Milton Keynes woman tried to hire a hitman to kill colleague in Sports Direct love-triangle

Whitney Franks
Whitney Franks Credit: Thames Valley Police

A Sports Direct worker who tried to hire a hitman on the dark web to kill her colleague and love rival has been jailed for 12 years.

Whitney Franks, 27, offered £1,000 in BitCoin to anyone who would kill Ruut Ruutna after finding out they were both sleeping with the same man.

Reading Crown Court heard that Franks gave Ms Ruutna's address on a site claiming to sell "murder, drugs and guns".

The posts were spotted by a BBC journalist, who reported it to police.

Franks, from Bury Street in Newport Pagnell, was found guilty by unanimous jury of soliciting to commit murder.

Prosecutor Andrew Copeland told the court Franks started working at Sports Direct in 2011 when she was 16 years old. She met James Prest, when he joined the store as a manager in 2014.

He lived with his long-term partner whom he had two children with, but struck up a sexual relationship with Franks in 2016.

In 2017, Ms Ruuta started working at the store and also started sleeping with Mr Prest.

Franks found out about the relationship and asked Mr Prest to stop sleeping with Ms Ruutna but, by August 2020, became aware he was still seeing her.

Mr Copeland said: "On 17 August 2020, Whitney Franks turned up at the Milton Keynes branch of Sports Direct.

"James Prest describes her as being clearly upset and made a comment about him sneaking around at night to Ruut Ruutna’s house.

"On 18 August, Whitney Franks sent an email to James. The contents set out among other things her difficulties with her family and school life and a reference to taking her own life."

The court heard Franks put her first dark web post, using a fake name, out on the same day as the email, and a second the day after.

The first post read: “I am looking to hire for a murder of a woman. I don’t have much money, I can offer £1,000 in sterling but I’m willing to pay more… This woman has caused a lot of problems for myself and others, please can you help me resolve this for the best cost.”

The next day, Franks made a second post with a different pseudonym, giving Ms Ruutna’s name, address, Facebook details and Twitter handle, writing: “Murder needed, please let me know if you can help with my budget in any way.”

Franks later sent another email to Mr Prest telling him she could give him the “whole world if you just give me the chance”.

She added: “I can give you the world. I truly mean it more than I ever have in the last five years. Give me the chance to prove to you. I have been thinking a lot this week and reminiscing a bit. I apologise in advance if I’m a bit rambly.”

When police went to Sports Direct to speak to Ms Ruutna about the dark web post, she told them she had a “hunch” it was Franks.

During the trial, Franks told jurors she made the post but denied she wanted to see Ms Ruutna dead - claiming she made the offer to see if the “bizarre” website was a scam.

James McCrindell, defending Franks, said his client was in a “dark place” at the time.

He added: "The evidence at trial was that the persons she was dealing with were in fact scams or fraudsters so no harm was in fact ever going to come about on the face of the evidence."

Judge Paul Dugdale said while sentencing Franks that the case was "unusual and sad".

"In this case there was no risk of any injury to Ruut Ruutna," he said. "Whitney Franks had come across a scam website, one that was going to take her money and do nothing in return for it. But she didn’t know that.”

He added: "The reality is, sitting at home in August 2020 during lockdown clicking on her computer accessing the dark web, Whitney Franks may well have not really thought through what she was doing.

"She may have made some very wrong decisions through her immaturity and naivety.

"She tried to contact [a website] to hire someone to kill Ruut Ruutna, and she gave that organisation Ruut Ruutna’s name, address, social media details - everything they needed to find her.

"She said right at the start of the contact ‘I’m looking to hire for the murder of a woman’. When she did this, it was Whitney Frank’s intention that the person she contacted on the dark web would kill Ruut Ruutna.

"I understand from everything I have read how out of character that action was."

Franks was sentenced to twelve years, will serve two-thirds of her prison sentence before she can be released on licence.

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