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Gang clue to death riddle

Reporter: Iram Ramzan
Date online: 08 June 2017

A DISPUTE with a drugs gang may have led to the mysterious death of a young man whose body was found at Saddleworth's Dovestone reservoir, an inquest has heard.

However, the exact manner in which dad-of-one Craig Wilcox (28) died remains a mystery to this day. The initial cause of death was given as un-ascertained. The inquest at Heywood Coroners' Court heard how Craig was found dead by a United Utilities worker at the reservoir on the morning of February 24, 2014.

He was reported missing on January 12 after he was last seen by his family on January 6. His mother Carolyn explained that her son would come round to the family home daily, sometimes even twice a day. She called him several times when he did not appear for dinner to the house in Norfolk Crescent, Failsworth, the next day. She continued to call him all week but her calls remained unanswered. When there was no answer at his house, the family reported him missing on Sunday.

Mrs Wilcox told the court that her son made a short phone call to an unknown number when she last saw him. She believed that, at certain times, he approached her as though he was trying to tell her something.

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Crompton, of GMP, told the court that Craig used his home in Crosby Road, Newton Heath, as a cannabis farm. He played a low level role in the cannabis-growing business as the premises was effectively owned by a man in Bradford. It is believed he had a good relationship with him.

At the same time, he was also looking after a cannabis farm growing at 11 Cedar Crescent in Chadderton, which was run by a gang in Greater Manchester.

After a burglary at the property on January 3, which saw the cannabis crop stolen, suspicion fell on Craig and he was blamed for the loss of the plants.

Craig confided in his friends that he was being hassled by the gang and concerned for his safety.

Detectives traced his phone from the night he went missing and it was picked up leaving Newton Heath close to where he lived at around 9.45pm where it travelled towards Oldham town centre and arrived in the Dovestone area at around 10.10pm.

It then travelled back towards Newton Heath at 10.30pm, leaving a window of 20 minutes where Craig was at the reservoir.

He had no reason to be in Saddleworth that evening and had never visited the reservoir before, nor did he drive or have any way of travelling to the area. No car was left at the scene where his body was found. One of Craig's shoes was found near the sailing club at the reservoir.

Craig was linked to two men named Niall Edwards and Darren Leach. His sim card was found in a phone attributed to Edwards. Leach's phone was also traced, showing that he was made his way from Manchester to Oldham and on to Dovestone Reservoir at the same time.

DCI Crompton said it highly suggests Craig and Leach met up and went to the reservoir together. But Leach told police that he did not know Craig and he was at the Reservoir with a friend.

The phones of Leach and Edwards were traced and showed them return to the reservoir. DCI Crompton said Leach told police that he went there for a run.

Edwards was questioned as to why he had Craig's sim card. He told police that he and Craig had swapped sim cards at around Christmas time.

DCI Crompton said: "It has led me to believe that Criag Wilcox met his death as a result of a dispute with a gang working to produce cannabis from 11 Cedar Crescent.

"Darren leach and Niall Edwards visited Dovestone Reservoir, indicating that they may have been surveying the scene a week later."

Six men were arrested in connection with Craig's death but were not charged. Some of the men did admit to drugs-related charges but all denied involvement in murder.

DCI Crompton also brought up a key bit of information from Craig's past. To escape being assaulted when he was younger, he jumped into a canal and swam to safety. Given this successful tactic, there is a possibility he may have deployed it again at Dovestone Reservoir.

Pathologist Dr Charles Wilson explained that, as Craig had been in water for so long, his body was de-composed to the point that it was difficult to conclude whether he had drowned or fallen in the reservoir. However, Dr Wilson gave the cause of death as immersion in water. There were no other marks on Craig's body except a small bruise above the left eyebrow.

He said: "I think it is likely that, being in water, made a major contribution or was responsible for his death. It is reasonable to suggest, on the balance of probabilities, that immersion in water was responsible for the death."

Coroner Lisa Hashmi gave an open conclusion.

She said: "Craig was clearly well-loved, a good father to a young son and a generous young man and, most importantly, the closest member of the family to all.

"I fully appreciate that an open conclusion may, understandably, feel unsatisfying to the family, who have a number of questions unanswered.

"To the family, I send my deepest condolences. I can't imagine the pain you have suffered and endured, not knowing what happened to your son and, more particularly, we haven't been able to yield the answers to the obvious questions you must have in your mind.

"I urge anyone with information in relation to Craig's death, no matter how insignificant it may seem, to come forward. I strongly urge anyone with information to come forward and to come forward now for the sake of the family.

The police investigation into Craig's death is still open. Anyone with information can call police anonymously on 0161-856 4711 or Crimestoppers on 0800-555 111.


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