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Stephanie Langley sentenced to life for killing Maidstone Hare and Hounds landlord Matthew Bryant

A "manipulative" woman has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 24 years for the revenge murder of her "kind, popular and respected" former brother-in-law outside the pub he ran in Maidstone.

In what was the second violent, fatal tragedy to befall the Hare and Hounds in as little as 13 months, Stephanie Langley viciously and repeatedly knifed landlord Matthew Bryant - described as "everyone's friend" - while he was phoning police to report her for threatening to kill him.

Stephanie Langley of Wilsons Lane, East Farleigh, was found guilty of murdering Matthew Bryant at the beginning of May. Picture: Kent Police
Stephanie Langley of Wilsons Lane, East Farleigh, was found guilty of murdering Matthew Bryant at the beginning of May. Picture: Kent Police

Jurors at Maidstone Crown Court were able to witness his last moments alive from chilling CCTV footage overlaid with audio of his 999 call which recorded him telling the operator "I've just been stabbed."

Single mum-of-two Langley plunged the blade into Mr Bryant's chest and twice into his back during a confrontation just metres from his pub entrance on September 11.

She even callously told him "I told you I'd stab you" as she lashed out.

Mr Bryant, a 52-year-old grandfather, collapsed unconscious within seconds and sadly died at the scene despite the heroic efforts of pub customers, passers-by - including an off-duty firefighter - and medical professionals.

In a twist of fate, the publican had himself stepped in as a first-aider when his pub pool team captain was fatally assaulted outside the Lower Boxley Road venue in August the previous year.

But as the desperate attempts were being made to keep Mr Bryant alive, an unrepentant Langley just stood by, encouraging others not to help him and ranting repeatedly that she was glad she had stabbed him, he deserved to die, and she was happy to go to jail.

Matthew Bryant,52, died after being attacked outside his pub in Maidstone. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Matthew Bryant,52, died after being attacked outside his pub in Maidstone. Picture: Ruth Cuerden

The former dental nurse and carer was also caught on camera raising her fists in a "celebratory" gesture the moment his body was rolled over and he appeared limp and lifeless.

Full of hatred, her vitriolic attack of his reputation also continued once she was under arrest.

Langley, who had even warned her son that she would go to the pub and kill Mr Bryant, was said to have a "burning belief" that her former brother-in-law had once raped someone she knew.

But the court heard no such complaint had ever been lodged with police against the married landlord.

Langley, of Wilsons Lane, East Farleigh, denied murder but was found unanimously guilty earlier this month after the jury deliberated for just over three hours at the end of a three-week trial.

Although she accepted causing the injuries and admitted an offence of possessing a bladed article, she had also denied manslaughter, saying she had acted in self-defence after Mr Bryant threatened "to find" her teenage daughter.

However, prosecutor Nina Ellin KC said the landlord had been nothing but "calm, courteous and polite" and, having become "the focus" for Langley's rage, was murdered in an "impulsive, irrational, but also deliberate and intentional" attack.

Langley, once jailed for 11 years for drug smuggling, showed little emotion as the life sentence was imposed by Judge Philip St.John-Stevens.

He told her she had acted out of "callous revenge" after "the seeds had lain dormant in her mind" for more than two decades, and at trial had sought to "justify and explain the unexplainable".

"The motive for the murder of Matthew Bryant was revenge. It is clear that you held a belief that he had been violent in a sexual way," said the judge.

"That was your belief. You believed he had raped over 20 years before. There is no evidence that he did that I can be sure of.

"But what I can be sure of is that what happened was all to do with revenge.

"You intended to kill him, an act of revenge for what you believed he had done.

"You are a highly intelligent woman but a manipulative one who has given a lying account.

"You went back with a knife intending to kill Matthew Bryant....You sat down afterwards and was almost celebratory when he was turned over and you saw what you intended to achieve, that he had died.

"You showed no remorse and carried on protesting to police that you hoped he would die and you had done it because of what you believed."

The sentencing hearing included moving victim impact statements written by Mr Bryant's widow, Caroline, his 80-year-old mother, Valerie Hobson, his sister Lisa O'Donnell and his daughter, Gemma Jenner.

They spoke of his loving and supportive nature, and slammed Langley for "dragging his name through the mud".

Mrs Bryant told the court of her desperate attempts to wake her husband as he lay dying in the street.

"That horrible evening Matt was taken from me, part of me went with him. My heart feels so empty," she said.

"I'm scared to shut my eyes because all I see is Matt lying on that road.

"When I went to help Matt he turned to me and she put the knife in him. I always see the look on his face the moment she put the knife in him. It was like he was saying 'Help me.'

"I remember asking him to wake up but he just lay there lifeless. I will never forget the way he looked at me in that moment."

Referring to the fact that the following day they were due to go to Paris to celebrate their anniversary, Mrs Bryant continued: "I remember shaking him, saying 'Wake up, wake up, we're going to Paris tomorrow.' He never did wake up.

Matthew Bryant and Caroline Bryant outside the Hare and Hounds a year after taking over. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Matthew Bryant and Caroline Bryant outside the Hare and Hounds a year after taking over. Picture: Ruth Cuerden

"I lost my soulmate, my best friend, the love of my life....The day she took my Matt away, she took me too.

"My heart will never repair because it's too broken. I love Matt and just want him back. I just cannot see my life without him."

Mrs Bryant also spoke of the traumatic impact of the trial, saying: "She dragged his name through the mud, making him out to be someone he wasn't."

Of the murder itself, she concluded: "I cannot understand why she did this to him. I still don't understand, even after the trial. I don't have any answers."

Mrs Hobson recalled how she "screamed, shouted and cried" the moment her daughter, Mr Bryant's sister, broke the news of her "loving son's" tragic death to her, and described being left in a "big, black emotional hole".

"He shouldn't have died before me; your children don't," she told the court.

"When his dad, Alan, died from cancer 20 years ago, Matthew promised to look out for me and take care of me and bless him, he has done more than anyone knows.

"I have lost not only my loving son but also the only man in my life. He would help anyone in trouble, was popular and respected.

"The loss of my gorgeous baby to my grown-up son is beyond heartbreaking. I have always deeply loved him and will never, ever get over not seeing him again.

"She not only murdered my son but she has also stabbed me through my heart. God bless my Matthew."

Ms O'Donnell said she was "beyond devastated" at the "brutal and horrific" death of her younger brother who was "kind, loving, everyone's friend and the man who calmed situations down, not created them".

CCTV showed the moment Stephanie Langley smashed a phone on a table in the Hare and Hounds
CCTV showed the moment Stephanie Langley smashed a phone on a table in the Hare and Hounds

Mr Bryant's daughter described how she could not comprehend never seeing her "hero" again.

"My dad was not perfect but he was far from the man Stephanie has described," said Ms Jenner.

"I cannot get my head around the fact I will never see my dad again. He had been my hero since I was a child.

"He was good and kind and would do anything to help anyone in need."

Ms Jenner added that she felt "justice will never be served" for Langley's actions which had "taken a man's life and ruined so many other lives too".

Mr Bryant had run the Hare and Hounds since 2015. It was in August 2022 that he helped stricken pub regular Andrew 'Kev' Looseley after he was punched and fell to the ground, hitting his head.

The landlord spoke to KentOnline at the time about how he had put the unconscious 47-year-old into the recovery position and then spoke on the phone to the ambulance service until a crew arrived.

Sadly, Mr Looseley, a dad of five from Chatham, lost his fight for life five days later. But in the following weeks the pub hosted a vigil and charity barbecue event in memory of someone Mr Bryant described as "our dear lost friend".

Now, the Hare and Hounds remembers Mr Bryant by proudly flying a flag bearing his face, alongside a Union Jack, outside the pub.

Although once related by marriage, he and Langley had not had any contact before his murder for more than 20 years bar one incident in May last year when she was invited to the pub by her son and, on seeing her former brother-in-law, became, in her own words, "almost uncontrollable".

Lower Boxley Road was cordoned off after the stabbing. Picture: UKNIP
Lower Boxley Road was cordoned off after the stabbing. Picture: UKNIP

The landlord had himself described her as "gunning" for him when he recounted the incident four months later in his 999 call.

But jurors heard his brutal death was not the result of a similar "chance encounter" but a "deliberate and intentional" decision by Langley to return to the pub armed with the largest knife taken from a block in her kitchen.

Her clothing - a thick, padded gilet worn over a knee-length dress - was also said to have been deliberately chosen, in spite of the late summer heat that day, as it had deep pockets in which to hide her weapon.

Described as an "aspirational" woman, Langley had held a number of jobs, including cleaning, gardening and dog walking, following her release from prison in 2002.

But in the weeks leading up to the murder, her life unravelled as she dealt with numerous family issues and financial struggles while seeking help for her daily drinking habit, and by the day of the fatal stabbing Mr Bryant had become "the focal point for Langley's rage", said Ms Ellin.

Having arrived at the pub at 5.53pm to be served a whiskey by her former brother-in-law, CCTV captured her erratic behaviour as she repeatedly smashed his phone on a table.

She also told a customer to order a drink from the publican "while he is still alive", before delivering her menacing parting shot of "You're dead tonight" as Mrs Bryant told her to leave.

Langley then returned to her Volvo car, where she had stashed the knife, drove it around the corner to Maidstone East train station, and then headed back to the pub on foot.

By the time she arrived for a second time at around 6.05pm, Mr Bryant was mid-call to police.

But when he offered his phone to Langley to speak to the operator herself, she swiped it from his hand and then, as he bent down to retrieve it from the road, promptly began to stab him.

The attack was witnessed by horrified onlookers. One told police she had held the blade in "a dagger motion" above her head and yelled "I told you I would stab you."

Tributes were left outside the pub after Matthew Bryant was killed
Tributes were left outside the pub after Matthew Bryant was killed

Another eye-witness described Langley as being in an "alcohol-driven rage", while pub customer Eddie Williams told the court how she had callously ignored his pleas not to pull the knife out of the landlord's body.

The court heard that the time gap between the phone being knocked from Mr Bryant's grasp and the blade falling to the ground was just 24 seconds.

Giving evidence to the jury, she claimed she had simply gone to the Hare and Hounds to tell her son - who played for the pool team - she "could not deal" with him mixing with Mr Bryant, who she believed was still abusing women.

She said she only stabbed him three times "to protect" her daughter after his supposed threat.

The court heard the chest wound, caused by the blade penetrating 20cm deep into his torso, was unsurvivable without immediate surgery.

Having repeatedly accused a dying Mr Bryant of being a rapist - something she had been told just once and many years earlier - she was filmed by a police body-worn camera hysterically yelling: "Get away from me, I want to stab him. I killed him. I don't care. I want him dead...I'm just so happy. I hate him so much....I hope he dies."

Police remained outside the Hare and Hounds the day after the attack
Police remained outside the Hare and Hounds the day after the attack

A total of 260 days already served on remand will count towards the minimum term of her life sentence.

John Cooper KC, defending, acknowledged that Langley would be an "elderly woman" by the time she could apply for parole.

"If still alive at the end of her prison sentence, she will be an old woman. That may be to the satisfaction of those who have lost a man for life," he said.

"Inevitably, aged 55, she will be an elderly woman who would have herself lost a lot."

Describing her as having acted "completely out of character", told the court she had since expressed "significant and sincere" remorse and "recognised the bad she had done".

Several references were submitted to the court on her behalf, describing her as "trusted, caring, intelligent and a protective mother".

Urging the judge to sentence in a "just and merciful way", Mr Cooper said: "This is a woman who can hold her temper and not react violently or aggressively in difficult situations."

At the end of the hearing, Judge St.John-Stevens praised the "valiant" efforts of those who had tried to save Mr Bryant's life.

Speaking after the sentencing, Mrs Bryant said: "However long she's got it's not gonna bring my Matt back is it? I've got to carry on my life without him.

"He was a lovely man. A lovely, kind gentleman. He wouldn't have hurt anyone. She's put him through so much even though he's not here. She's put me through so much. All this trial has been so stressful.

"I have a pub I have to run on my own. I have to put a brave face on all the time.

"I think she's a horrible woman. She's destroyed her kids' lives and she's destroyed everyone's lives. She's just not a nice person. Not at all.

On hearing all the details of the case she said: "Horrible. Over and over and over again. I saw her do that to him and I've had to keep reliving it and all the lies she's said about him. She's made him out to be a monster and he wasn't."

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