A one-legged man with cerebral palsy and a £2,000-a-day crack cocaine habit, murdered a pedestrian by driving his car at her whilst shouting “You’re dead”.
Simon Whittle, 48, of Fletcher Way, was convicted of the murder of 41-year-old Natalie Hastings on Monday (Jan 7).
Chelmsford Crown Court heard how he ran her down in his Volvo XC90 in Queensway during the early hours of Monday, January 15, 2018, before crashing into the front of an estate agent’s shop.
Whittle, who has a partial prosthetic left leg, sat in the dock in a wheelchair as the jury heard how he first spotted his victim at a cash machine. He then mounted the pavement in a first attempt to “get her” but, frightened, she ran off and was pursued by Whittle in his Volvo XC90.
She shouted as she fled “I haven’t done anything,” and Whittle allegedly shouted back “You’re dead,” according to a passenger in the car with him.
Whittle accelerated at speed across the central reservation of a zebra crossing in High Street, and hit Ms Hastings from behind.
In his defence Whittle claimed that his passenger grabbed the steering wheel and caused the collision. But jurors were told there was no evidence of that.
Whittle had denied murdering Ms Hastings, also of Hemel Hempstead, but was convicted after three hours’ deliberation.
During the trial, prosecutor Wayne Cleaver said: “Whittle went to the other side of the road where Natalie was and then turned left so as to literally line up with her before driving forward and running her over.
The Volvo literally drove over her and continued across the road before smashing into the window of Space Lettings.”
Mr Cleaver said Whittle “used the car as his weapon and killed Natalie as surely as if he had taken a gun and shot her or taken a knife and stabbed her”.
Ms Hastings died the next day in Watford General Hospital from multiple organ failure due to multiple pelvic injuries.
Mr Cleaver claimed Whittle had a petty grudge against Ms Hastings and her fiancé Paul Stanley.
“The defendant took his revenge against Natalie by deliberately mowing her down in cold blood,” said Mr Cleaver.
The court heard that Whittle had been staying at Mr Stanley’s flat but had been asked to leave because he was inviting people round at unsociable hours.
Mr Cleaver continued : “For whatever reason Whittle had taken exception to his eviction and relations between him, Mr Stanley and Natalie Hastings had become difficult. Whittle’s front seat passenger was his friend Jimmy Whitney.
The jury heard that it was he who heard Ms Hastings shout out and the defendant’s response.
Shocked and dazed Mr Whitney hobbled over to try to help the woman and shouted back to his friend: “You f****g killed her.” He left the scene for a time but returned while police were still there.
The witness heard another woman at the scene shout to Whittle “Did you hit her, run her down?” to which the defendant replied “Yes I f***g did.” Mr Cleaver claimed Whittle “couldn’t care less” about what he had done.
Jurors were told that Whittle tested positive for drugs at the roadside.
He had over 800mg of cocaine derivative Benzoylecgonine per litre of blood.
The specified limit for driving is 50mg.
Whittle gave a no comment interview but at another stage stated to police: “I ran the f***g bitch over.”
When he gave evidence Mr Stanley said he heard two loud bangs and Natalie shouting his name.
She had been away from him for 10 minutes.
He added: “She was shouting out to me ‘Paul, Paul...’.” He said he ran up the street and saw a car embedded in a shop front. “I knew that car.
I had been in it before. I saw him (Whittle)]. He was outside the car hanging on to the door frame.
“Natalie was lying in the road, her palms to her face, pushing herself up and she was still calling out. I ran towards her.”
As he did so Whittle hit him with his crutch.
“He was snarling. His face was screwed up,” said Mr Stanley.
He said he swerved past Whittle and reached Natalie who said: “He hit me, he hit me.”
Mr Stanley said he had known the defendant for over 40 years. Whittle had moved out of his flat two weeks before.
He claimed Whittle had brought two Somalians round and they had robbed someone there at knifepoint. Mr Stanley said he told Whittle he had to leave. “Our friendship was falling apart. There was a constant flow of traffic going through, bringing people back,” he said.
Whitney denied that he “did anything inside that vehicle to cause it to hit that woman”. He said after the collision he was in shock and asked his girlfriend to come and pick him up, but returned to the scene to talk to police about 20 minutes later.
Whittle also said there was no “bad blood” between him, Mr Stanley and Ms Hastings. Also speaking in his own defence, Whittle said he had an expensive crack cocaine drug habit, reaching £2,000 a day.
Sentencing will take place on Friday.