Villagers living in fear that missing farmer's wife was killed by someone they know

Villagers living in fear that missing farmer's wife was killed by someone they know

The Times
Simon De Bruxelles
10 May 2008

It is Kate Prout's favourite time of year in the village of Redmarley D'Abitot, with wild flowers in the hedgerows and blossom trees in the well kept Gloucestershire gardens.

Yet Mrs Prout is not there to enjoy it. Today is exactly six months since her husband, Adrian, contacted police to say that he had not seen his wife for five days and she appeared to have gone missing.

It is unusual, but not unprece- dented, for middle-aged woman to leave their husbands without telling them where they are going. But Mrs Prout took nothing with her, not her purse and credit cards, nor her mobile telephone, her passport or any clothes, nor did she leave a note. She did not say goodbye to any members of her large and close-knit family.

What makes the disappearance of the retired teacher even more unusual is that the police do not believe she went anywhere. They are convinced that she has been murdered and that they know who did it: they just have not found the evidence - or her body - to prove it.

At 45, Adrian Prout is ten years his wife's junior. The couple married eight years ago when Kate was approaching the age at which her family wondered whether she would ever find the right man.

Both Kate and her new husband, who had been married before, came from farming backgrounds but had made their careers elsewhere. She had spent 20 years teaching in primary schools around Gloucestershire before taking early retirement in her forties.He had a successful business digging trenches and laying pipes.

Four years ago the couple bought Redhill Farm in Redmarley D'Abitot, a village between the Malvern Hills and the Cotswolds.Mrs Prout devoted herself to country life, arranging flowers in the church, walking their four dogs and transforming the garden.

Her husband set up two pheasant shoots and jealously guarded his privacy. One villager met him for the first time as she walked her dog. She said: "He was shouting at me to get off his land. He was really angry. I have been shouted at before but usually they calm down, you get chatting and you sort it out. That didn't happen."

The villager was so disturbed she talked to the farmer's wife. She said: "She was very nervous, cowed even. I could see that she wasn't happy."

Other residents have told police that shortly before Mrs Prout's disappearance, the couple argued in the local pub, the Rose and Crown, and were planning to divorce. They had recently had the farm valued at Pounds 1.2 million and Mrs Prout was expecting to take half of it.

On November 2 Mrs Prout drove to the village of Far Oakridge to visit her brother Richard Wakefield and his wife, Linda. She appeared happy and gave no indication that there was anything wrong. On November 5, Bonfire Night, she spoke to Linda in the afternoon and again seemed cheerful.

Detective Superintendent Neil Kelly, who is leading the inquiry, said: "The last time at which we know she was alive was at 3.30pm that afternoon when she made a telephone call to her bank."

It was not long before officers came to the "presumption of death" and the missing person's inquiry became a murder hunt. Mr Kelly said: "The investigation was categorised as a murder inquiry fairly early on because of the failure of all our inquiries to establish that Kate Prout was still alive.

"There was no motive for her to disappear of her own volition. The only reasonable conclusion is that she is no longer alive."

For weeks a team of 50 officers searched the area around the farm for any sign of a body. A digger was used to excavate tonnes of wood chippings from a forestry site and divers probed the muddy depths of the ponds.

Sophisticated surveying equipment was brought in to look for recently disturbed ground. But not even Eddie, the specialist sniffer dog who took part in the search for Madeleine McCann, could find any trace of her. (***Blogger note: Eddie found cadaver scent in Prout home. In November 2011, Adrian Prout confessed to murdering Kate.)

From the outset, Mr Prout was the prime suspect. He was arrested on suspicion of murder but released because all the searches had drawn a blank. In February he was arrested again after "further information" came to light, including that Mr Prout had a 48-year-old girlfriend who was also arrested and questioned. She was later released without charge.

According to a police source he denied any knowledge of her where- abouts but showed little interest or concern about her possible fate, or that he was being questioned on suspicion of her murder. The source said: "If he killed her he had five days to cover his tracks. You can do a lot in five days."

Mr Prout, who was released on bail until September 9, is unwilling to discuss his status as a suspected murderer. He declined to open the gates at the entrance to the farm and said over the intercom: "No thank you, I have got nothing to say. No comment."

Redmarley D'Abitot's 650 residents are upset and divided by Mrs Prout's disappearance and the possibility that they could have a murderer living in their midst.

One elderly woman said: "There's still a lot of deference to landowners and many people are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt or believe it's 50-50 that she just left him. But the others just think that's a joke, and of course he did her in for her money and could well get away with it."

Mr Kelly said: "We are reviewing the investigation but we can't resume searching at Redhill Farm unless some new evidence comes to light. We still have 30 officers working on the case. We have no intention of giving up."

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