A pensioner who was accused of killing his partner then confessing to his cats, was cleared of murder and manslaughter today. David Henton, 73, a former lorry driver of Neath, south Wales, was accused of brutally bludgeoning Joyce Sutton to death after "snapping" in January 2006.
But a jury at Swansea crown court cleared him after a seven-week trial in which they heard that police secretly bugged his home and car and apparently caught him confessing murder to the murder to his pet cats, Twinkie and Pudsey.
There were gasps from the public gallery as the forewoman of the jury declared that Henton was not guilty of murder and the alternative charge of manslaughter.
Justice Grigson thanked the jury of nine women and three men for their patience during the 41 days of the trial.
As Henton was led from court by his solicitors, the family of Joyce Sutton hurled abuse at him. Anna Sutton, the daughter-in-law of the victim, had to be held back from attacking the pensioner outside the court.
Detective Sgt Dave Peart of South Wales police said: "We acknowledge the not guilty verdict at Swansea crown court earlier today. Out thoughts are with the family of Joyce Sutton. They can be assured that we will continue to support them where we can."
He added: "No decision has yet been made as to whether the case will be reopened."
Before Henton left the court building he was embraced by members of the jury who had taken nearly 12 hours to reach their verdicts.
He declined to comment before he was driven away. The family of Joyce Sutton were said to be too upset to speak following the verdict.
The court heard during the lengthy trial that Sutton had been battered around the head with a mystery blunt object in what at first appeared to have been a break-in.
Investigations subsequently established that nothing was missing from the property despite large sums of money being found in the house.
Tiny shards of glass from the back door pane were also later found in Henton's car and on his clothes. Henton and Sutton, a widow, despite a long relationship, lived at separate addresses but saw each other every day.
He was arrested a year after her murder after police secretly bugged his home and car to gather evidence against him.
Prosecutor Paul Lewis QC said that over four days in January last year, detectives amassed a total of more than 42 hours of secret recordings.
The jury heard excerpts of the covert recording which, with forensic evidence, led to Henton being charged with murder.
But the sound quality of large segments of the recordings was so poor, despite technical enhancement, that much of what was played in court was inaudible.
As a result the jury were obliged to rely on a series of comprehensive bundles carrying written transcriptions of the recordings.
They were also given a schedule containing contested passages where prosecution and defence interpretations were set out side-by-side.
According to the prosecution's interpretation, Henton is heard to say: "Good God alive. Don't panic now. Police car I got. Good God I don't believe I've done it."
A defence version of the same segment reads: "Good God alive. Police car I got... come on now, I'm coming," and is interspersed with what it takes to be coughing, a clunk and road noise.
Lewis claimed the recordings, which included Henton speaking at length to his cats Pudsey and Twinkie, contain a confession apparently made to the pets.
The defence team, led by Elwen Evans QC, vehemently rejected the claims.
Evans questioned Henton for some time on his close relationship with the cats during the defence case. Henton said: "To me, Joyce's heart is still in those cats."
He said that he looked after them every day and described
them as "indoor cats" which liked to stay inside.
He added: "They would say what happened that night. I have said it before. If only those cats could talk."


David Henton was cleared of murdering his partner. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PAhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/ma...d=networkfront