A FORMER cage-fighter from Huddersfield has been jailed for life for gunning down two gangland enforcers linked to an IRA drugs gang.
Drugs mule Thomas Haigh, 26, must serve a minimum of 35 years for blasting David Griffiths and Brett Flournoy to death on a remote Cornish farm because they were demanding he go to Brazil for a second time and bring back cocaine.
Ross Stone, 28, who was cleared of the men’s murders, will serve five years after admitting burning the men’s bodies before burying them in their van following the shooting at his home, Sunny Corner Farm, in Trenance Downs near St Austell.
The bodies of Flournoy, a 31-year-old boxer and pub landlord with two children, from Bebington on the Wirral in Merseyside, and father-of-three Griffiths, 35, from Bracknell, Berkshire, were unearthed after Stone confessed to having disposed of their corpses.
Both he and Haigh owed the dead men around £40,000 in drug debts.
Passing sentence at Truro Crown Court, Mr Justice Mackay told Haigh he was an “arrogant young man” who had got out of his depth in the criminal underworld.
“These were bad men but they were bad men with the right not to be killed because trading in drugs does not carry the death penalty,” he said.
“You were attracted to the gangster way of life, you convinced yourself you were a big boy playing in the big league.
“But I found your erratic behaviour made you unsuited to this elusive trade.
“This was no more than a result of your chosen lifestyle. You knew the rules of the criminal club you joined and you broke them.”
Haigh and Stone’s four-week trial heard that the victims were gangland enforcers working for an IRA gang which “ran” Liverpool’s illegal drugs trade.
The jury took less than three hours to find Haigh guilty of two counts of murder.
Stone had previously pleaded guilty to two charges of obstructing a coroner.
Haigh, who served nine months in a young offenders’ institution in 2005 and 2006 for dealing in heroin and crack cocaine, was on the run at the time of the shooting on June 16 last year.
While living in Workington, he had skipped a court appearance in Carlisle, Cumbria the previous March for possession of an air gun because he was in Brazil smuggling cocaine back to the UK.
He showed no emotion as the judge said the pressure he was under from Griffiths and his “role model” Flournoy was “no mitigation” for the crimes he had committed.
“You shot these men dead, acting alone and not in concert with Stone,” Mr Justice Mackay said.
“You left him to cover up the carnage you left behind you. Why you did this is, to my mind, perfectly clear. How you went about it is less clear.
“But you aimed and fired the shots that killed these two men.”
The trial heard that after Haigh killed the two men he fled to Yorkshire before eventually handing himself in to police.
Speaking outside court, David Griffith’s mother Janet fought back tears as she spoke of the torment her family had been put through, saying the decision to acquit Stone was “hard for us to accept”.
“Our family has been devastated by the loss of our beloved David and the horrific way in which he was murdered,” she said.
As a family we never imagined we would be standing here today and David would be gone, it really has been a living hell.
“We have had to accept the horrific way in which David was taken from us but also had to endure six weeks of worrying and looking for David. To find out that he was then murdered, burned and buried was truly too much to comprehend.
“We have had to endure months of unpleasant stories and statements being made about David, most of which have been completely untrue. This has put immense stress on all of our family but we do know that those who were close to David know the truth and the real Dave.
“We shall forever cherish the happy memories we have of him, he is missed every single day and will forever be loved.”
Jane Flournoy, Brett’s sister-in-law, made a statement on behalf of the family of the former British Army soldier, who served with the Royal Engineers for six years. His fiancee Kelly, a staff nurse, gave birth to his third son after he died.
“Much of what has been said about Brett throughout the course of this trial has been unsubstantiated and alleged by two people who have now been convicted of horrific crimes,” she said.
“We have been left totally devastated by Brett’s death. He was a loving son, fiance, father and brother. His death has left a huge gap in the lives of all our family.
“The worst thing is that as a result of the actions of Ross Stone and Thomas Haigh we never had a chance to say goodbye and we still expect him to walk though the door.”
The court had heard that both men owed Griffiths and Flournoy as much as £40,000.
Building contractor Stone had run up debts of between £30,000 and £40,000 with Griffiths and Flournoy after intervening to help a friend who was in debt, and was under immense pressure to repay the money.
He said he faced constant death threats “from the first day” against him and his family and even borrowed money from his mother and allowed the pair to turn his home into a cocaine processing plant, supplying users in Cornwall.
In April last year, he told the court, Griffiths and Flournoy arrived unannounced at the home of his partner Laura’s parents, hours after she had given birth to their second child, a daughter, because he turned his phone off while they were in the labour ward.
The two men then sent Haigh down to “babysit” him and a crop of cannabis he was growing in a bid to give them their money.
But Haigh was also being pressured into doing a drugs run to Brazil and feared going abroad because a friend was in a South American prison after being caught on a recent trip.
Stone told the trial that Haigh talked about killing the two men in the days before they died.
Mr Griffiths was originally from Plymouth, Devon, and the court was told he ran a drugs operation from a house there, mainly dealing in cocaine.
After the men failed to return they were reported missing by their families and a missing persons inquiry started.
Two weeks after they died, on July 1, police made an unrelated drugs raid on Sunny Corner and arrested Stone for growing cannabis in two shipping containers he had equipped with hydroponics equipment and buried underground to evade detection by infra-red heat-sensing cameras.
Several days later, Stone admitted in a police interview that the two men were buried on the property and told police where to dig.
Stone told the jury he had driven with his mother to Newquay to report the crime to police but had been too scared of the dead men’s associates and decided to make them disappear instead.
Giving evidence, he said he had returned to the farm to find the drug dealers’ lifeless bodies on the ground. Haigh, he said, had appeared topless and dishevelled.
Haigh claimed the men arrived at the farm and he had been beaten up by Griffiths. But he said he fled when Flournoy produced a gun and did not know how the men had been killed.
The court was told that when interviewed by police he said the men worked for the IRA. He also boasted that he “knew how to get rid of bodies properly” and would not “leave it to a thick farmer (Stone) to tidy up”.
Stone buried the men twice, with a first rudimentary burial site, which he used before he burned them and buried them in their van, found during the first week of the trial.
Mr Justice Mackay told Stone he had acted with a “high degree of self-interest”.
“This was not something you did as a favour owed to a friend. You did it for your own reasons,” he said.
“I accept that you were in fear of the consequences of what he had done, that you would be visited by the associates of these two men. But I consider that a considerable part of your thinking was self-interest. You knew that if you called the police they would be all over Sunny Corner. They would find the subterranean cannabis farm and you would be in trouble whatever else happened.”
Haigh was also sentenced to nine months after admitting two firearms charges, to be served concurrently.
Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Keith Perkins of Devon and Cornwall Police said: “Both Tom Haigh and Ross Stone acted in self-interest, either in the act of killing or the disposal and concealment of the bodies. Neither has shown any remorse and they have shown a complete disregard for the sanctity of life.”