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Jealous ex jailed for Linzi murder

A jealous and paranoid ex-boyfriend has been jailed for life for the "remorseless" murder of a mother-of-two.

Michael Cope, 28, strangled and beat Linzi Ashton, who suffered 108 separate injuries in an hour-long attack at her home, Manchester Crown Court heard.

He then went on the run, evading police for a month.

Miss Ashton, 25, a barmaid and mother to Destiny and Daisy, aged seven and two, had taken her boyfriend back despite suffering prolonged domestic abuse for months.

Cope had twice tried to strangle her and she had been warned by a friend just months earlier: "He's going to end up killing you."

She had also accused him of rape and eventually reported him to police.

But he talked her into retracting the statement and the pair continued the relationship in secret from her family.

She paid with her life, suffering the "ultimate form of domestic abuse", the court heard.

During a "prolonged, extremely violent and determined attack", Kate Blackwell QC, prosecuting, said Miss Ashton had been punched, kicked, stamped on, cut with a blade, beaten with a metal pole and strangled with a cable tie.

Her battered body was found the next day, the rooms spattered with her own blood, at her house in Winton, Salford, on June 29 last year.

Around 40 members of her family and friends wept as the court was told of the more than 100 injuries she suffered while being beaten and strangled to death.

Cope, from Salford, was arrested a month later. He admitted murder and three counts of assault yesterday and was today jailed for life. A single charge of rape was ordered to lie on file.

He was told he must serve a minimum of 27 years before being considered for parole.

Members of Miss Ashton's family burst into shouts of "Yes!" and cheered as the sentence was passed.

Cope smiled and turned towards the public gallery but, as he was taken down, male members of Miss Ashton's family rushed towards him, punching the reinforced glass dock and shouting: "Rot in hell, you dirty f****** rat!"

Miss Ashton's mother, sisters and other relatives stood shaking and in tears, one saying: "It's still not enough."

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Parker told Cope: "You set out in a most deliberate and calculating manner to kill your victim.

"This was a savage and sustained attack on a defenceless woman in her own home.

"The injuries that were caused, in part in all probability by use of a weapon, that I have recounted, were truly horrific and it is difficult to imagine the suffering, mental and physical, she must have endured as you brutally beat her to death.

"You violently took the life of a young mother, who had the care of two small children."

Earlier, the court heard that Cope was wanted by police over the rape allegation when Miss Ashton began seeing him again and he talked her into retracting her statement.

On June 28 they spent the evening at a friend's house, drinking and watching TV, before leaving for Miss Ashton's home at 2am.

Half an hour after they got in, a neighbour heard a row.

"It seemed as if the male had hold of the female around the neck and was strangling her," the neighbour told police.

"Her voice was in bits and breaking as though he's choking and strangling her."

Miss Blackwell continued: "It was a prolonged, extremely violent and determined attack.

"Miss Ashton's blood was splattered across the walls of both upstairs and downstairs rooms."

Cope left her battered body lying half in and half out of her bed - it was discovered by her worried family the next day after they failed to contact her.

Some of Miss Ashton's relatives covered their ears in court as her injuries were detailed, including a fractured right arm, left elbow, broken nose, broken chin bone, bruises and cuts across her head and body and ligature marks around her neck.

Miss Blackwell said the couple had been in a relationship since November 2012 but from early on Miss Ashton suffered "deliberate, extensive and sustained domestic abuse".

Last March, Cope strangled her until she passed out.

Afterwards Miss Ashton sent him a text message saying: "I'm not going to pretend nothing's wrong, you could have actually killed me on Friday... think of all the stuff you have done to me."

Cope promised not to do it again but these were "empty words", the court heard.

Within days he accused her of flirting with customers when she worked at the Duke of York pub, run by her cousin, in Eccles, Salford.

He called her a "whore", dragged her around the back of a nearby takeaway, and told her: "I'm going to kill you." He was disturbed and the attack ended.

In April, Liam Grime, the father of Daisy, gave her an ultimatum - leave Cope or lose her children through a court order.

Mr Grime told her she was a "great mum" but warned: "Linzi, he's going to end up killing you."

The next month, while walking home from the pub, Cope accused Miss Ashton of fancying his friend and headbutted her in the face, causing her nose to bleed.

As she curled up in a ball on the floor, he carried on the attack until a car passed and Miss Ashton was able to escape.

Later she broke down and confessed to relatives what was going on.

A family meeting was called and Miss Ashton, though scared Cope would kill her, agreed to go to police on May 19.

"Her testimony is chilling, given the fears she had of being murdered in a revenge attack," Miss Blackwell said.

Miss Ashton was t errified of Cope after making the rape allegation to police. Her two children were taken out of her care and she went to live with her father before being reunited with her daughters and returning home.

Locks were changed, alarms fitted and male relatives stayed with the family.

But Cope, now wanted for rape by police, was still in contact, warning her: "Don't think it's over."

By June the couple were back together, the court heard.

Cope continued to pressure Miss Ashton into retracting her statement over the rape, and she did so on June 19.

Ten days later she was dead.

Police mounted a nationwide manhunt after Miss Ashton's body was found and Cope was arrested on July 27.

He told police he tried to hang himself while on the run for murder but later refused to answer questions.

In a victim impact statement, Miss Ashton's mother Philomena McMahon said: "Our lives are empty and dark without Linzi. She was the brightest light you could ever wish to meet.

"I have never known pain like this. Heartbreak doesn't signify anywhere near the pain.

"I can't stop thinking about poor Linzi and how she must have suffered.

"He didn't just end one life that day, changed one life forever, he ended all of ours. Our whole family is devastated.

"My life seems to be playing out in slow motion."

In a statement outside court, Ms McMahon added: "We as a family are all extremely relieved that this terrible ordeal has finally come to an end. I am thankful we did not have to sit in court to hear details of how our beautiful Linzi suffered.

"We can now start to get closure on the most traumatic year in all our lives. We all miss Linzi terribly, nothing will ever replace her. "She left behind two gorgeous girls who will always be reminded what a beautiful, wonderful, caring person she was.

"A big light went out in our lives the day she died, she wasn't just my daughter she was my best friend. I miss her every moment of every day.

"I want to thank Greater Manchester Police for all they have done during the investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service, Victim Support and the Witness Care Service."

Superintendent Wayne Miller from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said: "The family of Linzi Ashton remain heartbroken by what has happened. Michael Cope not only took away a life in its prime, he has deprived two young girls of their mother.

"He carried out a brutal murder and then left relatives to find her body. The level of violence was shocking, and nobody deserves such a fate.

"Our thoughts go out to all of Linzi's family and friends.

"It took Cope one month to give himself up to police, but that was only after a major manhunt where officers were searching neighbourhoods, forest and canals, and the net was closing in on him.

"Linzi suffered a history of domestic abuse with Cope, who wanted to manipulate her and wanted to control her. He was already wanted by the police when he carried out this hideous act.

"The full contact police officers had with Linzi is being examined by an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation, and it would be inappropriate to make any comment about this while this investigation is ongoing.

"We continue to learn lessons to better protect victims of domestic abuse and give victims the confidence to report. We await the outcome of the IPCC investigation.

"We remain committed to protecting vulnerable victims. The lessons learnt from the tragic murder of Clare Wood resulted in the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Clare's Law), which was piloted in Greater Manchester and is being rolled out nationally.

"Anyone who is suffering domestic abuse, or knows someone who is a victim can call police on 999 or 101. Alternatively Women's Aid can be contacted on 0800 2000 247."


From Belfast Telegraph