A “dangerous and manipulative” property developer who strangled his cancer-suffering partner and was on his way to dispose of her body when he crashed his van has been jailed for life.
John Doyle, 54, will serve a minimum of 16 years for stabbing solicitor Sian Rees before throttling her with a bra at their home hours after she had undergone major surgery for breast cancer.
Divorcee Doyle, who has a previous conviction for an attack in which he tried to throttle his then estranged wife 21 years ago, attacked 50-year-old Ms Rees after she decided to end their strained relationship of 15 years on June 30 last year.
Earlier that day he had arrived to drive her home from the hospital but was so drunk from an all-day drinking session she had to go against medical advice and get behind the wheel herself.
She booked a hotel room on the way home but continued with Doyle to collect clothes. She never made it back to the hotel.
En route to disposing of her body the next morning, he crashed his white Ford Fiesta van into a hedge and her body was discovered between the front seats. She had been dead for 12 hours.
Doyle, who was working on renovating their home at Merton Mill, near Hatherleigh in Devon, to start a joint property business, claimed he acted in self-defence after she brandished a knife, but the jury of eight women and four men at Exeter Crown Court rejected his defence, described by Judge Graham Cottle as “preposterous”.
The trial had heard Doyle’s drunken and late arrival at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital to collect his partner, with whom he had lived for 12 years, was the final straw in a troubled relationship.
In the months before her death, Ms Rees had told colleagues at Peter Peter & Wright solicitors in Okehampton she wanted to end the relationship.
She was the sole breadwinner while he was meant to be renovating the mill as the start of a property empire that would allow her to quit working.
But he was making slow progress, while Doyle was angry at the amount of weight she had put on – although she had lost significant weight in the months before her death.
He had also discovered she had been exchanging emails with a man she met online.
Doyle first crashed into a traffic island and punctured a tyre but drove on for more than two miles on the flat tyre and then the bare wheel rim before crashing again.
He refused to answer questions during interviews and issued only a statement admitting rowing with Ms Rees and struggling with her as she held a knife but saying he did not remember anything else. During the trial he claimed he acted in self defence.
Doyle had sat nonchalantly in the dock as the court heard he had previously acted in a manner chillingly similar to the attack on Ms Rees, throttling his then estranged wife at her home in Western Australia on New Year’s Day in 1989, and also attacked her boyfriend. His ex only escaped after kicking him and forcing him to loosen his grip.
Judge Graham Cottle rejected Doyle’s attempt to argue self defence in the murder of Ms Rees, who was originally from Aberdare in South Wales, saying part of his story of what happened – claiming he had been taking her to a doctor when he crashed – had been “fanciful”.
Describing the murder as “brutal”, Judge Cottle said it was clear after he stabbed Ms Rees, missing vital organs, he then strangled her, most likely with a bra later found later alongside the knife in his van.
Outside court, acting Detective Chief Inspector Michael West, who led the murder investigation, described Doyle as “dangerous and manipulative”, and added: “Sian presented no threat to Doyle whatsoever ... any attempt to say that she did shows contempt for her memory.”