Pensioner, 71, 'murdered and left to rot by couple who used her bank cards in £13,000 spending spree'

6 September 2023, 09:07

Xyaire Howard (L) and Chelsea Grant are charged with Susan Hawkey's murder
Xyaire Howard (L) and Chelsea Grant are charged with Susan Hawkey's murder. Picture: Social Media/Metropolitan Police

By Asher McShane

A couple tied up, stripped and strangled a pensioner before looting £13,000 from her bank account and going on a "massive spending spree", a court has heard.

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Chelsea Grant, 28, and Xyaire Howard, 23, were allegedly motivated by "greed and self interest" when they attacked Susan Hawkey, 71, to extract her bank card PIN.

Some 20 days later, Ms Hawkey's rotting body was discovered under a duvet in the living room of her home in Neasden, north-west London, jurors were told.

She had been tied up, with her hands taped and tied behind her back, her eyes had been taped shut and a ligature knotted around her neck.

Ms Hawkey's body was found hidden under a duvet in her home
Ms Hawkey's body was found hidden under a duvet in her home. Picture: Metropolitan Police

Grant and Howard, who lived nearby, are on trial at the Old Bailey accused of repeatedly robbing Ms Hawkey before murdering her last September.

Opening the prosecution case on Tuesday, Annabel Darlow KC said the defendants had identified Ms Hawkey as an "ideal victim" and "easy pickings" during last summer.

Ms Hawkey was a "highly vulnerable" elderly woman who lived an isolated life with little contact with friends and family, Ms Darlow said.

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She was also a "creature of habit" and would take the same route with her bank card to the shops and Post Office to withdraw cash, the court was told.

The defendants first robbed her on July 27 and then again August 22, "ripping her bag from her shoulder with enough force to knock her over to the ground", it was claimed.

The next day, they let themselves into her home with her stolen keys, pinned her down in a chair and stole more money while Ms Hawkey attempted to fight back, jurors heard.

Ms Hawkey cancelled her card but not before the defendants had allegedly used it for a few small transactions.

She was last seen alive on September 6, the same day the defendants were seen walking to and from her home, jurors were told.

Ms Darlow said that up until that point, Ms Hawkey had shown herself to be "feisty, brave and ready to stand up for herself" against the two people preying on her.

The next day, Howard allegedly used her new bank card to withdraw £250 at a cash machine.

Ms Darlow said: "The evidence indicates that Susan Hawkey had committed her PIN to memory and would not have given the PIN to anyone - still less two people who had robbed her three times before - unless she was the victim of considerable violence and aggression.

"When Susan Hawkey's decomposing corpse was found by the authorities, she was bound and blindfolded, and a ligature was around her neck.

"For some reason, all of her lower clothing, including underwear, had been removed and her upper clothing had been cut down the front. An item of clothing had been placed over her head and her body concealed under a duvet."

A used condom containing Howard's semen and material from Grant was found in the same room as the body, together with a wrapper bearing Howard's fingerprint, the court was told.

Ms Darlow added: "The ligature around Susan Hawkey's neck had been tightened with sufficient force to break one of the bones in her neck and the prosecution say that she was strangled by these defendants during an attack motivated by greed and self-interest - they wanted to stop Susan Hawkey from blocking the card and prevent her from reporting them to the police for the multiple crimes they had already committed against her."

Ms Darlow said the defendants went on a "massive spending spree" over the next three weeks and "burned their way through almost £13,000" of her money in 146 transactions.

The couple allegedly spent thousands of pounds on luxury goods, including perfume, designer goods, a new television, portable speakers, telephones and accessories, clothing, shoes, sunglasses, watches and handbags during trips to Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush and Wembley shops.

Some of the money was withdrawn in cash and both defendants allegedly sent money to St Vincent and the Grenadines using money transfer services.

The victim's bank account went from a balance of more than £16,000 to just £3,434.03, jurors heard.

Meanwhile, Howard had searched Google for "Barclays transaction limit" and Grant typed in the search phrases "can you smell a dead body from outside the house" and "is a dead body a very strong smell", it was claimed.

Ms Hawkey's bank card was finally stopped on September 28 at the request of police and the defendants were arrested at a bus stop.

The couple, from Press Road in Neasden, have denied murder and robbery charges, although Howard has admitted a charge in relation to the robbery on August 22.

Both defendants have pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation in relation to their misuse of Ms Hawkey's bank card, jurors were told.

The trial was adjourned until Wednesday morning.

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