A CAREER criminal who murdered his love rival after his ex-girlfriend texted him a photo of her performing oral sex on the other man will serve more than 22 years behind bars.

A judge has ruled that messages from Sarah Bramley, 38, a former law student, had a "very important bearing" on the state of mind of her ex-partner David Saunders when he stabbed her new lover Michael Lawson, 34.

Judge Stephen Ashurst said Miss Bramley's action in sending Saunders a picture of herself performing oral sex on Mr Lawson "tipped him over the edge".

The Teesside Crown Court judge described her actions as "plainly unwise" and the messages between Miss Bramley and Saunders as "vulgar and unpleasant".

In court it emerged that she not only sent the picture, but also:

  • Taunted Saunders about his sexual performance
  • Texted Mr Lawson's ex-girlfriend to boast she had had sex with him
  • Goaded Saunders by saying her new man was "twice his size"
  • Slapped Mr Lawson and ordered him to leave her home after sending the sex photo
  • Told Saunders that Mr Lawson had left, and encouraged him to attack him.

A member of Saunders's family said after the hearing: "She has ruined the lives of two families and she's the one to blame for everything that happened. She should have been in the dock.

"She went to university to study law, she's not daft, she knew exactly what she was doing."

Former neighbours said Miss Bramley has now emigrated to either the United States or Australia.

Judge Ashurst rejected Saunders's defence that he did not intend to kill Mr Lawson and that he did not carry the kitchen knife to the scene that he used to deliver a single fatal blow to the heart in the early hours of July 1 in Geneva Road Darlington.

The court was told that Miss Bramley texted Saunders in the run-up to the killing, saying: "I never had a proper orgasm in three months with you, I faked the lot. He has just given me the best orgasm of my life."

In the early morning of June 30, she sent a text to Saunders saying she had just had sex with Mr Lawson and she sent the same text to Gemma Winter, Mr Lawson's very recent ex-girlfriend.

Judge Ashurst described her actions in doing so as "plainly unwise".

As Saunders issued threats against Miss Bramley and Mr Lawson, she goaded him by texting: "He is twice your size, maybe Davey Saunders might actually get a bat."

Saunders replied: "The bigger they are the harder they fall, if you can't beat them with your fists, use a weapon."

After performing the sex act on Mr Lawson and sending the photograph of it to Saunders, she then slapped her lover and ordered him to leave the house.

She texted Saunders saying: "I have just smashed the lad clean in the face because he wouldn't go home. What have I got myself involved with?"

She went on to add: "He is outside the house, feel free to smack the c***."

Judge Ashurst said to Saunders: "I am absolutely certain that photographic image was sent by her to wind you up and there is clearly no doubt she succeeded because within a few moments you arranged for a taxi to drive you to the other side of Darlington to Sarah Bramley's house."

He added: "She, by terms, was less than complimentary, taunting you that you were inferior to her new partner but she was absolutely clear she did not want you in her life.

"The posting by her of her giving oral sex to another man tipped you over the edge."

Judge Ashurst went on to say: "The content of the messages had a very important bearing on your state of mind and the way you subsequently acted."

The court heard that in a "jealous rage" Saunders lay in wait for Mr Saunders on his route home from Sarah's house and chased him.

When the victim tripped, he kicked him on the ground and then stabbed him through the heart, an act the judge found had been done "deliberately and efficiently".

Saunders claimed that Mr Lawson took the knife to protect himself from getting "a good hiding" by a fitter and stronger man.

The judge rejected his argument, telling him: "You went to cause not just serious harm, but to kill Mr Lawson in the way you very efficiently did so. I am satisfied you took the murder weapon to the scene and intended to deliver that fatal injury."

In the witness box, Saunders admitted the sex photo had left him furious.

He said: ""I was upset, really upset and angry. I loved her, it was not nice to see that. I felt angry at both of them."

Saunders had previously received a Police Information Notice warning him not to approach Mr Lawson after he had chased him through Miss Bramley's home and then punched out a window of his car and kicked off a wing mirror. He later threw a paving slab through a downstairs window at Mr Lawson's home in Darlington.

Saunders admitted murder, but sought to lower the minimum term he must serve by claiming he did not carry the knife to the scene and did not intend to kill Michael.

But following a two-day trial of issue without a jury, Judge Ashurst found against him. 

Michael Lawson's family spoke of their anger that Sarah Bramley was not arrested and charged after seeing David Saunders jailed for 22 years and 44 days.

They said the murderer was brought to justice but pointed out that the instigator, Sarah Bramley, was not.

Michael's mother, Anne Satterthwaite, said: "She was interviewed, but we were disappointed to be told she would not be arrested because she didn't actually tell him to kill Michael.

"She was the one behind it and should have been held responsible."

Garage worker Mr Lawson's family issued a statement saying:  "The outcome of today ultimately changes nothing for our family. Nothing will bring Michael back or take away the pain of his loss.

"His son will always be missing his daddy.

"However, we needed justice for him and though today the murderer has been brought to justice the instigator has not.

"The trial has only confirmed what we knew - Michael was an innocent victim."

As car dealer Saunders was jailed, a member of his family yelled: "She is the one who should have been in court as well, she is to blame."

Mrs Satterthwaite responded: "Well we agree with that."

In mitigation Peter Doyle, QC, said the "other party" involved must "look to their conscience."

He said: "There was in the context of the text messages and explicit photograph, what we submit can properly be described as persistent, crude and inflammatory conduct  that could have done no other than excite this defendant to respond in kind.

"We go so far as the say that but for this constant exchange of text messages culminating as they did in explicit photograph that it is quite possible that this fatal encounter may not have occurred and that really is a tragedy of enormous proportions in this case.

"I do not hesitate in submitting the relevance of provocation, in saying the other party to this persistent, crude inflamatory behaviour even stooped so low as to incite or encourage this defendant to physical violence, although I don't suggest for a moment that party would have known he was armed.

"It is no doubt for others to look to their conscience when reflecting, should they trouble to do so, on how that sort of behaviour can contribute in a very significant way to the tragedy that subsequently followed."

Judge Ashurst said that neither Saunders nor Miss Bramley emerged with any credit over the text messages.

He said: "Members of the public will no doubt be alarmed at the nature of those messages. They do not do you and they do not do Sarah Bramley any credit whatsoever because a life was needlessly lost through a loss of control.

"I am sure she did not intend fatal consequences to the man she had a brief relationship with just hours before, She did not intend for him to be killed by you."

He added that Mr Lawson was "the innocent victim of your jealous rage".