Thursday


Crime: Where is Kate Prout?


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At 52 and still blonde and beautiful she had everything the wealthy county set could wish for — a Gloucestershire farm worth two million pounds, a half share in several business, a stylish period farmhouse with a heated swimming pool and a circle of close and influential friends.

Then on a cold November afternoon in 2007, Kate Prout disappeared as suddenly and completely as if she had walked off the planet, five days later, her husband Adrian Prout, reported her missing to the local police.

He didn't seem particularly concerned. "She's gone off on a wobbler", was how he put it. "We had words. She's done it before. Usually she's back by now." But this time she wasn't and hours later police began a search.

It would last five weeks, and was the biggest of its kind in the history of Gloucestershire police but it wasn't long before detectives were centring their attentions on one man, 45-year-old wealthy farmer Adrian Prout, who admitted that for the past year their relationship had been "pretty stormy".

Detectives questioning neighbours and friends soon found that was something of an understatement. The seven-year marriage was all but over and now husband and wife were locked in a bitter wrangle over dividing the spoils.

They had bought Redhill Farm in the picturesque Gloucestershire village of Redmarley in 2004 and watched its value dramatically soar.

Adrian Prout also had a lucrative pipe-laying business and ran highly-successful pheasant-shoots on their land. The couple was one of the richest in the district and now Kate wanted her share.

She had been a primary school teacher for 20 years before taking early retirement in her forties. She met Adrian Prout in the late 1990s and they had married in September 2000 and moved to Redmarley, first to a period manor-house and then to Redhill Farm.

Kate seemed to settle easily into village life, helping with flower-arranging at the local church, joining committees and becoming a leading social figure. But by 2006 storm-clouds hovered over the relationship and finally Kate said she wanted a divorce. She also wanted £800,000 and a clean break, but Adrian Prout would only pay £600,000 plus maintenance. Any more than that and he would have to sell his beloved farm and that was something he wanted to avoid at all costs. "I would do anything to keep Redhill Farm," he told a friend. And did that include murdering his wife?

Detectives obviously thought it was a possibility. Prout was questioned under caution for several days and stuck to his story that he last saw his wife at 3pm on November 5 when he went off with friends for a crow shoot. When he got back she was gone.

Detectives found that on that day Kate had taken £14,000 from their joint account. Her last recorded activity was to surf property websites, including some in Australia. Then she vanished.

But unlike most people who walk out on a marriage, she left everything she owned behind, including keys, passport, money, bank cards, handbags, shoes and clothes. From that time, her bank account or her £700 a month teacher's pension had not been touched.

Forensic experts swarmed over Redhill Farm looking for some clue to what had happened to Kate Prout but found nothing — no fingerprints, DNA, blood or signs of a struggle. A grain store was sifted, two ponds were searched and all farm vehicles were examined.

And Adrian Prout continued to deny that he had anything to do with his wife's disappearance, and insisted that he was as mystified as everyone else.

Friends and relations told the police that the Prouts' marriage had become bitter and violent. Kate had told friends that Adrian had thrown her against a car so violently that it dented the bodywork while Adrian claimed Kate continually threw things at him including crockery, glassware, food and boiling water.

He once told a neighbour that his "standard procedure was to march Kate out of the house holding her arms to stop the danger."

And in a diary found after her disappearance, Kate Prout had chronicled the marital mayhem including an incident when she claimed Adrian held her over an empty swimming pool. "And I really thought my end had come." She escaped and called the police.

Her last diary entry described a meeting with her accountant to discuss the divorce settlement and the offer Adrian had made. Kate wrote: "He will have to pay more than that even if it means selling the farm."

A month after Kate's disappearance and despite not finding a body or any incriminating clues, police charged Adrian Prout with his wife's murder, a charge he flatly denied when he appeared at Bristol Crown Court.

Paul Dunkels QC, prosecuting, told the jury  that the  Crown believed that Prout had used his pipe-laying equipment to bury his wife's body in a trench so deep that it would never be found.

He said that Prout had been "indifferent to questioning" after his arrest and showed little interest or concern about her possible fate. After killing her, Prout had five days to cover his tracks. You can do a lot in five days."

Cross-examined by Paul Dunkels, Adrian Prout said he was convinced that his wife had disappeared "just to wind me up. I didn't think anything at the time. I was just glad of some peace and quiet."

He said that later, when his wife still hadn't returned, he decided she must be staying with a relative. "I still don't believe that Kate is dead," Adrian Prout told the jury.

A female relative of Prout told the court that Kate could be very violent to her husband. Asked by Elizabeth Marsh QC, defending, how Prout would react, the witness said: "He would never shout at Kate."

She said that on the 5th of November, Prout told her: "Kate has smashed up the house and she has gone. There's smashed crockery and water all over the place."

In court Adrian Prout once again insisted that he had not killed his wife and concealed the body. "I can only assume that she is making a new life for herself. Certainly she has enough money to do that," he told the court.

But the jury thought otherwise. After 14 hours of deliberation they found Adrian Prout guilty of his wife's murder and he was jailed for a minimum of 18 years by Justice Nigel Davis.

The judge told the shocked Prout: "I regard it as a very, very aggravating fact that you have concealed the body and have not revealed where it is."

Outside the court, a relative of Kate urged Prout to tell the family where the body was.

"Then we can bring her back and give her a proper burial. That's all we have ever wanted."

And Detective Superintendent Neil Kelly, in charge of the case, told pressmen: "It proved particularly challenging because Adrian Prout showed no remorse and failed to help us in any way.

"Kate's body may never be found unless her husband admits where she is.

In fact, there are still people who believe that Adrian Prout had nothing to do with his wife's death — two Facebook Internet groups are campaigning to clear his name.

Says a supporter: "No evidence means innocence — and that's what Adrian is. Many people in the village still think that Kate Prout is alive.           

In the meantime, Adrian Prout has 18 years to set the record straight...

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