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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Consensual erotic asphyxiation?
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 14, 2003
Date of arrest: April 29, 2003
Date of birth: 1968
Victim profile: Jane Longhurst, 31
Method of murder: Strangulation with a pair of tights
Location: Brighton, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to a life term (serving a minimum of 26 years) on July 5, 2007

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Graham Coutts is the man convicted of murdering school teacher Jane Longhurst on 14 March 2003. At the time, he was a guitarist and part-time salesman living in Brighton, UK. Coutts claimed that Longhurst had died accidentally during consensual erotic asphyxiation, although the prosecution maintained that there was nothing to suggest that Coutts and Longhurst had ever been lovers.

Coutts was convicted of murder on 3 February 2004, and sentenced to a life term serving a minimum of 30 years (reduced to 26 years on appeal on 26 January 2005). The conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on 19 July 2006, and a new trial started on 12 June 2007. He was again found guilty on 4 July 2007.

Jane Longhurst (born November 6, 1971, died March 14, 2003) had been a special needs teacher and musician living in Brighton, England. Her partly decomposed body was found burning in woodland in West Sussex on 19 April. When arrested, Coutts, who was her best friend's partner, admitted causing her death. He had first hidden the body in a shed, then in an empty flat, and finally in a storage centre, where he had visited it nine times in a three-week period.

Murder trial

At his murder trial, Coutts confessed to a long-standing neck fetish and obsession with strangulation. His testimony, confirmed by other witnesses, stated that he had engaged in breath control play with several consenting partners on many occasions without incident over several years. He had spoken with his GP about his fixation and sought the help of a psychiatrist three years before the killing. Eventually, he started to access violent pornography on the Internet (especially simulated strangulation, rape and necrophilia).

He had downloaded a collection of strangulation images the day before Jane's death. This, according to the prosecution, had caused his dangerous sexual behaviour and murderous intent. Critics of the prosecution's argument doubt this explanation, since the behaviour preceded the exposure to such pornography by about five years. No evidence of premeditation was presented to the jury.

Mr. Coutts testified that he wrapped a pair of nylon tights around Ms. Longhurst's neck as part of a consensual sexual practice known as erotic asphyxia, which he had undertaken on numerous previous occasions with several different partners. The prosecution claimed that he had invited her to his flat under false pretences, then attacked her.

Evidence was given by a defence witness that several years ago, Longhurst had whispered to a work colleague that a sexual encounter the previous night had "involved some kind of stopping breathing". The defence claimed that this was evidence that the deceased had engaged in activity with another partner, similar to that claimed by Coutts. Ms. Longhurst's partner and a previous boyfriend stated that they had not indulged in erotic asphyxia during their relations. According to Coutts' account in the witness box, he was masturbating whilst pulling the ligature around her neck, and when he reached orgasm he found that Ms. Longhurst was lying dead across him, with a quantity of blood produced.

The prosecution case that a murder took place rested on three key issues. Firstly, was it certain that Mr. Coutts would have known that a serious injury was being incurred in sufficient time to be able to stop and prevent the death? Secondly, did Mr. Coutts have a motive for causing injury or death? Thirdly, could he be trusted to produce a reliable account of what had happened?

Pathologists' expert testimony

If the death became inevitable before abnormal signs became apparent to Mr. Coutts, the necessary intent could not be established to secure a murder conviction. To establish this point, Home Office pathologist Dr. Vesna Djurovic testified that Mr. Coutts must have been aware of the medical emergency for 23 minutes before death became inevitable. Had Coutts acted on this emergency as soon as he became aware of it, Ms. Longhurst would definitely have survived. By continuing to constrict Ms. Longhurst's neck long after becoming aware of the emergency, Coutts showed the necessary mens rea for murder. This view was contested by defence pathologist, Dr. Richard Shepherd, whose expert opinion was that death could have occurred very quickly by a mechanism known as vagal inhibition, taking as little as 12 seconds. This view is also supported by those familiar with breath control play, who recognize that death may become inevitable without signs of medical emergency. Sometimes this will be through vagal inhibition, sometimes through interference with the baroreceptors which sense blood pressure, and sometimes through brain or other haemorrhage. Such deaths may occur suddenly and without warning. Other mechanisms may result in death minutes or even hours later. In spite of being at the core of the trial, no expert in the field of erotic asphyxia presented testimony.

Dr. Djurovic's expert testimony was based on experience analysing strangulation victims, combined with an understanding of the physiology behind death by strangulation. The epidemiological claim that two to three minutes was almost always required to commit a murder by strangulation was drawn from her knowledge of murders.

Critics of Dr. Djurovic's testimony claim that the epidemiology of death from erotic asphyxia is completely different from that of murder, since the participants try to prevent medical emergency or death, not to cause it. The statistical distribution of exact mechanism of death becomes heavily skewed towards those rarer causes which do not manifest themselves by obvious symptoms of emergency before the point of irrevocability, such as severe induced heart arrhythmia or massive haemorrhage. It becomes apparent that Dr. Djurovic's argument is circular, relying on the epidemiology and physiology of murder to prove it was murder. An alternative approach, seeking to disprove the accident epidemiology was not attempted by expert witness. Indeed, Dr. Djurovic testified that the death could have been from heart attack or vagus inhibition, but in her experience, these would be unlikely mechanisms.

In spite of substantial apparent differences, the pathologists' testimonies are fully compatible. Death would have taken 23 minutes if it were murder, according to Djurovic. If the death were accidental, it may have been very sudden (12 seconds), according to Sheppard. Unfortunately, neither sheds any light on which situation actually occurred.

The use by the pathologists of terms linked to probability and statistics such as "very unlikely", "very rare" and "most likely" raises the issue of the statistical basis underlying such analyses. Only by a rigorous analysis and exposition of the implicit prior assumptions can such terms be justified in court on a crucial point. In this case, neither expert's prior assumptions were challenged. This aspect is shared with the case of Sally Clark whose murder convictions were quashed because of unsound statistical evidence from a medical expert witness.

The nature of their relationship

During the trial, Coutts claimed that the death was an accident that occurred during consensual sex. Prosecution witnesses testified that Ms. Longhurst was in a stable relationship with her long term partner and that she and her partner were happy together. No evidence was put forward to suggest a previous sexual relationship between Ms. Longhurst and Coutts, and Coutts' account stated that the claimed sexual act was the first sexual act between them.

The possible role of violent pornography

The prosecution placed great weight on the presence of "extreme pornography" in Mr. Coutts' possession at the time of the death. This, it was argued, was the triggering factor for Mr. Coutts' murderous intent, establishing a clear motive for murder. Although this aspect is pivotal, no evidence was presented documenting this controversial effect in comparable cases. A total of 699 violent pornographic images were found on Mr. Coutts' computer.

Much of the same violent pornography, however, is possessed by many other persons interested and active in violent sexual practice, including erotic asphyxia. His possession of such material, in this case, becomes uninformative as to the intent of Mr. Coutts on the night of the death.

Mr. Coutts' pattern of erotic asphyxia had already begun by the early nineties, five years before he encountered extreme pornography depicting such activity (1996). The argument that the pornography caused such practices in this case becomes untenable. In addition, the six or seven years (19962003) that elapsed between encountering the material and causing the death of Ms. Longhurst creates doubt to the claim that the material is a potent cause of murderous intent.

It is important however, to remember that possession of such material also shows an interest in such activities, and that by Coutts' possession of this material the prosecution has shown that he enjoyed erotic thoughts of killing women through violent strangulation. Additionally, although Ms. Longhurst may well have been interested in such topics without having confessed such to her partner, the lack of such material supports the prosecution's claim that she may have not in fact been interested in the topic. This would lead to speculation over whether Mr. Coutts had informed Ms. Longhurst of his intentions, which would support their argument to premeditation. On the other hand, in conflict to the prosecution's argument is that Jane Longhurst had earlier told a fellow teacher that she willingly practiced breath control play during sex with a previous boyfriend.

Coutts said he had had murderous thoughts about women since he was 15. He was seen by psychiatrists in 1991, 12 years before the murder, whom he told he feared his thoughts may lead to criminal actions.

Murder, manslaughter or accident?

The most plausible causes of death of Ms. Longhurst are

  • Murder - Mr. Coutts intended to kill or cause serious injury

  • Manslaughter - Mr. Coutts was negligent or acting illegally causing unintended death

  • Accident - Death from some unpredictable or natural cause

Mr. Coutts claimed to have practiced breath control play on many prior occasions, which supports the accident hypothesis; although the risk of death on each occasion is very low, repeated exposure to such a risk increases the likelihood of a problem substantially. Since breath control play is, according to the trial testimony, practiced so widely, the frequency of this cause of death in the UK is quite low. In the US autoerotic asphyxia kills an estimated 500-1000 people per annum - more than tornado, flash flooding and lightning combined. Accidental asphyxia of a partner is rarer, since one partner always remains alert to signs of problems. A pre-existing medical condition, unusual position or tension in the ligature, or some other trigger may have caused the death on this particular occasion.

Jane Longhurst had earlier told a fellow teacher that she willingly practiced breath control play during sex with a previous boyfriend.

The jury in the trial was not offered the possibility of manslaughter, a lesser offence, since the prosecution's case was that it could not have been manslaughter. If they believed a serious offence had been proved, but it was not murder, the only correct possibility would have been to acquit the guilty man - a potentially controversial outcome indeed. The jury at Lewes Crown Court found Mr. Coutts guilty on 3 February 2004.


Graham Coutts was convicted of Longhurst's murder and began serving a 26-year minimum prison term. He has maintained his innocence, and pursued appeals on a variety of grounds. On 19 July 2006, the Law Lords overturned the murder conviction, ruling that the jury should have been presented with a possible manslaughter verdict. This verdict would have been appropriate had the jury believed that the death was an accident caused by Mr Coutts' negligence. On 19 October 2006 his conviction was quashed and a re-trial ordered; this began on 11 June 2007.

The issue of manslaughter charges was brought to the appeals court in December 2004, and was upheld in January 2005. Coutts then took his case to the House of Lords and on 19 July 2006, the case was referred back to the lower court who were invited to quash it. On 19 October 2006 this decision was confirmed by the Court of Appeal and the original conviction was formally quashed. A new trial took place in June 2007, and Coutts was convicted on July 4, 2007 by an 11 to 1 majority verdict. The following day, July 5, Coutts was sentenced once again to a life term (serving a minimum of 26 years).

Criminalisation of possession of "extreme pornography"

The possible link with what the Government has termed "extreme pornography" led to calls from Longhurst's mother Liz, the police, MP Martin Salter and Home Secretary David Blunkett to ban such websites.

A campaign by the Government and Liz Longhurst collected a petition of over 50,000 signatures calling for a ban on "extreme internet sites promoting violence against women in the name of sexual gratification" after the original murder conviction of Graham Coutts. Unable to shut down the websites, many of which were legally hosted in the UK and US, the Home Office was motivated to consult on criminalising possession of "extreme pornographic material", including images of consenting adults, and staged "realistic depictions" of such acts. Although the consultation found 63% of responses opposed strengthening the law to address the "challenges of the Internet", the UK government announced on 30 August 2006 that it intends to introduce new laws governing the possession of "extreme pornography". The possession of such material would be punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The SM group Unfettered has created a campaign, Backlash, in opposition to such changes.

Proponents of the new laws call them a way of protecting women from similar tragedies. Critics say that the reverse may be true, citing evidence from Japan, the United States, Denmark and elsewhere that sexually motivated crime negatively correlates with the availability of pornography, or that the laws will criminalize those who are not violent.


Teacher's killer jailed for life

July 5, 2007

The man convicted of murdering Brighton schoolteacher Jane Longhurst for his sexual gratification has been jailed for life.

Graham Coutts, 39, of Waterloo Street, Hove, was found guilty at the Old Bailey on Wednesday after a retrial.

He strangled Ms Longhurst, 31, from Reading, Berkshire, with a pair of tights then kept her body in a commercial storage unit for a thrill.

Coutts was told he would have to serve a minimum of 26 years in jail.

Coutts, who was originally from Leven in Fife, was first found guilty of murder in 2004, but the conviction was quashed on appeal.

Coutts, who was obsessed with violent pornography websites, had alleged Ms Longhurst died during a consensual sex game.

But the new jury again rejected his claims and backed the prosecution case that he killed her to satisfy a "long-standing and perverted sexual interest" in the strangling to death of women.

Ms Longhurst was killed in March 2003, and her body was later burned by Coutts.

Jurors at the Old Bailey found him guilty by an 11 to one majority, after 13 hours of deliberations.

'Traumatic experience'

Sentencing him on Thursday, Judge Richard Hone said he had "not the slightest doubt" that Ms Longhurst, who used to go swimming with Coutts, did not consent to have sex with him.

Rather than attempting to revive her, the judge said, Coutts had kept her in a car boot, then a garden shed, and finally at a storage unit before burning her body on a secluded common.

"Your meticulous attempts to cover up what you did are the keys to your true intentions," he said.

"This retrial must have been a difficult and traumatic experience for Malcolm Sentance [Ms Longhurst's boyfriend] and Jane Longhurst's family."


Teacher was victim of murder fantasy

The jury which convicted Graham Coutts accepted the shocking reality that he acted out on the helpless Jane Longhurst his life-long fantasy of strangling, raping and killing a woman.

What they were never told was that Coutts made a grim and terrifying prediction that he would, one day, actually carry out such an appalling crime.

The horrifying warning, given to former lover Sandra Gates in the 1980s, was ruled inadmissible during lengthy legal argument before the trial began.

Judge Richard Brown decided the chilling remarks were too old to be properly relied upon, and that other dark secrets were also out of date.

But it is clear that Coutts, an arrogant drifter and dangerous sexual deviant who failed to make it as a professional musician, had in his mind a burning desire that would one day be played out on the unsuspecting Miss Longhurst, 31.

It can also now be revealed that the talented viola player ironically described Coutts as "unstable", although many who met him on the pub gig scene in Brighton described him as quiet and inoffensive.

For Sandra Gates, one of Coutts's sexual partners who consented to asphyxial sex in the name of love, his warning that he may be unable to control his perverse fantasy gave her an insight into his mind few else had seen.


She told police, in what might have been a piece of damning evidence, that he said to her during their relationship: "I get the most awful feelings that I am going to strangle, kill and rape a woman."

Ms Gates also told police that during the same period she discovered pornographic photos of naked women in Coutts's home. Around the neck of each girl Coutts had hand-drawn a hangman's noose - yet another frightening sign of the murderer's obsession with dead women.

Coutts was born in 1968 in Leven, in the Fife area of Scotland. He went to Glenrothes School before his family moved south to Cheltenham.

There he went to Westwoods Grammar School before studying at the South Cheshire College of Further Education in Crewe.

He never excelled academically and went on to have a string of dead-end jobs in the North West, and later Brighton, including work with double-glazing firm Storm Seal and cleaning firm Kleeneze.

Throughout his early adult life, Coutts had a string of lovers and one-night stands as he tried to cultivate his dream career as a professional guitarist.

During the trial he said he began playing the guitar at the age of 14, and in 1998 he was forced to take up work on a self-employed basis as a door-to-door salesman for Kleeneze to make ends meet.

He was well known in pubs and clubs in Brighton and elsewhere in Sussex for playing in a Who cover band called Substitute, and in other groups called 17 Black and Big Bang.

Unnatural fetish

But music was not the only interest that gripped the young Coutts. He confessed that he developed an unnatural fetish for women's necks at the tender age of 15, and by the age of 21 he was practising asphyxial sex, or as he called it "breath control sex".

Two of his former lovers, Ms Gates and Nicola Stainthorpe, told how sex with Coutts was normal at first but quickly became "adventurous".

Ms Stainthorpe said: "He would tie me up with a stocking, or the cord of a dressing gown. He would like to stroke my neck. He wanted me to put my hands around his neck and press harder and harder so when it got near the end it would make him pass out.

"He put his hands around my neck, and he wanted to make me black out but I never let him. He would put pressure on my wind pipe. He would use a stocking. He would tie it around my neck and pull at either end."

Yet what is surprising, and what sheds a peculiar light on such a violent man, was that his partners never felt threatened.

Both Ms Stainthorpe and Ms Gates insisted Coutts would always break off his sexual demands when asked.

When questioned why she let him practise his desires on her, Ms Stainthorpe said: "I was in love with him. I wanted to make him happy."

Yet the signs of his taste for violence and suffering were there. Ms Gates told how on one occasion, she was upset over a family problem.

Coutts demanded sex and, when rejected, he proceeded to pleasure himself with the woman he supposedly loved in tears just feet away.

Ms Gates said: "A lot of it was me being upset and distressed about things. That would turn him on."

No suspicions

But just as his lovers did not suspect Coutts would one day become a killer, so both Miss Longhurst and her partner Malcolm Sentance, 34, also apparently felt comfortable around him.

Mr Sentance, an education welfare officer with West Sussex County Council, played tennis with Coutts two summers ago, shortly after he met Miss Longhurst through Coutts's girlfriend Lisa Stephens.

And Miss Longhurst went swimming with Coutts on at least half a dozen occasions as part of his bid to get fit.

Miss Longhurst and Mr Sentance often went to Coutts and Ms Stephens's flat in Waterloo Street in Hove, where Coutts strangled his victim to death.

It appears there were never any worries about a man who would later be exposed as a dangerous predator fuelled by his sexual desire for dead women.

Mr Sentance displayed in court his conviction that his partner had no sexual interest in Coutts either, something his defence team claimed when arguing that Miss Longhurst had "fallen into the arms" of the defendant because she was unhappy with Mr Sentance.

He stormed out of Court 1 at Lewes Crown Court in a defiant display of disgust at the suggestion that, in a moment of despair, his loving partner may have consented to asphyxial sex with Coutts.

The court heard that Miss Longhurst and Mr Sentance were planning to move to Bath together, and one day start a family.

But one friend of Miss Longhurst revealed that, ironically, the woman he killed did have her own secret doubts about Coutts's mental state, and, in what would be a tragic miscalculation, feared for Ms Stephens's safety.

Ellie Blackshaw met Coutts at a surprise 30th birthday party for Miss Longhurst in Brighton at which Coutts and Ms Stephens were guests.

Ms Blackshaw, who introduced Miss Longhurst to the Musician of All Saints Orchestra first as a violinist, and then as a viola player, told the BBC: "Jane was very close to Lisa. She even talked to me about Lisa.

"They were the best of friends. When Lisa got pregnant, Jane was bouncing around the room. She was thrilled as they had had some problems conceiving.

"But she was sometimes concerned about Lisa being with Graham. She thought he was unstable and would quite often express concerns about it."

Of Coutts, Ms Blackshaw said: "He was a bit aloof, may be slightly arrogant, that was my first impression.

"When he was arrested we were all very shocked. The weekend he was arrested a whole group of us were working on some music together to do some recording which Jane was booked for.

"None of us could quite get our heads around it. We had all met Graham at that party. We thought it could not be him. How could someone who knows Jane have done something like this?"

Ms Blackshaw paid tribute to Miss Longhurst as a passionate and caring person.

"For me, to have that taken away was a huge loss.

"She was very passionate and enthusiastic about music. When we were flagging, she would carry everyone along with her enthusiasm.

"She was terrific fun, someone you could be totally and unashamedly childish and outrageous with. We used to have gin and trumpet evenings, when she would play my trumpet. She managed to play a few notes, particularly after some gin."

Dark fantasy

But although she had her suspicions about Coutts, Miss Longhurst was unaware of the dark fantasy which was consuming him.

The trial heard much about Coutts's self-confessed seven-year addiction to Internet pornography, and how he had surfed for images of dead and strangled women on the day before he murdered Miss Longhurst.

There was an unpalatable question mark over exactly what he did with Miss Longhurst's naked body, which he stored for 35 days before setting it alight on Wiggonholt Common, near Pulborough, West Sussex.

But records taken from his computer showed his use of the net to visit sites such as "necrobabes", "deathbyasphyxia", "hangingbitches" and "rapepleasure" came to a halt during the time he was visiting Miss Longhurst's naked body at the Big Yellow Storage Company in Brighton.

The implication clearly made to the jury was that Coutts was taking some form of sexual pleasure from his "trophy", only resuming his use of the net once he had been forced to dispose of the corpse.

The jury rejected Coutts's flimsy claim that Miss Longhurst had died as a result of a tragic accident during sex on March 14, and that he had not confessed to police about storing and disposing of her body in a desperate bid to prevent Ms Stephens losing the couple's unborn twins from the shock of it all.

John Kelsey-Fry QC, who led the successful prosecution of Coutts, closed the Crown's case by saying: "On March 14, Graham Coutts murdered Jane Longhurst by strangling her to death, taking the opportunity to act out in reality the bizarre and macabre fantasies he had fostered on his computer."



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