Police inspector Darren McKie who strangled wife after she discovered secret loan application in her name jailed for life
Darren McKie, 43, was found guilty of killing Leanne, 39, after her body was found in Poynton Lake, Cheshire, on September 29 last year
A police inspector convicted of murdering his detective constable wife and dumping her body in a lake has been jailed for life.
Darren McKie, 43, was found guilty of strangling his wife Leanne, 39, after she discovered he had applied for a loan in her name.
The mum-of-three suffered a broken neck and her body was found in Poynton Lake, Cheshire, on September 29 last year.
McKie had admitted manslaughter nine days into the trial at Chester Crown Court, just before he was due to give evidence.
He denied murder but was found guilty by a jury of six men and six women on Friday.
Today he was told he must serve 19 years before he can apply for parole.
Sentencing McKie to life imprisonment, judge Mr Justice Spencer said: “You strangled her to death in the family home.
“It was a cruel killing.
“Then, abusing your knowledge with criminal investigations and abusing the public trust in you as a senior police officer, you set about disposing of your wife’s body in a callous and despicable way.”
He added: “You have robbed your children of their mother. You have robbed Leanne’s parents of their beloved only child.”
A moving victim impact statement was read out to the court on behalf of Mrs McKie’s mother Ellen Dodd, who said her family’s lives “came to a stop” after they were told of the murder.
Mrs Dodd said the death had left a “huge void” in the family, adding: “Leanne was our light and our light has gone out.”
She added that at times she felt there was “no point carrying on with our lives”.
Referring to her grandchildren, Mrs Dodd said: “It’s only because of them we keep going. Every day is a challenge. Every day (my husband) Ray and I go to bed thinking of Leanne and every morning we get up thinking about Leanne.”
She added: “They loved her so much and miss her. Nothing will bring our beautiful daughter back to us and our lives will never be the same again.”
The court heard the McKies were more than £115,000 in debt at the time of her death, and Darren McKie had applied for loans in his and his wife’s names.
On the morning of her death, Mrs McKie was at their Wilmslow home when her passport and salary details, accessed from the police system by her husband, were returned after being fraudulently used in an application for a £54,000 loan without her consent.
Prosecutor Nigel Power QC told Tuesday’s sentencing hearing: “The fear of being found out must in part have motivated the killing.”
The jury was told her husband returned home after she sent him text messages confronting him about the loan application and calling him a “liar” and asking “Are we in such a mess?”
The prosecution said McKie left work early, strangled his wife and then set about trying to get away with what he hoped would be the perfect murder.
He put her body in the boot of her red Mini Countryman car, which he drove away from the property before returning on foot to show a surveyor in to value the house.
He was spotted by police early the following morning, hours before her body was discovered, walking towards their home.
On the second occasion officers saw him he was not wearing shoes, and the court heard his trainers were later discovered in a wheelie bin along with traces of his wife’s blood.
The couple had been married for 13 years and McKie had just been promoted and was considered a rising star of Greater Manchester Police.
Mrs McKie, who was an only child, worked as a detective constable in the sex crimes unit.
But his coldness had been noted by colleagues and he was known as Spock because of his lack of empathy to other people.
Prior to the cold blooded killing, the family had just moved into a new £435,000 detached home – which was being extended and renovated at great cost – on Burford Close in leafy Wilmslow, one of Cheshire’s most sought after areas.
But the couple’s ‘millionaire lifestyle’ and excessive spending is believed to have put immense pressure on their marriage.
The jury was told they had spent £63,000 on renovations to their four-bedroom home in the months leading up to her death, including £3,500 on a granite kitchen worktop, and went on a £4,500 holiday to Portugal that summer.
Mrs McKie was apparently unaware of their spiralling debt.
When she found out he had been lying about the state of their dire finances, he left his desk at Stretford police station half way through his shift on September 28 and drove home in his Audi.
McKie, a karate enthusiast, broke two bones in his wife’s neck when he strangled her.
The force he applied while strangling his wife for one minute or more was equivalent to a karate chop, pathologist Brian Rodgers said at the trial.
McKie then reversed his wife’s Mini up to front door of their home and stuffed her slight, 5ft 2in body into the boot before parking the car round the corner.
Then, he coolly went out on the school-run, reportedly laughing and joking with other parents as he picked up the children.
With his wife’s body concealed in the boot of her car which he had parked nearby, he carried on as if nothing had happened.
He put his kids to bed and then left them home and drove around, allegedly looking for a suitable dumping ground for their mother’s body.
He attempted to lay a false trail, sending texts to make it look like he thought she was still alive.
In the last, sent at 9.20pm, he played the concerned husband, writing: “Hi hun. Your dad text me. They have not heard from you. You OK? Bit worried now. xx”
In his search for a makeshift grave, the murderer drove to a pond at Paddock Hill Lane in rural Mobberley. But the pond was empty.
Next he drove to Poynton Lake, where, under cover of darkness, he dragged his dead wife from the car park about 140 metres to the edge of the water, where he left her face down.
He abandoned the car nearby, walking the eight miles back to the family home.
He thought he was committing the perfect crime. But he left behind telling clues which ultimately led to his conviction for murder.
As he walked home with his hood up, he was spooked by patrolling police officers at around 1.15am.
The officers wound down their window and spoke to him briefly but allowed him on his way when he told them he was close to home, the first of many lies he told police.
He continued his walk home but dumped his trainers, which were stained with blood from his wife’s nose, in a wheelie bin as he neared Burford Close.
Those same officers stopped him a second time at 2.15am – and noted he was not wearing shoes this time.
He refused to give his surname but he was forced to admit he was a cop when patrol officers spotted his police issue trousers.
McKie was driven home where the lying continued.
The patrol officers noted how McKie appeared ‘very cold, very emotionless and unmoved’ by the crying child who was waiting for him when he opened the front door.
He claimed to be worried because his wife had not returned from her late shift, although his calm and composed demeanour suggested otherwise.
He reasoned he could not drive as he had drunk half of the bottle of Spanish red standing on the kitchen island.
So he went out on foot instead, he said. He insisted he had thrown away those trainers as they were ‘rubbing’ on his heel – another lie.
The patrol officers left the McKie home to look for his wife and her Mini, but to no avail.
McKie quickly put his clothes – which as a police officer he knew may well have collected evidence of his crime in their fibres – in the washing machine.
By complete chance, someone who had been out in Manchester and was worse for wear got off a bus and wandered towards Poynton Lake.
He got lost, and at around 3.45am, found the mum’s body face down and ran from the woods to flag down a passing motorist.
This was a key moment of fortune for the police – otherwise the body may have remain undiscovered for days.
Over the police radio, the grim discovery was relayed to the police officers who had escorted McKie back to his home, and so they were dispatched to Burford Close once more.
There, they banged on the front door and woke the sleeping McKie.
They stopped the washing machine mid-cycle.
In his dressing gown, McKie was arrested on suspicion of her murder – and even then arresting officers noted that he remained ‘very calm and collected’.
Within a couple of hours, investigators had discovered the suspect’s blue New Balance trainers in a wheelie bin.
This was more good fortune for the authorities and bad luck for the killer – any longer and the bin would have been emptied and the trainers and key evidence would be gone forever.
Later, forensic experts would establish that the blood on them belonged to his wife.
The inspector claimed in interview he had never been to Poynton and didn’t even know it had a lake, but another expert concluded that soil found deep in the tread of those trainers came from Poynton Lake, not the garden of the family home.
His lies were quickly exposed.
In his closing speech at the trial, Nigel Power QC, prosecuting, said the defendant had played a “game of cat and mouse” with police following his wife’s death.
He told the court the police officer had lied during his police interviews to try and cover up his crime.
Defending McKie, Trevor Burke QC told the jury to consider whether it was murder or a “terrible, terrible accident”.
But the jury found him guilty of murder.
Mr Burke told Tuesday’s hearing there was a “complete lack of premeditation in the normal sense of the word” and there was “severe stress in the background” of the case, referring to the numerous loan applications the defendant had made.
Detective Inspector Adam Waller, of Cheshire Police, said after the guilty verdict: “Darren McKie clearly thought he could get away with murdering his own wife – and used the knowledge gained as a police officer to try and systematically cover his tracks and dispose of evidence, with the aim of creating the impression that his wife had been murdered by someone else.
“He is a coward and refused to admit responsibility for his actions throughout the five-month investigation, instead subjecting the whole family to the ordeal of a trial.
“It was only when he was due to give his own evidence in court that he decided to plead guilty to manslaughter, but then refused to give any explanation as to what had taken place meaning that the family will never know the full details of what happened that day.
“Thankfully, the case presented in court against him was overwhelming and left the jury with no option but to find him guilty of murder.
“As a result of today’s verdict his children have to face the prospect of not only dealing with the death of their mother, but now spending the rest of their childhood without their father in their lives also.
“I would like to express my sincere condolences to Leanne’s family. They have shown a lot of courage and dignity throughout the investigation and the trial and this has been a very difficult experience for them.
“I hope that they can now in some way start to rebuild their lives after going through so much pain and grief.”
Following the conviction, Greater Manchester Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling also commented on the case saying: “My heart goes out to Leanne’s family, particularly her three children, who she adored.
“This is such a tragedy, and ultimately it is those children whose lives have been turned upside down the most by this devastating incident.
“Leanne was a hard working officer who showed the utmost professionalism, she worked as a Detective in the Serious Sexual Offences Unit and supported victims when they were at their most vulnerable. She worked tirelessly to provide victims with support and get them the justice they deserved.
“While this has been a Cheshire Police investigation, our officers have lost a colleague and a much-loved friend, Leanne was part of the Greater Manchester Police family and we will continue to always be there for her family and friends should they need us.
“We are supporting Leanne’s team mates in their grief and will help them in any way that we can.
“We are also supporting those officers who worked with Darren McKie, who remain extremely shocked by what happened.
“My thoughts will remain with all of those affected.”