Kevin Downton, 40, of Winterborne Stickland, and Jason Lee Baccus, 42, of Verney Close in Bournemouth, were convicted on Monday 22 January, following an eight-week trial at Winchester Crown Court.
They were also found guilty of aggravated burglary, possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and burglary of industrial premises in Verwood, committed on the same night as the murder. Both Baccus and Downton had previously pleaded guilty to a second count of commercial burglary committed at the same time.
Downton and Baccus were jailed for life and told they would have to serve a minimum of 34 years in prison before they would be eligible for parole.
Scott Keeping, 44, of Verney Close, was found not guilty of murder, aggravated burglary, possession of a firearm and two counts of burglary. His wife Helen Keeping, also known as Helen Cooper, 40 and also of Verney Close, was found not guilty of assisting an offender in relation to Scott Keeping.
The court heard that just before 3am on Sunday 30 April 2017 two masked men armed with a sawn-off shotgun broke in through a garage window at Mr Hedger and his husband Simon Hedger-Cooper’s Castlewood home, near Ringwood.
The couple were in bed when their dog ran downstairs and started barking. Mr Hedger went to investigate and returned followed by the two men – said to be Downton and Baccus – who demanded the codes to two safes in the nearby dressing room.
Baccus told them, “This is a burglary. This is a burglary. We’ll shoot you if you don’t do what we say.” Both men were forced to lie down on their bed and look at the wall.
Mr Hedger attempted to cooperate with his attackers but couldn’t recall the code for the safes. Mr Hedger-Cooper got up and made the brave decision to press the panic alarm button in the bedroom, believing they could be shot anyway. This made the alarm sound and the lights switch on and off.
Mr Hedger, who was standing two to three metres away from the gunman, was shot. Officers believe Downton was the gunman and he fled the bedroom, closely followed by Baccus.
Baccus returned moments later to collect a bag of valuable items he had left behind in the bedroom. In total around £124,000-worth of jewellery, bags and watches were stolen.
Mr Hedger-Cooper rushed to his bedside table but both the landline phone and his iPhone had been stolen by the offenders. These were later found discarded nearby in Davids Lane.
He used another house phone to make a frantic 999 call for help, but despite the best efforts of the police, paramedics and hospital doctors, Mr Hedger died at 5am that morning.
A post-mortem examination found that Mr Hedger had suffered a large injury to the left side of his chest, as well as a number of pellet wounds. Wadding from the gun cartridge was found embedded in his body after his death. Further tests revealed he had lead shot in the base of his heart, his stomach, liver and a kidney.
A major investigation was launched, led by detectives from Dorset Police’s Major Crime Investigation Team.
House-to-house enquiries revealed that a Ford Focus bought by Baccus and Scott Keeping in the days before the murder was seen by a dog walker in Davids Lane, which leads to Castlewood, at around 12.30am to 12.40am on Sunday 30 April. It is believed the walker disturbed the offenders and they left a short time later to commit the commercial burglaries in Verwood. The Ford Focus was seen on CCTV to return shortly before the murder and was driven away at speed immediately after at 3.03am.
Two cigarette butts were found discarded in Davids Lane near to where the dog walker had seen the Ford Focus and the stolen phones were discarded. The cigarette butts were later established to have Baccus’ DNA on them.
Mobile phone investigations revealed that a phone belonging to Downton was linked to phone masts in the area of Castlewood before and after the incident.
Items stolen from inside Mr Hedger and Mr Hedger-Cooper’s home were later discovered hidden in a vent in a flat in Verney Close, concealed in undergrowth in areas of open land in the West Howe area of Bournemouth and in the recovered Ford Focus.
A sawn-off shotgun and cartridges were recovered from the River Stour in the Canford Magna area of Wimborne.
During sentencing, The Honourable Mr Justice Robert Jay told Downton, “You did not hesitate to use that gun when it became necessary.
“You have a cold, ruthless streak and have shown no remorse.”
He told Baccus: “Although you did not discharge the gun, I am satisfied for the reasons I have already given that you and Kevin Downton were equal partners in crime.”
In his victim impact statement which was read to the court, Simon Hedger-Cooper said: “Guy was an intelligent, creative, caring and gentle man.
“He worked hard his whole adult life, he deserved what he had worked for, he deserved to enjoy the fruits of his labour and he deserved to still be with me today.
“Guy’s life was lived to the full, he worked hard and he played hard. He enjoyed sport, he was a talented artist who drew his inspiration from the sea and the places he had lived and worked. Although working for large corporations, Guy could never be called corporate.
“This is all in stark contrast to the final moments of Guy’s life which were full of terror, fear and pain. No one deserves to have their life ended in such an abrupt way. I pray that he is now at peace.
“The events of that evening have radically changed my life forever and are an experience from which I shall never recover. To lose the person you have loved and cared for over many years is devastating whenever that moment comes, but losing that person in these tragic circumstances in front of you, in your own home, is horrific and makes the pain unbearable. A crime that cut his life short in the most violent and callous way. A crime that was fuelled solely and simply by greed. A thought that it is easier to take from someone else than to work hard, a thought that it is acceptable to murder and get what you want, a thought that life is cheap.
“The effect of what I went through that night has had a significant impact on my life. What I saw, what I heard and how I felt and continue to feel will haunt me until my dying day. Every moment of darkness seems like an eternity making sleep illusive and difficult to achieve without medical intervention. The callous and calculated nature of this crime, the invasion into our lives, the taking of the phones to stop me from summoning assistance, all point to a total disregard for humanity.
“Guy was not only a devoted husband; he was also a loving son, brother and uncle. His devastating loss has been felt by these people too, many of whom are struggling to come to terms with what has happened and some of whom are still too young to know the reality.
“The effects of the loss of Guy reach far beyond his family. Friends, neighbours and work colleagues have all had their lives touched by the horrendous events of that evening. The memory of Guy lives on in his work. The LV heart which he designed and the slightly off-the-wall adverts – all a mark of his creative genius and reminders of his professional success.
“Guy saw the best in everyone and was a keen advocate of the young. He would have been humbled and honoured to know that LV is establishing a bursary in his name and that the academy, which he devoted much of his time and skills to, is naming an enterprise award after him.
“Guy’s family wish to thank the police and the public for their work to ensure justice is seen. Nothing will bring Guy back and no prison sentence can ever compensate for his loss of life.”
Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Derbyshire, of Dorset Police’s MCIT, said: “Kevin Downton and Jason Baccus targeted Guy and Si and carried out this horrendous violent crime in the very place they should have been safe.
“Nothing will ever bring Guy back but I hope the verdict of the jury will bring some level of comfort that his attackers are firmly behind bars.
“This lengthy and complex investigation involved a large team working tirelessly to secure all available evidence against these two men. This has included taking many statements, overseeing the thorough searches of a number of properties, vehicles, open areas and river beds. I would like to praise all staff involved.”
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