleased for that.”
Coutts was convicted of murder on 3rd February 2004, and sentenced to a life term serving a minimum of 30 years. Coutts compounded the agony of Jane Longhurst’s family and friends by alleging she died after a “consensual asphyxial sex session” went wrong. He subsequently challenged both the sentence and the conviction. The original tariff of 30 years was reduced to 26 years on appeal on 26th January 2005. The conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on 19th July 2006, and a new trial started on 12th June 2007. He was again found guilty on 4th July 2007.
In 2009, following a long campaign led by Liz Longhurst, possession of sexually violent and extreme pornography including torture, rape and necrophilia became illegal and was included in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. The ban was backed by Jane Longhurst’s MP David Lepper and Liz Longhurst’s MP Martin Salter as well as Harriet Harman MP, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett MP and many others. They presented a petition to Parliament of more than 50,000 signatures. Anyone in possession of extreme sexually violent images now faces up to three years in jail.
Note: This report was drawn from reports in the Daily Mail, the BBC and the Argus.
Liz Longhurst has expressed disappointment that the legislation she fought for, is still not widely used and that judges are able to rule such evidence inadmissable in cases of rape and murder. She cites the case of Joanna Yeates who was strangled by Vincent Tabak. He too had accessed sexually violent pornography and alleged that he killed by accident. He was found guilty, but the jury had to make its decision lacking key evidence.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of Jane Longhurst’s death, For Our Daughters salutes Liz Longhurst’s courage and acknowledges the depth of her grief and that of other family members and friends. Jane, your life is an inspiration to us. Rest in Peace.