South Yorkshire detective reveals how murder case was solved

A South Yorkshire detective who oversaw a murder investigation which landed a mother and son behind bars has revealed how the case was solved.

Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 12:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 17:05 pm

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Oughton, who led the police probe into the murder of 48-year-old Gary Dean, who was killed in a neighbourhood dispute, said his team saw through a web of lies spun by the culprits.

Mr Dean was killed when a feud over access to a footpath across land in Silkstone Common, Barnsley, escalated out of control.

Gary Dean

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Jurors found mother and son Carol and Scott Dawson responsible for the ‘sustained, violent assault’.

Mr Dean had been involved in a long-running dispute over a footpath he used which crossed Scott Dawson’s land.

Incidents had been reported to the police as the feud developed, with both sides making accusations against the other.

But it came to an end when Mr Dean was fatally injured in an attack in which he was shot and battered with stones and branches on Thursday, September 6, last year.

DCI Oughton said: “Mr Dean was last seen by his wife Caroline at around 6.50am that morning, as she left their home to go to work.

“As she left, she passed a VW Tiguan that was parked in a layby near to Scott Dawson’s land. This Tiguan belonged to Carol Dawson.

“Mrs Dean tried to phone her husband several times throughout the day, but he didn’t answer. When she returned home that evening, the house was unlocked and there was no sign of Mr Dean. The bread rolls she had left out for his breakfast were still in the kitchen, untouched.

“This indicates that our victim never got to eat his breakfast and that he had been killed not long after Mrs Dean left for work.

“When the Dawsons were found guilty, I spoke about the sheer brutality of this incident – a man killed over what was essentially a neighbour dispute. Today I want to highlight the pair’s calculated, devious behaviour, and the lengths they went to in a bid to conceal their crime from the community and police.”

He added: “Thanks to the tenacity and dedication of a team of detectives and specialist police resources, as well as a team of experts, their lies were uncovered and they are now in prison for their roles in Mr Dean’s death.

“I was one of the first detectives on the scene that evening when the reports came in that Mr Dean’s body had been found. Very quickly, we were able to identify Scott Dawson as a possible suspect.

“The tension between the Deans and the Dawsons was well known in the local community and was a key piece of information in the early stages of our investigation.

“Mr Dean had horrific, significant injuries. It was evident he had been subjected to a brutal assault, with multiple weapons used to inflict serious harm.”

The detective said officers looked into the long running neighbourhood feud, during which malicious, anonymous letters containing unfounded allegations about Mr Dean were posted to the his home address in 2017, as well as Mrs Dean’s place of work – a school.

DCI Oughton said: “After Mr Dean’s murder, a forensic expert was called in to examine the handwriting in the letters in minute detail. This expert confirmed that the handwriting in those letters unequivocally belonged to Carol Dawson.

“This shows that she played an integral role in the developing neighbour dispute, and demonstrated that the Dawsons were prepared to go to considerable lengths to discredit Mr and Mrs Dean. Carol therefore became a person of significant interest to our inquiry.”

During property searches when the Dawsons were arrested, handwritten notes and notepads were seized from both theirs homes.

DCI Oughton said: “The notes between Scott and Carol were incriminating and revealed further evidence of their collusion to conceal their involvement in Mr Dean’s murder. Several notes in particular are illuminating. They appear to be an attempt by the Dawsons to account for DNA evidence that may have been on Mr Dean’s body.

“Our forensic handwriting expert was also able to analyse indentations from handwriting left behind on the notepad, from a sheet of paper that had been torn off. This revealed a written conversation between Scott and Carol discussing police interviews.

“This included reference to being shown tins of pellets in interview, to which Scott confirmed in writing that those were the pellets Mr Dean had been shot with. Our handwriting expert was able to confirm this crucial interaction was in Scott and Carol’s writing.

“How would Scott know what Mr Dean had been shot with, unless he was involved? How else would he have this vital piece of information?”

Scott Dawson’s mobile phone, which was examined as part of the investigation, revealed he was in contact with a firearms enthusiast in May 2018, who confirmed to police that he sold an air rifle to someone matching Scott’s description.

“When he was first arrested, Scott was asked about ownership of an air weapon or any connection to air weapons. He never mentioned this air rifle to us,” said DCI Oughton.

“He was challenged on this point in a further interview. He claimed he had sold the air rifle prior to the murder, to a random man he met at an auction. Yet when his property was searched again after he was arrested for the second time, the paperwork for the rifle, pellets and a silencer were recovered. It seems odd that Scott would sell the firearm, yet keep these important elements.

“The pellets found during the house search were the same calibre as the one in Mr Dean’s body. Unfortunately, we have never recovered the air rifle so were unable to confirm an exact match via ballistics.”

When the Dawsons were interviewed over the course of the police investigation they gave numerous, inconsistent accounts of their movements on the day Mr Dean was killed and the days that followed.

The day after the murder, a civilian investigator witnessed Carol Dawson cleaning her vehicle, the VW Tiguan which Mrs Dean had seen in the layby on the morning of Mr Dean’s death.

“Carol’s cleaning of the vehicle attracted our attention because she was only cleaning the passenger side. She did this for 35 minutes, with two separate vacuum cleaners. Those vacuum cleaners were later recovered from Scott’s property, even though Carol had her own vacuum cleaner at her property.

“We also recovered significant amounts of cleaning products when we searched the bins outside Scott’s home. Scott tried to deflect attention away from himself and the suspicious nature of this find by saying they belonged to his girlfriend, who worked as a cleaner, but she confirmed she never brought her cleaning products home with her.”

Scott Dawson, 41, formerly of Allotts Court, Barnsley, and Carol Dawson, 72, formerly of Stonewood Grove, Barnsley, were both found guilty of murder on Friday, August 9.

Three days later they were both sentenced to life behind bars, with Scott ordered to serve a minimum term of 31 years and Carol, a minimum of 26.

DCI Oughton concluded: “Over the course of the police investigation and the five-week trial at Sheffield Crown Court, Scott and Carol steadfastly refused to tell us what really happened that morning. The evidence gathered throughout our investigation disproved the multiple accounts they gave, all ultimately lies to detract attention away from themselves.

“It’s not often that we share with the public the significant lengths we go to as police officers to investigate serious crimes. This investigation has been one of the most challenging of my career and I wanted to highlight some of the excellent work of the officers and staff, who dedicated nearly a year of their lives to seeking justice for Mr Dean.

“I once again offer my condolences to Mr Dean’s family and loved ones, who had to sit through a lengthy trial and listen to this evidence in detail. By Scott and Carol refusing to accept responsibility for their awful crimes, Mr Dean’s family had to endure weeks of upsetting testimony.

“I am grateful to the investigative team for their excellent work over the last 11 months and want to thank our prosecution team again for their support. I also wish to thank all of the experts we consulted throughout this inquiry, including the handwriting expert whose testimony proved crucial to our case.”