A pub chef has been convicted of murdering his ex-partner after blaming her for their child being taken into care, the Crown Prosecution Service said.
Darren Osment, 41, killed Claire Holland, 32, in a drunken argument hours after she was last seen leaving a pub in the centre of Bristol in June 2012.
Despite extensive police investigations, the mother of four has never been seen since and her body never found.
Bristol Crown Court heard that when Osment fell under suspicion detectives deployed an undercover officer to befriend him who then recorded his repeated confessions to her murder.
Between December 2020 and July 2022, the officer – posing as a man called Paddy O’Hara – created a fiction of being involved in the criminal underworld with links to organised crime.
Following an 11-week trial, Osment, of Chessel Drive, Patchway, South Gloucestershire, was found guilty by a majority verdict of Ms Holland’s murder on a date between June 5 and June 8 2012.
During the trial, the court heard the undercover officer had witnessed many examples of Osment’s violent temper, particularly when drinking.
Andrew Langdon KC, prosecuting, said: “That is relevant because we suggest that when he met with Claire Holland that night, he is likely to have lost his temper, lost control of himself and in using unrestrained violence he killed her.
“In other words, he is a man with an explosive temper with a propensity to use violence when angry, including to those who are weaker and more vulnerable than he.”
Osment was convicted despite Ms Holland’s body never being found and there being no crime scene or forensic evidence linking the defendant to the murder.
What the police did have was evidence of several confessions Osment had made over the years in which he claimed to have strangled Ms Holland, dismembered her body and dumped her remains in the River Avon.
The jury heard evidence that Osment had confessed to six different people, including a former girlfriend, her brother, friends, a 999 call handler, Mr O’Hara and finally a prison inmate.
Mr Langdon said Osment had been “carrying the burden of knowing what he did to her” and had “sought to relieve himself of the burden” by making repeated confessions.
“He has, we suggest, never forgotten what he did to Claire,” he said.
“He has always been haunted by the memory of it and that weight, the trauma of that memory, has taken a considerable toll upon him.”
Osment and Ms Holland, who were both alcoholics, met in 2008 when they worked together in a cafe and began a relationship with a child being born in 2010.
Their relationship was marred by allegations of alcohol-fuelled domestic violence and the child was placed in foster care.
Following Ms Holland’s disappearance, police launched a missing persons inquiry.
They began re-investigating in 2019 after Osment, who by this time was living in Devon, dialled 999 and admitted killing Ms Holland.
The following year the undercover operation began and the officer would spend many hours with Osment playing pool or snooker, going for walks or engaging in supposed criminality.
Jurors were played several of the recordings of their interactions, with Osment confiding in Mr O’Hara about what had happened to Ms Holland, discussing alibis and potentially trying to blame other people.
In one Osment tells the officer: “Yeah because of what she did, f****** c*** mate, f*** her. End of, f*** em, she ain’t going to be seeing the light of day again, don’t worry about that.”
In another, Osment said that as a trained chef he has “knife skills” and ran his hand across his torso while making a swishing sound to indicate he had cut up Ms Holland’s body and then weighted her down in water.
“Like I said, I’m not going to go into any details, I did what I did, I did what I done and…,” Osment said.
“It makes me feel sick. But I did it for (my child). Cause she harmed my f****** child. And how they were brought up is f****** wrong.”
Osment denied murdering Ms Holland and claimed the confessions were the ramblings of a “drunken idiot”.
Explaining why he made them, he told the jury: “Drinking too much, trying to big myself up, make myself out to be something I am not … the combination of the three.
“Again, I haven’t got a proper explanation.”
Ben Samples, senior district Crown Prosecutor for CPS South West, said: “This was a heinous crime and Claire’s family have endured over a decade of pain as Osment sought to conceal his crimes by weaving a web of deceit, all while cruelly refusing to provide any information which would help locate Claire’s body.
“Murder cases where a body has not yet been recovered are notoriously complex, because it is harder to prove a murder has been committed and there is less evidence to pin the crime to a suspect – so prosecutors must think outside the box.
“Piece by piece, we worked with police to present a compelling case to the jury which made clear that this was ‘foul play’ and that only Osment had the motive to commit murder.
“We know that today’s result won’t bring Claire back, but we hope that knowing justice has been served will bring comfort to her family as they continue to grieve her loss.”
Detective Superintendent Darren Hannant, senior investigating officer at Avon and Somerset Police, said it was “a brutal and premeditated crime motivated by his intense hatred of Claire”.
“The evidence we’ve gathered painstakingly over the last four years has proven that Osment is a selfish and violent misogynist who has abused almost everyone he has been close to,” he added.
“Our investigation found he’d made repeated confessions to others about his involvement in Claire’s murder, but because of a lack of supporting evidence, a decision was made to obtain authorisation for the deployment of an undercover officer, with the express aim of uncovering the truth about Claire’s disappearance, and in the hope of finding her body.
“The evidence and recorded footage gathered by the officer exposed Osment’s disturbing and hateful character and most importantly, details about the murder that otherwise would have remained unknown.
“Due to the real risks posed to the officer in the event of the operation being compromised, the investigation team were unaware of the deployment until July 2022, when a decision was made to re-arrest Osment, after which he was charged with Claire’s murder.
“The evidence gathered by the undercover officer, along with the witness evidence, phone data, and missing person investigation records, proved that Osment was responsible for this crime.
“We discovered he had lured Claire to the pub where he worked as a chef in Clifton on the evening of Wednesday June 6, 2012. He killed her and then disposed of her body, we believe most likely in water.
“He got rid of the physical evidence, through burning his clothes and disposing of a knife he claimed to have used.”
He is due to be sentenced on December 20 at Bristol Crown Court.
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