A girls’ football coach who finally confessed to bludgeoning a teenager to death 14 years later because she heard voices telling her to kill again has been jailed for life.
Karen Tunmore, 36, from Killingworth, North Tyneside, confessed on July 31 to killing Scott Pritchard, 19, who was on crutches at the time, by smashing him over the head with a baseball bat in a row over £120 near his Sunderland home in 2004.
The killer, who coached girls aged five to 11 for the FA’s Wild Cat programme, hit Pritchard with such force that his brain protruded through the fractures. Following her arrest she told the police: ‘Please say sorry to his family.’
Today brings to an end one of the region’s most mysterious unsolved murder cases, which saw the victim’s father, Robert Stacey, charged with murdering his own son. He spent 16 weeks on remand in Durham Jail before he was cleared.
Karen Tunmore, now 36, (right) bludgeoned to death Scott Pritchard, 19, (left) in Sunderland in January 2004. She has now been sentenced to life with a minimum of 17 years
Newcastle Crown Court heard that on January 7, 2004 Tunmore looking for him to retrieve money she said he owed after the sale of a car.
She came across Mr Pritchard – who had broken his foot – and smashed him over the head with a shortened 18 inch baseball bat.
She and her accomplice, who she described to police only as ‘Steve’, fled the scene. Mr Pritchard was found by a neighbour and taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital but could not be saved.
Meanwhile Tunmore, who had been drinking vodka and alcopops throughout the day, was driven by her accomplice to North Shield Fish Quay where she hurled the bloodied weapon into the North Sea.
The court heard that her first response on hearing of the news that Mr Pritchard had died was to burst out laughing, before she began to feel sick. Fred Stacey, now 63, was arrested on suspicion of his own son’s murder and his life was ruined as a result.
In a Victim Personal Statement, Mr Stacey said people continued to shout abuse at him despite the charges being dropped, and he was left too scared scared to walk around Sunderland city centre.
‘I was sent on remand to Durham Prison for 16 weeks where I was in a cell for 23 hours a day. I was in prison for a crime I knew I was not responsible for.
‘I was then released into a bail hospital among drug addicts before a judge dismissed the case against me, telling me there was no evidence.’
He said that even after the case was dropped he had a boulder thrown through his window which resulted in him having to leave his home with his partner and young daughter.
Mr Stacey said: ‘It was heartbreaking to lose my son but torturous to be accused of his murder. I feel broken and this has brought everything back that I have carried with me every day. I only hope that now my family and I can have some closure.’
He suffered a heart attack before Tunmore’s court case and is currently desperately ill. Tunmore kept silent until July 31 this year when she became haunted by voices which were telling her to kill again.
Following an attempt to take her own life by overdose she confessed to Lee Scott, also a football coach, that she had taken Mr Pritchard’s life and she handed herself in to the police.
In a series of interviews she revealed details that only the true killer could have known and she was charged with murder.
Today, she was jailed for life with a minimum term of 17 and a half years by Judge Paul Sloan who told her she had committed a ‘particularly brutal’ assault.
Jolyon Perks, prosecuting, told the court that Tunmore had been owed £120 by ‘Steve’ who was in turn owed £200 by Mr Pritchard.
‘Steve’ drove Tunmore in her car to Sunderland as she swigged alcopops in the passenger seat, the bat hidden down the back seat.
Family and friends of Scott Pritchard leave Newcastle Crown Court today after Tunmore’s sentencing
Mr Perks said they saw Mr Pritchard and Tunmore confronted him about the money. The frightened teen agreed to go into the house to ask his father for the money but emerged later saying ‘I have nowt.’
With the bat in her hand, Tunmore told Mr Pritchard ‘I’ll break your other leg,’ which he responded to by laughing. Mr Perks said: ‘The bat was wooden with a metal handle and she told the police she took it out of the car to threaten the victim.
‘But she said she lost her temper when he laughed at her threat to break his other leg. She hit him and he slid down the wall.
‘She continued to strike him, she said three or four times, even though the person she was with was shouting: ‘No, stop it, pack it in”
‘She went on to tell the police ‘He didn’t even shout or anything, he just made like a weird noise and that was it. I honestly didn’t think he would die’.’
The court heard that Tunmore struck Scott a minimum of three times but the injuries could indicate there were many more blows after the first one when Scott was helpless on the ground, his head leaning against his fence.
Kathleen Pritchard said in her statement that she had believed that her ex-partner was the killer.
She said: ‘For 14 years I have believed that his father Fred Stacey was responsible and have hated him since then.’
Her son’s murder had turned her into an alcoholic and she was paranoid, keeping the gates locked at the house where he was killed and where she still lived, she said in her statement.
The court heard that Tunmore had drunken public order offences against her both before and after the murder and at the time she committed the offence she was on licence from a five month prison sentence imposed for driving whilst disqualified.
Stewart Graham, mitigating, said: ‘There is something in her of a redeemable nature that made her come forward and wish to face justice and be punished for her offending.
Tunmore (pictured in a mug shot) pleaded guilty to murder via a video link from prison at her first crown court appearance
‘Following her arrest she told the police: ‘Please say sorry to his family.’
Judge Paul Soan told Tunmore: ‘You followed the news about the murder and in due course and in due course became aware that Mr Pritchard’s own father had been charged with the offence but you remained silent.
‘Mr Stacey suffered the additional trauma of being charged with the murder of his own son. He was remanded in prison and thereafter subjected to being called a murderer, including by the maternal side of his son’s family, as well as intimidation after the case was discontinued.
‘Each describe their existence as a living nightmare. You conviction will I hope bring closure and some solace but no sentence I am allowed to pass by law will ever eradicate their pain.’
Members of Scott’s family sobbed through the hearing and one shouted out ‘you b****’ as the case got underway.
Tunmore had a clean criminal record so was able to pass all the background checks set by the FA. She was suspended after news of the arrest came to light.
Parents of her pupils said she ‘disappeared’ in the early months of this year amid claims of a breakdown.
One called her ‘really enthusiastic and successful’, saying: ‘She managed to recruit so many kids and they’d get FA head bands and water bottles.’
‘She was never alone with the kids, but it’s still hard to come to terms with what she’s done,’ the parent told The Mirror.
Detective Chief Inspector John Bent, of Northumbria Police, said: ‘Karen Tunmore has had to live with her horrifying secret for 14 years and she has finally been overcome by her guilt. She clearly could not live another day with the needless death of a teenager on her conscience.
‘This was a horrific and brutal murder that rocked the local community and launched a large-scale police investigation. More than 1,600 statements were taken, 4,000 documents produced and around 300 police officers were involved in the case.
‘Police have done everything possible to be satisfied that Karen Tunmore is the killer. When interviewed by officers, she revealed a number of details about the murder that were not public knowledge and could only have been known by somebody present on the night of Scott’s death.
‘A murder investigation is never closed until the conviction of those involved, and Scott’s parents deserved to see justice at long last. I would like to praise his family for their integrity, patience and cooperation throughout what has been an incredibly complex investigation, and such a distressing one for them.’
Revealed: The true story behind Tunmore’s astonishing confession
For almost 15 years she hid her murderous secret as the family she tore apart remained tortured.
Karen Tunmore sensationally confessed to one of the North East’s most mysterious unsolved murders out of the blue, 14 years after she battered teenager Scott Pritchard to death.
Now, as the 36-year-old from Killingworth is jailed for life with a minimum term of 17 and a half years, the detective that led the new probe into Scott’s murder has revealed the dramatic story behind Tunmore’s confession.
And Det Chief Insp John Bent, of Northumbria Police, has told how the chilling details Tunmore gave about how she killed Scott convinced him she was telling the truth.
He said: ‘It’s so unusual, I don’t remember in my 24 years somebody walking into a police station and coughing to a murder.
‘There was no real trigger. She just said she couldn’t live with it any longer. She said it had been re-playing in her mind and she couldn’t deal with it anymore.
‘The details she has given on how she has assaulted him are quite chilling, and could have only been known to someone who was there.’
Scott was found fatally outside his home in Hendon, Sunderland, on the evening of January 7, 2004. The football fan had been using crutches at the time after injuring his leg.
The 19-year-old was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital, but his head injuries were so severe nothing could be done to save his life.
Scott’s death sparked one of the biggest murder probes in Wearside’s history.
Police took 350 statements, while thousands of leaflets and posters were distributed around Sunderland and 2,400 exhibits were collected.
Divers trawled the lake at Mowbray Park in a bid to find the murder weapon, but searches were fruitless.
Then 18 months after Scott’s death his dad, Robert Frederick Stacey who was known as Freddie, was charged with murder and remanded in custody.
But when the roofer – 52 at the time – appeared at crown court, senior prosecutor Kingsley Hyland offered no evidence and the case was dropped.
Police made repeated appeals to the Hendon community to shop the ‘cowardly’ killer or killers.
Yet the breakthrough they hoped for did not come until two months ago.
Det Chief Insp Bent was Northumbria Police’s on call senior investigating officer (SIO) when Tunmore turned up at Middle Engine Lane in Wallsend.
And he explained how the football coach was persuaded to go to police by a colleague, after telling him that she was responsible for the murder.
‘Some time between 10pm and 11pm, I was on call and Karen Tunmore turns up at Middle Engine Lane station. She came in with a work friend,’ said Det Chief Insp Bent.
‘I remember getting the phone call at home and it was one of those ‘really?’ kind of moments.’
In police interviews, Tunmore told officers she had been haunted by the events of January 7, 2004 ever since and decided to tell someone because she could no longer live with herself.
Detectives initially kept an open mind about whether Tunmore, who had no links to Scott or Sunderland, was telling the truth.
Det Chief Insp Bent said: ‘She was known to the police but had never featured in this investigation whatsoever, which is perhaps not unusual because she had no links whatsoever to Hendon.
‘She’s from Killingworth and was completely unknown to Scott’s family and friends, they had never heard of her.
‘The link back to the job appears to be, from her account, that she met a guy called ‘Steve’ or ‘Ste’, who was a member of the Hendon Mad Dogs, a particularly violent gang of individuals.
‘He was owed money by Scott Pritchard, and she was owed money by Ste, so she travelled down to Sunderland with him to get the money. She doesn’t know who Pritchard is.
‘They stop and speak to him. He goes into his home address, comes out and says he’s got no money. She said she had ‘seen red’. She had taken a baseball bat and lays into him.
‘She would say she was very violent when she was drunk, and that is why she stopped drinking. She had consumed a number of alcopops that were popular at the time, Blu Wkd etc.
‘She said the bat was in the car for protection purposes, but she did not say it was premeditated.’
Tunmore was able to give detectives ‘chilling detail’ about the injuries she inflicted on Scott, and this is what convinced them she was telling the truth.
‘Her demeanour in interview was very upset and very distressed,’ said Det Chief Insp Bent. ‘The interviewing officers were convinced she was telling the truth.
‘She was responsibly respectful. She was involved in football coaching so she would have been vetted. She would say that she stopped drinking as a result and members of her family backed that up.
‘There is nothing I have come across at all that rules her out. I have found nothing that would say she hasn’t done it.’
Scott lived at home with his mum Kathleen and younger siblings Brett and Melanie. He was single, but very well-known around Hendon where he had a wide group of friends.
He loved playing football and snooker and was a devoted Sunderland AFC and England fan.
Scott was unemployed when we was killed, but had been trying to find work and had visited the job centre on the day he was attacked.
Det Chief Insp Bent said the case is one of the most unusual murder investigations he has worked on.
‘It’s a strange job, it’s been detected, but not solved, and it wasn’t as a result of our work,’ he said.
‘The satisfaction for ourselves is from the family’s perspective. They have had some kind of justice. They have been very supportive and we are very thankful for that.’