Bristol chef Darren Osment guilty of murdering Claire Holland after undercover police operation

A jury has convicted pub chef Darren Osment of murder following his confessions to a covert operative in a 20-month sting operation.

Osment, 42, denied killing his former partner, Claire Holland, who vanished on a night out in Bristol on 6 June 2012. Her body has never been found.

It took the jury 13 hours to convict the father-of-two of her murder following a seven-week trial at Bristol Crown Court.

The court was played some of the 1,200 hours of covert recordings made by covert officer 'Paddy' over his 20-month deployment.

Claire, a 32-year-old mother-of-four, vanished after being seen leaving her local pub in Bristol. Her case was treated as a missing persons inquiry.

Claire Holland has not been seen alive since June 2012 Credit: Avon and Somerset Police/PA

Seven years later, in July 2019, Osment called 999 while drunk and confessed to police that he had arranged her murder. Later, when sober, he retracted his admission.

In December 2020, 'Paddy O'Hara' first made contact with Osment at a shopping precinct in Patchway, on the outskirts of Bristol.

It was during lockdown and after starting a casual conversation, he suggested the out-of-work chef could help sell some stolen clothes he had in a lockup.

As their friendship grew, Osment made more admissions to the covert officer.

The court heard Paddy used several techniques to reinforce his story as a criminal. This included:

  • Burying a gun Paddy had come into possession of in the Forest of Dean

  • Getting Osment to perform as a lookout as Paddy 'carjacked' a lorry at Leigh Delamere services

  • Having a false news webpage on his phone with a story of a murder in Belfast in the 1990s. Paddy alluded that he was the killer

  • Having an argument with a 'criminal' over money - when in reality the other man was another covert operative.

Paddy made a number of confessions during the 20-month period culminating on 15 June last year. In court, this became known as 'Confession 16'.

In this Osment described using 'knife skills' on Claire, intimated her body had washed away and said he had put the knife 'in someone else's knife block'.

He also pointed to the pub where he was working at during the time Claire went missing, saying he knew the landlord wasn't there and there was no CCTV on the property.

During the trial, the jury was told of Osment's deep hatred for Claire and how he used to physically abuse her. The pair met in 2008 when they worked together in a cafe and began a relationship, with a child being born in 2010.

Andrew Langdon KC, prosecuting, said they were both heavy drinkers and Claire had drunk throughout the pregnancy. He described this as a source of tension between the couple.

When their child was a few weeks old, police were called to the home they shared in Bradley Stoke following allegations of alcohol-fuelled domestic violence.

Shortly afterwards, the child was placed in foster care.

One social worker told police after the child was taken into care: “Darren was blaming Claire for the removal of the child due to the fact that she had called the police a few days before our visit and the police had attended their home address.”

Court artist sketch of Darren Osment, 41, at Bristol Crown Court Credit: Elizabeth Cook/PA

Another social worker described the relationship as “drink-driven” and said Osment did not want the child to be placed with any of Ms Holland’s family.

But a few weeks before her disappearance, the child went to live with Ms Holland’s aunt outside the Bristol area.

The jury heard there was little contact between Ms Holland and the defendant until the week of her disappearance.

They had exchanged phone calls and Ms Holland told people in the pub on the night she vanished she was meeting Osment after he finished work as a chef at a pub in Clifton.

The court heard that in the years since, Osment told several people he had killed Claire or paid someone else to do so.

He allegedly told one friend: “I … I did kill … I did kill her you know, I did kill my ex. I killed her. I … I killed my ex. I threw it off … into the river off Avonmouth Docks in Bristol. I strangled her.”

A former partner of Osment's told police he had suggested to her he had paid someone else rather than “get his own hands dirty”.

Speaking following the conviction, Detective Superintendent Darren Hannant, Senior Investigating Officer at Avon and Somerset Police said: “The evidence we’ve gathered painstakingly over the last four years has proven that Osment is a selfish and violent misogynist who has abused almost everyone he has been close to.

“Our investigation found he’d made repeated confessions to others about his involvement in Claire’s murder, but because of a lack of supporting evidence, a decision was made to obtain authorisation for the deployment of an undercover officer, with the express aim of uncovering the truth about Claire’s disappearance, and in the hope of finding her body.

“The evidence and recorded footage gathered by the officer exposed Osment’s disturbing and hateful character and most importantly, details about the murder that otherwise would have remained unknown.

“This operation required the careful coordination of many aspects of covert policing and frequent consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that tactics were applied to fairly obtain admissible evidence.

“Due to the real risks posed to the officer in the event of the operation being compromised, the investigation team were unaware of the deployment until July 2022, when a decision was made to re-arrest Osment, after which he was charged with Claire’s murder.

“The evidence gathered by the undercover officer, along with the witness evidence, phone data, and missing person investigation records, proved that Osment was responsible for this crime.

“We discovered he had lured Claire to the pub where he worked as a chef in Clifton on the evening of Wednesday 6 June, 2012.

"He killed her and then disposed of her body, we believe most likely in water. He got rid of the physical evidence, through burning his clothes and disposing of a knife he claimed to have used.

“It was a brutal and pre-meditated crime motivated by his intense hatred of Claire, who he blamed for having their child taken into care.

“The undercover officer put his safety at risk to expose Osment’s offending. He spent hours in his company and in doing so, was able to gather vital evidence to achieve justice for Claire and her family.

"The covert material showed Osment’s actions on the night, and how the reality of what he had done had affected him. He was both disgusted by, and felt justification for, his actions, and on one occasion was physically sick when he saw a televised police appeal for witnesses.”

Darren Osment has been convicted of murder. Credit: Avon and Somerset police

Ben Samples, Senior District Crown Prosecutor for CPS South West, said: “This was a heinous crime and Claire’s family have endured over a decade of pain as Osment sought to conceal his crimes by weaving a web of deceit, all while cruelly refusing to provide any information which would help locate Claire’s body.

“Murder cases where a body has not yet been recovered are notoriously complex, because it is harder to prove a murder has been committed and there is less evidence to pin the crime to a suspect – so prosecutors must think outside the box.

“Piece by piece, we worked with police to present a compelling case to the jury which made clear that this was ‘foul play’ and that only Osment had the motive to commit murder.

“We know that today’s result won’t bring Claire back, but we hope that knowing justice has been served will bring comfort to her family as they continue to grieve her loss.”

Darren Osment, of Chessel Drive, Patchway, will be sentenced in due course.