Man guilty of manslaughter of student found in boot of burnt-out car
A 27-year-old man has been found guilty of the manslaughter of a student whose body was found in the boot of a burnt-out car.
Christopher Jeffrey-Shaw, of Lakeside, Beckenham, south-east London, gasped for breath and then seemed to cry in the dock at Guildford Crown Court as the jury announced its 11-1 guilty verdict after nine hours and 42 minutes.
Jeffrey-Shaw was found guilty of the manslaughter but not of the alternative charge of murdering German national and Brighton University student Janet Muller.
The 21-year-old's body was found in the boot of a burnt-out Volkswagen Jetta, which had been dumped in a road by Ifield Golf Club near Horsham, West Sussex, on March 13 last year.
Jeffrey-Shaw admitted setting the car alight but denied murder.
Mr Justice Jeremy Stuart-Smith said he would sentence Jeffrey-Shaw on Friday.
After the verdict was delivered, the judge turned to the victim's and defendant's families, who were in court.
He said that as a judge he did not want "to say anything that would seem superfluous" and told them "there are no winners in a trial".
Opening the case for the prosecution, Philip Bennetts QC said the defendant denied murder, saying he had been ordered by drug dealers to burn the car and had not known Ms Muller was in the boot at the time.
Mr Bennetts said Ms Muller had been experiencing mental health problems and had been admitted to Mill View Hospital in Hove, but went missing on the evening of March 12.
He told the court that phone records and CCTV footage showed that the defendant's phone and his car were in the Brighton area on the evening that Ms Muller disappeared.
He said she was last seen approaching an unidentified car in Kingsway, Hove, East Sussex, at 1.15am on March 13.
Mr Bennetts said that when Jeffrey-Shaw was arrested, he answered "no comment" during his interview by detectives but a statement of his defence position stated that he denied Ms Muller's murder.
He said: "He said that he didn't kill Janet Muller, in that he didn't know that she was in the boot of the vehicle, but he said that drug dealers that he knew had borrowed the car from him, and when they returned the car to him he was told to burn the car otherwise he would be shot.''
Mr Bennetts said Jeffrey-Shaw did tell officers: "I am not getting done for something I haven't done. The whole thing is a nightmare I haven't woken up from."
Ms Muller was buried in Berlin last May.
Detective Superintendent Karen Mizzi, of the Surrey and Sussex major crime squad, said: "I want to pay tribute to the bravery of the family of Janet Muller, who have had to listen to the harrowing evidence in this case.
"The loss of a family member is always tragic, especially in these circumstances.
"This was a horrific attack on a very vulnerable young woman who had her whole life ahead of her, however we respect the decision of the jury in this case."
In a statement released by Sussex Police, Ms Muller's family said: "We are not happy that the verdict is manslaughter, not murder.
"We are glad that the man responsible for Janet's death will not walk free but nothing can erase the loss of Janet."
A University of Brighton spokesman said: "Janet was a bright, sparky and witty student who loved football, both as a player and spectator.
"She was academically able and her lecturers all believed she had a bright future ahead of her.
"Her loss has been felt widely across the university community and she will not be forgotten.
"Our thoughts are with Janet's family and friends."