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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 15:57 GMT
Man convicted of 1975 family murders
Jonathan and Victoria Allen
Jonathan and Victoria Allen vanished in 1975
A man has been found guilty and jailed for life for murdering his wife and two children 27 years ago.

Anthony John Allen, 68, from Poole, Dorset, had denied murdering 39-year-old Patricia Allen, and their children, Jonathan and Victoria, who disappeared in May 1975.

The three had disappeared while the family lived in Salcombe in south Devon.

Allen was convicted by a unanimous verdict at Exeter Crown Court after nine hours of deliberations following a 12-day trial.

No bodies found

Allen maintained his wife left after a row, leaving him with the children - but she returned two days later and took the youngsters with her.

He never reported his family missing, nothing has been heard from them since their disappearance and no bodies have been found.

A massive but unsuccessful search was launched in Salcombe by Devon and Cornwall Police using tracker dogs and divers.

The dogs were used to sniff out possible grave sites, a garden was turned over, ground penetrating equipment was used and a reservoir was drained.

Divers searched the local estuary and a clairvoyant was even called in at one stage to throw some light on the mystery.

Patricia Allen
Patricia Allen's body has never been found

Scientific searches for blood were carried out in Patricia Allen's golden-yellow Volkswagen car.

Searches were also carried out on Allen's boat and on a car belonging to Allen's former lover, local widowed restaurant owner Eunice Yabsley, but nothing was found.

The case was reopened after the publication of a book by Ms Yabsley in 1992.

Eunice Yabsley was a key prosecution witness and Allen's partner for 12 years.

She told the trial she had seen scratch marks on his arm the day after Pat Allen disappeared.

The prosecution claimed his motive for murder was his ongoing affair with Ms Yabsley and that he wanted his family out of the way.

'Terrible secret'

There was no emotion from Allen when the jury foreman read out the unanimous verdict, just a slight hunching of the shoulders.

Mr Justice Steel told Allen: "You have kept your terrible secret.

"But your account of what happened and characteristic dishonesty has convinced the jury that there is no possible explanation other than you murdered them."

Allen's solicitor, Robert Renshaw, said: "Mr Allen is devastated at the verdict and has instructed his solicitors to give advice on appeal."

Past convictions

During the trial, the criminal past of the self-confessed liar and philanderer emerged.

Previously he had been convicted of bigamy, theft, fraud and criminal damage, and had even faked his own suicide to change identity.

Speaking outside Exeter Crown Court, Superintendent Paul Davies, said: "To have murdered his wife that fateful May Bank Holiday in 1975, in whatever circumstances, was a despicable enough act.

"No words can describe the sheer evil of a man who can then, by his own hand in cold blood, murder his own two young children simply because they stood in the way of his desire to be with his lover and his wish for a new life."

The BBC's Jon Kay
"There is genuine relief that the prime suspect in this case is finally behind bars"

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16 Dec 02 | England
16 Dec 02 | England
14 Dec 02 | England
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