A Portslade man is facing prison after being found guilty of helping his friend dump the body of a man he had killed in a violent attack during a row about money.
Stewart Robertson, 50, of St Aubyns Road, was found guilty of preventing the lawful burial of Lancing man Mark Manning, who had been brutally killed by Colin Gale in April 2014.
Mr Manning’s remains were eventually found on land near Hampshire Hill, near Slaugham, just over two years since he went missing.
Gale was today found guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Manning following a trial. The pair will be sentenced later this month.
Mark Manning was a 54-year-old father of two and living in the same block of flats as his father and sister in Kings Road, Lancing. A former military bomb disposal expert, he was well-travelled and worked for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a charity that removes landmines and other dangers in some of the world’s poorest countries. He also bought and sold cars for local garages.
Mark was last seen on Saturday 19 April 2014. His family reported him missing to police three days later after they became concerned that they could not contact him and he failed to turn up to meet his son on Sunday 20 April, which was unusual.
Mark’s friend Colin Gale told police that he had dropped him at Worthing railway station on 19 April as he was travelling to pick up a car he had bought. However there was no CCTV footage of Mark at the station and no reported sightings of him.
Instead Gale had killed Mark at a garage that he ran in Lancing, because he could not pay back the money that he owed Mark. Gale’s associate Stewart Robertson then helped him dispose of the body the following morning.
He was missing for more than two years before his body was found in dense woodland more than 20 miles away at Slaugham, near Handcross.
Mark was initially treated as a missing person by police but, as enquiries were made, it became obvious to officers that he hadn’t disappeared of his own accord and detectives launched a murder investigation.
On the last day he had been seen, Mark had arranged to meet his son Kane the following day. He was doing work on his bathroom and was in the process of arranging a visa to see his daughter, Ana, who lives in Angola, but he never made it to the appointment.
By lunchtime on 19 April Mark’s two mobile phones had stopped working, his bank accounts were not being used and no trace of him could be found.
Officers carried out searches of his home, spoke to his family, friends and colleagues about him and made house to house enquiries. At the same time detectives continued to make extensive proof of life enquiries. His brother Russell appeared at a press conference and made an appeal for him to get in touch or for anyone who had seen Mark to come forward.
Meanwhile the account from Colin Gale, who had been friends with Mark for five years, that he had dropped Mark off at Worthing railway station on the morning of 19 April was beginning to unravel. Footage from the station disputed his version of events as Mark could not be seen and cell site mobile phone analysis revealed both Mark and Gale were pinpointed in the area of Gale’s garage P&B Motors in Western Road, Lancing.
The senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Mike Ashcroft made an appeal while specially-trained officers and dogs searched the grounds of nearby Brooklands Pleasure Park in Worthing. A West Sussex Fire and Rescue crew searched the lake as detectives had received anonymous information that Mark had been murdered. But nothing was found there.
Posters appealing for information about what had happened to Mark were put up around Lancing and Worthing and searches were made across the town. Extensive forensic examination of the garage in Western Road found Mark’s blood on the wall in the doorway of the building.
Meanwhile Gale’s wife told police that he had confessed to her that he had killed Mark at the garage and that he and Stewart Robertson had disposed of the body the following morning.
Gale, 40, of Offington Lane, Worthing, was arrested on suspicion of murder in May 2015 and released on bail. He was charged with the murder of Mark in January 2016. Gale’s associate, Stewart Robertson, 50, of St Aubyns Road, Portslade, who had also been arrested in relation to the murder in May 2015, had been released without charge. However he was re-arrested on 25 May 2016 and he told officers he knew where Mark’s remains were. He then took officers to the location and was charged with preventing a lawful burial.
Extensive work was carried out to recover and identify the remains. Dental records proved it was Mark and a post mortem revealed he had suffered severe head and facial injuries. The weapon, which had been used to kill Mark, has never been recovered.
A forensic archaeologist found that the foliage around the site where Mark was found revealed that his remains had been there for two summers, indicating his body was taken there after he was killed.
During the four-week trial at Lewes Crown Court, the jury heard that Mark Manning had been beaten to death by his friend in a row over money.
Colin Gale had confessed to his wife that he had owed Mark £150,000. When Mark had turned up at his garage in Western Road Sompting on 19 April, they had rowed and he said Mark had come at him with ‘something’ so he grabbed it off him and hit him over the head with it.
Gale said: “Mark was alive but I thought to myself he is the sort of bloke who would come back and get me. I had to finish him off or he would come back and get me. I hit him a couple more times. It was disgusting. Stewart Robertson was there and he was screaming.”
They then disposed of his body the following morning.
The court heard that Gale had been acting out of character the day after Mark’s disappearance. He had left the house early and could not be contacted for several hours. He also had lied to police about his whereabouts that day. Later he also told his wife: “I know what happened. I did it. I went back and removed a towel in case it had DNA on it. I burned the clothes.”
He then later denied telling his wife, saying any comments he had made were in jest.
Giving evidence Gale himself told the jury he used a one-metre industrial wrench to kill Mark in self-defence after he attacked him with an axe over a £17,000 debt for the sale of two vehicles. He said Mark kept swinging the axe at him so he hit him two or three times and he collapsed on the floor. He did not mention this when he was charged.
Mark’s son Kane Manning, 18, said: “My father was a hero, he saved many people’s lives around the world with his mine clearance work. I had an amazing bond with my father and I find it hard knowing my dad will never be around to see me grow up. I am so glad that justice has prevailed in the end.”
Mark’s brother and sister Russell and Anna said: “No words can convey the pain and horror endured physically and mentally by us and Mark’s children during the past 32 months.
“Mark’s loss is also felt around the world, where he diligently, professionally and with a cheerfulness cleared unmarked minefields and provided humanitarian aid, at times within active war zones.
“Mark’s father died with a broken heart, not knowing of his son’s demise. We buried our father 12 weeks before Mark was found. They now lay together. May they Rest in Peace.
“We would like say thank you to all of the police investigative team involved with seeking justice for Mark. At times this must have been very harrowing. Their professionalism and determination has always been respected by us. The Family Liaison Officers have shown professionalism that at times must also have been hard.
“We now ask for everyone to respect our privacy to enable us to grieve for our much-loved brother.”
Detective Chief Inspector Mike Ashcroft, who led the investigation for Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: “This has been a long and complex investigation and my thoughts and condolences remain with Mark’s family and friends who have waited a long time for answers and for closure.
“Colin Gale killed Mark in a violent attack and then together with Stewart Robertson dumped his body in a secluded spot. He then concocted a story about dropping Mark off at Worthing railway station and continued to lie to Mark’s family and the police.
“He has put Mark’s family through a living nightmare. They clung to the hope that Mark would one day walk back into their lives. However Colin Gale knew that would never happen. He did not tell anyone what he did with Mark’s remains despite having many opportunities to do so. He not only killed Mark but destroyed his family’s lives as a result.”