Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Hitman facing life term for murder

Hitman Paul Cryne has received a life sentence

A hitman who thought he would get away with the "perfect murder" has been told he is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Paul Cryne, 62, was a swimming world record-holder who became a contract killer after blowing a fortune on a flamboyant lifestyle in Thailand.

He flew back to Britain in 2007 to strangle frail 52-year-old Sharon Birchwood at her bungalow in Ashtead, Surrey.

Cryne was hired to carry out the murder for £30,000 by her ex-husband Graham Birchwood, 54, who stood to gain a £475,000 "pot of gold" on her death.

He turned to jurors who had convicted him of murder and said "innocent man" before being led away to begin his life sentence. He was told he must serve at least 28-and-a-half years in prison.

In 2005, Cryne had been cleared by a Thai court of murdering another Briton, Robert Henry, who was shot six times, after prosecution witnesses failed to turn up for his trial.

By 2007, he had accrued debts of £11,000 and was hired by Birchwood, who was £150,000 in the red, to kill his ex-wife - who remained devoted to him despite their divorce in 1989.

Mrs Birchwood was strangled and left "cruelly trussed-up" with parcel tape and electrical cord on her bed, the Old Bailey heard.

Cryne left few clues when he carried out the "execution" in December 2007 but was caught out because of a crime he had committed more than 30 years earlier.

His DNA was found at the scene and matched to that found on a cup at Birchwood's mother's house, on which there was also a set of fingerprints. The prints were linked to Cryne's 1972 conviction for holding his girlfriend hostage, for which he had been jailed for seven years.

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