The brutal slaying of a British mother-of-five as she tended to her horses in a field was carefully planned, it emerged at trial.
Justin Robertson, 36, was this week found guilty of the murder of Pennie Davis, a 47-year-old supermarket worker, at the end of a six-week jury trial in Winchester Crown Court. He will serve at least 32 years in jail.
Benjamin Carr, 22, who paid Robertson £1500 to silence Davis, his former stepmother, was convicted of conspiracy to murder. He will serve at least 30 years in jail.
Davis died from multiple stab wounds when attacked last September in the pasture at Leygreen Farm, near Beaulieu, in New Forest, where she kept her horses.
The attack arose over long-standing feud between Carr and Davis.
Davis, before the attack that ended her life, had apparently threatened to approach police, purportedly with new evidence in relation to historical sex-assault allegations against Carr when he was a teenager. Carr had denied the allegations, and police did not take the matter any further.
Carr feared that Davis contacting police again might threaten the upcoming wedding of his father, who had once been in a relationship with Davis.
He engaged the services of Robertson, who stabbed Davis 14 times in an attack that the presiding judge, Justice Andrew Popplewell, described as particularly brutal.
Evidence emerged during the trial that police had been led to Robertson in the murder probe because he dropped his car keys at the scene, near the body of Davis.
Georga Pead, 18, who is Davis’ youngest daughter, said outside court that the family could not celebrate the convictions.
“It is not them, but us, Pennie’s family, who have been given the real life sentence,” she told reporters.
“The life of someone precious to us, a mother, daughter, wife and sister, has gone; and she cannot be replaced.”
She said the family had attended court each day and had been forced to listen to lies told about their mother, who had been robbed of her voice to defend herself.
“The Pennie presented in court by those who were desperate to try to justify their actions is not the Pennie we remember. For us she will always be our warm, loving, protective, determined, funny mum who loved her children more than anything,” she said.
Davis’s eldest daughter, Sophie, 21, said she appreciated the thorough police investigation and the dedication of the jury, and especially the people who bravely came to court and gave evidence.
“We also want to thank the many people who have sent us love and good wishes throughout this ordeal. The outpouring of grief at her death is the best and most faithful tribute to her memory and will not be erased.”
Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, who headed the inquiry, said: “Pennie was a loving mother who doted on all her children and was just starting a new chapter in her life with her husband, Pete.
“Her death brought together the local community and I would like to thank everyone who supported our investigation and came forward with information.
“Pennie’s murder must have come as to a shock to many, particularly those who saw our armed response in the following days as we searched for Justin Robertson, who went on the run as our prime suspect.
“The pressure we put on him meant he eventually did the right thing and handed himself in.
“Pennie’s body was found by her husband in the field where she tended her horses.
“This remote location was a challenge for the investigation team, who worked hard to piece together the events leading to her death and the evidence needed to place Robertson at the scene and secure a conviction.
“Both Robertson and Ben Carr denied their involvement, but our investigation linked the men and proved they plotted together to have Pennie killed.
“Robertson is an evil and cold killer who was motivated by a relatively small amount of money. His lies through this trial were evident to the jury.
“Carr had a long-term hatred for Pennie. He tried to silence her once and for all and knew Robertson would do anything for money.
“We never accepted his defence that he only wanted Pennie ‘frightened off’, and neither did the jury.
“Carr planned her death in detail, ensuring he was out of the way at the time and had an alibi. This cold, calculated plan, in my view, makes him just as evil as Robertson.
“Both have now been found guilty and are facing the prospect of a lengthy jail term.
“Pennie’s family have shown complete restraint throughout as they have had to listen to lies about her during the trial. I would like to pay tribute to them and hope they can now seek some sort of closure following this painful experience.”
Barton thanked the work of officers who worked on the case and the efforts of the Crown Prosecution Service and wider prosecution team.