Jury told man accused of murder at Newton Poppleford ‘had PTSD from childhood abuse’

A jury has heard how a murder-accused man who killed a Newton Poppleford loner was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from being sexually abused.

Lewis Finch is on trial at Exeter Crown Court accused of murdering 47-year-old Geoffrey Pearce in the early hours of January 9, 2020, battering him over the head, strangling him with a cable tie and setting fire to his caravan, to destroy evidence, while the man lay dead inside.

Finch, aged 31, of of Briseham Close, Brixham, has admitted killing Mr Pearce but denies murder.

He says he lost control, acted in self-defence, and ‘lost his mind’ when he killed Mr Pearce.

Finch said his responsibility was diminished by a personality disorder.

The jury was told Finch was suffering from complex PTSD and a personality disorder – both which may cause difficulty regulating emotions.

Finch told psychiatrists he was sexually abused into adulthood by Geoffrey Pearce since the age of 13 or 14, and when he woke in the victim’s caravan in the early hours of January 9 to hear him masturbating, he became ‘mad’ and ‘angry’.

He told the court he tried to call Mr Pearce a ‘paedophile’ and was laughed at when he muddled his words, calling him a ‘weirdo-phile’.

Finch said Mr Pearce came at him with a metal saucepan so he hit him over the head with wooden pickaxe handle, held it against his throat, and took an already-threaded cable tie from the victim’s other hand and put it over his head – which tightened in the ensuing struggle.

Finch said he set fire to the caravan because it held too many memories of the abuse.

He twice called his sister, Ronni Smith, from Torquay, to pick him up and drive him to Exmouth.

When she refused and called the police, Finch walked the eight miles from Newton Poppleford across fields, arriving at his friend’s home in the early hours of the morning, where he smoked crack cocaine and ate a McDonald’s breakfast.

The court was told Finch knew Mr Pearce since childhood when he supplied the defendant’s mum with drugs.

Finch said Mr Pearce had sexually abused him since the age of 13, gave him drugs, food, and let him drive cars and motorbikes.

The prosecution said Finch told Mr Pearce he would kill him after warning him earlier in the day not to speak to him, which the victim ignored.

Mr Sean Brunton, QC, prosecuting, Finch took a taxi to the Newton Poppleford scrapyard, smashed Mr Pearce over the head with a weapon similar to a claw hammer, fracturing his skull, strangled him with a cable tie, fracturing his larynx, then torched the caravan to destroy the evidence.

Dr Tim Amos, of Bristol University, said Finch suffered from a stress disorder, ‘probably’ complex PTSD, and potentially alcohol dependence syndrome.

He said Finch told him he had nightmares about being abused and pinned down by Mr Pearce.

Dr Amos, called by the defence, said the violence started when Mr Pearce started laughing at Finch.

Finch told Dr Amos he shouted at Mr Pearce, telling the medic: “I was mad, I was like a raving lunatic. I can’t believe he did it. He pushed me. He just laughed. Listening to him masturbating, it was just too much and I thought ‘why have I allowed it?’.”

Dr Amos said: “When Mr Pearce laughed at him, he would have felt worthless, as he often did.

“It would have made him very awkward and difficult. He may have felt his verbal abuse had not got through to him.”

Dr John Sandford, on behalf of the prosecution, diagnosed Finch with mild to moderate cluster B personality disorder, which he said could present as a difficulty in regulating emotions.

He said the defendant’s actions directly after attacking Mr Pearce showed Finch remained in control and was thinking and acting rationally.

Dr Sandford said Finch had behavioural problems from a young age, was expelled from primary school, went into ‘special’ education, and as an adult had seen his GP about anger management.

He said Finch more likely suffered from polysubstance abuse disorder, and would advise him to give up alcohol and smoking crack cocaine.

He said: “It’s quite clear there was a fight. There was an assault, there was a pause in the assault and he made a phone call. This is a man who’s in some sort of control.

“Afterwards he’s trying to work out how to ignite the caravan and get himself home.”

Dr Sandford said complex PTSD can result from experiencing trauma.

He said: “It’s quite clear evidence it pre-dates the alleged abuse. He said thirteen to fourteen. He was already in a special school by that age.”

When asked about Finch’s mental function, Dr Sandford told the court: “He suffered from polysubstance abuse disorder and you can certainly see personality disorder.

“I am not sure it’s helpful to call it complex PTSD.”

The trial continues.

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