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Conman killer jailed for 34 years

Conman David Ryan sentenced to life in prison Photo: Cheshire Police
Diana Lee was bludgeoned to death by David Ryan Credit: Cheshire Police

A "brutal and sadistic" conman from Greater Manchester who murdered and mutilated the body of his secret lover after cheating her out of more than £60,000 has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 34 years.

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. He denied murder but was found guilty by a jury of six men and six women after a seven-week trial.

The divorcee's naked body was found face-down and mutilated 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.

Ms Lee - the owner of a "luxury cattery" - suffered fatal head wounds from "a sustained attack with a blunt object" and was mutilated by Ryan in an attempt to get rid of DNA evidence.

Ryan, with greying, shoulder-length hair and wearing a grey suit, shirt and striped tie, gave no reaction as the sentence was handed down by Mr Justice Henriques.

As he was led from the dock to the cells, the victim's brother, who had been in tears for much of the sentencing hearing, shouted: "Evil scum."

Ms Lee's ex-partner, Neville Barratt - whom, the court heard, Ryan tried to frame for the murder - also shouted "Scum" and had to be restrained by a friend when he lunged forward in the public gallery as the defendant was led away by two security guards.

Mr Justice Henriques said Ryan had a history of borrowing cash from people with "no intention" of ever repaying it. He said Ryan targeted Ms Lee as a potential source of money, adding: "You literally bled her dry."

The judge said: "You suffer from the toxic combination of being work-shy and grossly extravagant."

He said the defendant had never had a "job of any substance" but still drove around in a BMW or a Mercedes and wore "expensive clothes".

"Your extravagance knew no bounds," the judge said. "As your friend said, you bought only the best, and then you met Diana Lee."

The judge said it was not possible to know what lies Ryan had told Ms Lee to separate her from her money but he said he agreed with the prosecution's claim that he must have "tempted" her into some kind of bogus business venture.

Mr Justice Henriques said Ryan decided to kill Ms Lee when she started asking questions about what he had done with her money. He said: "You killed Diana Lee to prevent your spectacular fraud upon her coming to light."

The judge rejected the defence's claim that the killing was spontaneous but added: "I accept, however, that if you could have strung her along indefinitely then you would have done so."

He said it was Ryan's intention to destroy all evidence by mutilating her body and getting rid of his DNA and then setting fire to Ms Lee and her house. He said Ryan believed he had "planned the perfect murder" but a lack of oxygen in the garage prevented the fire from spreading and destroying all the evidence.

"You mutilated Diana Lee's body in a shocking and very disturbing way - something which will cause extreme distress to all who loved her and all who knew her," Mr Justice Henriques told Ryan.

He said the murder was premeditated and said Ryan had taken the life of a "much admired woman" whom he described as "kind and sensitive", "hard-working", "happy" and "positive".

A victim impact statement written by Ms Lee's brother, Colin Sherwin, was read to the court, in which he described his sister as "kind and sensitive" and her murder as "horrific" and "savage". He said her murder had "left a hole in all our lives".

"This is an unbelievable chain of events that belongs in a horror film, not in our lives," he said. "This intelligent, lovely human being has been killed to satisfy a need that I do not, to this day, have any knowledge of or yet understand. For me, only evil is capable of doing this to her," the statement continued.

Mr Sherwin said his life as he knew it "stopped" on the day he discovered his sister's body. "I feel damaged and forever scarred. I no longer live an ordinary life and the lives of all members of our family have been completely shattered."

Mr Sherwin said he now does not like to watch television, listen to the radio or read the newspapers in case he encounters any reference to his sister's murder. "It's with me from the moment I wake up until I go to bed." He described his sister as a woman who loved to spend time with her family and loved socialising and dancing.

Mr Sherwin, a farmer, said her "passion" was for the cattery business she owned and described her as being "very trusting". He branded Ryan "nothing but a coward", adding: "His selfishness and indifference is no more than contempt for the life he had cruelly snubbed out and the family he has destroyed."

Cheshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Ruth Purdie said on Thursday: "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."

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, a puppy, 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 heard that Ryan was bankrupt and had racked up #90,000 debts, and that he was receiving "large amounts of cash from Diana Lee" during their trysts.

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

After killing her, he started four fires at her home to destroy all evidence of their connections. It was only when police and fire officers examined the cluttered garage in the aftermath of the blaze that the battered body of Ms Lee, who was just 4ft 11in and weighed less than eight stone, was discovered.

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

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