A MURDERER who smothered a ‘full of life’ grandmother to death in her own home was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years behind bars.

The sentence was passed after it emerged that Paul Plunkett, of Station Road, Redcar, had killed before.

The 62-year-old pleaded guilty to murdering his partner Barbara Davison, 66, who was found dead in a house in William Street, Redcar, in August last year.

The grandmother-of-six was just four feet 11 inches tall and weighed less than seven stone and was described as ‘vulnerable’.

The Northern Echo:

JAILED: Murderer Paul Plunkett has been sentenced to a minimum of 23 years behind bars 

At a hearing at Teesside Crown Court it emerged that Plunkett was previously jailed for three years for manslaughter in 1996 for suffocating a former partner, Jacqueline Aspery.

The 62-year-old had also taken another former partner hostage just two years before that, in 1994, and was jailed for two years for threats to kill, assault and false imprisonment.

He had been controlling with Mrs Davison, his family said, and had cut her off from them. Both were alcohol dependant and the police had been called out by both of them several times, but no further action had been taken.

Nicholas Lumley QC, prosecuting, said Plunkett had cut himself to the throat and wrists when police raided his home and arrested him for Mrs Davison’s murder.

He prepared a statement when arrested and gave it to police.

In it he said he had been struggling with Mrs Davison ¬ and put his hand over her mouth a number of times to stop her screaming.

He claimed she suddenly went quiet and when he turned her round her lips were blue.

But detectives found Mrs Davison holding one of her own teeth in her hand when they later examined her body, with two teeth lying close by.

Plunkett later got a taxi back home and the taxi driver noticed he had a large amount of cash on him.

On the way, he spoke to his daughter and said he had killed Barbara by ‘putting his fist in her mouth so she couldn’t breathe’.

Peter Makepeace QC, mitigating on behalf of Plunkett, said there was a lack of hard evidence he had taken cash from Mrs Davison’s house or put his fist in her mouth.

And he said the defendant had never denied responsibility for the death, even though it was possible he would die in prison.

And he said: “It is a very unusual occasion for a man to come to court and plead guilty to murder.”

Plunkett was a ‘chronic alcoholic’ and had been for many years, he said.

A victim impact statement from Mrs Davison’s daughter Sarah said: “Our mam had her demons but she didn’t deserve to go through this.

“There have been times we felt she let us down and was choosing drunk over us and her family. Now we know it was Plunkett’s controlling behaviour that was doing that.

“Now he has taken her away from us we can not go back and say sorry for being mad at her.

“She enjoyed her children and grandchildren when she was able to break free.

“He couldn’t stand seeing her happy and full of life and surrounded by her loving family.

“We can never forgive him for taking her away. We wish she had come to us for help rather than being controlled by him. Our mam didn’t deserve to have this happen to her.

“We hope he is given the sentence he deserves so he is never given the opportunity to ruin another life.”

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC sentenced him to life  imprisonment, with a minimum time behind bars of 23 years.

The Northern Echo:

VICTIM: Barbara Davison

The family of Barbara Davison issued the following statement: "No sentence will ever bring our mam back. Paul Plunkett is a lying manipulative evil coward who will never face up to what he has done and the lives he has ruined.

"Even changing his plea to guilty is a coward’s way out so he doesn’t have to listen to the truth. He could have pleaded guilty day one but chose to drag it out.

"He’s denied six grandchildren of the love and caring they had with their gran. Not a day goes by we don’t think about her. We will never forgive him for what he has put our mam through.

"The only comfort that we can take is knowing that hopefully he will never get out so he can’t ruin another family’s life.

Detective Inspector Darren Birkett said: "Paul Plunkett has pleaded guilty to murder today. Admitting guilt before trial does nothing to bring Barbara back or ease the devastating loss felt by her family.  

"Plunkett is a danger to women and will now likely spend the rest of his life in prison. We hope that Barbara’s family can take some comfort from the knowledge that he will never be able to hurt another family again."

Speaking after sentencing, Emma Dowling from the Crown Prosecution Service said: “During an argument at their home last summer Paul Plunkett smothered his partner Barbara Davison to death by forcing his hands over her mouth and nose.

“Plunkett has a number of historic convictions for violence against women, including the manslaughter of a previous partner, Jacqueline Aspery, in 1996. In that case, Plunkett had applied so much pressure to Jacqueline’s throat that he fractured the cartilage around her larynx. 

“Given the similarities between the death of Barbara Davison and the manslaughter of Jacqueline Aspery, the CPS made an application for his previous convictions to be revealed to the jury. Given the strength of the case against him, it is unsurprising that Plunkett has pleaded guilty to murder on the first day of this trial.

“I would hope that the significant sentence he has received today provides a measure of comfort to the family of Barbara Davison, at what must be a very difficult time for them.”