38 years for ‘obsessive’ ex-soldier who shot ex-wife and mother-in law

A former soldier has been jailed for 38 years after shooting dead his ex-wife and mother-in-law in an execution-style killing at almost point-blank range.

Obsessive and controlling Craig Savage “calmly and purposefully” carried out the attack on 32-year-old Michelle and her mother Heather Whitbread while they were enjoying a Friday night Chinese takeaway at their home in St Leonards, East Sussex, on March 16.

Rejected by her a month before and enraged by her refusal to reconcile and have sex with him one last time, he stole a semi-automatic rifle from a nearby firing range and shot his ex-wife seven times while she “begged for mercy”.

The gun Craig Savage used during the shooting
The gun Craig Savage used during the shooting

He fired at 53-year-old Mrs Whitbread six times and also killed Mrs Savage’s Staffordshire bull terrier Zeus with a single shot.

She had twice reported him to police before her death.

Mrs Savage’s 24-year-old sister Raven Whitbread, who was seven months pregnant, and 80-year-old grandmother Patricia Groves escaped unharmed.

Savage, 35, who had received weapons training during his three years in the Army and later became a lorry driver, denied intending to kill anyone and claimed the gun fired by accident during a struggle.

He said he was planning to kidnap his ex-wife and make police officers shoot him in front of her.

But a jury of 10 women and two men found him guilty of two counts of murder after deliberating for less than three hours at Lewes Crown Court on Monday.

Police at the scene in St Leonards, East Sussex
Police at the scene in St Leonards, East Sussex

Sentencing him to life behind bars with a warning he may never be released after completing his minimum term, High Court judge Mrs Justice McGowan said he “ignored” the screams of the women as they “begged for mercy”.

She said: “By your actions you have devastated an entire family. The loss they have suffered and continue to suffer cannot be described.”

Mrs Justice McGowan said Mrs Savage behaved with “dignity” as she tried to distance herself from him as he bombarded her with calls and “vile” messages.

Telling him he had an “obsessive and controlling personality”, the judge said he set out on a “campaign” to hurt his ex-wife.

She added: “You calmly and purposefully walked down the road to her house. You executed her and her mother.

“You were seen. You didn’t care. Your purpose was to kill Michelle.

“You ignored the screams of the women as they were begging for mercy. No shot was wasted.”

Savage, dressed in a blue suit and open-necked white shirt, showed no emotion when the verdicts were read out or when he was led down to the cells.

Relatives were in tears in a packed public gallery. Many rushed out of the courtroom earlier in the day as the jury watched footage showing the defendant during the shooting.

CCTV of Craig Savage leaving the house  in St Leonard's
CCTV of Craig Savage leaving the house in St Leonard's

Savage admitted robbery at the beginning of the trial and was handed a six-year concurrent sentence.

He was acquitted of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life after being accused of trying to shoot at armed police officers.

Mrs Justice McGowan found he did point the gun at officers who confronted him and praised their “remarkable bravery”.

She also raised concerns about licensing arrangements at the Target 1066 sports centre where the M4 .22 calibre rifle was stolen.