Mother ‘cannot forgive’ as wood killer is jailed

Jia Ashton
Jia Ashton
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The mother of an economics graduate has said she can never forgive her daughter’s killer for destroying the lives of so many when he battered the 25-year-old to death in woodland near where she worked.

Penny (Pan) Ning was not in court as the judge sentenced David Simmonds to serve a minimum term of 27 years and 213 days for the murder of Jia Ashton, whose body was discovered in Sleetmoor Woods, near Somercotes in Derbyshire on March 13, three days after she was last seen leaving her job at chocolate-maker Thorntons.

In a letter to the judge at Nottingham Crown Court, Ms Ning apologised for not being at the hearing but said the pain was just “too great”.

She said her life and that of her daughter’s husband Matthew Ashton has been destroyed by David Simmonds.

“He killed my hopes, my dreams and my future. All of my joy in life died with my darling daughter,” she said.

She would never be able to forgive Simmonds as she could not understand why he did “this terrible thing”.

“Because I cannot understand, I cannot forget,” she said.

“I miss my daughter very much and my hearts breaks for her over and over again, even as I write this. No mother, no husband and no family should suffer the pain we have been subjected to over the past terrible six months.”

Ms Ning said she had returned to her homeland of China to be closer to friends and family and the place where Jia grew up and where her dreams “took shape”.

She said she had worked “day and night” to pay for her only daughter’s schooling and extra tuition and that she had been rewarded with Jia’s love, devotion, intelligence and dedication to her studies.

She described the day that Jia learned she was going to study at Warwick University.

“She danced around the room with joy. How could I have known I was sending her to the place where she would meet such a cruel death?”

The judge spoke of Mrs Ashton’s “golden future” when sentencing Simmonds, of Derby Road, Heanor, Derbyshire.

Judge Michael Stokes said: “She achieved a good job where she was very liked and respected.

“There was to be a golden future until you came along and destroyed it, and you destroyed that future and that happiness in a most cruel and wicked manner.”

He said if heavily-built Simmonds had intended to only rob Jia it would have been like “taking sweets from a child”.

At 6ft 2in and 19 stone, Simmonds was nearly three times the weight of Mrs Ashton, who was only 4ft 11in, weighed six and a half stone, and wore a size two shoe.

“Can you imagine a more unequal contest?” the judge remarked.

Instead the “severity” of the attack showed Simmonds must have had “most sinister thoughts” in his mind, Mr Stokes said.

He said that Mrs Ashton’s final moments must have been spent in “abject terror”.

Jia’s body was found by a mountain rescue search dog on March 13. The police investigation into her death continued for eight weeks until Simmonds was arrested on May 5.

Simmonds originally pleaded not guilty but changed his plea at Nottingham Crown Court last week.

The court heard that a package containing letters and jewellery was recovered from his room at the Spice Inn at Heanor following his arrest.

One of the letters said: “I nether (sic) meant to do it I’ve regretted it since the second it happened and now I’m going to pay for my actions. It’s not decided how I’m going to pay but I’m trying to do it in a way which won’t cause anymore pain.”

Simmonds, described in court as an habitual liar, insisted the letters had been written months earlier and for a wholly unconnected reason.