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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 12:24 GMT
Phone call to a killer

By Libby Sutcliffe
BBC News Online, South East

A chance phone call to a friend cost Jane Longhurst her life at the hands of a man with an obsession with strangulation.

Miss Longhurst, a special needs teacher from Brighton, went missing on 14 March.

Coutts was caught after police searched a storage unit

Numerous appeals were made by her partner and family who were holding out hope that the 31-year-old had disappeared of her own free will.

But five weeks later their worst fears were confirmed when the teacher's naked body was found on fire at Wiggonholt Common, a beauty spot in Pulborough in West Sussex.

A pair of tights was wrapped twice around her neck and a post-mortem examination revealed she had been strangled.

At Lewes Crown Court, Graham Coutts claimed Miss Longhurst had been a willing sexual partner and her death was a tragic accident when a sex game went wrong.

The man, who admitted having a neck fetish, said he kept her body in his shed for 11 days before moving it to a storage unit.

In the weeks before Miss Longhurst's body was found, police were baffled by the disappearance of a woman described as stable, reliable and dependable.

1005 GMT on 14 March - Jane Longhurst phones Lisa Stevens but instead speaks to Graham Coutts
1555 GMT on 14 March - Malcolm Sentance phones Jane's mobile but it is switched off
Late evening on14 March - Mr Sentance rings police and reports Jane's disappearance
14 to 18 March - Police search for Jane and decide to treat her disappearance as a serious crime
21 March - Police speak to Coutts
19 April - Jane's burning body is found on Wiggonholt Common
20 April - Post mortem confirms the body is Jane
24 April - Coutts is arrested and struggles to answer detectives' questions
25 April - Coutts is released without charge
28 April - Police search the Big Yellow Storage Company
29 April - Coutts is rearrested and charged with murder

But the discovery of her body sparked a series of findings which quickly led to her killer - Graham Coutts.

Miss Longhurst, who worked at Uplands Special School, had lived together with partner Malcolm Sentance in Shaftsbury Road for two years.

The pair would often socialise with Coutts and his girlfriend Lisa Stephens whom they had known for about five years.

Miss Stephens was pregnant and had been suffering morning sickness which sometimes kept her off work which led Miss Longhurst to often phone her in the morning.

On 14 March at 1005 GMT she phoned her friend but instead Graham Coutts picked up the phone.

It was the last conversation the teacher had and led to a meeting which ultimately resulted in her death.

When police searched Coutts' home in Waterloo Street in Hove they found hundreds of images of strangulation and necrophilia on his computer.

A concentration of pictures had been downloaded on the day before Miss Longhurst disappeared and just before and after her body was found.

Jane Longhurst was a special needs teacher in Brighton
Jane Longhurst phoned her friend but spoke to Coutts

The exact time of her death was never established but the pathologist said she had been dead for between four and five weeks.

Coutts lured Miss Longhurst to meet him by arranging to go swimming but instead they went to his flat

Coutts was first questioned by police about Jane's disappearance on 21 March.

Five days after Miss Longhurst's body was discovered on the common on 19 April, police arrested Coutts but released him.

Coutts, a part-time musician, who is originally from Scotland, was eventually charged after police searched a storage unit he had hired in a building in Brighton.

Under the name of Paul Kelly he paid 76.32 for the space at the Big Yellow Storage Company to store what he said were personal belongings.

More than 1,000 people attended Miss Longhurst's funeral

But instead he kept Miss Longhurst's body in a box in the unit, only moving it when he feared he would be caught.

CCTV at the storage firm shows Coutts visited the unit seven times and on one occasion stayed for seven minutes.

Staff started to become suspicious because there had been a strange smell coming from the space Coutts rented and, because of the media coverage surrounding Jane's disappearance, they alerted the police.

When officers searched the unit on 28 April they found Jane's mobile phone, her denim jacket, purse and swimming kit.

They also found traces of Miss Longhurst's blood on a shirt belonging to Coutts in the unit.

Tarpaulin and a roll of tape bought from Wickes in Brighton were also discovered, as well as a plastic petrol can.

Coutts was also caught on CCTV buying a can of petrol, toilet roll and bin liners from the Texaco Garage next to the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove.

About 40 minutes after the time of the recording the burning body of Jane Longhurst was spotted by a motorist on the common and the trail to her killer had begun.

The BBC's Robert Hall
"Coutts maintained his silence, but technology was his downfall"

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