Man accused of mother's murder

PUBLISHED: 17:45 08 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:18 02 June 2010

BURNT OUT: Flashback to the burnt out caravan at Turf Fen where Lavinia Branch met her death.

BURNT OUT: Flashback to the burnt out caravan at Turf Fen where Lavinia Branch met her death.

A "MUMMY'S boy" attacked his elderly parents with a hammer and torched their caravan because they refused to give him money for cigarettes and alcohol, a court heard yesterday (Tue). Richard Branch, 42, then returned to his own caravan on the adjoining plot

A “MUMMY’S boy” attacked his elderly parents with a hammer and torched their caravan because they refused to give him money for cigarettes and alcohol, a court heard yesterday (Tue).

Richard Branch, 42, then returned to his own caravan on the adjoining plot and did nothing to help while neighbours attempted to put out the fire, Norwich Crown Court was told.

Branch denies murdering his mother Lavinia Branch, 71; attempting to murder his father Fred Branch, who is also aged in his 70s; and causing his father grievous bodily harm with intent.

Even as his mother lay dead or dying in her caravan at the Turf Fen Bridge travellers’ site, Murrow, in the early hours of May 12 last year, Branch was trying to scrounge money from neighbours, it was alleged.

Later he cast himself as a hero, falsely claiming he had rescued his father and had even entered the blazing caravan to attempt to save his mother, the court heard.

Rex Tedd, prosecuting, said Branch attacked the “devoted” couple with a blunt weapon, smashing their skulls and then torched their caravan with them still inside to destroy any evidence and ensure they could not tell police what he had done.

A lump hammer, believed to be the murder weapon, was later found in the wreckage of the caravan.

According to medical experts, Mrs Branch, who had a heart condition and had previously had brain surgery, survived the hammer attack and lived for another hour or so but died after inhaling smoke and fumes from the fire.

Mr Branch, however, survived the attack, staggering from the burning caravan with part of his skull caved in, bleeding profusely and suffering from burns.

Mr Tedd said the defendant had boasted to officers that he was his “mummy’s blue-eyed boy” and she would give him whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it.

“On the night in question the defendant was penniless. He wanted money for alcohol, or cigarettes, or perhaps both.

“After the fire was discovered, with his mother still lying in the caravan, the defendant was trying to scrounge £3 from his neighbours on the site. The inference is that the defendant went to his mother for money, was unsuccessful in his quest, and as a consequence attacked his parents in rage.”

The court heard Branch’s mother supplied him with all his meals, including cups of tea, and looked after his money.

Neighbour Paul Addaway said he was woken in the early hours by his dogs barking, and heard raised voices, which he assumed to be Branch and his girlfriend Amanda Daly.

Some time later his partner Susan Barbieri told him the Branches’ caravan was on fire.

Mr Addaway said he and another neighbour, Joe Smith, attempted to fight the fire with garden hoses, but that Branch did nothing to either save his father or tackle the blaze.

John Farmer, defending, cast doubt on his version of events, claiming that Branch was already at the scene when Mr Addaway arrived.

“No. Me and Joe was the first two there,” replied Mr Addaway.

Mr Farmer suggested to Mr Addaway that he didn’t like Branch.

“I got on with him when he was sober,” said Mr Addaway, who admitted breaking Branch’s nose with a baseball bat in June 2006, claiming Branch had attempted to grab his partner.

He also admitted he had been convicted of 16 criminal offences between 1973 and 1992, but denied he was a dishonest man.

The case continues.

Today the jury is due to visit the caravan site and be taken to view the burnt-out wreckage of the caravan.

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