'If you leave me, I'll kill you': Court hears how Earls Barton gran was 'murdered by a man obsessed with money'

Day one: Marion Price murder trial

Monday, 5th October 2020, 9:02 pm

A man accused of murder told his wife that if she left him, he'd kill her, a court has been told.

As today's (Monday, October 5) trial began at Northampton Crown Court, barristers painted a heartbreaking picture of a loving grandmother, mother, sister and daughter killed, they say, at the hands of a man who was 'obsessed with money.'

Nursery and primary school finance controller Marion Price, 63, was discovered dead in her Vauxhall Corsa outside her home in Packwood Crescent, Earls Barton, on December 15 last year.

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Marion Price's home in Earls Barton / Marion (centre) with son Gary and daughter Toni
Marion Price's home in Earls Barton / Marion (centre) with son Gary and daughter Toni

Outlining the case for the prosecution, Mary Loram QC told Her Honour Judge Adrienne Lucking QC that Marion had been worried what Michael Reader, 70, would do next after he had been ordered to pay her £10,000 in a financial settlement just before she died.

He denies murder, alongside his close friend Stephen Welch, 61, of Addlecroft Close, Kingsthorpe.

The court was also told of a previous GBH case against Reader, during which he had allegedly 'repeatedly' hit Marion over the head with a mallet. He stood trial for that incident in 2018 and was found not guilty.

Over the course of the six week trial, the prosecution will allege that Reader - who wore a navy Fred Perry top and did not speak at today's hearing - controlled Marion and coerced her into handing over thousands of pounds. They will claim he put a tracker on her car and followed her movements before she died.

Ms Loram said: "Any one of you hearing what happened to Marion Price on December 15 must be wondering who would want to shoot and kill a grandmother who lived in the village of Earls Barton.

"This wasn't some terrible robbery gone wrong.

"Apart from the fact this quiet, new residential development seems an unlikely place for a desperate thief to lie in wait, Marion Price's handbag was (still) in the footwell of her car with her purse and money in place.

"It was only a few days earlier, on December 9, that he (Reader) was due to pay her £10,000 as a result of a final settlement of their finances.

"We will see this was an amount he would have bitterly resented. This was no amicable agreement.

"Michael Reader was a man obsessed with money and it was a theme of his separation from Marion Price that he did not want to part with it.

"In the absence that his was anything but a cold, calculated murder, Michael Reader would, at the very least, be someone the police wanted to speak to. He was a prime candidate for someone who would not only want to cause her harm, but kill her."

The jury was told that Marion was part of a large, close Liverpudlian family, of which many members had moved to Northamptonshire. She was mother to Toni and Gary, and had three grandchildren. She also helped care for her mum who lived close by to her in Earls Barton and had been suffering from dementia.

During the course of the trial, the prosecution will present witnesses who will speak about how, on the day she died she had been to visit her sister Helen in Duston. The pair went on a trip to Aldi and Iceland before Marion returned to see her mother in Manor Road where she put away her shopping for her.

At 4.18pm Marion called daughter Toni before returning home to Packwood Crescent. Less than an hour later, at about 5pm, the Crown alleges Marion was killed by a man on a motorbike who shot her once through her car window before she'd even had a chance to take off her seatbelt.

The prosecution claim their evidence will show this man was Michael Reader, who had parked his motorbike up on the corner of High Street and Manor Road and lain in wait for Marion for 45 minutes before her murder.

It wasn't until three hours after Marion had been killed that a neighbour noticed her car windows smashed. Marion's family rushed to the scene and found her blood-soaked body slumped in the car. Her son-in-law Scott Brown and her brother Tom Little attempted to gave her CPR, but she was already dead.

Footage from police bodyworn cameras played to the jury for the first time today showed Reader answering the door to police that evening, while eating a Magnum, with snooker on the television in the background. When arrested for the murder of Marion, the prosecution says his answer was: "I haven't seen her." He could be seen in the footage seen chuckling to officers when asked how many pills he has to take each day.

At the police station, Reader provided a short statement denying the killing, the court heard.

Marion met Reader, of Booth Rise, Northampton, online in 2011. The pair were married in September 2012.

Jurors were told her family began to notice a change in her and Marion told her brother that Reader was controlling and wouldn't let her go on the electoral roll or the council tax bill.

The court was told that he kept large amounts of money in the house and had several bank accounts, yet it was Marion who went out to work.

During their relationship, the prosecution alleges that he twice left her alone in London and travelled back to Northampton - once when she was dancing in a theatre and he said she was 'embarrassing', and once when he believed she'd taken too much time in the passport office.

Marion began to make mistakes at work and confided in her headteacher Lyndsey Barnett, who will give evidence this week, that following an argument, Reader had followed her around the house, slamming doors and shouting 'If you leave me, I'll kill you.'

Ms Loram said: "These are only words, but given what was to follow, you may think that they are important words."

Marion separated from Reader in 2017 and the prosecution says that she again confided in Ms Barnett that when she had returned to Booth Rise to pick up her things, Reader told her that he would do anything to make sure she was left with nothing. She ended up handing over £54,000 to him.

On May 3 of that year, Marion had emailed her former husband to say that she would no longer pay his bills, the prosecution alleges.

The following day he arrived at her mother's house and was let in to the living room where he demanded another £60,000. The court was told how she told him that she couldn't afford it, and he told her she'd have to sell her house.

"He became aggressive," said Ms Loram, "and produced a mallet from his jacket. He hit her over the head with it and when she put her hands up to protect herself, he hit her again and again." She was left needing stitches to her head and with a broken finger.

Reader stood trial in March 2018 and was acquitted. The court heard how it had a 'profound' effect on Marion and she left her job.

When the pair went to court to disentangle their finances on November 25, 2019, Marion struggled to leave the waiting room and had to give evidence from behind a curtain. She would tell her barrister that she was 'scared of what Reader would do next', the court heard.

The court was also told that Reader had allegedly installed a tracker on Marion's car to allow him to trace her movements in the months up to her death.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, October 6) the prosecution will finish opening their case, and the first witnesses are expected to give evidence.