Leicester

Pair guilty of killing Leicester solicitor Vina Patel

John Cort
Image caption Cort's clients' accounts were missing £650,000

A solicitor has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years for hiring a hit man to murder his business partner.

John Cort, 54, of Rutland Street, Leicester, was convicted at Nottingham Crown Court of killing Vina Patel so he could claim life insurance.

Hit man Brian Farrell, 37, of Queensborough Terrace, west London, was jailed for a minimum term 27 years.

They had tried to make the death, at Cort's office, look like an accident.

Insurance pay-out

The body of 51-year-old Mrs Patel was found at the bottom of the stairs at Cort and Co solicitors in Blackbird Road, Leicester, on 15 January 2009.

During the trial, the court heard that debt-ridden Cort hired Farrell to commit the murder in the belief it would lead to a huge insurance pay-out.

Mrs Patel suffered a broken neck as well as other injuries.

The court evidence suggested she had either fallen because she was being attacked or had been attacked then her body arranged to make it look like an accident.

The judge Mrs Justice Dobbs told Cort and Farrell: "You deprived the family and friends of Vina Patel of a cherished person."

Image caption Vina Patel had been Cort's friend and business partner for years

She quoted from a statement from Mrs Patel's widower Surendra, saying that since her murder the family had been dogged by "torment, depression and paranoia".

The judge said: "That you, Mr Cort, were able to have murdered a close friend of 30 years, erstwhile lover of 20 years and partner prepared to help you with your divorce, reveals your true character.

"You are a controlling person who will stop at nothing to achieve your aims.

"You were the driving force behind the murder."

Speaking after the unanimous verdicts, Mr Patel said: "We wanted justice for Vina, this is it. The man [Cort] is completely callous, there was no reaction at all.

"I think he is the devil. If you ever want to meet the devil, he is it."

Lavish lifestyle

During the trial, the court heard that divorcee Cort "lived a life he simply could not afford" and had spiralled into £171,000 of debt.

The court heard that weeks before Mrs Patel's death, Cort had persuaded her they should increase their life assurance cover from £500,000 to £1.5m, claiming he had a serious illness.

Then more than £650,000 went missing from the company's client account, which should have been paid to customers or mortgage lenders.

The firm was investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) last July after Cort's arrest.

An investigator said there were £1.4m of "questionable" transactions, including the £650,000.

'Greed and money'

Det Ch Insp Chris Redfern said that although Mrs Patel's death originally looked like an accident, thorough examination of the scene and an expert post-mortem examination led to an investigation which identified Cort and Farrell as those responsible.

He said: "The motive for Vina's murder was greed and money.

"When the life insurance money was put on hold pending the completion of the police investigation, Cort, still needing large sums of money, began to use the business client account to fund his extravagant lifestyle and that of his entourage."

He added her family had shown "tremendous dignity" during the inquiry.

Lawrence English, Acting Chief Crown Prosecutor from CPS Leicestershire and Rutland, said: "This case was one of the most challenging murder cases we have had, combining as it did factors such as a deplorable level of conspiracy between the two men, greed, fraud, and frightening pre-meditation of the part of both, but Cort in particular."

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