Man accused of murdering neighbour claims alleged victim set his own caravan alight with both men inside - live updates - Wales Online

Darren Smith, 43, denies murdering Richard Grenfell Thomas

A man accused of beating his neighbour in a caravan before setting it on fire with him inside told police his alleged victim poured petrol around the caravan and set it alight himself. clothesline

Man accused of murdering neighbour claims alleged victim set his own caravan alight with both men inside - live updates - Wales Online

Darren Smith, aged 43, is alleged to have murdered 52-year-old Richard Grenfell Thomas in the early hours of December 20, 2021. During the opening day of the trial - which is expected to last three or four weeks - the jury heard that Smith and Mr Thomas lived in neighbouring caravans at Beeches Residential Caravan Park in Magor.

On Thursday, the trial at Cardiff Crown Court heard a recording of a police interview given by Smith on December 23, 2021. In it, Smith told police officer Liam Young that Richard Thomas, whom he referred to by the nickname "Shrew", poured petrol around his own caravan home before setting it alight with a lighter while both men were inside.

Smith claims be managed to escape the blaze using a bow saw to smash a glass window. He told officers he "thought we'd got out".

“I lost it then,” Smith told police during the recording, remembering his feelings when he reached his caravan seconds after escaping Mr Thomas’ blazing van. “I didn’t know what to do. I thought: ‘Oh my God. They’re going to know it’s me.’ So I washed, I changed clothes, I burned my trainers. That was it really. I did not, I will say it, I did not start the fire, I did not light the fire, I acted in self defence.”

Michael Jones KC previously told the court that it is the prosecution's case that, on the morning in question, Smith assaulted Mr Thomas in his caravan before setting fire to it and returning calmly to his own caravan. Mr Thomas was still alive when the son of the park owner - who also lived at the site - noticed black smoke coming from Mr Thomas's caravan. He had also seen Smith leaving that same caravan a short time earlier.

Mr Thomas suffered extensive burns and was taken to a hospital in Bristol, where he died later that same morning. Smith had spoken to officers at the scene and claimed to have no knowledge of the fire, but later admitted in a police interview that he had been in Mr Thomas's caravan and that an argument had broken out between the two men. He claims that Mr Thomas started the fire himself by pouring petrol on the floor and igniting it.

The prosecution refutes his claim, with Michael Jones KC adding: “This defendant deliberately and repeatedly assaulted Mr Thomas and then set a fire in the caravan before casually walking back to his own caravan knowing that Mr Thomas would die."

Recap live updates in the case below

Darrem Smith has been convicted of murder. Read the full story here.

Today the court heard Smith give evidence for the first time, and adamantly deny causing the death of Mr Thomas, who he described as his "friend" and called him the nickname "Shrew". He moved to the caravan site six months before Mr Thomas' death after splitting up from his wife. You can read the full story here.

That concludes the lengthy transcript reading of the recording of Smith’s police interview three days after the fire. The jury is now shown a recording of Smith being charged at 3.52pm on December 23 - a couple of hours after the interview had concluded, by Detective Constable Parry, Police Constable Grant, Police Sergeant Duncan.

In the footage played to the jury, captured on police body-worn footage, during the charge Smith repeatedly says that he didn’t set the fire. He tells officers he was acting in self defence, adding: “I lost track on that day. I had a lot of pressure on me.”

The jury trial will resume at Cardiff Crown Court on Monday morning.

Smith denies accounts from two others that he said “If he’s dead he’s dead”, while referring to Richard Thomas after the fire. “Jason Pritchard has gone inside the caravan, managed to move Shrew away from the fire, rang the fire brigade and the ambulance to get him help,” Mr Young said, before Smith interjected again. “I know,” Smith said. “I feel guilty but I didn’t light the fire.” Smith’s solicitor asked him to clarify what he meant by “feel guilty”. “I feel guilty for Jason doing what he did, for me not ringing or going back or doing something. I was just in shock, total shock.”

Mr Young added: “Jason Pritchard and Llewelyn Pritchard, two people who have said that you said in a rather non-caring way: ‘If he’s dead he’s dead.’”

“I did not say that,” Smith said. “They would say that wouldn’t they? They’re father and son.”

Smith told officers that while Mr Thomas was small, he was good at martial arts.

“You said the fight was in self defence,” Mr Young said. “But you are fighting someone a lot smaller than you. You say he has some sort of martial arts training. But earlier you said you are perfectly capable of just pushing him away."

Smith replied: “Yes.”

“You mention you had a bath but then you said you were not entirely sure. What was the purpose of a bath?” Mr Young asked Smith, continuing the two-hour long interview prior to charging Smith.

“I think I had a bath afterwards,” Smith said, meaning after the fire brigade and paramedics had arrived. “I don’t know, I just had a bath because I was covered in bloody black, I just had a bath.”

“Why did you delete texts to your mate about you thinking you did something silly?” the officer asked. “Why did you delete them?”

“I don’t know,” Smith responded.

“You had time to call the fire brigade, the police and the ambulance service and you didn’t because you were more concerned with disposing of anything linking you to the fire,” Mr Young said.

“I don’t know, I was just terrified,” Smith replied.

Smith told Mr Young that he “didn’t look back” after he walked away from the burning caravan. “When you left Shrew’s van, were there any signs of smoke and flames which would indicate a fire?” Mr Young asked.

“I didn’t look.” He answered.

“You didn’t look?”

“Like I told you, I just walked, I didn’t look back.”

Mr Young responded: “So you’ve gone into your property, sat down, and texted your mate twice.”

Smith interjects: “I deleted texts because I was getting really worried about it all. Then I heard the fire brigade.”

Smith says he told his friend: “I think I’ve done something silly.” “I just said ‘I’ve done something silly’ because I think I should have pulled him out. That’s why I said it was ‘silly’, because I didn’t do that, and I was thinking more about myself.”

“Now you’re saying you’re not sure you had a bath?” Mr Young continued.

“Correct,” Smith said.

“Did you turn the washing machine on?”

“I’m not 100%.”

“Why did you put your dressing gown in the wash?”

“Because I thought they’d pin it on me.”

“Why was washing the dressing gown important?”

“Because of the smoke on it and what not.”

At the time of the incident Smith was wearing Nike Air trainers, a dressing gown, and jogging bottoms with a colourful beanie on his head. After he walked from Mr Thomas’ caravan to his own, he told Mr Young that he put his dressing gown in the washing machine and threw his Nike Air trainers on the log burner.

“Who called the fire brigade?” Mr Young asks.

“Jason, I believe,” Smith responds.

“So you’ve walked from the caravan to your own caravan, proceeded to burn your trainers and wash your dressing gown and had a bath?” Mr Young said.

“No, I texted my mate and rang my mate," Smith responds. "Then the police and ambulance all turned up outside. I then burnt the trainers and I think put the dressing gown in the washing machine. Actually, I don’t think I had a bath. I may have done.”

“Did you tell Jason: ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,’” Mr Young asked Smith.

“I may have," Smith answered. "It’s a phrase I use, I think I was referring to Llewelyn (works on the site) because of his safety policy, because their safety policy up there is absolutely shocking.”

Smith said by the time the fire brigade arrived his trainers had been burning on the fire and he’d changed his clothes. Mr Young asked Smith what Jason Pritchard, who witnessed Smith coming out of the caravan after the fire was set, said to him.

“Jason said to me: ‘I’ve had to notify the police Darren, I’ve seen you walking from Shrew’s caravan.’ I said: ‘OK’.”

Mr Young asked Smith how he was feeling when he left the caravan while it was burning.

“Terrified,” he replied. “I fell over on numerous occasions around the place.” Asked if he was running, Smith said: “I wouldn’t have needed to run. I was already outside the property. I was walking safely along the road and then back around to mine.”

“Why did you burn the trainers before calling the fire brigade?” Mr Young then asks.

“I texted one of my friends and said: ‘I think I’ve done something wrong.’ Then I deleted that text and said: ‘Please answer me.’ Then I rang him but he didn’t answer his phone.

“Then I heard the fire brigade and I started getting scared. I burnt my trainers and had a bath and changed my clothes and then went outside.”

“Tell me about burning your trainers,” Mr Young asks Smith.

“I burnt them on the fire," Smith said. "There is already coal on the fire and I put them on the top and it went up alight.”

“Did you call the police?” Mr Young asked.

“No,” Smith replied.

“Did you ring the fire brigade?”


“Did you ring the ambulance?”


Asked why he didn't call the emergency services at all, Smith tells the officer: “I thought he would get out. I thought he would get out. He poured petrol everywhere, he put a light on it. It wasn’t burning him, it was just touching carpet. I couldn’t even see. I grabbed the nearest thing I could and hit the door glass out and then went straight over to my van and then opened the door and slammed the door.”

Smith tells officers that he and Richard Thomas were in the burning caravan together for “around five minutes” before Smith escaped. “It took me around five minutes to get out,” he said. “He lit it with a lighter. I was scared for my life, I tried to open the door.

“I saw the fire start and it went up really fast. He was stood there. It went up real fast. I was thinking: ‘How f****** stupid are you?’ I went through thick curtains, tried to open the door and thought: ‘Oh my God, I am going to die in here.’

“I was breathing in heavy smoke. I thought: ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to get out.’ I wasn’t really thinking about him, I was thinking about my own safety. I just ran and was thinking he’d do the exact same.”

Smith tells officers that the pair had an argument about music which started to become “extremely heated” before Mr Thomas began swearing. “I told him to put some Bob Dylan on,” Smith said. “He responded: ‘No, it’s my music you c***.’ It’s normal like that, that’s what he is like when he’s drunk. I said: ‘Go on Shrew, put some Bob Dylan on.’ He said: ‘No, it’s my place you c***.’ He was still dancing around the room. We did start listening to Bob Dylan.”

Smith was smoking a joint of cannabis when the pair began arguing over the title of a song. “The mood was all right,” Smith recalled. “I said: ‘I’m thinking Black and White, and he said: ‘No, Red and White you c***.”

Officer Young asked Smith how drunk he was, if one was sober and ten was extremely drunk. “About a five,” Smith replied. “How drunk would you say Richard Thomas was?” “He seemed very hammered,” Smith replied, before Mr Young asked why. “When he is sober he is the nicest guy you will ever meet. Then when he is drunk he starts dancing around the room, does crazy stuff and falls over everywhere.”

Smith said it was at that moment when he challenged Mr Thomas over the song that “things became extremely heated”.

“So is this argument the point it got heated?” Mr Young asked.

“Yes, extremely heated,” Smith replied.

“What were the exact words before he started pouring fuel?” Mr Young asked again.

“Black and Red - something like that,” Smith said. “Then he said: ‘Look I don’t give a f***.’ He started pouring fuel. I said: ‘What are you doing?’ I started trying to pull it off him. He started pushing me back and I started palm striking him again in self defence. I started grabbing it off him and he pulled it away from me.

“He started getting in a bit of a scrap, starts pushing me and stuff like that. It’s a fight, he came to me, come to attack me, I went for him, I think I was ducking, palm struck him. All different types of things like that. I think I might have even punched him with knuckles because he was still going for me. He said: ‘F*** you c***, I don’t give a f***. Then, boom - it lit.”

Smith told officers on December 23 in his interview that Mr Thomas was “acting strangely” before he grabbed the fuel which he kept in his front room and “began pouring it over the floor”. Smith recalled Mr Thomas “dancing around the room”. Smith told officers that Smith assumed he could go around to Mr Thomas’ caravan after the pair exchanged two texts over reggae music which Smith was playing, but when Smith got into Mr Thomas’ caravan he recalled him being “strange”.

“He was acting strangely, the way he was being. That’s how he always acts when he’s p***** - always jumping up and shouting, sometimes violence. Off his head, always looking for a fight. He does normally act oddly when he is drunk - but not like this - not like pouring petrol all over the place.”

Smith claimed an altercation occurred between himself and Mr Thomas “hours and hours and hours” before the fire. Smith told officers that he’d had an argument with his ex-wife who came over to his caravan to ask for her dog back, which they shared.

“My ex-wife had come to my caravan and said that she wants the dog and I said: ‘No, you’re not having the dog.’ And I slammed the door, that was it really.” He said his wife waited on a step outside for an hour, before leaving. Then Mr Thomas “came over and tried to barge in” to Smith’s van, Smith told officers.

“He was saying: ‘What’s all that noise you c***?’ He tried walking up the steps. I raised my hand and hit him. I just did it to push him away. That was it. He then went down and went back to his.”

“How did he react?” Mr Young asked.

“He then went down by the steps and left,” Smith said.

“How much effort did you put into pushing Shrew’s face?” The officer asked.

“None, hardly. Probably like I said, a push,” Smith responded. It was “hours and hours and hours later” that the two men would speak again, Smith said.

“I lost it then,” Smith told police during the recording on December 23, remembering his feelings when he reached his caravan seconds after escaping Mr Thomas’ blazing van. “I didn’t know what to do. I thought: ‘Oh my God. They’re going to know it’s me.’ So I washed, I changed clothes, I burned my trainers. That was it really. I did not, I will say it, I did not start the fire, I did not light the fire, I acted in self defence.”

While Smith was in Mr Thomas’ caravan, Smith says Mr Thomas began pouring fuel all over the caravan floor. “I tried to pull it off him, I said: ‘What are you doing? Don’t be daft.’ There was a little altercation and then he went for me, and I went back for him. I gave him a few palm strikes.

“I was defending myself. He said: ‘F*** you, you c***' and carried on pouring petrol everywhere. He got a lighter and it went up.

“I tried the indoor lock and it didn’t undo for some reason. I thought I’m going to get killed in here I need to get out. I found a bow saw and struck the glass and went back to my caravan and hung the bow saw up in the spare bedroom. I thought we’d got out.”

Darren Smith says he and ‘Shrew’ [his nickname for Richard Thomas] were having “banter” minutes before a scuffle and the caravan fire. The jury is listening to a recording of officers from Gwent Police interviewing Smith on December 23.

“Shrew came over acting all strange and tried to barge his way into my caravan,” Smith told officer Liam Young. “I put my hand out and he shouted something and walked away. I carried on doing stuff. Carried on cooking Sunday lunch and doing some washing. I had a couple of drinks, I’m unsure how many. The next thing he [Richard Thomas] texted me and asked where my Reggae music was - something along those lines. I then put some music on for a little bit - Bob Marley if I remember.

“I then went over to his place. I told him the door was unlocked, he always locked the door. Then he locked the door. He asked: ‘Do you want a Guinness you c***?’ But that’s how we talked to each other. I said: ‘Yeah, go on then.’” Smith said seconds later Richard Thomas started pouring petrol on the floor.

Croeso / welcome to our coverage of the trial, which resumes this morning where we left off yesterday with police officer Liam Young in the witness box. First we are going to hear more of Mr Young’s interview with Darren Smith, which took place on December 23 for two hours from 11am to 1pm.

The jury is told that the defendant was interviewed for a second time the following day. The interview begins with Smith's solicitor reading out a prepared statement in which the defendant accepts that he and Mr Thomas had "minor falling-outs over nothing" but says Mr Thomas is his friend, and they would often go to each other's caravans. He again denies being responsible for arson and murder.

The court hears Smith then answers "no comment" to a series of questions asked by officers.

The court hears Smith is interviewed two further times over the following hours, and again answers "no comment" to questions asked.

That concludes today’s hearing. The trial will resume on Thursday when the jury will hear details of the defendant’s fifth interview, the most detailed of the interviews.

Officer: "From when you saw the flashing lights [of the emergency services] until the time of your arrest, what do you remember?"

Smith: "The flashing lights… it’s a blur"

Officer: "Did you change your clothes between seeing the flashing lights and being arrested?"

Officer: "Are you sure?"

Smith: "Pretty certain"

Officer: "Did you go anywhere else after seeing the flashing lights and talking to the officers?"

Smith: "I don’t know"

Officer: "Did you remain on the site?"

Smith: "I don’t know"

Officer: "Did you go anywhere in a vehicle?"

Smith: "I don’t know"

That concludes the defendant’s first interview.

Smith: "He was my friend. He was my friend. He was my friend - that’s all I have to say on the matter really. I find this upsetting, you know"

Officer: "I appreciate you are upset… I am just trying to get more detail"

Smith: "I understand"

Officer: "Think back to when you were in Shrew’s caravan - is there anything you are prepared to tell me about that?"

Smith: "No comment"

The officer asks the defendant what he remembers about seeing the flashing blue lights of the emergency vehicles.

Smith: "They were bright. Flashing. Lots of flashing lights. Like being in a club with flashing strobes"

The officer asks a series of questions about what Smith was wearing on the night to which he replies "Don’t know".

Officer: "Shrew came to your caravan. You went to Shrew’s caravan. Then you went back to yours. Did you see him after that?"

Officer: "Can you remember what time you last saw Shrew?

Smith: "No, not precisely. Some time that day"

The officer asks Smith about his mental health and the defendant says he has anxiety and depression and a borderline personality disorder.

Smith says he thinks Shrew’s mental health was probably about the same as his. He says he grew up in the same village as Shrew who was around 10 years older than him.

Officer: "Have you ever fallen out with Shrew?"

Smith: "No comment"

Smith says when Mr Thomas is sober he is "the nicest person you could ever meet".

The officer asks Smith to tell him what he did on the day before the fire, a Sunday. The defendant says he cooked a bit of beef in a slow cooker, walked the dog a couple of times, watched TV, and "just chilled". He says when on one of the walks he bumped in Mr Thomas who went back to his caravan and they drank Guinness. He says he later went to Mr Thomas’ caravan

Officer: "What was the mood like?"

Smith: "The same. Normal, you know. Chilled"

Smith: "Relaxed atmosphere. Relaxed environment.. I had my dog around, she doesn’t like shouting. He [Mr Thomas] seemed fine"

Officer: "Tell me what happened when you went to his place"

Smith: "No comment"

Smith mentions seeing the blue flashing lights of the emergency services, then asked what happened after seeing the lights says "No comment".

Smith: "It is sad… it is sad. I know the guy. We used to hang around together… it is all blurry, a little bit blurry at the moment… He is a friend to me. Not to many. We would see each other at the site"

Smith continues: "He [Mr Thomas] can be a nice guy when he is sober. But a bit of an arse when he is drunk… He played music late at night. A bit of a party animal. It was always jumping in his caravan… always drinking, taking drugs god knows what… It is just Shrew - that's just him. When he gets drunk he goes a bit over the top"

Officer: "Are you responsible for the death of Richard Thomas?"

Smith: "No, I am not"

Officer: "Did you cause any injury to Richard Thomas?"

Smith: "No comment"

Officer: "When did you last see Richard Thomas?"

Smith: "The day he died… I look after him, I look after him"

Asked by the officer what he means by looking after Mr Thomas - who is referred to by his nickname of Shrew - Smith says he would give him clothes, jump-start his car when needed, talk to him and give him advice.

Officer: "Did you set fire to a caravan at Beeches Caravan Park?"

Smith: "No comment"

Officer: "What is your involvement in this incident?"

Smith: "No comment"

Gwent Police detective constable Lian Young enters the witness box - he was the lead interviewer during the defendant’s five interviews which took place at Newport Central police station between December 21 and December 23.

The interviews have been transcribed, and will now be read to the jury - the officer will read out the questions, and junior prosecution counsel Dean Pulling will read out the defendant’s responses.

The first interview beings with Smith’s solicitor reading out a prepared statement in which he says he is not responsible for arson with intent to endanger life or murder.

The officer begins by asking about Smith’s mobile phone, and asks him whether he would be prepared to give his PIN - Smith replies "no comment"

The officer asks Smith if he would be prepared to open his phone, and the defendant says no because "there is personal stuff on there".

Officer: "Are you prepared to provide your PIN?"

Smith: "No comment"

Officer: "Do you give Gwent Police permission to access your health records?"

Croeso/welcome to our continuing coverage of the trial. The court did not sit this morning while written evidence in the case - schedules of text messages and the like - was prepared, printed and put into files known as "jury bundles". That work has been done, and we are about to resume the hearing. Today the jury will hear the details of the defendant’s police interviews.

The court is now hearing about a series of written statements from firefighters who attended the incident at the caravan park - the statements are being read by junior prosecution counsel Dean Pulling.

In their statements the firefighters describe how they performed a "snatch rescue" of the casualty from the fire damaged caravan, and how they carried him to a place of safety. They describe how Mr Thomas’ body was "smouldering and smoking" and his legs and arms were badly burnt and were beginning to "curl" - a sign of the level of tendon damage. The casualty was doused in water and firefighters began to perform first aid and to apply cooling gel packs.

In a number of the statements there are references to Mr Thomas groaning in obvious pain, and he is described as being in a "life-threatening condition". Two of the firefighters report hearing Mr Thomas saying words to the effect "stop hitting me" or "stop hurting me".

The court also hears that a fire investigation has concluded that the seat of the fire was near the bed in the caravan, and that the blaze was caused by the deliberate application of a naked flame to combustible items or flammable liquids.

That concludes today’s evidence. The trial will resume on Wednesday..

Defence barrister Mr Elias asks the witness why there was no mention in his police interview that he had been in Smith’s caravan on the evening before the fire - Mr Launder says he did tell the police but they had written it down wrongly. He says he told the officers he had been Smith’s caravan two days before the fire and on the evening of the fire but they had got it wrong and attributed all his comments to the earlier occasion. Mr Launder says he gave the statement to police officers who had been sat in their car at the caravan park on the night of the fire while he was standing outside the vehicle - he says he did not correct the statement at the time because it was cold and he wanted to go back to his caravan. He adds: "I didn't expect to find myself in a court"

Mr Elias puts it to the witness that the reason he did not mention to the police what happened in Smith’s caravan on the evening before the fire was because he was never there.

Witness: "He [Smith] was aggressive. I made my excuse to leave his caravan"

Barrister "You didn't say that in your interview did you?"

Barrister: "Is that because you were never in the caravan on the evening of the fire?"

Witness: "I was there two days earlier, and on the evening of the fire"

Barrister: "It never happened, did it?"

Man accused of murdering neighbour claims alleged victim set his own caravan alight with both men inside - live updates - Wales Online

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