Ellen’s irreplaceable possessions destroyed by ‘callous’ couple

Dean Speakman and Vicki Calland
Dean Speakman and Vicki Calland

A Billinge couple who destroyed a mobile phone and a laptop belonging to a murdered Wigan student Ellen Higginbottom broke down in the dock as their callous actions were described in court

Dean Speakman, 30, and Vicky Calland, 31, both from Cob Moor Avenue, Billinge, pleaded guilty to a single charge of perverting the course of justice and handling stolen goods and were respectively jailed for 20 months and 16 months - but Calland’s term was suspended for two years.

The couple destroyed a mobile phone and a laptop belonging to Ellen Higginbottom, 18, after they were offered them by her killer to sell.

The items were found in the burning embers of a fire lit in woodland near the scene of Ellen’s murder at Orrell Park in Wigan.

The laptop was said to have contained precious family photographs and documents relating to her work at Winstanley College.

Speakman and Calland - who have children together - later admitted they knew the devices had been stolen.

But they claimed they did not realise the victim was dead at the time they were handed over by killer Mark Buckley, who is now serving life for murder.

When interviewed by police they said they burnt the items when they found out about her death.

At Manchester Crown Court, the couple admitted handling stole goods and perverting justice.

Speakman was jailed for 20 months whilst mother-of-four Calland was sentenced to 16 months custody suspended for two years.

Judge David Stockdale QC told them: “In disposing Ellen’s possessions you intended to hamper a murder investigation that you both know was in progress. You also destroyed the valuable possessions of a young girl who had been brutally murdered.

“In destroying her items you removed irreplaceable material which was a record of her life including personal photographs, documents and other material of that sort. The loss of the material on her laptop as added serious distress and suffering to her family, her boyfriend and friends.

“You were both aware of the murder investigation. Your destruction of Ellen’s property was particularly callous and you used this as a way of protecting yourselves. The context of the on going murder investigation and offence of perverting the course of justice was incredibly harmful to the victim.

The court heard the offences occurred after Buckley, 52, pounced on Ellen and slit her throat as she took a break from A-level study revision at Winstanley College in Wigan.

Prosecutor Neil Fryman said Buckley was a distant relative of Speakman and offered him a rucksack, a mobile phone and a laptop which he claimed he had found in the park.

Mr Fryman said: “At that point the couple didn’t know about the murder. Speakman and Calland agreed to buy the phone for £40 then Speakman and Buckley tried to sell the stolen laptop on but the payment fell through.

“That same evening the couple were up in the woods with their children and friends and were looking at the phone and laptop.

Speakman turned on the laptop and saw Ellen’s name but didn’t try to access her personal information. He then burned the laptop because he knew it belonged to her. The remains of her laptop and two keys were found in the dying embers of a fire.”

The couple were arrested the following day.

In an interview, Speakman claimed both were worried when they found out the items belonged to Ellen and and burned them in the woods.

In mitigation Speakman’s lawyer Robert Lancaster said: “He knows what he did was wrong, but he didn’t intend to disrupt any of the murder investigation. He simply wanted to keep himself and his partner out of trouble. He wasn’t aware that the items belonged to Miss Higginbottom at the time of the offence.”

Calland’s lawyer, Paul Becker said: “This lady has shown genuine remorse for what she has done. She is deeply ashamed of herself. She explains this offence was a form of self preservation. She wasn’t aware at the time of the personal items and photographs belonging to the deceased.”

Mark Buckley of Preston, and formerly of Billinge, was jailed for life earlier this month for the murder of Ellen and told he would spend at leas 31 years behind bars.

David Steele, 47, from Oakley Avenue, Billinge, has also been accused of perverting the course of justice and of handling stolen goods but has yet to enter a plea. He is remanded in custody and will appear at Manchester Crown Court next week for a pre-trial hearing.