Murder accused makes first appearance in witness box to tell jury 'I did not kill Marion'

Michael Reader said a previous 2018 GBH charge came after a 'very unfortunate incident'

Monday, 9th November 2020, 7:48 am
Marion Price's Earls Barton flat and (inset) the home she shared with Reader in Booth Rise. Picture: Alison Bagley Photography

A man accused of shooting his wife in Earls Barton has made his first appearance in the witness box.

Michael Reader, 70, spent two hours giving evidence on Thursday (November 5) on the first day of an expected three-day spell in the witness box.

He is accused of shooting Marion Price, 63, at the end of a bitter divorce which had seen him pay her a £10,000 settlement just days before she was killed outside her flat in Packwood Crescent on December 15, 2019.

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His barrister William Harbage QC asked him: "Did you murder Marion Price?" Reader replied: "No."

"Were you present when she was shot?" Mr Harbage asked.

"No, I was not."

"Do you know who did shoot her?", he asked.

"No. I don't."

White-haired Reader gave a full account of his early life to the jury at Northampton Crown Court, telling them he was born in Kettering and left school with no formal qualifications. He eventually started a business repairing crash-damaged cars and selling them on. He married at 19, becoming father to two daughters before separating from his first wife two years later.

He also had a keen interest in motorcycles and Jaguar cars, and had imported a £28,000 E-Type Jaguar from Canada which meant he had to make regular visits to the Perry Brothers' Garage in Earls Barton. He was a member of the Northants Jaguar Enthusiasts Club.

Reader told the court he had lived at Booth Rise in Northampton for 36 years and had protected the house with four CCTV cameras. He had extended to loft of his home to accommodate a full-size snooker table which his co-accused Stephen Welch regularly played came to the house to play on.

Mr Harbage asked Reader if he had ever been in trouble with the law. In an unusual move, the jury was told details of Reader's criminal history including an incident in 1970 when he had been convicted of ABH after a fight over a cream cake. In March 1973 he was convicted of handling stolen goods and in 1982 he was sentenced to 12 months in prison for six counts of fraud when he falsely claimed unemployment benefits.

In January 1986 Reader was sent to jail for three years for importing cannabis from France.

The pensioner also outlined his health problems, telling the court of his three heart attacks and his type-2 diabetes. He also had a back injury sustained forty years ago that he takes daily pain medication for and had had an operation last year on a fallen arch on his foot, leaving him in a wheelchair for five months up until September 2019, two months before Marion was killed.

Reader had met Stephen Welch through Welch's brother Alan. Stephen Welch, of Addlecroft Close, Kingsthorpe, had lived in Thailand for some years, returning ten years ago before becoming closer friends with Reader.

The court was told that Reader met Marion Price online in March 2012, going on a first date at the Stag's Head in Earls Barton, with a whirlwind romance leading to marriage on September 21 of that year. Marion moved into his house in Booth Rise.

Detailing the time the pair went to the theatre to see Jersey Boys, that has previously been outlined in court, Mr Harbage asked Reader: "In the second half, was there dancing?

"From what I saw, only by Marion," said Reader. "I felt a little embarrassed. I thought standing up dancing was a little out of order. I asked her to sit down because she was bringing attention to us. Everyone in the theatre was looking at us.

"I said I felt like going 'if you're not going to stop' so she said 'go.'"

Reader claimed he had waited outside for twenty minutes, but Marion did not come out so Reader got in a taxi to the train station and went back to Northampton.

The court was also told of a time when the pair went to the American embassy for a visa and Reader again left Marion alone in London because she had wanted to go sightseeing after he had been in the embassy for six hours.

"You have heard evidence to the effect that you were controlling toward Marion," said Mr Harbage.

"I was not controlling at all, it was more 'care'," said Reader.

Talking about when Marion finally left Reader in November 2016, he told the court they had been for a takeaway at a friend's house, arguing in the car on the way back over a joke that Reader had made about Marion's 'double chin'.

"She went to work the next day and never came back," said Reader.

Reader said that Marion had agreed to continue paying utility bills for Booth Rise in lieu of money he said she owed him, but had later emailed him to say she could no longer afford it.

One May 4, 2017, he said he had gone to Marion's mother's house in Earls Barton where his estranged wife had been staying, to ask her to resume paying the bills.

But Reader was arrested after Marion sustained three wounds to her head after she said he hit her over the head three times with a mallet . Doctors at Northampton General Hospital agreed with her account of how her injuries had occurred. Reader stood trial for GBH in 2018 and a jury unanimously acquitted him.

Explaining Marion's injures, Reader told the court: "It was a very, very unfortunate incident."

He said the pair had argued over the money and she had gone towards him and he tried to grab her throat in self defence.

"I shoved her away, a quite hard shove, expecting her to step back and she just fell backwards and held me .. I ended up hitting her face with my head.

"As she fell she hit the door frame."

Reader told the court that when the pair settled the financial side of their divorce in court in December 2019, with him being ordered to pay Marion £10,672.30, he felt relieved that it was not more.

The trial continues.