Norfolk

Graham Birchwood dies in prison after ordering ex-wife's 'execution'

Graham Birchwood
Image caption Graham Birchwood died at HMP Wayland in Norfolk on 9 September

A businessman jailed for ordering the "cold-blooded execution" of his ex-wife to clear his debts has died in prison.

Graham Birchwood paid a friend £30,000 to kill Sharon Birchwood in December 2007, so he could inherit her £475,000 assets.

The 65-year-old was jailed for life with a minimum term of 32 years in 2009 after being found guilty of murder.

He died of heart disease at HMP Wayland on 9 September, an inquest in Norfolk has heard.

Jailing Birchwood at Croydon Crown Court in June 2009, Judge Warwick McKinnon described the murder as "a cold-blooded execution for financial gain".

Image copyright Sharon Birchwood
Image caption Sharon Birchwood had divorced her husband in 1989 but remained devoted to him, the trial heard

The businessman, from Epsom in Surrey, had debts of £150,000 and arranged for his friend Paul Cryne to kill Mrs Birchwood, 52, who was registered disabled.

Her body was found "cruelly trussed up" at her home in Ashtead in December 2007 after Cryne carried out the killing with "ruthless efficiency," the court heard.

The Birchwoods divorced in 1989 but she was still devoted to her ex-husband, even signing his name in Christmas cards, and he remained the sole beneficiary of her will.

Cryne, who had met Birchwood in the expatriate community in Thailand, flew to Heathrow the week before the murder, staying with Birchwood's mother.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Paul Cryne was paid £30,000 for killing Sharon Birchwood in December 2007

After he had killed Mrs Birchwood, he sent his friend a text to tell him "the fatal deed had been done", the court heard. He later staged the discovery of his wife's body and raised the alarm.

A year after Birchwood was jailed, Cryne was convicted of murder after being extradited from his home in Thailand and was jailed for 28 years and six months. He died in prison in January 2018.

The next pre-inquest review into Birchwood's death will be held on 21 February.

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