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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Life for best friend hammer murder
Philip Heggarty (left) said he was victim Derek Bennett's best friend
A man has been jailed for life for murdering his best friend in a hammer attack and stealing thousands of pounds from him.

Philip Heggarty, 49, then bundled Derek Bennett's body in a rug, put it into a car, and set fire to both in a Cardiff car park, a jury heard.

Sentencing Heggarty, the judge Mr Justice Roderick Evans described him as a "dangerous man".

"You are a resourceful and manipulative liar. This was a brutal and very violent killing."

The judge told Heggarty he was too dangerous ever to be allowed out.

Under new Home Office regulations, judges in murder trials now have to announce in open court the minimum sentence to be served behind bars for those jailed for "life."

Mr Justice Evans said the recommended starting point of 30 years for a crime like Heggarty's was "inadequate".

The court heard details of his history of violence.

His previous convictions include attempted murder and several violent robberies in which he targeted elderly people.

The trial at Swansea Crown Court had heard how the close friends had spent the evening together at a party after drinking in a city pub in April 2003.

CCTV footage showed the friends driving in convoy from the Cardiff International Arena car park - where Mr Bennett had earlier left his car - in the direction of Heggarty's home.

The jury was told Mr Bennett's blood was found inside Heggarty's flat at Clare Road in Grangetown, and on clothes he was wearing on the night of the killing.

Heggarty's fingerprints were also discovered in the blood on a wall in the cellar of the flat.

The court heard that forensic tests had determined that the murder weapon, which has never been found, was a hammer-type object.

Mr Bennett's Renault car
The blazing car with Mr Bennett's body in it was left abandoned

Greg Bull QC, prosecuting, said splashes of blood on Heggarty's settee were consistent with the attack having been carried out with the victim lying on it.

Mr Bennett may have been "asleep or dozing or with his back to his attacker" at the time, he said.

Firefighters discovered Mr Bennett's remains in the rear of his blazing Renault Laguna in the car park of the Earl Haig British Legion Club in Whitchurch, Cardiff, two days after the murder.

The body was so badly burnt, Mr Bennett, who lived with his partner, step children and young son in St Mellons, could only be identified from dental records, the court heard.

During the trial the court was told Mr Bennett was known to have been carrying up to 3,000 in cash and illicit drugs worth about 10,000.

After his arrest, the jury was told Heggarty was found to have paid off 1,500 of debts on the same day as the murder.

A cache of drugs was also discovered at his girlfriend's home.

Mr Heggarty, a salesman, had denied murder.

He told the jury that Mr Bennett "was like the brother I never had", adding that it was "incredible" to say that he had killed his friend.

Philip Heggarty's flat in Grangetown, Cardiff
Mr Bennett's blood was found inside Heggarty's flat in Grangetown, Cardiff

He said Mr Bennett, a former chef in the merchant navy, used his ground floor flat to store his drugs and used to move in for a day or two at a time if he argued with his partner.

The judge told Heggarty: "There is no doubt he enjoyed your company that night, drinking, taking drugs and going to an all- night party.

"Within hours of that coming to an end, you bludgeoned him to death, hitting him about the head with a blunt object, shattering his skull into 23 pieces. He took one and a half hours to die.

"I have no doubt your motive was robbery."

Outside the court, Mr Bennett's brother, Paul, 45, welcomed the life sentence, saying: "Justice has been served and it has given me faith again in the justice system.

"There is no jubilation for me in this. At the end of the day that man should never be on the streets.

"He should have been locked up a long time ago."

Heggarty's solicitor Andrew Shanahan said: "Mr Heggarty is shocked at the verdict and intends to appeal against the conviction. We will be preparing the appeal as soon as possible."


SEE ALSO:
Businessman 'burnt friend's body'
16 Jun 04  |  South East Wales
Car body inquest opens
21 May 03  |  Wales


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