Colne man is cleared of pensioner’s murder: angry scenes at court

Scales
Scales

A MAN has been dramatically cleared of allegations he killed an 80-year-old woman in her Colne home.

Angry scenes erupted in the public gallery in Preston Crown Court as George Portsmouth was found not guilty of murder and an alternative accusation of the manslaughter of Connie French.

There were gasps before one man jumped up to shout and swear at the jury, claiming it was a “joke”. A woman cried “I can’t believe it” before leaving the courtroom.

The jury had deliberated for more than 11 hours before filing back into court to deliver its verdicts following a two-week trial.

Judge Anthony Russell QC told them outbursts did sometimes occur when verdicts were returned. He acknowledged they had taken two days to consider the matter.

The judge then told defence QC Mr Andrew O’Byrne the defendant, who had been on remand in custody, could be discharged.

It had been claimed he had murdered the grandmother of his then partner, who died last April. She had been found with neck and rib injuries at her home in North Street.

During the early hours of March 27th, Mrs French had been found lying in the front room of her home. A pillow had been placed under her head.

Mrs French went on to give police a video recorded interview from her hospital bed, in which she appeared to claim the 25-year-old, from Varley Street, Colne, had harmed her.

In the interview, recorded 12 days before she died, she had written down his first name for officers and mouthed his surname as being the man responsible.

The prosecution claimed she had also indicated a pillow had been placed over her neck and face and money taken.

George Portsmouth asserted in his evidence that Mrs French mistakenly identified him to police. He queried why Mrs French had earlier told an ambulance driver a man had been in. “Why not say ‘George’? She has known me for five years. I think it’s mistaken identity”, he told the court.

He also insisted officers had arrested the wrong person over her death.

His DNA in the form of a blood spot was found on a pillow case which Miss Kate Blackwell QC (prosecuting) alleged was used by him to try to smother the pensioner. Blood staining and saliva from Mrs French was found on the opposite side of the pillow case.

The defendant accepted his blood had been found but said he did not know when it got there as he worked with steel in his job and this could get stuck in his fingers.

The defendant also said in evidence that, from time to time, the gran would lend him money. His financial situation had been tight, but he had been coping.

He accepted having had a gambling problem and lieing about losing money on gambling machines. He had been to the home earlier the previous evening to deliver £200 cash Mrs French had wanted withdrawn.

Speaking after the verdict, Detective Superintendent Paul Withers, from the Force Major Investigation Team, said: “While I respect the decision of the court, naturally Connie’s family is disappointed with the decision of the jury to clear the defendant on the charge of murder.

“The Force Major Investigation Team carried out a full and thorough investigation into the death of Connie French and both the Constabulary and Crown Prosecution Service felt it was the correct decision to prosecute George Portsmouth.

“I am disappointed for Connie’s family who have conducted themselves with dignity from the outset and we will continue to offer them support for as long as they need it.

“In relation to the investigation, we are not looking for anyone else in connection with this offence.”