TWO men and a woman from Portsmouth are among seven people accused of murdering an antiques dealer in a brutal attack at his home.
Jewellery maker Michael Griffiths, 59, was found dead at his home in Old Glebe, Fernhurst, on January 24 last year.
A jury at Hove Trial Centre heard that Mr Griffiths was brutally tortured for £40,000 worth of diamonds thought to be kept in a safe – but they were later found stored in picnic flasks.
Mr Griffiths was found by fire crews with his badly-injured body slumped behind his front door.
A jury heard Mr Griffiths said goodbye to the friend he had spent the evening with at 11pm on January 23 and made his way home – arriving around 11.30pm, where burglars lay in wait.
Seven people are standing trial in connection with the murder.
Simon Penton, 43, of Markway, Sunbury, in Surrey, but originally from Portsmouth, denies murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but has admitted conspiracy to burgle homes in Loxwood, Poynings and a home near Godalming as well as Mr Griffiths’ home.
Penton’s partner, Kerry Rudder, 43, also of Markway, denies murder, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to burgle a home in Loxwood.
John Bartholomew, 72, of Cross Street, Portsea, denies murder and conspiracy to commit burglaries in Loxwood, Fernhurst and Poynings.
Three other men and a woman are also being tried for murder.
The court heard Rudder appeared in Portsmouth Juvenile Court in 1987 and was convicted for theft and obtaining property by deception.
Penton, a builder and plasterer by trade, told the jury he has been committing burglaries since the age of 17 and continued to do so until 2013.
He spoke to the jury through a mechanical voice box after being diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus 10 years ago.
He has 13 previous convictions for offences relating to burglary and said he ‘specialised in country houses and antiques’.
He added: ‘In 25 years I have never, never, attempted violence.’
Asked by defence barrister Charles Bott if he had a conscience about breaking into people’s homes and stealing their property, he replied: ‘Yes, but I didn’t when I was younger.’
He claimed he planned to burgle the home of Michael Griffiths and only involved third parties – it was his own ‘project’.
Penton attained information about Mr Griffiths from a ‘criminal friend’, who gave him the information over Christmas 2012, the court heard.
He said: ‘I was told Michael Griffiths had a small safe in his house, full of gold. My friend also mentioned diamonds and antiques.
‘The plan was to take the safe.’
On why he chose Mr Griffiths’s house, Penton said: ‘It was a small house, no alarm, no security, and the man was often out until late at night. It seemed like an easy job.’
Penton denied any involvement with the fire that destroyed number 35 Old Glebe.
The jury also heard how the burglary at Poynings, West Sussex, on May 24 last year, to which Penton has pleaded guilty, came after he found the house in Country Life magazine.