1. ITV Report

Conman found guilty of murdering lover in Cheshire

David Ryan bludgeoned to death by Diana Lee Photo: Cheshire Police
The body of Diana Lee was found at her luxury home in Cheshire Credit: Cheshire police

A "devious conman" who cheated more than £60,000 out of his wealthy secret lover was today found guilty of her murder.

Businesswoman Diana Lee, 54, was bludgeoned to death at her home in affluent East Cheshire by her debt-ridden boyfriend David Ryan, a trial at Chester Crown Court heard.

Ryan, 48, of Byrom Street, Altrincham, spent the cash he stole from Ms Lee on IVF treatment for his wife and a list of other luxuries, the court heard.

He denied murder but today he was found guilty by a jury of six men and six women after around three hours of deliberations.

The divorcee's naked body was found face down in a wheelbarrow full of wood by firefighters who were called to attend a blaze at her gated detached property in the leafy village of Cranage, near Holmes Chapel, on August 9 last year, Chester Crown Court heard.

Ms Lee - the owner of a "luxury cattery" - suffered fatal head wounds from "a sustained attack with a blunt object" and her genitals had been mutilated, the jury heard.

Ryan, with greying, shoulder-length hair and wearing a grey suit, white shirt and striped tie, gave no reaction as the verdict was delivered.

"Parklands" home of victim Diana Lee Credit: Cheshire Police
CCTV of Ryan exchanging stolen Euros in a travel agent in Hale Credit: Cheshire Police

Adjourning sentence until 10am tomorrow, Mr Justice Henriques said the case against Ryan was "absolutely overwhelming".

Ryan used the cash he conned out of Ms Lee for a spending spree which saw him splash out on weekends away in luxury hotels for him and his wife, a laptop, Armani clothes, luggage and a Bang & Olufsen telephone.

Earlier in the trial, Brian Cummings QC described Ryan as "devious" and a "conman" who had targeted Ms Lee when he was "at a particularly low ebb" due to his spiralling debt.

The court has heard that Ryan, who is married, was bankrupt and had racked up #90,000 debts, and that he was receiving "large amounts of cash from Diana Lee" during their trysts.

"He landed on her as a suitable target for fraud," the barrister said.

The prosecution said Ryan had presented a "bogus business opportunity" to Ms Lee and that over a period of months she gave the defendant around £60,000 which he could not repay.

After killing her, he then started four fires at the victim's home to destroy all evidence of their connections.

In his opening address, Mr Cummings said: "Other than the fact he had unprotected sex with her, he believed that there would be nothing to link him to her, nor indeed anything to indicate there had been anyone at Parklands (her home) that night other than Diana Lee and her lodger. We allege that this is why he mutilated her body and attempted to incinerate it along with all the bedding."

The court also heard that Ryan tried to "frame" Ms Lee's lodger, Andrew Leese, for the murder.

After her brutal killing, Ryan took an antique German dagger belonging to Mr Leese and dipped it in the victim's blood, it was alleged.

He also planted Ms Lee's underwear in the lodger's room, the jury heard.

Ryan owned a glazing and conservatory firm, but was declared bankrupt in June 2012 , the court heard.

He was conducting a secret affair with Ms Lee for almost two years, after the pair met in the Cinnamon Club in Bowdon village, near Altrincham, in 2010, the court heard.

Ms Lee did not know he was married, the defendant told police.

During their fling, she withdrew £70,000 from various accounts.

Mr Cummings told the jury Ryan's "cash purchases and deposits" during the same period totalled "more than £60,000", despite the fact he had no legitimate income and huge debts.

The defendant admitted he had sex with Ms Lee in the back of her Vauxhall Corsa near his home in Altrincham on the evening of Wednesday, August 8, the day before her body was found.

But the prosecution say this is a lie and that the pair actually had sex in Ms Lee's bed that night and that Ryan made up the story of sex in the car as he tried to cover his tracks and distance himself from the murder scene.

The jury was told that, when first arrested, Ryan claimed he only knew Ms Lee after giving her a quote for new windows at her cattery.

But the following day he was interviewed by police again and admitted: "I was with her the night before. I had sex with her in the car."

He added: "I was in her car. It was only for a few minutes. It did not last long."

Ryan described their relationship to police, claiming they were "friends with occasional sex".

After Ms Lee's death, Cheshire police analysed his computer and found Google search terms including for "countries that do not have an extradition treaty with the UK" - which prosecutors allege prove he was planning to flee the country.

Experts also found the defendant had visited a page relating to Diana Lee's murder on the Cheshire Police website, then tried to delete it.

Ms Lee ran the popular Parklands Cattery from a building next to her house, off Byley Lane near Cranage Park.

The website said the cats there were accommodated in the lap of luxury, with separate rooms and their own television and stereos.

Assistant Chief Constable Ruth Purdie, of Cheshire Police, said: "David Ryan gave Diana attention and affection and preyed on her trusting and kind nature for his own ends. We now know that his intentions toward Diana were fuelled by greed and Ryan's intention to exploit her financially to try and recover himself from the mountain of debt he faced.

"We have been left in little doubt that Ryan's attack on Diana - a diminutive and gentle lady - was brutal and sadistic. He showed contempt and compounded his disregard for her when he did his utmost to remove DNA evidence and then destroy her body.

"The intricacies of this investigation cannot be under-estimated - the scene of the crime took weeks to examine to ensure that no stone was left unturned in the hunt for Diana's killer.

"Although Ryan refused to admit his guilt in this horrific murder, the prosecution were able to prove that he concocted a web of lies and brutally murdered a woman who had done nothing more than fall for the charm of a conman.

"We hope that, with today's verdict, Diana's heartbroken family are allowed a degree of closure after the loss of their loved one in such a brutal attack.

"I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the Investigation Team and the Crown Prosecution Service in bringing this tragic case to a successful conclusion."

In a statement issued through Cheshire Police, Ms Lee's family said: "Diana was a quiet and unassuming person. Nobody had a bad word to say about her. She was a loving daughter and sister. She had a wide circle of friends. She is sorely missed by everyone she knew. She has a left a hole in ours and many people's lives.

"It is hard enough to deal with the death of a loved one through sickness, accident or old age, but Diana's death was planned. Every effort, calculated and brutal, was made by the perpetrator to try and ensure he could not be traced.

"David Ryan has only showed himself to be a coward. He has lied to try and explain away his barbaric crime. He feels no remorse or regret. His selfishness and indifference is no more than contempt for the life he has cruelly snubbed out and the family he has destroyed.

"Once the true gravity of what had happened last August was realised, seeking justice for Diana was the only option for us. We would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank the police and CPS, who have worked tirelessly to solve and secure a conviction for this hideous crime. Their support and commitment has been second to none.

"We would also like to thank our family and friends for their overwhelming support and understanding during the last 12 months. It has been greatly appreciated and we would not have survived this ordeal without them.

"We also ask that people should remember Diana for the person she was, and the smile that she always had for everyone.

"Lastly, we now ask that our privacy is respected and that we are allowed to grieve in peace."

More on this story

  • Conman killer jailed for 34 years

    A conman who murdered his lover after cheating her out of more than £60,000 has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 34 years.