Ex-soldier accused of double murder was attempting ‘suicide by cop’, trial told

A former soldier accused of shooting his estranged wife and mother-in-law in execution-style killings has told his trial they were accidentally shot as he failed an attempt at “suicide by cop”.

Craig Savage allegedly murdered 32-year-old Michelle Savage and her mother, Heather Whitbread, 53, and killed Mrs Savage’s dog with a stolen M4 semi-automatic rifle.

The 35-year-old lorry driver is accused of firing at them from close range in Mrs Whitbread’s home in St Leonards, East Sussex, about a month after her daughter spurned him and refused to reconcile.

Savage, who denies two counts of murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, told jurors on Thursday “it was my fault”, but argued the pair were shot accidentally during a struggle.

Craig Savage leaving the house
Craig Savage leaving the house

“I just want to put everything straight,” he sobbed at Lewes Crown Court, “then just lock me up.”

The defendant, bearded and wearing a navy suit with no tie, said he was “losing it” over the break-up and was looking for a “way out” through police shooting him during a kidnap.

“The break-up wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back, it was a wrecking ball that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

He travelled from a friend’s home in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, and stole the weapon from the 1066 Target Sports gun range at gunpoint on March 16.

The gun carried by Craig Savage
The gun carried by Craig Savage

Savage went to the Bexhill Road home carrying body armour, which he claimed was for his wife so she would not be harmed when police came, but the plan went awry after he shot his way through a window.

“Michelle came running at me like a rhino charging a red rag – bang straight into me, no hesitation, no fear,” he said.

“On seeing a whacked-out nut-job falling through the window with a gun, her first instinct would be to protect her family and she did.

“She came storming into me and smashed me, grabbed the rifle.”

Five rounds went off, he said, before she fled to the hallway with him in pursuit where the struggle continued and she sprayed him with CS gas.

“She grabbed the rifle. Bang. Bang. Weapon going off everywhere,” he said.

He could not explain how his mother-in-law was shot, or how his wife had a bullet wound in her foot.

Savage, who told jurors he joined the Army aged 16 and had weapons training during his three years there, said he remembers seeing the two women motionless on the floor when he left.

Also in the house were Mrs Savage’s heavily pregnant sister, Raven Whitbread, 24, their grandmother Patricia Groves, 80, and a Staffordshire bull terrier called Zeus.

Those two women escaped the .22 calibre rifle fire and called police.

Police at the scene in St Leonards
Police at the scene in St Leonards

It is alleged that Savage attempted to fire at an officer trying to apprehend him but the mechanism jammed.

In the preceding weeks, Mrs Savage is said to have warned Sussex Police of the threat posed by her husband, who allegedly uploaded 1,000 images of her to pornography sites after she refused sex.

They had a nine-year relationship, which included five years of marriage, and Savage was described as a “very controlling” partner who would bombard his wife with calls and texts.

Savage, of no fixed address, has admitted robbery after stealing the rifle with ammunition from the firing range.

Mrs Savage was shot about six times and her mother around seven, and the gun had been pressed close to them and fired in an “execution-type manner”, prosecutors claim.

The trial continues, presided over by High Court judge Mrs Justice McGowan.