Died 9th August 2012

Diana Lee (54) was bludgeoned to death on 9th August 2012 by her partner David Ryan (47). She died from head injuries sustained during a brutal assault in the bathroom of her own home, in the village of Cranage, near Holmes Chapel in East Cheshire.

On 25th July 2013 at Chester Crown Court David Ryan of Hale, Altrincham was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on 26th July and will serve at least 34 years.

After bludgeoning her to death he mutilated her body and set four fires around the house in an attempt to destroy DNA evidence.

Ryan dragged her body and her bedding to the garage where it was his intention to destroy any evidence that connected him to the crime. He used a chainsaw to hideously mutilate her body, attempting to destroy evidence that they had sex that evening.

Ms Lee’s naked body was eventually found in a wheelbarrow by firefighters who had been called by her brother to the fire at her home.

Ms Lee was a successful business woman and owned the Parklands cattery. Ryan did not tell her he was married and tricked her into giving him cash, cheating Ms Lee out of £60,000.

Diana, described as a quiet, gentle, likeable woman, met Ryan in October 2010 having experienced violence in her relationship with her ex partner. Ryan kept the affair secret from his wife of six years.

Explaining the length of the sentence at Chester Crown Court, Justice Richard Henriques said he believed Ryan had acted with premeditation and that there were other aggravating factors – such as the brutality of his attack on his victim, the fact he tried to frame her lodger for the crime and later blame her ex-partner, Neville Barratt, who had previously been imprisoned for assaulting her.

Justice Henriques said:  “I have concluded that you killed Diana Lee to prevent your spectacular fraud upon her coming to light and you knew there was a readymade suspect of whom Diana was terrified.” Justice Henriques added that he believed Ryan may have spared her life if he could ‘have strung her along with some cock and bull story’ for longer.

The judge said he believed Ryan had conned Ms Lee, who had previously been very careful with her money, into giving him almost £70,000 because she believed she was investing into a business venture of his, but by August 2012 Ms Lee wanted to know where all her money had gone. Justice Henriques said “You literally bled her dry,”.
Brian Cummings QC, who prosecuted, said Ryan was “devious” and a “conman” and targeted Ms Lee because of his spiralling debt which had reached £90,000. Assistant Chief Constable Ruth Purdie said Ryan targeted Ms Lee to trick her into giving him money to cover his “mountain of debt”. She said: “We have been left in little doubt that Ryan′s attack on Diana − a diminutive and gentle lady – was brutal and sadistic. He showed contempt and compounded his disregard for her when he did his utmost to remove DNA evidence and then destroy her body. He concocted a web of lies and brutally murdered a woman who had done nothing more than fall for the charm of a conman.”

In a statement Ms Lee’s family said her death had left a hole in the lives of those that knew her. They added: “It is hard enough to deal with the death of a loved one through sickness, accident or old age but Diana’s death was planned. Every effort, calculated and brutal, was made by the perpetrator to try and ensure he could not be traced. David Ryan has only showed himself to be a coward. He has lied to try and explain away his barbaric crime. He feels no remorse or regret. His selfishness and indifference is no more than contempt for the life he has cruelly snubbed out and the family he has destroyed.”

A witness impact statement from Ms Lee’s brother, Collin Sherwin, was read to the court.
He said: “Diana was my only sibling, neither of us had any children, so our immediate family unit was very close knit.” He described his family as quiet and unassuming and that work, family and friends were Diana’s life adding: “We have never asked for anything and we firmly believe in the difference between right and wrong.” He said his sister loved life and everything it had to offer and that she was always open to new experiences. he said: “She was kind and sensitive and loved to spend time with friends, socialising, dancing and taking part on yoga and Pilates.”

Mr Sherwin said that he and his mother greatly missed Diana’s presence in their lives and that he is no longer able to watch the news or listen to the radio, as he is terrified of hearing stories of brutal murders. He added: “For me, only evil is capable of doing this to her.”

Ryan owned a glazing and conservatory firm, but had been declared bankrupt in June 2012. During their two-year relationship, Ms Lee withdrew £70,000 from various accounts and Ryan’s “cash purchases and deposits” totalled “more than £60,000”, despite the fact he had no income and huge debts.

Ryan tried to “frame” Ms Lee’s lodger Andrew Leese by dipping his antique German dagger in her blood and planting her underwear in his room.

However, the judge Mr Justice Henriques said the case against Ryan was “absolutely overwhelming”.

Phone records showed that Ryan contacted Ms Lee continually from his mobile phone until January 2012 when she had given him £30,000. He then began to use a telephone box near to his home in Hale to make contact. Detectives pieced together a pattern that showed cash withdrawals and bank transfers made from Ms Lee’s account shortly after she received a phone call from Ryan.

On the day she died, Ryan sent hoax text messages from Diana′s mobile phone to clients due to drop off their pets, to give himself more time at the crime scene. Cheshire Police also analysed his computer and found Google search terms including “countries that do not have an extradition treaty with the UK”.

Speaking after the verdict, Chief Superintendent Guy Hindle, said: “The death that befell Diana Lee was a vicious and callous one. With the assistance of key witnesses within our community, we brought the man responsible to justice. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to the communities affected by this tragic and cruel murder, for their help in this investigation, and to reassure them that crimes such as this are exceptionally rare in our area.”

Note: This report was drawn from reports in the BBC and the Knutsford Guardian.

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