Pig farmer, 89, who murdered wife and hid body in septic tank is jailed for life

A philandering pig farmer who murdered his wife and dumped her body in a septic tank for 37 years has been jailed for life.

David Venables, now 89, will serve a minimum of 18 years, meaning he will need to live to age 107 before he can apply for release.

His defence team argued that his sentence would be “a whole life tariff in effect.”

The retired pig farmer was found guilty of killing his 48-year-old wife Brenda at Worcester Crown Court last week.

He took her life in May 1982 after rekindling an extramarital affair with his secret lover.

High Court Judge Mrs Justice Tipples today rejected the claim made by Venables’ lawyer that the killer would inevitably die in prison.

Speaking to Venables, the judge said: “I do not accept that your life expectancy must be short.”

Mrs Venables’ remains were found hidden in a tank at her 440-acre former home in Worcestershire in 2019.

The farmer, who was dubbed ‘Dirty David’ by workers after bragging about his sordid affairs, had tried to blame serial killer Fred West but was convicted by a 10-2 majority verdict last Friday.

During the pensioner’s month-long trial, his legal team said West had links to the village of Kempsey, where Mrs Venables disappeared.

They also claimed she may have left her marital home at Quaking House Farm and “either killed herself or met with or encountered someone who wished her harm.”

But the jury of seven women and five men deliberated for almost 17 hours over four days before convicting Venables of murdering his wife on either May 3 or May 4, 1982.

Passing sentence on David Venables, Judge Tipples said he had taken advantage of his wife’s depression to create a “carefully thought-out story” that she had left home in the middle of the night, apparently to take her own life.

The judge told the retired pig farmer that the evidence showed he had used a manhole cover to weigh down his wife’s body.

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.”

She added that Venables was responsible for many aspects of his wife’s mental illness.

The judge said the killer’s “multiple affairs” had depressed his wife – along with her inability to conceive.

Addressing the motive for the killing, she told the retired farmer: “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.”

Prior to Venables’ sentencing, defence barrister Timothy Hannam QC said: “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.”

However, the judge later told Venables: “I do not accept that your life expectancy must be short.”

The judge described Mrs Venables as a “kind and caring woman” who was known for her “joyful disposition and happy laugh”.

However, Venables destroyed his wife’s confidence and showed her no affection or sympathy, the court heard.

Judge Tipples added: “You kept her on a very short rein in regards to money. You destroyed her confidence. You no longer shared a bedroom at home.

“Brenda considered her situation so desperate that she had suicidal tendencies and phoned Samaritans.

“I am sure you killed Brenda to remove her from your life. You wanted her out of the way.”

The court heard that Brenda’s parents passed away without knowing what happened to their daughter.

In a statement, the murder victim’s family said Venables put them “through hell” by concealing Brenda’s death for decades.

Her nieces and nephews added: “We’ll never know how she died or how much she suffered. We pray her death was quick.

“The torment of her body being found in the septic tank of her house will never leave us.

“It haunts our nights. We cannot come to terms with her being put in such a repulsive and shocking place.

“And then, by continuing to use the septic tank, her murderer dishonoured her dead body every day for 30 years after murdering her.”

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.

His 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.

At the time of her death, Venables told a local paper that she had been suffering from depression as a result of a recent bout of flu.

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

Maintenance workers found Brenda’s remains in the septic tank and called the police.

Prior to Venables’ 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.

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.”

At the start of the trial, prosecutor Michael Burrows QC said Venables had “got away with murder” for nearly 40 years after dumping his wife in the septic tank close to the farm.

Mr Burrows added: “The truth, say the prosecution, is that it was David Venables who killed her.

“He wanted to resume his long-standing affair with another woman, Lorraine Styles.

“He knew about the septic tank in its secluded location. It was for him almost the perfect hiding place.

“It meant he didn’t have to travel and risk being seen making a suspicious journey around the time of her disappearance or risk being seen disposing of her body somewhere else.

“And, of course, even if someone did think to look inside the tank, her body would be hidden from view.

“And for nearly 40 years, it was the perfect place and he got away with murder.”

The jury heard Venables’ affair with Ms Styles started around 1967, and continued on and off.

Mr Burrows said that by 1981, Ms Styles had “doubts again about David Venables’ feelings for her”, but that the farm owner rekindled the extramarital affair over that Christmas and new year, months before his wife vanished.

Venables, described by one witness at the trial as a smartly-dressed “typical gentleman farmer”, told the jury he woke up on the morning of May 4 1982 to find his wife, then aged 48, had disappeared.

He said he then searched surrounding lanes and a stretch of the nearby River Severn.

Following the murder, the court heard, Venables appeared calm to those who knew him.

He later sought an annulment of his marriage to Mrs Venables, who was described by relatives and friends in court as a kind, hospitable and friendly woman.

Brenda’s family previously expressed their thanks to the “many people who have worked hard over the last three years to bring about justice for Brenda”.

They stated: “Thank you to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, homicide support, the witnesses in this case, the barristers, the jury, the judge, and all the staff at Worcester Crown Court for all your time and effort leading up to today’s conclusion.

“Our heartfelt thanks to the member of the public who found her remains three years ago. And thank you to our family and friends for your support and understanding as the search for justice for Brenda increasingly took over our lives in the last three years.”

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