Leeds Crown Court murder trial hears how burnt decomposing body was found in shallow grave at caravan park after being stored in wheelie bin

A murder victim's body was stored in a wheelie bin in the cellar of a house before being burned and then buried at a caravan park, a jury heard.

Monday, 16th March 2020, 7:08 pm
Updated Monday, 16th March 2020, 7:10 pm

Leeds Crown Court heard Susan Howells' decomposing remains were found in a shallow grave after police launched a missing person inquiry.

Detectives made the discovery in August last year, six months after the 51-year-old was last seen alive.

Dale Tarbox, 39, is on trial accused of murder.

Susan Howell's remains were found in a shallow grave at a caravan park in Doncaster. A murder trial was told her body had been stored in a wheelie bin and burnt before being disposed of.

After Tarbox was arrested, police found clips on his mobile phone of Miss Howells carrying out a sex act on him.

Jurors were told Tarbox, has already pleaded guilty to a charge of preventing a lawful burial.

A second defendant, Keith Wadsworth, is also on trial accused of assisting an offender.

The prosecution claims Wadsworth, 60, buried the body at the instigation of Tarbox.

The pair were neighbours at the caravan park in Doncaster where Miss Howells' body was found.

Tarbox denies the murder, claiming his 64-year-old girlfriend, Joan Arnold, killed Miss Howells by strangling her at their former home in Bradford.

Prosecutor David Brooke QC said Miss Howells was last known to be alive on February 19 last year when she spoke to her mother on the phone.

She rented a flat in Harrogate but was known to have been staying with Tarbox and his wife at Independent Street, Bradford.

Around £3,500 in benefits continued to be withdrawn from her post office account despite Miss Howells being missing.

The prosecutor said investigations revealed that Tarbox, Mrs Arnold and Wadsworth had been withdrawing money from Miss Howells' account.

After the missing person investigation was launched police traced the couple to a caravan park in Doncaster.

Tarbox and his partner were renting a static caravan at the park on Station Road.

They were not at home at the time but officers saw a touring caravan on the site which contained a wheele bin with the house number of their former home in Bradford marked on it.

Mr Brooke said there was also a metal incinerator bin which had the appearance of something recently being burned inside it.

Clumps of human hair were found in the bin.

Detectives traced the couple to a hotel in Blackpool and they were both arrested on suspicion of murder and theft.

Wadsworth was arrested on suspicion of theft.

Mr Brooke said: "Tarbox told police that he had not seen her (Miss Howells) for six months.

"He said he was 'baffled and in shock' and could not believe he had been arrested."

Tarbox went on to tell officers: "I just pray to God she shows her face to prove our innocence."

Tarbox claimed he had been withdrawing money from her account as she was repaying a debt to him.

Mr Brooke continued: "Joan Arnold said he admitted to her that he killed her and believed that the body had been buried by Keith Wadsworth, at Tarbox's instigation, behind the caravan."

Mrs Arnold took the officers to an area of the caravan park where she believed the body to be buried.

Human remains unearthed from a shallow grave were confirmed to be the body of Miss Howells.

The court heard the body was not clothed and had been "doubled over".

A post mortem examination was hampered as the body had decomposed.

A pathologist found a fracture to the Adam's apple area consistent with compression to the neck.

The likely cause of death was neck injuries.

Her hair was singed and there were other indications that attempts had been made to burn the body.

Mr Brooke said it was the prosecution's case that Tarbox murdered Miss Howells at the house in Bradford then stored her body in the wheelie bin at the property before trying to burn it.

The prosecutor said Tarbox left the area with Joan Arnold shortly after the killing and ended up at the caravan site where he became friends with Wadsworth

Mr Brooke said it was the Crown's case that Tarbox returned to the house in Bradford in June and took the wheelie bin back to the caravan park where he and Wadsworth disposed of the body.

Jurors were told Tarbox continues to claim his wife carried out the murder.

He said: "Dale Tarbox does not dispute that he lied to the police and tried to dispose of the body.

"He claims now it was Joan Arnold who was responsible for killing her in the Bradford house.

"He agrees that Susan Howells periodically came to stay with them.

"He said an argument took place between the two woman."

The jury heard Tarbox claims Miss Howells was walking naked around the house when his wife attacked her.

The defendant claims Miss Howells struck her head on the floor and started bleeding.

Mr Brooke said: "He said he put her on the bed and Joan Arnold put a dressing gown cord around her neck and strangled her.

"He says that Susan Howells spoke to him and rather than seek medical help, exhausted, he fell asleep on the bed.

"He said he went to check on Susan Howells and she was dead.

"He says he was persuaded to assist her (Joan Arnold) in keeping the body in the cellar."

Mr Brooke continued: "The prosecution says that having extensively lied to the police in interview, this is a manufactured account.

"The prosecution case is that he is an aggressive, volatile individual and highly manipulative.

"The manner of her death and her disposal lead to one conclusion - murder."

The court heard Miss Howells was a small woman and had a disability that meant she needed to use a zimmer frame.

The zimmer frame was found in bushes at the caravan site after the discovery of the body.

Around five weeks before her disappearance she contacted police alleging Tarbox had sexually assaulted her.

Tarbox denied the allegation when he was questioned by police.

A clip was then recovered from his mobile phone of Miss Howells carrying out a sex act on the defendant.

Tarbox then admitted that sexual contact took place between them on December 27, 2018, while Miss Howells was staying at his home for Christmas.

The court heard Tarbox and Mrs Arnold had been together since 2017.

He met the grandmother-of-fourteen on a chat line.

CCTV coverage was recovered from June 11 last year which showed Tarbox and Wadsworth loading items, including a wheelie bin, onto a removal van.

At one stage during the opening of the case, Mr Brooke paused to drink water as he began coughing.

The barrister told jurors that he was suffering from a cold and had had a test for coronavirus, which was negative.

He told the jury: "Please don't worry."

The trial continues.