An Ellesmere Port man will be sentenced today for the horrific murder of 29-year-old mum Ellia Arathoon.
Craig Andrew Procter, 40, of Shephard Close, was due to stand trial at Liverpool Crown Court over Ellia's death, but dramatically changed his plea on Monday.
The court was told that Procter killed Ms Arathoon in his house by the use of a heavy glass object.
He then put her body in a suitcase and took it to a secluded area of woodland before setting fire to it, returning the next day to move it to a different spot.
Days after Ellia - mum to a young son, Reece - went missing in October last year, police revealed the search had turned into a murder investigation.
Police later said officers had discovered what were believed to be human remains close to the M53.
Our colleagues at the Liverpool Echo will be providing live updates from the hearing.
Reaction from court
BREAKING: Craig Procter sentencing
“You killed Ellia Arathoon when under the influence of crack cocaine. I have no doubt your attempt to destroy Ellia’s body was in part to prevent any exercise being taken by experts in how and why she died.
“I am equally certain that although the precise mechanism of death is unclear and it would not be right to proceed that you enclosed a living body in a suitcase, she must have suffered considerable physical anguish before succumbing to the injuries you inflicted on her.
“The sentence of the court is that you will go to prison for life with a minimum term of 21 years.”
Judge Goldstone tells security officers to take Procter down.
That concludes today’s sentencing hearing.
“You are no stranger to violence"
“By your plea you have showed a degree of remorse and saved a great deal of time and money, not to mention that civilians and experts have not had to come to court to give their evidence.
“It is not submitted on your behalf that there was no intent to kill. Your conduct after you had killed Ellia Arathoon, what you did not do - call the emergency services - and what you did with your body - leave me in no doubt as to that.
“You are no stranger to violence. That has in the past been set against a domestic background.”
“There is and can only be one sentence for murder"
“You are a highly dangerous and manipulative man who may never be released from what will be a sentence of life imprisonment.
“There is and can only be one sentence for murder and it is one of life imprisonment.”
"You have deprived her son of a loving mother"
“There is no doubt that when you did so, you intended to kill Ellia Arathoon.
“Thus it was her body had burned slowly over a six hour period. You made sustained but ultimately unsuccessful efforts in your home to conceal what you had done.
“The fact remains that you intentionally, deliberately and brutally killed a defenceless and blameless woman.
“By your mindless violence you have deprived her son of a loving mother and left him in a total state of confusion and incomprehension about why you killed his mum.”
"You take to the grave precisely what you did and why"
The hearing has resumed. Judge Goldstone addresses Procter, who is told to remain seated.
“In most murder cases it is possible to reconstruct accurately the circumstances in which a person has been killed.
“In this case that has not been possible because of your treatment of Ellia’s body and the court is left with the task of determining the most likely scenario.
“I glean no assistance from what you told the police because you persisted in blaming another unidentified man for her murder.
“A man was arrested before being exonerated and another man was interviewed as a witness.
“Mr Metzer has been unable to advance any reason even after your plea of guilty. You claim to have no memory of it.
“I have no doubt that you do know and will take with you to the grave precisely what you did and why. It seems to me you and Ellia Arathoon must have had an argument, most probably about a burning cigarette butt.”
There were “warning signs” with Procter's previous assaults on women
Procter is 40 and has previous convictions, Mr Metzer says he has to concede there were “warning signs” with his assaults on women.
“The situation is I would ask my Lord to recognise his record gives a measure of indication as to what happened on this tragic night. I accept they don’t reflect well. But I would ask my Lord not to place too much reliance on that being a substantial aggravating feature.”
He says that Procter talked to his ex-partner and “on some level” his volunteering that information led police to Ellia’s body.
“At least belatedly, the body was recovered.”
“I’m not able to give any further mitigation in relation to the circumstances but I would ask my Lord to accept she was likely to have died before she was in the suitcase”.
Judge Goldstone says Procter has created a scenario in which the court cannot reach a conclusion on this one way or another.
The hearing has been adjourned until 12.30pm.
'Short' mitigation for Procter
Anthony Metzer QC, defending Procter, is addressing the court. He says his mitigation will be short.
“Out of respect to the family who have suffered such a devastating loss, I propose to make a simple series of points.
“It came at a late stage, but I ask for some credit for his guilty plea.
“He has avoided some witnesses giving evidence, and my Lord has correctly paid tribute to those witnesses. It is at least the beginnings of the defendant expressing remorse and insight into the terrible crime he has committed.”
Mr Metzer says it appears to have been a friendship which had a connection with cocaine.
The defendant had been taking cocaine but held down a job. His difficulties with cocaine are relatively recent.
“The defendant will not be able to give comfort to the family and friends, He has simply no recollection as to what he did at the time of the killing. Undoubtedly the defendant would have been under heavy influence of cocaine at the time, that is not an excuse, far from it.
“That is I’m afraid the reality.”
Clear evidence of sustained assault and intent to kill
Mr Pratt says aggravating features in the case are the concealment and destruction of Ellia’s body.
The Recorder of Liverpool, Judge Goldstone says there is clear evidence of a sustained assault on Ellia in which the glass object caused lacerations to the skin. Only fragments of this object were found.
He says there was clearly an intention to kill, from Procter’s failure to call the emergency services.
Procter has spent 347 days in custody so far.
Victim personal statement from Ellia’s mother Elaina Hampson
A victim personal statement from Ellia’s mother Elaina Hampson.
“She would light up the room with her smile. She worshipped and adored her son Reece. She was an amazing mother. She loved to spend time with him and was so creative in the things they did together.
“He has taken a mother away from a nine year old child who will never see her again. He wants to come to court so he can throw tomatoes at the person responsible. He’s also asked if we can take him to the house where his mummy died. No child should have to ask those questions.
“He has taken a sister away, a niece, an aunty, a granddaughter. So many people’s lives have changed in a horrific way. I don’t know how I or we start to live with this.”
“I don’t believe the sentence he will get will ever help us because he is still here and she is not.”
“We have changed. He has ruined our family. He has caused us pain and heartache. I hope one day he has some sort of remorse.”
Procter tried to conceal Ellia’s body with twigs, branches and pink carpet
Procter tried to conceal Ellia’s body with twigs and branches and a piece of pink carpet.
Breaking twigs to cover up her body meant he left his DNA on them.
“The pathologist carried out a post mortem and perhaps unsurprisingly establishing the mechanism of death was certainty has been hampered by the extensive fire damage” - ut he was able to identify bruising to the left hand side of the face.
Coupled with the blood staining and glass fragments at Procter’s home make blunt force trauma likely to be the “central factor in death”.
Mr Pratt says “Ellia Arathoon died as the result of a very violent attack”.
Procter was born on May 3, 1977 and is now 40, 39 at the time of these events.
He has a number of previous convictions for violence and affray. In April 1998 he kicked his girlfriend in the back of the head and punched her in the face, receiving a conditional discharge.
In January 2000 he assaulted a police officer but the officer had attended a scene in which the defendant had assaulted a different girlfriend, hitting her in the head with a long-angled brush during an argument.
In June 2013 Procter’s girlfriend had obtained a non-molestation order, which he breached.
In June 2015 he breached the same order by assaulting his girlfriend and was jailed for four months.
Destruction of body "may have carried with it an intention to destroy evidence"
Video footage played to the court shows the route the prosecution believes Procter would have taken along the canal up to steps leading to Butterfly Woods.
Mr Pratt says this is a popular area with local anglers.
He clarifies that Ellia’s body was burned and then moved.
The video footage shows the area where the prosecution believes Procter set fire to Ellia’s body, or the “burn site”.
Mr Pratt asked for the video footage to be paused, he says there was evidence of a fire in this area.
He says there is then a steep hill, and there were drag marks” up that embankment. On the other side of the embankment is the M53 motorway.
“The body was burned in the case and then removed. The case was virtually destroyed.”
The camera focuses on a lighter coloured tree towards the top of the steep embankment. Mr Pratt says police found a piece of pink carpet and Ellia’s remains here, in what was “altogether a more remote spot”.
Ellia’s remains were moved around 4m away from where they were burned, up a very steep gradient.
Mr Pratt says the two sites became of interest to police.
“The examination by fire experts and other scientists caused the interpretation that Ellia’ body was taken in the suitcase to the first of the locations and no doubt with the use of petrol or some other accelerant was ignited and left to burn for something in the region of six hours.”
He says it is not entirely clear when the defendant moved Ellia’s remains, but it is likely to have been on Monday, October 31, when the body had been in the first location for around a day and a half.
There was no evidence of any fire at the scene where Ellia was ultimately found.
“The destruction of the body may have carried with it an intention to destroy evidence.”
Forensics from Procter's home found evidence consistent with repeated assault
Mr Pratt says police officers carried on investigating and found someone who may have fitted the description of the person the defendant was describing, and took time to eliminate that person.
Judge Goldstone says he would like to commend the professionalism and thoroughness of the approach of the officers who investigated Ellia’s disappearance and death.
At the conclusion of the police interview, the position was that Procter had supplied the “mystery man” with a suitcase.
He chose not to answer any further questions or engage with police.
Mr Pratt says “intensive searching” of the area near to the canal bridge led to the discovery of the charred remains of Ellia Arathoon on November 3.
Forensic examinations of Procter’s home found blood staining and glass fragments consistent with an individual being repeatedly assaulted.
Swabs from the blood stained areas were taken in the lounge and from a rail on the staircase and found to be a match from Ellia Arathoon’s DNA.
Blood staining was found on trainers which was also a match.
Procter began to tell “completely contradictory stories”
Procter said he had left the party in the early hours of the morning and in the morning she had gone.
He said she returned, he was in the bath and heard shouting.
He said he got out of the bath and went downstairs to see Ellia motionless covered in blood.
He said his lodger pinned him to the floor and told him to stop struggling, and he cut himself on glass on the floor.
Procter told police he was in shock, his lodger went to get a red suitcase and put Ellia in it. He said: “I didn’t know what to do”. He said he cleaned up but had to speak to someone, and went to his ex-partner’s house.
He said he did not tell her he had committed the crime and was still under the influence of drugs, because he took more to deal with what he had seen.
Mr Pratt says Procter gave more information after “skillful coaxing” by the officers. He began to tell “completely contradictory stories”.
“The defendant would come up with an account to try to deal with the evidence as he then understood it to be. He was asked about his relationship with Ellia. He said she had slept on the couch and he categorically denied there had ever been any sexual contact with her, putting forward an account that she said he was the only person who had never asked for full-on sex.
“In any view, that was a bare-faced lie. His semen was found in her vagina.”
“He set about describing this man who he said had attacked Ellia. He said he was massive with really hairy arms and a tattoo.
“He even went so far as to describe the man’s accent. He even went so far as to say he could recognise the voice of the person who attacked Ellia.”
Neighbour noticed something odd on the washing line
She saw him again on Sunday, October 30 when she cooked for him. He stayed the night before getting a taxi to work at 4.30am in the morning.
He later told her he had been walking through the woods and said “I can’t believe no-one saw it. Ellia’s body, I saw it straight away”.
His ex-partner told another friend what he had told her and decided the police must now be called.
The police were called by Procter’s ex-partner and his mother.
Mr Pratt: “Although there was some delay on their part, those calls cannot have been easy calls to make, but they were to prove extremely important in the discovery of Ellia’s body and the investigation as a whole.”
Enquiries among Procter’s neighbours revealed that on October 30 one noticed something odd on the washing line, it looked like a filter from a vacuum cleaner.
He says this was part of an attempt to clean the property after Ellia’s killing.
On Tuesday, November 1 the defendant was arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm. He elected not to answer questions.
By the time of his second interview the following day between 9.15pm and midnight, Ellia’s body had still not been found. But a police search of his house found bloodstains.
Police suspected Ellia had been assaulted violently in his home.
Procter’s ex-partner agreed to meet him in Butterfly Woods
Procter said to his ex-partner that he did not know what to do, and left her house at about half past midnight.
She agreed to meet him the next day at a wooded area near to where he lived, known as Butterfly Woods.
Mr Pratt says the defendant “had a busy night” before then - and CCTV footage from the early hours of the morning showed a figure wearing identical trainers to Procter’s trainers emerging from steps near the wooded area.
Mr Pratt said: “At 3.26am GMT the CCTV captured the defendant carrying a suitcase down the steps towards the canal.
“That suitcase contained the body of Ellia Arathoon.”
The CCTV footage showing Procter is played to the court.
Mr Pratt says Procter’s ex-partner agreed to meet him at the wooded area. She hoped the previous night’s conversation was “fantasy fuelled by drugs” but he said “That’s where she is”, and pointed to the woods.
She asked if Ellia was just lying there, but Procter told her he had set fire to her with petrol from a quad bike.
She ended up giving him £5 to get away from him.
“Ellia. Just one hit. I hit her with the glass”
The defendant’s former partner Catherine Powell had been in a relationship with him for about six years until they broke up in April 2016 but he would still contact her from time to time when he wanted food or money.
She said he sent her a message on October 29.
Mr Pratt says: “At 10.07pm footage picks up the defendant heading in the direction of her home. She says she was about to go to bed.
“HIs first words were look at my hands, she’s dead.”
When she asked him who was dead he said “Ellia. Just one hit. I hit her with the glass”
He said he was in the bath and heard Ellia arguing with her lodger. He claimed she was lying on the floor when he came downstairs.
Asked how he knew she had been hit on the head, he said he saw broken glass on the floor.
Procter’s lodger Stephen Harris was later arrested and interviewed but released without charge.
Ellia and Procter left party together
A police officer saw Ellia on October 28. She said she was waiting for a friend who was shopping in a nearby store. The police officer thought Ellia was looking a little better than the last time she saw her.
At a bonfire party a friend heard Craig Procter tell Ellia “I’ve spent £300 on you tonight” but did not appear to be angry or aggressive. He said it was a “dig he wanted everyone to hear”.
Ellia told a friend she had made Procter spend £200 on crack cocaine.
She later said she was “sick of this life” and had no money for drugs and needed them.
After a night spent drinking and taking hard drugs, Procter and Ellia left the house together. None of her friends at the party saw her again.
Friends said it was unlike her not to be in touch.
Mr Pratt says Ellia’s phone was used at just after 1 in the morning.
On Saturday, October 29 the day after the party he says the defendant was seen moving around the Ellesmere Port area. He was seen in the afternoon with is lodger when they went to take a television set to a local pawnbroker.
Ellia "a beautiful, friendly, funny person"
Ellia was born on April 22, 1987.
She was described by friends as normally quite happy and talkative.
Her mother said she was a beautiful, friendly, funny person. In recent years she had fallen into drug abuse and had a group of friends and associates who had that shared interest, one of whom was Craig Procter.
According to a friend, Ellia had been sofa surfing and had been staying at Procter’s home. Another friend told police the arrangement had come to an end.
On the Tuesday or Wednesday before her death, Ellia had said she was in a bit of a predicament as Craig had asked her to go because she left a burning cigarette butt.
She said Procter had asked her to make love to him but she refused, saying she did not see him in that way.
The hearing has resumed.
Craig Procter, dressed in a white t-shirt with his arms folded, has now come into the dock and is seated.
Anthony Metzer, defending, apologises on his behalf and says he feels a deep sense of shame. He says at the last minute he did not want to come to court, but on advice has changed his mind.
Richard Pratt QC, prosecuting, is now addressing the court.
He says he will set out the background of the case.
Day two - sentencing
Good morning from Liverpool Crown Court. The sentencing hearing is due to start soon. Friends and family of Ellia Arathoon are taking their seats in the courtroom.
The prosecutor is Richard Pratt QC. Anthony Metzer QC is defending Craig Procter.
The Recorder of Liverpool, Judge Clement Goldstone QC, is being told Craig Procter is refusing to come into the dock.
Judge Goldstone says there will be a five minute break because of the “unusual circumstances”.