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Gasps in court as neighbour is cleared of killing Colne pensioner
10:31am Wednesday 13th March 2013 in News
A MAN has been dramatically cleared of allegations that he killed an 80-year-old woman in her own home.
Angry scenes erupted in the public gallery in court yesterday as George Portsmouth was found not guilty of murder and an alternative accusation of the manslaughter of Connie French in Colne.
There were gasps before one man jumped up to shout and swear at the jury, and a woman cried: “I can't believe it” before leaving the courtroom.
After the hearing, police said they ‘were not looking for anyone else’ in connection with Mrs French’s death.
The jury at Preston Crown Court had deliberated for more than 11 hours before delivering the verdicts at the end of a two-week trial.
Judge Anthony Russell QC told defence QC Andrew O'Byrne that the defendant, who had been on remand in custody, could be discharged.
It had been claimed he had murdered the grandmother of his then partner, who died in April last year.
Mrs French was found with neck and rib injuries at her home on North Street in the early hours of March 27. A pillow had been placed under her head.
The grandmother went on to give police a video recorded interview from her hospital bed, in which she appeared to claim that Mr Portsmouth, 25, from Varley Street, Colne was the one who harmed her.
In the interview, recorded about 12 days before she died, she wrote down his first name and mouthed his surname as being the man responsible.
The prosecution claimed that she had also indicated that a pillow had been placed over her neck and face and money taken.
Mr Portsmouth said Mrs French mistakenly identified him. He queried why Mrs French had earlier told an ambulance driver that a man had been in.
He told the court: "Why not say 'George'? She has known me for five years. I think it's mistaken identity.”
His blood was found on a pillow case that Kate Blackwell QC, prosecuting, alleged was used by him in an attempt to smother her. Blood staining and saliva of Mrs French was found on the opposite side of the pillow case.
The defendant accepted his blood was on the case, but said he didn't know when it got there because he worked with steel in his job and this could get stuck in his fingers.
The defendant also said in evidence that, from time to time, Mrs French would lend him money. His financial situation had been tight, but he had been coping.
He accepted having had a gambling problem and lying about losing money on gambling machines.
He had been to Mrs French’s earlier the previous evening to deliver more than £200 that Mrs French had wanted withdrawn.
Det Supt Paul Withers from the Lancashire Police Force Major Investigation Team said: “While I respect the decision of the court, naturally Connie’s family is disappointed with the decision of the jury to clear the defendant on the charge of murder.
“The Force Major Investigation Team carried out a full and thorough investigation into the death of Connie French and both the Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service felt it was the correct decision to prosecute George Portsmouth.
“I am disappointed for Connie’s family who have conducted themselves with dignity from the outset and we will continue to offer them support for as long as they need it.
“In relation to the investigation we are not looking for anyone else in connection with this offence.”