A man who has been jailed for killing his boss sought to implicate a former Worthing mayor, who was a good friend of the victim, in his crime, police said.
David Browning, 52, from Seaford, was sentenced to a minimum of 28 years in prison at Hove Crown Court today (Thursday, May 3) for the murder of Brighton woman, Jill Howell.
During the police investigation Browning, a married father-of-two, had tried to implicate Sean McDonald, a councillor for Northbrook ward in Worthing and a former mayor of the town, in the crime, police said.
Jill was stabbed 15 times in her Sandgate Road home on Wednesday, October 25, last year, after she had invited Browning round for a curry.
Browning surrendered himself to police the next morning and was arrested on suspicion on murder.
Police said when officers attended Jill’s house, they found her lifeless body on the living room floor and a note from Browning to police on the table, which said: “I have to tell you that I was in cahoots with Sean McDonald on this and he is compliant in all of this.”
Despite having their suspect in custody, police began painstaking forensic work, house-to-house enquiries, mobile phone analysis, conversations with colleagues and media appeals to try to piece together exactly what had happened.
A police spokesman said: “It became clear during the investigation that Browning had sought to implicate a good friend of Jill’s, Sean McDonald, in the crime, even forging a death in service form, which was received by a pensions administrator two days after her death, assigning her benefits to him.”
Browning admitted killing Jill but denied murder, instead claiming manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
But after a two-week trial, the jury found David Browning guilty of murder having deliberated for just under two hours, police said.
Detective Chief Inspector Till Sanderson, who led the investigation for the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: “This has not been a straightforward case.
“Although David Browning gave himself up to police, he refused to answer any questions and he tried to implicate a third innocent person in the crime, so therefore the police really had to put together his movements, his motive and try to understand his mental state at the time of the killing – which has been a crux of this investigation.”
Police said that, as Browning’s manager, Jill had been supporting him after the sudden death of his father a year before and they had occasionally met outside work as she tried to help him come to terms with his loss.
But Browning had tried to claim Jill was a ‘bully’, police said, and suicide notes he had written and posted to relatives and work colleagues contained evidence of his intentions to kill her, writing that he was ‘ridding the world of a horrible person’.
On the night of her death, Browning told Jill he was contemplating suicide and Jill, who was a volunteer for the Samaritans, told him he should seek medical help and that he needed to go to the hospital.
It was as she went to put on her trainers to take him there that Browning took a knife from his pocket and struck his fatal blows, police said.
After Browning’s sentencing today, a police spokesperson said: “Christine Laing told Browning he was a selfish man who depression had been exaggerated as a reason for stabbing Jill to death.
“She said his self-concern was apparent throughout the trial and he had shown little remorse while trying to blame others.
“He had made plans to kill her, murdered her in her own home in a ferocious attack and defiled her body.
“Everything was about him and his problems, and now Jill’s family had to suffer the irreversible consequences of his actions.”
Jill, a payroll manager at the University of Brighton, has been described by her family as ‘a gentle and kind soul’ and a dedicated Seagulls supporter.
Her family said: “Jill loved life, and lived it to the full. She was a loving and caring sister and the best Auntie in the history of the world, ever.
“Jill was generous with her time and loved to help people, always putting others before herself.”
Speaking to the Herald soon after Jill’s death, Mr McDonald said: “Jill was everything to me. She was my best friend, my soul mate and her death has left my heart broken into a thousand pieces.
“She was loved by everyone and her passing is a great loss. Please remember her in your prayers.”