A "dangerous and manipulative" property developer who strangled his cancer-suffering partner and was on his way to dispose of her body when he crashed his van has been jailed for life.
John Doyle, 54, will serve a minimum of 16 years for stabbing solicitor Sian Rees before throttling her with a bra at their home hours after she had undergone major surgery for breast cancer.
Divorcee Doyle, who has a previous conviction for an attack in which he tried to throttle his then estranged wife 21 years ago, attacked 50-year-old Ms Rees after she decided to end their strained relationship of 15 years on 30 June last year.
Earlier that day he had arrived to drive her home from the hospital but was so drunk from an all-day drinking session that she had to go against medical advice and get behind the wheel herself.
She booked a hotel room on the way home but continued with Doyle to collect clothes. She never made it back to the hotel.
En route to disposing of her body the next morning, he crashed his white Ford Fiesta van into a hedge and her body was discovered between the front seats. She had been dead for 12 hours.
Doyle, who was working on renovating their home at Merton Mill, near Hatherleigh in Devon, to start a joint property business, claimed he acted in self-defence after she brandished a knife, but the jury of eight women and four men at Exeter Crown Court rejected his defence, described by Judge Graham Cottle as "preposterous".
In a statement released after Doyle was sentenced to serve a minimum of 16 years in prison, two of Ms Rees' friends, Marion Boyle and Sally Griffiths, said they had been distressed by the "calculating and degrading manner" in which he had tried to cover up the death of a "a loving, compassionate, generous, clever and funny friend and colleague".
"She was about to embark on a wonderful new phase of her life and this opportunity was cruelly snatched away from Sian by John Doyle," they said.
"Every devious step he took after killing Sian was aimed at hiding the evidence and concealing the truth that he had subjected her to a vicious and prolonged attack on the very day of her cancer surgery when she was plainly less able to defend herself.
"His demeanour throughout the trial, and continued assertions of innocence in the face of the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, has added to the pain felt by Sian's friends who have had to wait for months to hear what happened on the day of Sian's death.
"He has shown no remorse for his actions and clearly feels none."
Doyle had sat nonchalantly in the dock as the court heard he had previously acted in a manner chillingly similar to the attack on Ms Rees.
On New Year's Day in 1989 he throttled his then estranged wife at her home in Western Australia, and also attacked her boyfriend. She only escaped after kicking him and forcing him to loosen his grip.
Judge Graham Cottle rejected Doyle's attempt to argue self defence in the murder of Ms Rees, who was originally from Aberdare in South Wales, saying part of his story of what happened - claiming he had been taking her to a doctor when he crashed - had been "fanciful".
Describing the murder as "brutal", Judge Cottle said: "I have no doubt it was made perfectly clear that night, in some way or another, that this (relationship) was over.
"The events of that day and that evening were more than sufficient to draw a line under that relationship that was already in serious difficulty."
The trial had heard that Doyle's drunken and late arrival at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital to collect his partner, with whom he had lived for 12 years, was the final straw in an already troubled relationship.
In the months before her death, Ms Rees had told colleagues at Peter Peter & Wright solicitors in Okehampton that she wanted to end the relationship.
She was the sole breadwinner while he was meant to be renovating the mill as the start of a property empire that would allow her to quit working. But he was making slow progress, while Doyle was angry at the amount of weight she had put on - though she had lost significant weight in the months before her death.
He had also discovered she had been exchanging emails with a man she met online.
Doyle first crashed into a traffic island and punctured a tyre but drove on for more than two miles on the flat tyre and then the bare wheel rim before crashing again.
He refused to answer questions during interviews and issued only a statement admitting rowing with Ms Rees and struggling with her as she held a knife but saying he did not remember anything else. During the trial he claimed he acted in self defence.
Judge Cottle said it was clear that after he stabbed Ms Rees, missing vital organs, he then strangled her, most likely with a bra later found alongside the knife in his van.
Michael Fitton QC, defending Doyle, said that his actions had not been premeditated but occurred in the "heat" of an argument.
"That argument clearly had its genesis in his behaviour of that day and his failure to give Sian Rees the support she was entitled to after her treatment that day," he added.
Outside court, Acting Detective Chief Inspector Michael West, who led the murder investigation, said Doyle's lies during the trial had shown his "contempt for her memory".
Describing Doyle as "dangerous and manipulative", the detective said: "He tried to present himself as a kind and loving partner to Sian, but the fact was that she received life-saving treatment for breast cancer on the same day that he killed her, and I have no doubt whatsoever that placing her body and the items he used to kill her in the vehicle was a sincere and significant effort to hide all evidence of wrongdoing.
"Sian presented no threat to Doyle whatsoever... any attempt to say that she did shows contempt for her memory."
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