Three women given suspended sentences in connection with murder of showjumper Katie Simpson

Katie Simpson died in Derry in August 2020, six days after she was attacked

Katie Simpson (21), from Co Armagh, died at Altnagelvin Hospital on August 9th, 2020

Three women have been given suspended prison sentences for withholding information and perverting the course of justice in connection with the murder of showjumper Katie Simpson.

The trial of Jonathan James Creswell (36), from Greysteel in Co Derry, for the rape and murder of Ms Simpson ended abruptly in April after he was found dead at his home.

Ms Simpson died in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry on August 9th, 2020, six days after she was attacked in the house in Gortnessy Meadows in Lettershandoney, near Derry, where she had been living with her sister, Creswell’s partner.

Hayley Robb (30), of Weavers Meadow, Banbridge, had previously pleaded guilty to withholding information and perverting the course of justice by washing clothes belonging to Creswell and cleaning blood at his home.

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She was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years, for perverting the course of justice, and 12 months, suspended for two years, for withholding information.

Jill Robinson (42), from Blackfort Road in Omagh, admitted perverting the course of justice by washing Creswell’s clothes, and was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years.

Rose De Montmorency-Wright (23) from Craigantlet Road in Newtownards, pleaded guilty to withholding information and was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years.

During sentencing at the Crown Court in Derry on Friday, judge Neil Rafferty said it was clear Katie Simpson was a “fun-loving, caring, talented horsewoman who was loved deeply not only by her family, but also the many friends she had”.

“Her loss, and the circumstances of it, have left many people shocked and angry that her passing so cruelly deprived her of the bright future she undoubtedly would have had.”

A victim impact statement from Ms Simpson’s mother outlined the “incredible pain” at the thought her daughter had taken her own life, and how she sat at her hospital bed “frustrated and angry, not knowing how to comfort her”.

“If any of the girls had been truthful about what they knew, I would have been so much better able to comfort her, if I could have said, ‘we know what happened you’.”

She said if she had known, Creswell would “never have been at Katie’s bedside”.

Ms Simpson’s sister Rebecca described the loss as “a void that will never be filled”.

“She was looking forward to my seven-year-old daughter starting to ride horses. She is riding horses now, and Katie will never get to see that.”

Outlining the facts of the case, the judge said that following Creswell’s assault on Ms Simpson, he tried to make her condition and subsequent death look like a suicide.

“Together with others he disposed of and interfered with evidence, with the inevitable consequence of misleading the initial investigation into her death.”

Katie Simpson: ‘I hope she knew how much everyone loved and cared about her’Opens in new window ]

He said accounts provided by Creswell and the three defendants had the effect of “protecting” the former from being suspected of having a role in her death.

The defendants, the judge said, “ascribed to and were complicit in his conspiracy of silence with regards to a number of critical facts”.

Robb and Robinson engaged in “positive acts” which had the result of “misleading those trying to uncover the truth of what had happened to Katie Simpson”.

The judge noted that the three defendants believed Creswell’s fiction that Katie Simpson had taken her own life and thought they were concealing a prior assault.

The judge said that while it was “somewhat unusual” in sentencing remarks to consider an individual who was not before the court, he had found it “almost impossible” to assess the culpability of the defendants without considering Creswell’s role in their offending.

He said that, had his trial for murder and rape proceeded, a “significant number” of witnesses would have given evidence as to Creswell’s behaviour towards women.

Judge Rafferty praised one “courageous young woman, Abigail Lyle” who waived her anonymity to give evidence about Creswell’s treatment of her during their relationship, when he subjected her to coercive control, “numerous” physical assaults and choking and strangulation.

In 2010, Creswell was jailed for six months for his attacks on Ms Lyle.

Witnesses described “verbally abusive and frankly, vile” comments from Creswell towards Ms Simpson, and a friend described how he “groomed and came to dominate Katie” from when she was about 10 years old.

The number of witnesses and the volume of evidence, judge Rafferty said, created the “irresistible conclusion” that Creswell was a “skilled and predatory abuser” who regarded women as “simply there to be used and abused for his own ends, including his sexual gratification”.

The judge outlined the relationship of each of the three defendants towards Creswell.

In regard to Robb, he said she met Creswell when she was 17 and, though academically gifted, under his influence lost all interest in her studies and went to work for him at his horse yard.

Judge Rafferty said her relationship with Creswell fit an “established pattern” whereby a “young girl, interested in horses” falls under his influence and becomes involved in a “sexual relationship which then involved coercive control and physical violence”.

On one occasion she was hospitalised following an assault by Creswell which caused a clot on her chest.

Robinson also “experienced physical violence at his hands” while in a relationship with him.

Sentencing the defendants, the judge said he was “entirely satisfied that but for the agency and control of Jonathan Creswell none of them would have ever stood in a dock” and the “using” of them by Creswell was “cynical and exploitative.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times