Mystery Still Surrounds Solicitor Death In Durham

7 January 2015, 18:27 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

The widow of a solicitor found with fatal stab wounds while he went for a jog told an inquest she had no fears for his safety and no concerns he would harm himself despite him recently learning he would be charged with fraud.

Peter Maine, 56, was found with three wounds to the heart when he went for a jog along the River Wear after parking in Durham city centre on a Sunday morning in September 2013.

No suspect has ever been traced by police and no weapon used either by an attacker or by the married father-of-two himself has ever been found.

That was despite the police spending £30,000 and three months searching the river and its banks for a knife, the inquest at Crook Civic Centre, County Durham heard.

Police worked on three scenarios - that he was murdered in a targeted hit, that he was the victim of a random attack or that he killed himself.

Mr Maine's widow Joanna, also a solicitor, told the hearing the couple carried on as normal when they heard two days before his death that he was to be charged with conspiracy to defraud.

Reporting restictions were applied by coroner Andrew Tweddle as criminal proceedings are ongoing concerning other individuals.

Mrs Maine, watched by grown-up daughters Lucy and Jessica, was asked if she could recall anything that now led her to believe he was going to harm himself.

She said:
``I have spent months trying to think of anything,''

``We had booked a holiday. There's absolutely nothing.''

Mrs Maine, who had been with her husband for more than 30 years, also said:
``We were planning for the future.''

She said her husband never expressed any fears about anyone threatening him.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Chapman, who led the investigation, said police drew up a list of 65 people who may have been in contact with the solicitor and may have wanted to harm him.

Mr Maine was being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority following a complaint by a client, as well as facing the conspiracy to defraud charge, the inquest heard.

But none of those people remained a concern to police, he said.

Robbery was ruled out as a motive as he was found with his Rolex watch, wallet and keys.

Mr Tweddle asked:
``It is fair to say, there is not anybody who might be of interest to you, or might be considered a potential suspect, being involved directly or indirectly?''

Mr Chapman agreed, saying:
``My initial hypothesis was it was murder and it was planned, murder and it was unplanned, or it was suicide.''

Police managed to trace all but two people seen walking or running in the area of the Wear between 7.30am and 8.30am that day.

Neither of the two outstanding people were of particular concern to police.

None of the six knives found in the general area were believed to have been the one used to inflict the fatal injuries, the inquest heard.

Forensic pathologist Dr Jennifer Bolton told the hearing two of the three wounds went through the heart. All were closely grouped, making it more likely they were self-inflicted. But the fact no knife was found nearby made her think again about how he came about his injuries.

Mr Maine would not necessarily have collapsed immediately upon being stabbed, as some people can continue to move purposefully for up to 20 minutes afterwards, the court heard.

Mr Maine's body was found near Maiden Castle sports centre, around 40m from the site of significant blood drops in the middle of a bridge over the Wear.

Dr Bolton said there were no signs of any defence injuries often seen on a stabbing victim.

Mr Maine had left the family home on the wealthy estate of Wynyard, near Billingham, Teesside, taken his Range Rover up the A1M to Durham and visited his former offices on Old Elvet, which were to be made into student lets.

CCTV showed him jogging from the property along the river bank and he was last spotted on camera alive at 7.42am. A member of the public called the emergency services at 8.01am.

Mr Tweddle recorded an open verdict saying he could not be sure Mr Maine was a victim of homicide, nor could it be proved beyond reasonable doubt that he killed himself.

He agreed with Tim Gittins, representing the family, who said:
``There are just too many variables here.''

There was no criticism of the inquiry, as Mr Tweddle said:
``It is clear there has been a very thorough and detailed police investigation led by DCI Chapman.''