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29 September 2011, 14:55
A man who admitted murdering 25-year-old Jia Ashton in Derbyshire has been sentenced to life in prison with a minimum jail term of 28 years.
21-year-old David Simmonds, of Derby Road, Heanor, Derbyshire, pleaded guilty to the murder of Jia last week.
The judge described what Simmonds did as 'brutal, cruel and wicked', going on to say that there's a strong possibility her final moments would have been ones of 'abject terror'.
Sentencing Simmonds, the judge said Jia and her husband had 'a golden future together until you [Simmonds] came along and destroyed it'.
The body of Chinese-born Mrs Ashton was discovered in Sleetmoor Woods, near Somercotes in Derbyshire, on March 13, three days after she was last seen leaving her job at chocolate-maker Thorntons.
Detectives launched a high priority inquiry after Mrs Ashton's husband Matthew reported her missing on the evening of March 11.
She was eventually found by a mountain search and rescue dog in Sleetmoor Woods. Detectives think she would have been walking her usual route home down a road known locally as the Yellow Brick Road when she was attacked.
Speaking at a media briefing, Detective Superintendent Terry Branson said she was subjected to a sustained and brutal attack, in which there was no evidence of any weapons being used.
Simmonds, at 6ft 2in and 19 stone, was more than three times the weight of Mrs Ashton, who stood at a petite 4ft 11in, weighed six-and-a-half stone and wore a size two shoe.
All her injuries were consistent with having been kicked and punched, he added, and there was no evidence of a sexual attack. She was found some distance from the site where detectives believe she was attacked but it is not clear if she ran there or was dragged.
Fingerprints and DNA evidence were recovered from her glasses and her phone but Simmonds was not on any national databases so was not matched.
He was eventually arrested on May 5, eight weeks into the investigation, and charged with Mrs Ashton's murder on May 6 after officers searched the local register of homeless people following accounts from witnesses of having seen a dishevelled and unkempt man in the woods around the time of the murder.
The Derbyshire police investigation that brought Jia Ashton's killer to justice was a painstaking 'once in a generation' inquiry, a leading detective has said.
At its peak, more than 100 officers were dedicated to the inquiry and there were more than 3,000 lines of inquiry.
Detective Superintendent Terry Branson, of Derbyshire Police, said the months of hard work were more than worth it to see David Simmonds held to account for the brutal murder of Mrs Ashton.
He said: ``I had a great team of officers around me and for eight weeks it was a painstaking, meticulous, thorough investigation with literally thousands of lines of inquiries.
``You have to cut through the mist and fortunately we got that golden nugget with David Simmonds, which has enabled us to bring this to a successful conclusion.''
Mr Branson said that from the outset of the high priority investigation, officers knew it was an unusual case because Mrs Ashton was not someone who usually went missing.
Coupled with the size of the 50-acre Sleetmoor Woods, where the investigation was to be focused, and the fact that Mrs Ashton regularly took one of two paths through the woods on her walk home from work, officers had a mammoth task ahead of them.
DNA and fingerprints found on Mrs Ashton's body did not find any matches for Simmonds because he was not on any national databases.
It was eight weeks into the investigation when officers tracked down people in the area registered as homeless in the six-month period around the murder that they were led to Simmonds. Within three days - from his DNA sample and fingerprints being taken on May 4 to him being formally charged on May 6 - officers had found Mrs Ashton's killer.
Mr Branson said it was a bittersweet result but he could only think of Mrs Ashton's family, he said:
"There's a sense of pride and achievement to the extent that we brought the investigation to a successful conclusion but my thoughts are just with Matthew, Penny, John and Sue. They are the ones who have lost a loved one and nothing can bring her back.''
What we know about David Simmonds
Simmonds has been described as 'a habitual liar' who tried his best to cover up the brutal killing.
Detective Superintendent Terry Branson, of Derbyshire Police, said that after David Simmonds ruthlessly killed economics graduate Mrs Ashton in Sleetmoor Woods, he tried to conceal her body and scattered her belongings around the area.
When her body was eventually found, it was covered by thick logs, leaves and branches and there was evidence they had been placed there deliberately, he said.
Many of her belongings - a leopard print umbrella cover, a pair of glasses, an MP3 player and earbuds, her mobile phone and five buttons from her coat - had been left some 545 yards from where her body was found.
Her handbag had been slung 15ft up into a tree near her body.
Mr Branson said:
"Without a doubt Mr Simmonds went to great lengths to hide the body to make sure that we never found Jia. He made every attempt to frustrate the subsequent police inquiry.''
Simmonds received a number of injuries to his hands during the attack, Mr Branson said, and explained those away to friends by telling them he had been chased through woods by a group of people.
But he went on to give numerous varied accounts of how he obtained those injuries.
"What he said then to what he said in interview and what he's subsequently then said in his defence statement it becomes clear that David Simmonds is a habitual liar,'' Mr Branson said.
It is not known if the injuries on Simmonds' hands happened as a result of Mrs Ashton trying to fight him off. Simmonds, at 6ft 2in and weighing 19 stone, was more than three times the weight of Mrs Ashton who stood at a petite 4ft 11in and weighed six-and-a-half stone.
Mr Branson added:
"The only person who knows what happened in that wood at the moment is David Simmonds and to what extent Jia fought back, it's only him that knows.''
Simmonds left school at 17 and never really had a proper job, Mr Branson said.
In the Christmas period of 2009 and 2010 he was employed as a casual worker at Thorntons, at the same time as Mrs Ashton worked there, but there was no evidence to suggest they ever met or that she became a target of his during that time.
Simmonds had a good upbringing in Swanwick, Derbyshire. His parents were a professional couple and his brother was at university.
It was only following the break-up of his relationship with a local girl, with whom he had a young son, that his family relations became strained because of concerns over childcare and he found himself homeless.
He registered himself as homeless and it was this that led detectives to him when they searched the register after receiving a description of a man in the woods around the time of the murder who looked dishevelled and unkempt.
Almost immediately after Mrs Ashton's murder, Simmonds got a job as a waiter at the Spice Inn Indian restaurant in Heanor, Derbyshire, and was able to stay in the flat above the premises.
It was there that he was arrested for Mrs Ashton's murder and subsequently charged.