Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 19:15 UK

Ex-husband jailed for wife murder

Graham Birchwood
Graham Birchwood was known by his middle name of George

A Surrey businessman has been jailed for a minimum of 32 years after being found guilty of murdering his ex-wife.

Judge Warwick McKinnon told Graham George Birchwood, 55, the murder of 52-year-old Sharon Birchwood was "a cold-blooded execution for financial gain".

The jury at Croydon Court Court was told Birchwood, who had debts of more than £150,000, arranged for his friend Paul Cryne to kill Mrs Birchwood.

Birchwood stood to inherit her bungalow in Harriott's Lane, Ashtead.

The body of Mrs Birchwood, who was registered disabled, was found "cruelly trussed up" at the property in December 2007.

The couple had divorced in 1989 but she remained devoted to Birchwood, of Stevens Close, Epsom, and he was the sole beneficiary of her will.

The court was told Birchwood was unemployed and had loans and debts totalling more than £150,000 after ventures in Thailand failed.

The prosecution alleged that Paul Cryne, a 61-year-old from Manchester who lived in Thailand, committed the murder and three days later Birchwood pretended to be the "innocent finder" of his ex-wife's body.

Sharon Birchwood
Sharon Birchwood was registered disabled and walked with a stick

Mr Cryne is currently in custody in Thailand awaiting extradition to the UK.

"Sharon Birchwood had no known enemies," said Det Chief Insp Maria Woodall after Birchwood was sentenced to life imprisonment.

"She lived a quiet, harmless, ordinary lifestyle, burdened by ill health and living in rather poor conditions with little social life.

"She was totally betrayed by the greed of the man she had married and been devoted to for 30 years."

"Birchwood made the callous decision that his ex-wife must die and then set about a ruthless plot which he hoped would distance himself from this evil crime."

Mrs Birchwood's family said they believed justice had been done.

"In the 18 months since her death we have been living through a nightmare as more and more facts about the case have been released," they said in a statement.

"This has affected the whole family, especially her 82-year-old mother who has suffered serious health problems as a consequence."

"Now that Graham has been convicted we hope to be able to rebuild our lives and move on."

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