Life behind bars for evil Earls Barton murderers

The pair were both convicted of killing Marion Price

By Sam Wildman
Monday, 21st December 2020, 12:19 pm
Michael Reader (left) and Stephen Welch.
Michael Reader (left) and Stephen Welch.

A monster who shot his estranged wife dead in cold blood is likely to die in prison after he was jailed for life.

Today (Monday) Michael Reader, 70, was sentenced to a minimum of 31 years after the brutal murder of 63-year-old grandmother Marion Price in Earls Barton last year.

Reader's best friend Stephen Welch, who was also found guilty of murder over his role before and after the shooting, was also jailed for life with a minimum of 27 years behind bars before he is eligible for release.

Sentencing, Her Honour Judge Adrienne Lucking QC told Reader: "You shot Marion Price through the window of her car out of jealousy and as an act of cold-blooded revenge."

The pair were both convicted at Northampton Crown Court after an eight-week trial which heard how Reader, of Booth Rise in Northampton, was a manipulative bully who couldn't stand Marion taking back control of her life after she plucked up the courage to leave him.

Over the course of several months he, assisted by 61-year-old Welch, stalked her by tracking her movements before waiting for her on a motorbike on December 15.

There he followed her to her flat in Packwood Crescent and shot her once through her car window before she had even had the chance to take off her seatbelt.

Her body was discovered slumped in the car three hours later after a neighbour noticed her windows were smashed.

Shortly after the shooting Welch, of Addlecroft Close in Kingsthorpe, picked his friend of more than 30 years up and them dumped items in the River Nene in Northampton before flying to Spain - but denied having any knowledge of a plot to murder Marion.

Addressing Welch, Judge Lucking said: "You were a willing assistant who joined in a plan to murder Marion Price to help your friend."

Jurors heard how loving grandmother Marion and Reader met online in 2012 and embarked on a whirlwind romance, marrying just months later.

But weeks later, the mum-of-two told a colleague she feared she'd made a big mistake and Reader was "not who she thought he was".

Just days before the murder he had been due to pay her £10,000 from a settlement after a bitter divorce.

After Marion was shot police visited the arrogant Reader - who had previously been cleared of GBH after Marion was attacked with a mallet - where he was found eating a Magnum and watching snooker at home just hours after her death.

He denied having seen her and tried to convince a jury it wasn't him, despite phone data placing him at the scene, witnesses giving evidence that he had previously threatened to kill her and a jacket with gunshot residue being found at his house.

But jury members saw straight through his lies and unanimously found him guilty, with Welch found guilty by a majority verdict after deliberations lasting for more than three days.

Today Reader, who wore a blue top, and Welch, in a grey shirt, were brought up to the dock to hear their fate more than two weeks after the trial ended after unprecedented Covid drama involving Reader and a member of prison escort staff. Three prison guards sat between them in the dock.

More than 30 people were watching proceedings across two courts because of social distancing guidelines, with members of Marion's family standing up in court to give emotional statements about how the killing of the woman adored by so many people had left a huge hole in their lives.

Eight of those on the jury returned to court today with some in tears as they heard the statements. Both Reader and Welch showed no emotion as they listened to how their evil acts had impacted on Marion's family.

In a statement read by prosecutor Mary Loram QC, Marion's elder sister Helen said the incident had meant she had to uproot her 92-year-old mother from her home of 40 years because of the strain visiting her had had without Marion to see her.

She added: "Since Marion was murdered I have lost not only a much-loved sister but a best friend too."

Marion's son Gary Price, also through a statement read by Ms Loram, said he hoped by reading about Marion's story that others would be able to spot that they were in an abusive relationship.

He added: "Life for us will never be the same...I cannot believe that I will never get to hug my mum again."

And Marion's son-in-law Scott Brown, who took to the witness box to read a statement from him and Toni Brown, his wife and Marion's daughter, said the family had had their hearts shattered into pieces.

But he defiantly said: "Mike has not won."

Minus time spent on remand Reader will spend another 29 years and 362 days in prison before he can be released, when he will be aged 100. Welch will spend a minimum of another 26 years and three days in prison given time spent on remand.

Judge Lucking, who commended police for their work in the complex investigation, added: "No sentencing I pass today can ease the pain for her (Marion's) family."