Published: 00:00, 08 December 2016
| Updated: 08:52, 08 December 2016
A callous thug has been jailed for life for brutally murdering a homeless former soldier with a sawn-off shotgun.
Richard Donovan shot Philip Fox dead in his tent in a remote wood in Wincheap, Canterbury.
He must serve 30 years before being considered for parole.
Yesterday, a jury delivered a guilty verdict after fewer than three hours of deliberation.
Earlier, the court heard a moving victim impact statement from Mr Fox’s daughter Alison Moody, who told of her desperate search to find him - only to eventually discover he had been callously murdered.
He had served in the Army and then worked as both a bus driver and taxi driver. Unknown to his daughter, he in later life changed his name from Moody to Fox.
“I have been desperate to find my dad for years,” she said. “When on May 14 the police knocked on my door to inform me my dad had been murdered I was completely devastated.
“I had so many questions for my dad I will no longer get answers to.”
The prosecution alleged 26-year-old Donovan simply wanted to kill somebody and knew the victim would not be missed because he was living rough.
Donovan’s girlfriend Daisy Avery told of being with him on the day it was believed Mr Fox, who was 59, was shot dead.
Prosecutor Sandip Patel said Donovan was on August 4 last year drunk and carrying the “cherished” firearm in a drawstring bag.
Miss Avery followed him to B&M Bargains on the Riverside Retail Park along a footpath. He sat by a tree and removed the shotgun from a bag.
Mr Fox came along and said “All right?” as he passed.
“Mr Donovan appeared to be worried about what he had seen and followed him into the bushes,” Mr Patel told the jury of 10 men and two women at Maidstone Crown Court.
Miss Avery followed Mr Donovan and they came to a red and black tent.
Donovan, whose mother lived in nearby Thanington, and Mr Fox chatted before Donovan was alleged to have hugged Miss Avery and told her to go and buy some tobacco.
“As she returned with the tobacco she heard a very loud bang,” said Mr Patel. “She recognised it as the same sound as when Mr Donovan shot at things in anger.
“She saw Mr Donovan running towards her. At the same time he dismantled the shotgun into three pieces and concealed it in his drawstring bag.
“She asked what happened. He said the man was dead. He said he had shot him in the face and his brains had gone all over the tent.”
Mr Patel said the shotgun was supplied by Tony Hindmarsh, who was married to Donovan’s cousin.
Donovan, of Westhorne Avenue, Eltham, south east London, denied murder.
Judge Adele Williams told Donovan: “I have seen and heard you give evidence. You are in my judgement a cold, calculating and dangerous young man.
“During your life you have tried to hide your inadequacies by violence and aggression.
“You told one prosecution witness you wanted a gun to make you feel more confident, to make you feel more manly.
"You are in my judgement a cold, calculating and dangerous young man" - Judge Adele Williams
“I am sure on the evidence you wanted to kill Philip Fox. You shot him at close range. You didn’t want him to live to report the fact you were in possession of a sawn-off shotgun.
“But you also wanted to use the gun to kill. You left him for dead. He was bleeding to death.
Judge Williams told Donovan he had been convicted on compelling evidence of the wilful murder of Mr Fox.
“In August 2015, you ruthlessly shot Philip Fox and killed him,” she said. “You shot him at close range with a sawn-off shotgun. You showed him no mercy.”
The judge praised Donovan’s then girlfriend Daisy Avery for her bravery in coming forward when she heard about Mr Fox’s death.
Donovan had sent her away on the pretext of buying tobacco when he carried out the execution. He later confessed to her that he had shot Mr Fox.
“She didn’t believe you at the time,” Judge Williams continued. “Philip Fox’s body lay undetected until April 25 this year when found by some other homeless men and the police were alerted.
“As soon as Daisy Avery learnt of the discovery of the body through the press, she went to the police.
“She very bravely gave evidence at this trial because you threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone what you had done.
“She has ensured you have been brought to justice. She has done the right thing and is to be commended for her bravery.”
The judge said when Donovan acquired the shotgun in the summer of last year he was spiralling out of control.
“You regarded yourself as a hard man, someone of whom other people should be afraid,” she said. “Your drinking and drug-taking were out of control.
“You had earlier that day discharged the shotgun in your mother’s garden into the shed and fence.
“You have some convictions which demonstrate your violent tendency.”
Although Mr Fox was homeless, he was hoping to be rehoused by the council. He was described as bubbly and jokey and got on well with others at a drop-in centre run by the Salvation Army.
Judge Williams said although he had no contact with his family it did not make their loss any less. His daughter was devastated.
“You took Philip Fox’s life without hesitation or conscience,” said the judge. “For a murder committed with a firearm, the starting point is 30 years.
“In my judgement, there are neither aggravating factors nor mitigating factors. I set the minimum term as 30 years.
“It means you cannot be considered for parole until you have served that minimum term. You may serve longer. You may never be released. That will be a matter for the parole board.”
Hindmarsh, 36, of Romney Sands Holiday Park, The Parade, Greatstone, denied selling or transferring the shotgun to Donovan and was acquitted by the jury.
He admitted possessing prohibited ammunition. Judge Williams jailed him for a year.
Guy Wyatt, for Hindmarsh, said his client did nothing with the three rounds of expanding ammunition he admitted possessing.
He had surrendered his firearms licence three years earlier, rather than it being revoked. He had sold his guns.
Judge Williams said she did not believe Hindmarsh’s evidence that he had forgotten he had the ammunition.
“I am afraid I take the view he has very extensive knowledge and experience of firearms and would have known exactly what he had in his possession,” she added.
"Donovan is a dangerous individual who, fuelled by drink, shot an unarmed homeless man" - DCI Tony Pledger
“To that extent that is an aggravating feature, as are his previous convictions and cautions.”
Mr Wyatt said the bullets were among clutter at Hindmarsh’s home.
But the judge insisted: “Yes, but I don’t believe him, so that’s the end of it.”
Mr Wyatt said it was accepted Hindmarsh should not have had the ammunition, but it was “gathering dust”.
Urging that a suspended sentence be imposed, he added: “Had he wished to create further ammunition it was entirely possible for him to do so, and he didn’t. He did nothing with it.”
The judge told Hindmarsh: “I am sure you didn’t tell the truth during your evidence. You knew very well what you had because you have very considerable knowledge and expertise about guns and ammunition.
“I take into account the mitigation urged on your behalf but in my judgement only an immediate sentence of imprisonment is justified for this offence.”
Judge Williams praised the police for their “exemplary investigation in very difficult circumstances indeed”.
After Donovan was convicted, senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Tony Pledger of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: "Donovan is a dangerous individual who, fuelled by drink, shot an unarmed homeless man.
"There can be no reasonable explanation for his dreadful actions and the unimaginable loss he has caused.
"Officers were determined to piece together what happened and bring the case before the courts, and I would like to thank the media for their coverage of the investigation, and the members of the public, who came forward with invaluable information.
"My sympathies are with the friends and family of Mr Fox and I hope today’s verdict has brought them some reassurance."