Two men disposed of schoolgirl Paige Chivers’ body and then tried to obstruct police by laying a string of false trails and intimidating witnesses, a court heard.
Robert Ewing, 60, was said to have had an “inappropriate sexual interest” in 15-year-old and took advantage of her “chaotic and dysfunctional” upbringing to groom her, a jury at Preston Crown Court was told.
He then murdered her in a flat before he and co-defendant Gareth Dewhurst, 46, allegedly disposed of her body and set about trying to disrupt the police investigation, it was claimed.
And the court heard how Dewhurst was allegedly overheard telling someone that “Bob” had killed Paige before he was made to use his car to help dispose of her body.
Paige vanished seven and a half years ago, in late August 2007.
The prosecution made its opening statement to the jury yesterday in the trial of the two defendants, which is expected to last 12 weeks.
He was frightened he was going to get arrested
Brian Cummings, prosecuting, told the court it is the Crown’s case that Paige is dead and Ewing murdered her.
Less than a fortnight before the youngster went missing, he even anonymously rang police to tell them that a “problem child” had turned up on his doorstep having been thrown out by her father, jurors heard.
Mr Cummings told the court: “We allege that was him testing the water.
“We allege that he wanted to see what official reaction there would be to the suggestion of a 15-year-old girl turning up on the doorstep of a 52-year-old man and the answer he learned, we suggest, was very little reaction.”
Eight months after Paige’s disappearance, Ewing’s friend Dewhurst was overheard in conversation saying he had used his car to dump the teenager’s body.
Mr Cummings said: “He then went on to say ‘I didn’t want to have sex with her, they made me’.”
The prosecutor said a “highly stoned” Dewhurst told a 16-year-old boy that Ewing had killed Paige and had then made him commit a serious sex offence before forcing him to use his car to dispose of her body.
Mr Cummings said: “He (Dewhurst) said that he had put the body in the boot and was saying that he was going to set his car on fire. He was frightened that he was going to get arrested, or that Bob (Ewing) would kill him.”
Ewing, formerly of All Hallows Road, Bispham, denies murdering Paige between August 23 and August 27, 2007.
He also denies intending to pervert the course of public justice by intimidating witnesses and providing false information to the police in their investigations.
Dewhurst, of Duncan Avenue, Blackpool, also denies the above charge.
Dewhurst has also pleaded not guilty to a sex offence and not guilty to assisting an offender in disposing of a body.
An extensive ‘proof of life’ inquiry by police had not found any evidence Paige was alive and she had yet to claim a “significant” inheritance sum left to her on her mother’s death once she turned 18, the jury heard.
The prosecutor said: “The prosecution say that even though no body has been recovered, you can be sure that Paige Chivers is dead.”
Mr Cummings then went on to outline a string of actions taken by both men which the Crown claims were intended to disrupt the police investigation.
The court heard Paige’s father reported her missing on August 26 .
The alleged murder victim was said to have known Ewing through her half-brother’s ex-girlfriend and both girls occasionally stayed the night at the defendant’s address.
Paige was expelled from school at the age of 13 and, by the time of her disappearance, was not attending school at all, the court heard.
Mr Cummings said there were issues with “drug-taking, under-age drinking and under-age sexual activity”.
He said: “She was a very troubled but also very vulnerable young girl.”
Her mother, Sheila, had died in February 2007 and her father, Frank – since a murder victim himself, the jury heard – was a drinker who could be violent.
On August 13, Ewing visited Bispham police station and made a call from an external public inquiry phone which was answered by a police operator.
The prosecutor said: “In the call he said that a 15-year-old girl, who he did not name, had turned up at his home that day, having been thrown out by her father.
“He said that the girl had been permanently excluded from school and described her as a problem child.
“He said he ‘just vaguely’ knew her and that he did not know where she lived, which was a lie.
“He had sent her back home, he said, but was requesting advice from the police. He did not give his name.”
Mr Cummings said that, on August 23, Paige packed two carrier bags of clothes and left her home in Longford Avenue, Bispham, following a row on the phone with her father about missing cash.
Later the same day she was spotted at a nearby bus stop with an older man, who the prosecution say was Ewing.
Ewing went on to tell detectives that was the last time he saw her after she went to his flat following an argument with her father.
A forensic scientific examination of his flat took place which found three small visible bloodstains in the inner hallway – stains that came from Paige, said the prosecution.
Mr Cummings said: “The prosecution say that the reason for the blood in Robert Ewing’s flat is that Paige Chivers came to harm here.”
In January 2008 Ewing was arrested at his home and questioned. He was asked at the outset if he had had any involvement in her disappearance or death.
Ewing said he had had no involvement at all and did not know she was dead. He also denied having had a sexual relationship with her. Asked why he had allowed her in his home, he said he just used to let everyone in.
He was released from police custody. Audio listening equipment had been installed in his flat and recordings were made over the next few days – including conversations between him and Dewhurst.
In all there were three periods over the years where covert listening devices were installed by police, either at an address where Ewing was living, or in a vehicle Dewhurst was using, or both.
There were a number of occasions on the probe when the defendants speak of the possibility they may be being monitored by police.
The court also heard that in April 2008 Dewhurst began seeing a woman. During conversations he mentioned Paige and claimed that she and another girl used to prostitute themselves. It was around then the woman overheard part of a conversation between Dewhurst and her 16-year-old son, allegedly about Paige, when he was said to be “highly stoned”.
Mr Cummings told the court: “Gareth Dewhurst had been drinking and smoking cannabis. They were speaking about Paige Chivers and Gareth Dewhurst said that he had used his car to dump her body.
“He said that he had put the body in the boot and was saying that he was going to set his car on fire. He was frightened that he was going to get arrested, or that Bob would kill him.”
The boy had asked him where he put the body and Dewhurst said he couldn’t tell him that, it would be too dangerous, it is claimed.
Dewhurst then turned up at Bispham police station in May 2008, saying he wanted to speak to a detective, as he believed he was suspected of having killed Paige Chivers.
He said he was a friend of Ewing, had only met her three or four times before she went missing and that he had been told he was suspected of disposing of her body. He emphatically denied this.
That same month he went to Blackpool Central police station and gave a witness statement. He spoke of Paige having called round at Ewing’s address,he thought in July 2007, and that was the last time he saw her. From mid August, through to early October 2008, a covert listening device was attached to Dewhurst’s vehicle. He was arrested in February 2009 on suspicion of murder.
He denied any responsibility for her death, or having made any alleged admissions about her ever being killed.
The prosecution say that Dewhurst learned that the woman he had been seeing and other members of her family had given witness statements to police. Following this she and her family were allegedly subjected to various acts of intimidation.
An abusive note was sent to her son. It is claimed that Ewing’s fingerprints were on the envelope.
It is also said that Dewhurst had threatened the son in an incident, around October 2009, that had involved a machete. The court was also told that windows had been smashed at the family’s home. In addition, false information was fed to the police inquiry via Crimestoppers, allegedly by Ewing doing a “red herring” about the family.
The Crown allege that on two occasions Ewing has falsely claimed other people have admitted killing Paige.
He is said to have made a false allegation against another male in order to deflect attention away from himself.
In May last year there was renewed pace activity relating to the All Hallows’ Road flats and nearby churchyard. There was much discussion about this on the “probe” between the defendants.
‘We cannot hope to know how she died...’
Prosecutor Brian Cummings told the jury they “could not hope to know” to exact circumstances in which teenager Paige Chivers came to meet her alleged death.
During his opening statement, he said: “We cannot hope to know the precise circumstances but we allege that Robert Ewing killed her, shedding her blood in the process, and that he then disposed of her body together with Gareth Dewhurst before cleaning up afterwards.
“Both men have taken a keen interest since then in any developments in the police inquiries and, far from seeking to assist with those inquiries, they have obstructed the investigation by laying false trails and interfering with witnesses.”
He continued: “The prosecution allege that Robert Ewing had an inappropriate sexual interest in Paige Chivers.
“We allege that he took advantage of the vulnerability resulting from her young age and her home circumstances and, we allege, he groomed her.”
‘Police error sparked delay’
An error on police computers meant the probe into Paige Chivers’ disappearance did not get underway until 12 days after she was reported missing to officers by her father.
Preston Crown Court heard that Paige’s father Frank reported her missing on August 26 and clearly stated she was 15.
But her date of birth was wrongly entered on the police system as 1962.
“In consequence, the matter was dealt with as though Paige were an adult aged 45 who had moved on voluntarily, rather than a girl of 15 who was worryingly missing from home,” said prosecutor Brian Cummings.
As a result, the matter was dealt with on that basis.
That approach was not corrected until September 7, when police inquiries then commenced, he added.
The jury at Preston was told of the error during the prosecution’s opening statement yesterday, in a trial which is expected to last 12 weeks.