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Jonathan Creswell death halts Katie Simpson murder trial but spotlight now turns to what really happened

Jonathan Creswell and Katie Simpson

It took almost four years from Katie Simpson’s horrific death in domestic circumstances to get the rape and murder trial underway, but it came to an abrupt halt in just 24 hours.

Jonathan Creswell (36) previously of Briar Hill Gardens, Greysteel – but latterly with an address which could not be published – was charged with murdering the talented show-jumper on August 3, 2020 and raping her at some time beforehand.

It was contended he attacked Katie – the younger sister of his partner – in a jealous rage then staged a scene to make it appear she had attempted to take her own life.

He denied all charges against him from the outset.

Three women – all connected to Creswell through the equestrian industry – initially denied charges relating to various actions following Katie’s death, but all later changed their plea.

That left Creswell alone in the dock, maintaining his innocence.

Shortly after 12 noon on Tuesday, April 23 prosecuting counsel Sam Magee KC opened the case at Coleraine Crown Court, a task he would not fully complete.

Related: Katie Simpson murder trial brought to a halt after accused – Jonathan Creswell – found dead

He contended Creswell “raped Katie. He murdered her. He made efforts to cover up by trying to make her death look like suicide. In the hours leading up to death he was with Katie. He was the last person to see her alive. At that time, he was the only person with Katie, or certainly the only adult.

“It was a calculating and deceitful episode. He strangled her and created a fiction, pretending that he found Katie hanging. He pretended to medical staff that she had taken her own life. He pretended to be innocent, having discovered the lifeless body of this unfortunate individual or whose life was ebbing away. We say he was the individual who did an act of violent rage which took her life at just 21. He lied and lied and lied to cover his tracks and mislead.”

The court heard, as children, Katie and her sister Christina ‘Nina’ Simpson lived near Darten Ree Stables in Tynan, a small village in rural Co Armagh.

It was there they met Creswell who had begun working as a jockey.

After a time, he and Christina “became an item”, going on to have two children together.

But Creswell was involved with many other women, one of whom he would later be convicted of choking and seriously assaulting.

Having been jailed for this, he nonetheless returned to his equestrian friends on release, picking up where he left off in Tynan.

A ‘welcome home’ party was even thrown for him in a local hotel.

His relationship with Christina naturally brought him into contact with Katie. It’s unclear when he began to feature more predominantly in her life but when first charged with murder, Detective Sergeant James Brannigan told the court police believed he, “controlled and coerced Katie since she was a child of 9 or 10”.

At around 16, Katie began to work for Creswell and her sister, but one witness realised he could be “difficult with women”.

His temper toward Katie was of particular note.

At the time of the death Katie was living with her sister, Creswell, their two children and one of the co-defendant women, Rose de Montmorency-Wright.

Katie was in the very early stages of a new relationship with a man named Shane McCloskey and was terrified of Creswell discovering this.

When this man wanted to see more of Katie, she said she would have to ask Creswell.

She quietly spent the night with Mr McCloskey in her mother’s home in Middletown, both leaving early the next day in separate cars.

But Mr McCloskey was spotted on his return trip by a woman who informed his former partner.

She in turn informed Creswell, who it is claimed became first suspicious, then enraged.

Shortly before 6am he called Katie by Snapchat, then messaged: “You reply to my Snap right f**ing now.”

She and Mr McCloskey were increasingly concerned about him discovering they had been together.

On arrival at a show where she was competing that day, Katie was confronted by Creswell who took control of her phone.

Mr McCloskey made a number of attempts to contact Katie throughout the day, but these went unanswered.

Neither he nor anyone else would hear from Katie again – with the exception of Creswell, his partner and Ms De Montmorency-Wright.

It is known Katie was ordered into Creswell’s car around 6pm on August 2, driven over the border into Lifford in Co Donegal, then back into Derry before returning to the house in Gortnessey Meadows around midnight where the other two women and two small children were.

What happened in that house over the next eight hours is unknown and may now remain so.

It is known Katie was badly beaten and, according to the prosecution, she had been raped.

Creswell’s DNA was found and there was indication of intimate bleeding.

There was multiple bruising to her inner thigh, including what appeared to be a boot mark.

According to Creswell, he returned from leaving the children with his mother, and found Katie hanging.

He noticed she was “blue and not breathing”.

In bodyworn footage played in court he spoke of rescuing Katie, his “wee sister-in-law, a great wee girl”.

He claimed she never showed any indication of being suicidal or depressed, and when he left the house to take the children to his mother’s, she was fine.

His three-year-old had called out “bye bye Katie” and she had responded.

The facts appear to be very different.

Because Katie, still wearing her shirt from the competition the previous day, but minus any lower body clothing except underwear, was dying.

Instead of waiting for an ambulance to arrive at the house, Creswell “dragged” Katie to her own car and set out for the hospital, despite telling another co-defendant, Hayley Robb, with whom he had been talking on the phone on allegedly discovering Katie, to call an ambulance, which she duly did.

The call handler then rang Creswell instructing him to pull over and start CPR.

The content of that call was harrowing not just from the tense situation, but because Katie’s life was ebbing away and Creswell was not – as he claimed – trying to save her at all.

He was heard counting out CPR compressions then frantically state “nothing’s happening. I think I’m hurting her”.

However, it emerged while allegedly doing this, Creswell had activated Katie’s phone and switched it to flight mode.

Paramedics took over and managed to re-start Katie’s heart, but despite valiant efforts of medical staff she passed away just under a week later.

While the prosecution opening was to continue on April 24, news of Creswell’s death brought proceedings to an abrupt halt.

But there is still much to be established, such as why police settled with suicide and rejected calls for detectives to investigate.

Police were being told of Creswell’s near-carbon copy previous convictions from August 4, 2020 – the day after Katie was admitted to hospital – but this was ignored.

It has since transpired uniform officers requested detective input on August 10, 2020 – the day after Katie’s death – but were refused.

Instead, she was considered dead by suicide.

Her coffin was carried into the church for her funeral by two of the women in the house that night, Creswell’s partner and one of the co-defendant’s, De Montmorency-Wright.

Creswell was one of four men who carried Katie’s coffin to her grave.

But those who really knew Katie simply weren’t buying the story.

They fought with every inch of their being and despite being consistently turned away they finally succeeded, and an investigation was opened.

The evidence before the court this week was stark and compelling, so it must be asked, why was it not acted upon at the time?

While Creswell’s sudden death leaves a lot of unanswered questions, there were already serious existing issues around this case.

With the legal proceedings now effectively halted, save for the sentencing of the co-defendant women, the spotlight now turns to what really happened in the house that terrible night and why it took so long to properly investigate the horrific death of a beautiful 21-year-old woman in appalling domestic circumstances.

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