Boyfriend sentenced after pleading guilty to "brutal and barbaric" murder of Preston mum Rosie Darbyshire

Rosie Darbyshire and Ben Topping
Rosie Darbyshire and Ben Topping
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The boyfriend of Rosie Darbyshire has been sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to her "brutal" murder.

Wearing a zip-up grey sports top and khaki-coloured cargo trousers, Ben Topping did not speak and showed no emotion as The Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown set his minimum term in prison as 20 years.

Ben Topping's police mugshot

Ben Topping's police mugshot

Preston Crown Court heard Topping, 25, of St George's Road, Preston, had been in a relationship with 27-year-old single mum Rosie for only a matter of weeks prior to the killing, having been to college together and reconnecting via Facebook.

Judge Brown said on February 7, 2019, Topping had been drinking gin and cherry shots at Rosie's home in Whitmore Place, Ribbleton. He left the address in the early hours of the morning, with the judge commenting "There had clearly been an altercation between you".

Topping was heard by a witness shouting at Rosie, threatening to punch "every car window in the street" if she didn't come to him.

She was heard to reply: "Please don't hurt me".

Rosie Darbyshire

Rosie Darbyshire

CCTV footage from a local shop showed Rosie run away, fall over, stand up, but then be deliberately tripped by Topping on the junction of Pope Lane and Village Drive, Ribbleton.

He then struck her repeatedly to the head and face with a crowbar, he claimed he had removed from Rosie's jacket.

Judge Brown said: "It was undoubtedly a sustained and savage assault", adding: "A witness saw you swinging it (the crowbar) like a golf club".

He said: "You were extremely forceful and she was completely helpless to do anything about that.

Ben Topping

Ben Topping

"She suffered the most extensive injuries to her head and face and was pronounced dead at the scene."

Members of Rosie's friends and family left the hearing as the judge told of how 50 different injuries had been found on Rosie's head and face, that had left her unrecognisable.

He said she was so disfigured that it was thought at first she was a man.

Defensive injuries were also found on Rosie's body.

Judge Brown said: "Fracturing of finger bones showed she didn't die immediately and must have suffered greatly."

Police were called at around 2am by passersby in Pope Lane. The pair were chased by Topping, brandishing the crowbar, from the scene.

As officers arrived, Topping threw the weapon at a third witness and ran to the rear of a property on Pope Lane. He was arrested shortly afterwards, spitting at the officer who detained him.

When the crowbar was found, it had been wiped thoroughly so there were no traces of blood, body tissue or hair on it.

Topping was described as being "very drunk" and claiming to the police at that time that he didn't know what he had done.

Sentencing, Judge Brown said: "There is no doubt in my mind, due to the sustained, brutal and barbaric nature of the attack, there was an intention to kill.

"It was an extremely brutal and ferocious assault and must have caused extreme suffering to Rosie.

"It is difficult to envisage a more horrific attack on a defenceless person.

"You are undoubtedly a violent man with a criminal record for violent offences."

It was revealed that Topping has a history of alcohol and substance misuse, but was not judged to have a major mental health disorder.

His defence team have claimed he is remorseful for his actions and the effect on her family, especially her young son.

At the time of the murder, Topping was on bail for punching a man in the face in Popworld, Preston, who he believed had assaulted his ex-partner. He also pleaded guilty to Actual Bodily Harm and was given an eight-month concurrent sentence.

The officer who led the investigation, DCI Geoff Hurst from Lancashire’s Force Major Investigation Team (FMIT) said: “Firstly, my thoughts, as well as those of my team, are with Rosie’s family at this dreadfully difficult time.

“This was a senseless murder where a talented, defenceless young lady needlessly lost her life in the most appalling way. What’s worse is that she died close to the community where she lived.

“Ben Topping is a dangerous individual who attacked Rosie with such savagery, she was unrecognisable and died almost straightaway. He has left a nine-year-old boy without a mother and a family who will never be the same again.

“I am pleased that he has pleaded guilty, sparing Rosie’s family the further trauma of having to sit through a trial.

“My thanks goes to them, as well as my team of officers who worked tirelessly to get justice for Rosie. I would also like to thank the community of Preston, particularly the people of Moor Nook and Ribbleton, who have supported us during this challenging investigation.

“Lastly, I welcome the sentence handed down by His Lordship Judge Brown and hope that it goes some way to achieving justice for Rosie and her family and friends.”

Rosie’s family added: “We are relieved that a guilty plea has been given. No sentence will ever feel enough to show the value of Rosie’s life and the loss we feel. We want to thank the police involved in Rosie’s case and the prosecutor. They have treated the case, us as a family and Rosie’s memory with invaluable respect and dignity.

“Now we are no longer stuck in limbo we will try to live our new reality and ensure that Rosie’s son lives a happy life and will always share memories of his beautiful mum.”