The Case of Michael Brown
By Bob Woffinden onShare:
From Inside Time issue October 2009
Leading investigative journalist Bob Woffinden examines the case of a man convicted of murdering his stepfather when a Cup Final played a significant part.
On Saturday 12 May 2001, after Freddie Ljungberg had put Arsenal ahead, Michael Owen scored two late goals to win the Cup Final for Liverpool. Later that day, Derek Kinder was murdered at his home in Belper, Derbyshire. It may seem strange that these two events are connected but, sadly, they are.
The following year, Michael Brown, Derek’s stepson, was convicted of the murder. As the only other person living in the house at the time, he was the obvious suspect.
Brown had four older sisters, two of whom had emigrated to Australia. Consequently, Peggy, his mother, and Derek would regularly spend long periods there. After all, accommodation was provided so the trips were never expensive.
Back in England, Brown, a student at Derby University who worked part-time at the Derby Evening Telegraph, was left on his own. He got into financial difficulties and bills needed to be settled. He could usually rely on his mother to help him out, but not when she was on the other side of the world. So he borrowed £1,000 from an outfit who advertised “Quick cash” in a local pub.
There seemed to be three men involved. They purported to be money-lenders but actually, it soon turned out, they were drug-dealers. From their point of view, their ruse was a good one. They could virtually guarantee that the hard-up youngsters they lent money to would default at some point. So then they’d compel them to become couriers. The kids would be unable to refuse and too afraid to tell anyone.
Inevitably, Brown defaulted. As the cost of making good the shortfall on the repayments, he was asked to take a package to Sheffield. He did so. Then the men wanted to see him again: on Saturday 12 May, Cup Final day.
This presented Brown with a dilemma. His girlfriend, Lorraine, had asked him to watch the game with her and her family. Although he was by now in increasing fear of the men, he did not feel he could let her down. So he spent the day at her house.
That left Derek in the house on his own. Unusually, he’d returned from Australia by himself. One of Brown’s sisters was about to give birth and so Peggy stayed behind to help when the new baby arrived.
When Brown’s taxi dropped him back at home at 1.30am, he had a dreadful shock. The three drug-dealers were calmly sitting there, drinking coffee. There was no sign of Derek. The men told Brown that he’d ‘had an accident’. Before leaving, they warned Brown there would be serious consequences for him and others in the family if he said anything. They returned on Monday and demanded the keys to Derek’s car. Brown, by now terrified, handed them over.
When it became clear that Derek was missing, Peggy immediately arranged to return home and was back in England by Friday. She straightaway noticed spots of blood in the house. The police sealed it off and took Brown in for questioning.
At the end of the month, after Derek’s car was found abandoned in Sheffield, Brown was charged with murder. When the case went to trial, the Crown argued that Brown had invented the three drug-dealers as a cover story and that he had killed Derek himself in an argument over money. He had then dismembered the body. In June, the torso had been found about eighty miles away, in a suitcase in the River Trent. Parts of the body, including the head, have never been recovered.
How was Brown supposed to have dismembered the body? Dr Naomi Carter, the pathologist, pointed out that cutting up a body shortly after death would create a lot of blood and a lot of mess. Indeed.
But there was no evidence of a body having been cut up either in the house or garden. The prosecution weakly pointed to a saw, found in the garage, which had Derek’s DNA on it. As it was his saw, this was hardly surprising. The only evidence that should have mattered was that there was no blood or tissue on the saw, no evidence that it had been recently used, and no evidence that anyone other than Derek had ever used it.
There were further unexplained points. Most obviously, why would Brown have killed his stepfather – and how could he have done so? The two men got on well together; there was no evidence of animosity between them. Even if Derek had known that Brown was in financial difficulties that would have been of little concern to him; he would just have thought that it was a problem for Michael to sort out with his Mum. Nor was Brown physically strong; Derek, a former policeman, was. Though now 70 years of age, he would have known how to look after himself.
Three men, however, could have overcome him. The most likely interpretation of events is that they walked into the house (the back door was always left unlocked) expecting to see Brown there. Instead, they found Derek, and a fatal confrontation ensued.
Brown was supposed to have committed the murder as a result of an argument over money, but Derek’s wallet and credit cards were still in the house where he had put them. Yet his passport had disappeared. That was a telling point; it would have been of no conceivable advantage to Brown, but a gang of drug-dealers would have recognised its usefulness.
The owners of the land that abutted the Kinders’ garden reported that the chicken-wire between the two properties was trampled down. So the body could have been removed from the house that way, concealed on the adjoining land temporarily and then, when the coast was clear, taken away via a main road, rather than in the quiet avenue where the Kinders lived. But it would have needed two people to do that.
In fact, there is ample evidence that there were intruders in the house. There were glove prints in the house, and one cannot imagine the family wearing gloves in their own home. There were also sightings of an unrecognised Ford Mondeo car outside the house at that time.
When Derek’s car was recovered, there were no fingerprints on the driver’s side of the car. Yet Derek had been driving it for a month since his return from Australia. This suggested that the driver’s area had been wiped clean by someone who knew what he was doing. (The prints of children in the family were found on the back seats.) Since Brown also used the car, it would not have been necessary for him to do that.
Derek was a regular at his local pub, the Grapes. On Friday 11 May he met friends there and promised to see them again at about 9.00pm the following evening. At about 9.30 that night, Saturday 12 May, the woman commented to her husband, ‘Looks like no Derek tonight’.
The thrust of the evidence is clear: it seems that whatever happened to him happened at or before 9.00pm. At that time, of course, the Cup Final was over, but Brown was still with his girlfriend and her family. He had a cast-iron alibi.