James Newton-Price QC and Peter Asteris of Pump Court Chambers were instructed by Footner Ewing solicitors to represent Corin Barlow, aged 41 years, who was charged with the murder of Gurinderjit Rai, a major drugs supplier, on Friday 12 July 2019. The Prosecution alleged that he was part of a revenge killing by an organised crime group. Barlow was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter following a trial at Winchester Crown Court that lasted three months from January to April 2021.
Three other men, Aston Hannis, Charlie Statham and Paul White, all from the Winchester or Southampton areas, were jointly charged with the murder. The Prosecution case was that the co-defendants, Aston Hannis and Charlie Statham (both of whom were convicted of murder) arranged to meet Mr Rai at a secluded rural location by Corhampton Golf Club in the Meon Valley area of Hampshire at about 11.45 pm on Friday 12 July 2019. The ostensible purpose of the meeting related to drugs or payments for drugs but Hannis or Statham produced Mr Barlow’s shortened shotgun and fired two fatal shots into Rai’s head and neck. They then drove away to a nearby field, abandoned and burned their car, and were picked up by another co-defendant, Paul White, who drove them all back to an alibi or operational base, a nearby house owned by one Phil Hodan. Like Barlow, Paul White, the getaway driver, was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter. Mr Hodan was charged only with assisting an organised crime group but he was acquitted of that charge.
The background to the killing was that Aston Hannis was a major drug dealer in the Southampton area with a network of runners to support a cocaine supply chain. His turnover was substantial. He obtained wholesale supplies of drugs from Mr Rai who was positioned higher up the supply chain. Rai originated from Southampton but he had relocated his family to the north west because of threats to his safety. In May 2019, Hannis’ safe houses in Winchester and Sutton Scotney were burgled and he lost a substantial quantity of cash and drugs. There were several possible suspects but Hannis suspected this was an ‘inside job’ by Rai. The Prosecution alleged that the killing of Rai on 12 July 2019 was an act of revenge and a show of strength by Hannis.
The case against Hannis, Statham and White concentrated on mobile telephone evidence of their presence together at or near the scene of the murder on the night of Friday 12 July and on the previous day, 11 July, when they conducted a ‘reccie’ of the scene. The car that was burned out was purchased by Hannis only one day before. He had also bought dark clothing from Sports Direct which had obviously been destroyed in the car fire.
Corin Barlow was not present at the scene nor was he involved in the events of the night on 12 July. He spent that Friday evening with an occasional female partner in Eastleigh then travelled to Sussex to spend the rest of the weekend with his regular partner in Haywards Heath. The Prosecution case against Barlow was that he had knowingly supplied the shotgun that was used to kill Rai about a week before the killing. The case against him was put on the basis that he supplied the gun with the intention to assist in the killing or that he supplied the gun, knowing that it would be used by Hannis or his accomplice to shoot or have someone shot should the occasion arise.
In the alternative, the case on manslaughter was put on the basis that Barlow supplied the gun intending to assist in some lesser offence involving a threat of violence or less serious assault. It was on that latter basis that Barlow was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter by a 10-2 majority of the jury on 6 April 2021 following five days of deliberations.
The case that Barlow had supplied the gun rested on a combination of various strands of evidence. Barlow had acquired a stolen clay pigeon shooting double barrel shotgun manufactured by Beretta in 2017 and had shown or boasted about the gun to many others. This was not in dispute but Barlow’s case was that he never used the gun and believed that it was a defunct weapon that could not be fired. Ballistic tests on the gun showed that it could be fired. Barlow had at some stage had the gun shortened. This was accepted but Barlow’s case was that he had it shortened in 2018 so that it could be displayed on the wall of his Winchester as an object of artistic interest.
Barlow was a close friend of Aston Hannis. He was his joint best man at his wedding with Statham. Barlow sold drugs that were supplied by Hannis. This was accepted. Barlow also accepted that he sometimes occupied the safe house in Sutton Scotney and that Hannis’ drugs were stored there. Barlow was in contact with Hannis in May 2019. There were various messages which showed that Barlow pledged to help or support Hannis in any action he might take, following the burglaries of the safe houses. Barlow was in contact with Hannis and stayed with him on 2-3 July 2019 when various messages show that Barlow was aware of threats towards Hannis. Barlow recorded a phone conversation between Hannis and Rai at about that time. Morgan Tarrant, a young work mate of Barlow’s on a building site in Whitchurch, gave evidence that Barlow had spoken of a plan to shoot someone, although not Rai, on 5 July 2019 and that Barlow said he had his gun in his car. Photos were eventually recovered from Barlow’s phone which showed him posing with the gun, holding it in gloved hands, and an image of a gloved hand inside a plastic bag of green gunshot cartridges. The photos were cached (last viewed) on 5 July 2019 but they were not in the photo gallery, the inference being that they had been deleted by Barlow at a later date.
Morgan Tarrant gave evidence that Barlow told him on 15 July that Hannis and Statham had shot Rai and that the killing concerned debts owed to Rai, although Barlow was not sure exactly what had happened or why. There were various messages on Barlow’s phone on or around 16-17 July in which he apparently boasted of his involvement in the killing, including a reference to himself as the ‘missing link’. Barlow’s case was that these messages were ‘bullshit’ that was designed to ‘big himself up’ to female friends. He denied supplying the gun or playing any part in the murder.
Morgan Tarrant gave evidence that Barlow approached him in early August and asked him to hold the shotgun in return for the promise of £4500 cash. Tarrant agreed to do so. He understood that Mark Hannis would collect the shotgun in due course but Barlow eventually told him to dispose of the gun which Tarrant did by burying it in woods in Whitchurch. Tarrant was arrested in October 2019 and took the police to where he had buried the gun. He also produced a used green cartridge (same brand as those in the photo on Barlow’s phone) that had he said had been inside the barrel of the gun. Tarrant admitted in cross-examination that he had lied repeatedly to the police about who he was with when he hid and then disposed of the gun.
Tarrant subsequently pleaded guilty to possession of the shotgun and assisting an offender then gave evidence for the Prosecution (he was later sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment). There was no forensic scientific evidence (no blood or DNA on the weapon) to link the gun to the killing, but ballistics experts concluded that the shotgun could have been used to fire the remnants of the shotgun cartridges (wadding and pellets) at the scene.
The Defendants were sentenced on 23 April 2021. Mrs Justice Cutts imposed mandatory life sentences on Hannis (minimum term 35 years) and Statham (minimum term 28 years). White and Barlow were sentenced to 15 and 17 years respectively for the alternative offence of manslaughter.
The trial was marked by the sudden and untimely death of leading counsel for Statham, Matthew Jewell QC, during the jury deliberations. Matthew, aged 54 years, was a popular and well established barrister on the Western Circuit. He had taken silk in 2018. He was charming, affable, intelligent and an effortlessly able advocate in court. His death is a huge loss. He will be missed and long remembered by all who knew him.