A woman who ‘accidentally suffocated’ when her partner rolled on her in his sleep had injuries similar to victims of the Hillsborough disaster, a court heard.
Robert Trigg from Worthing is accused of the murder of his partner Susan Nicholson in 2011, and the manslaughter of girlfriend Caroline Devlin, whose body was found on Mothers’ Day in 2006.
Trigg claimed he accidentally suffocated Miss Nicholson, 52, by rolling on her while they slept together on her sofa at her flat in Rowlands Road, Worthing.
Inquests at the time found both women died of natural causes – but today at Lewes Crown Court, pathologist Nathaniel Cary said it was ‘both possible and probable’ that they were deliberately killed.
He also cast doubt over Trigg’s claim of accidentally suffocating Miss Nicholson. He said: “I have never come across any previous death of an adult that has involved such a mechanism as an accident.”
Dr Cary conducted a review of the original post mortem examinations of both Miss Nicholson and Miss Devlin.
He said that Miss Nicholson’s injuries included small patches of bleeding in her face and eyes and a build up of blood in her face, neck and chest. Her lungs were also slightly hyperinflated, and had pockets of air where they should not be.
He said the signs were similar to victims of a ‘crowd crush’ situation like the Hillsborough disaster.
Dr Cary was one of the pathologists involved in the recent inquiry into the 1989 tragedy, in which 96 football fans were crushed to death – and said the report of her injuries was similar to the victim cases he had reviewed.
He believed Miss Nicholson died not from passive smothering, but by her chest being actively compressed so she could not breathe – like a ‘bear hug’, he said.
Although she was more than double the drink-drive limit when her body was found, Dr Cary said: “You would expect someone to be able to struggle or get themselves out of that position even if they are intoxicated”.
Miss Devlin was found dead in her bedroom in Cranworth Road, Worthing on March 26, 2006.
The 35-year-old mother-of-four had a large amount of clotted blood around the base of her brain, which a doctor at the time believed to be from a fatal brain aneurysm – although no aneurysm could be definitively found.
But in light of Miss Nicholson’s death, Dr Cary said the bleeding could have been from a blow to the area behind Miss Devlin’s ear.
Because she was also intoxicated when she died, Dr Cary believed the impact could have caused her neck to flex in such a way that it stretched and ruptured a major artery in her brain.
Defence barrister Sally Howes QC argued that Dr Cary’s evidence could not prove Trigg’s guilt and that Miss Devlin suffered from high blood pressure – a major cause of brain aneurysms.
Dr Cary was first approached by Miss Nicholson’s parents to conduct a review into her death in 2015. Sussex Police then asked him to do the same for Miss Devlin.
The case continues.