Brixham man, 31, denies murder at Newton Poppleford scrapyard as court hears accused beat and strangled victim

The trial has begun of a hammer attacker who beat and strangled his Newton Poppleford victim then set fire to his caravan home to wipe out the evidence.

Exeter Crown Court on Tuesday (September 29) heard how Lewis Finch ‘beat and strangled to death’ ‘pretty unsavoury character’ 47-year-old Geoffrey Pearce in the early hours of January 9, 2020, believing he was a child abuser.

Lewis Finch, aged 31, of Briseham Close, Brixham, denies murder but has admitted manslaughter.

The jury heard how Finch battered Mr Pearce to his head and face, fracturing his skull, then garroted him with a plastic cable tie, breaking the cartilage in his neck, ignored the dying man’s pleas for help, then set fire to his caravan.

Mr Sean Brunton, QC, prosecuting, told the court how Finch took a taxi in the early hours of the morning to the Newton Poppleford scrapyard to where Mr Pearce was living in his ‘pretty grim’ caravan on family land.

There, he battered Mr Pearce three times over the head with what is thought to be a claw hammer then used a cable tie to choke him until Mr Pearce turned blue in the face.

To cover his tracks, Finch set fire to the caravan and ‘incinerated the body’ of Mr Pearce, who was still inside.

Before lighting the fire, Finch used the dying man’s phone make a call to the defendant’s sister Ronnie Smith, in Torquay, at 2.15am.

The court was told Mr Pearce was heard ‘begging for help in the background’, screaming ‘help me, help me’, and Finch tell his sister ‘he’s not dead yet but he’s going to be’.

Mr Brunton said: “He made sure of two things, that Geoffrey Pearce was well and truly dead and the best way of covering your tracks is to set fire to the scene of the crime.”

The court was told the caravan was ‘effectively, completely destroyed’ by the blaze.

When Finch ended the call, his sister raised the alarm with the emergency services.

Leaving the caravan burning, Finch walked eight miles from Newton Poppleford to his friend’s house in Cheshire Road, Exmouth,

Finch told pal Blake Longbottom he had killed Mr Pearce, who he had seen earlier that day and warned him not to talk to him or he would kill him.

“Geoffrey Pearce did not heed this and tried to approach him anyway,” said Mr Brunton.

Mr Longbottom said Finch was ‘calm as a whistle’ as he told him what he had done adding ‘I caved his head in’.

The prosecutor said: “Finch told his friend ‘I hit him several times but he kept getting up, and in the end, because he would not stay down, I put a cable tie around his neck and zipped it tight until he started turning blue. I left him in the burning caravan and walked away.”

Mr Brunton said: “Lewis Finch said he had done it because Geoffrey Pearce was a nonce, that he deliberately killed him because he knew, or claimed, or believed Geoffrey Pearce was some sort of child abuser.”

Finch smoked cocaine with another friend before police tracked him down to the house in Cheshire Road, Exmouth, and arrested him.

The court heard how Finch told friends ‘my sister has stitched me up, I am going to prison for a long time’.

Police recovered Finch’s clothing from a washing machine, where he had forgotten to turn it on.  Among it was a bloodstained tee-shirt, still damp from where he walked across the fields to Exmouth.

Mr Brunton told the jury that the victim was ‘an eccentric who lived a hand-to-mouth pretty grubby existence’ and was a ‘bit of a loner’, who ‘barely kept in contact with his own family’, and was ‘involved in the murky world of drugs’.

The court was told Finch’s mother knew the victim.

A post mortem found the victim had been struck on the head causing fractures to the skull and eye socket, and before he died, he was garrotted with a thick piece of plastic cable tie which was so tight it fractured the cartilage in his larynx.

He was thought to have been dead by the time the fire was started.

The body of Mr Pearce, aged 47, was severely burned but a post mortem showed he had received at least two heavy blows from a weapon – like a claw hammer – to his head and a third to his left cheek.

The trial continues.

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