A tyre fitter from Portslade has been found guilty of murdering Mile Oak teenager Shana Grice by a jury at Lewes Crown Court.
There were cheers and tears in court when the jury took just under two and a half hours to convict Michael Lane, 27, of Thornhill Rise, of taking Shana’s life.
An impassive Lane was told by prosecution lawyer Philip Bennetts that he would be jailed for life tomorrow (Thursday 23 March) when he returns to court for sentence, with a minimum sentence of 15 years expected. The judge said that Lane should “expect a fairly substantial minimum term”.
Days after Miss Grice ended their on-off relationship for a final time, Lane cut her throat in the bedroom of her home in Chrisdory Road.
He then tried to start a fire to destroy the evidence before going to a nearby shop to check his lottery ticket.
He went home and showered, took the t-shirt that he had been wearing and dumped it in Greenleas, in Hangleton, went to the dentist and then to work.
Realising he had Miss Grice’s blood on one of his trainers, Lane, nicknamed Shrek, dumped them but was spotted by an off-duty police officer and a member of the public.
During the trial, the court heard that Miss Grice had been given a fixed penalty notice by Sussex Police for wasting police time after she raised concerns with them about Lane’s behaviour.
In a statement read to the court, Miss Grice’s mother Sharon Grice said on behalf of herself and her partner Richard Green: “We firmly believe her murder could have been prevented if her fears had been listened to and taken seriously by the police.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is currently investigating concerns around how Sussex Police dealt with her complaints. The actions of 12 employees of Sussex Police have been scrutinised during the investigation – click here for more on their investigation.
Following the verdict, temporary Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Denslow said: “This was a shocking and brutal crime and, on behalf of the Sussex Police and our family liaison officers, our thoughts are with Shana’s family.
“Our investigation found that Michael Lane had become obsessed with Shana and that their relationship was a complex one.
“By Tuesday 23 August, Shana had decided she wanted to be with her boyfriend and not Lane. She met Lane and they agreed to go their separate ways. However, this ended in tragedy.
“Two days later, Lane went to Shana’s address early in the morning at a time when he knew she would be alone in the house. He killed Shana by cutting her throat. He left straight away to provide himself with an alibi and stole money from Shana’s bank account. He then returned to the address to set light to Shana’s room in an attempt to destroy evidence of his crime.
“After his arrest, Lane repeatedly denied going to Shana’s home on the morning of her murder. However, in the face of mounting evidence suggesting otherwise, presented to him during hours of police interviews, he eventually admitted that he had been there, claiming that after finding Shana already dead, he panicked and left without telling a soul about what he had seen.
“Clearly the jury did not believe him.”
Shana Grice, 19, lived with two housemates in a bungalow in Chrisdory Road and worked for the Hove wholesaler Palmer and Harvey. She had met Lane when they worked together at Brighton Fire Alarms, in Portslade.
She was described by her family as a “beautiful girl, a kind, thoughtful, caring daughter who always thought of others”.
On the morning of Thursday 25 August Miss Grice’s two housemates left for work and she was in the house alone. By 9am that morning, Miss Grice’s colleagues were concerned that she hadn’t turned up to work and contacted her boyfriend Ashley Cooke.
Relatives of Mr Cooke went to check on Miss Grice. When they arrived at her home they could smell smoke and found the front door was closed but unlocked. They headed straight for Miss Grice’s bedroom and through the smoke saw her body lying face down on the bed.
The emergency services were immediately called but Miss Grice was already dead.
Examinations revealed two seats of fire in the bedroom. However, the window and door had been closed so there was insufficient oxygen for the fire to take hold. Crime scene investigators also found a box of matches on the bedroom floor. The carpet and duvet both had burns marks on them and traces of petrol on them.
Parts of a broken smoke alarm were also found underneath Miss Grice’s body and bloody footprint was found on the doorstep. The following day a post-mortem examination found that Miss Grice had died from an incised wound to the neck and that she had died before the fire was started.
Detectives from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, working with local officers, immediately began an investigation. In the early stages detectives established that Miss Grice had been in an on-off relationship with 27-year-old Michael Lane, who lived near by.
Officers quickly decided that Lane had to be traced and less than four hours after Miss Grice’s body was discovered they arrested him at work at Setyres, in Burgess Hill. He responded by saying “murder” but made no further comment. He did not ask who he was being accused of murdering or when this was supposed to have taken place.
Lane was interviewed by the detectives from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team several times. He initially denied having been to Miss Grice’s address on the day of the murder. He gave a long account of his movements, including going for a walk, visiting the shops and going to the dentist before going to work at midday. He also gave an account of his relationship with Miss Grice.
Lane said that the pair had met in summer 2015 when they both worked at Brighton Fire Alarms and began dating. They continued to see each other from then on, in what he described as an on-off relationship.
Despite providing an inconsistent account of his movements on the day, and admitting that he had dated Miss Grice, there was insufficient evidence to charge Lane with any offence. He was therefore released on bail to enable further inquiries to be made.
Brighton and Hove officers made extensive inquiries in Mile Oak and in the roads surrounding the homes of Miss Grice and Lane. Officers spoke to hundreds of people, some of whom gave key information in the investigation.
Five days after the murder a woman driving near New Barn Farm saw a man on a single track road leading to the farm. She recognised him as someone whose had been pictured in the news as a suspect. She contacted the police.
Searches began in the area and officers found a pair of white Lonsdale trainers on the left-hand side of the hedgerow on the path leading to New Barn Farm.
Blood on the trainers matched Miss Grice’s and DNA showed that Lane had worn the trainers. The tread of the trainer also matched the bloody footprint on the doorstep found at the crime scene.
Lane was re-arrested and interviewed a further four times.
Officers reviewed hundreds of hours of CCTV of the area, which revealed Lane’s car in various locations near Shana’s home on the day of the murder.
At 7.25am Lane’s car was seen driving south in Thornhill Rise and four minutes later he was seen walking south in Mile Oak Road towards the junction with Sefton Road wearing a light-coloured top, knee-length dark shorts with a distinctive motif on the left thigh, white Lonsdale trainers with a stripe on the side and carrying a blue baseball cap.
His car was seen parked in Graham Avenue close to Avery Close for half an hour. Lane is then seen walking in the vicinity of the cash machine at McColl’s newsagents in Graham Avenue at 8.06am. A cash withdrawal of £60 was made from Shana’s bank account using her bank card at that time.
Nine minutes later the CCTV captured Lane in nearby Martin’s Newsagents in Valley Road where he bought a bottle of Evian water.
Lane is seen on CCTV again at 8.22am walking into Chrisdory Road.
He is then not seen until 8.56am, this time returning to McColl’s and checking a lottery ticket. He was wearing a different outfit, a cream-coloured t-shirt with horizontal stripes, dark shorts but different from the ones he was seen wearing earlier with black socks and Lonsdale trainers.
On a wider search of the area, Lane was also captured on CCTV on the previous day at the West Hove Sainsbury’s petrol station, filling up a red petrol can.
Faced with this mounting evidence, Lane continued to change his story. It was not until the seventh and final interview that he admitted going to Miss Grice’s home on the morning of her murder. He claimed that he saw her on the floor, slumped against the bed, already dead. He did not tell anyone about what he had seen or call an ambulance or the police for help.
Lane’s trial started on Tuesday 7 March at Lewes Crown Court. The jury heard about Miss Grice’s and Lane’s relationship and his stalking and obsessive behaviour which led to him killing her.
Miss Grice initially reported that she was being stalked by Lane in February last year after her and her boyfriend’s cars were damaged by Lane. He repeatedly let her tyres down. Police warned Lane to stay away from her.
In March, Lane went to Miss Grice’s home with her two housemates, having met them at a pub. Miss Grice was at home but left as she was unhappy about Lane being there. Lane followed her, pulled her phone away from her ear and pulled her hair. She reported this to police but was given a fixed penalty notice for wasting police time.
In July, Lane visited Miss Grice’s home to fetch his belongings but unbeknown to her he also stole a key to the back door. Around 6am the next morning Miss Grice was in bed when she heard noises and footsteps approaching her bedroom. She hid under her duvet and heard her bedroom door open and breathing in her room for about a minute as, terrified, she pretended to be asleep.
Once the intruder had left, she looked out of her window and saw Lane walking away. She phoned police and later that day he was arrested. He had her door key and admitted in an interview that he had taken the key and went in to talk to Miss Grice but realised that it was wrong and left. He was given a formal police caution.
The next day Miss Grice reported receiving calls from a withheld number with heavy breathing and no speech and soon after that she was being followed by Lane in his car while she was driving.
The jury heard how he had put a tracker device on her Renault Clio, which officers found attached to the underside of her car after her death. After his arrest an empty box for the tracking device, as well as a receipt for the device in his name, were found during a search of Lane’s home in Thornhill Rise.
The trial heard that Lane was unhappy about Miss Grice going back to her ex-boyfriend and told a friend that she would “pay for what she’s done”.
Throughout August, Lane and Miss Grice remained in contact with each other and on Tuesday 23 August, less than two days before her death, they spent time together at a hotel in Hove where they agreed their relationship was over.
To audible groans, Lane claimed during the trial that he went to Miss Grice’s house on the day of the murder to make sure she wouldn’t contact him any more. There, he said, he found her dead.
He claimed that he panicked, left the scene and disposed of evidence linking him to the scene because he feared the police would believe he had killed Miss Grice. He maintained throughout the trial that he did not kill her.
However, the jury didn’t believe his account of events and unanimously found him guilty of her murder.