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The murder of Katie Simpson: The full story

In August 2020 the 21-year-old showjumper from Tynan, a village near Armagh town, was raped and murdered. Three women have been found guilty of attempting to cover up her death

Katie Simpson: Jonathan Creswell had 'controlled Katie since she was nine or 10', Det Sgt James Brannigan said after his arrest. Photograph: Courtesy of family

Katie Simpson loved her friends, her family and her horses. Her family describes her as fun-loving and fearless, a lively, happy-go-lucky girl with a “big, big smile” who had a wide circle of friends and “put everybody in a good mood”.

“If you tried to explain Katie, you’d be talking all day,” says her aunt Colleen McConville.

“There’s a photo of them all in this paddling pool. It must be the smallest paddling pool and there’s about six of them squeezed into it and it was Katie’s idea to do it; she was always creating wee memories.”

Horses were her passion.


“We got ponies when we were younger,” says Katie’s sister Rebecca.

“As she got more into it, it stopped being a hobby and started to become a career. She would have been always up at the front of the hunt, I was at the back, waiting for everyone to knock over the jump, whereas Katie wanted to get to the jump before everyone.”

Her aunt is in no doubt. “I think she would have gone to the top.”

Katie never got that chance.

In August 2020 the 21 year old from Tynan, a village near Armagh town, was raped and murdered. The man accused of those crimes, Jonathan Creswell, 36, of Briar Hill Gardens in Greysteel, Co Derry, was found dead at his home on the second day of his trial in April.

Katie Simpson: Her sister Rebecca says the things that happened to Katie and others were overlooked, 'it’s like it’s normal in that [equestrian] world, and it shouldn’t be'. Photograph: Courtesy of family

Opening the case against him the day before, prosecution barrister Sam Magee KC said Creswell had “strangled and killed” Katie out of “pure rage and jealousy” and then sought to “cover up” by making it appear she had died by suicide.

Creswell’s death meant the trial was halted. Jurors never heard the evidence of more than 60 witnesses due to be called from the prosecution, including three equestrian centres, one in Donegal and two in the North.

The profile that has emerged of Creswell was one of a violent abuser who was jailed for a series of attacks on a previous girlfriend, Abi Lyle, and who controlled the many women in his life, including Katie Simpson.

In 2010 he was jailed for six months for violence towards Lyle. On one occasion he hit and choked her so badly she thought she was going to die; on another he threatened to put her in a bath filled with bleach.

Yet despite this – and concerns raised by at least four people – the police initially accepted Creswell’s story: that she had taken her own life. They did not arrest him until the following year.

Creswell “controlled Katie since she was nine or 10, and controls other females”, Det Sgt James Brannigan told a court after his arrest in 2021.

Katie Simpson: Her sister Rebecca remembers Katie's distinctive smile, the one that shines out of every photograph. Photograph: Courtesy of family

A jockey-turned-horse trainer, Creswell featured in Channel 4’s television advertisements for the Grand National in 2013. He found his victims in the equestrian world.

One source described how Creswell would turn up at pony club nights and use flattery to “get in with the mummies”.

“Once he had won their confidence he would say ‘your girl’s very good you know, I could do a lot with your wee girl’, and their ears pricked up,” said a source.

After being charged with murder, others came forward; at the time of his death, he was facing charges that included rape, assault and indecent assault and false imprisonment.

Other attacks mentioned in court included an incident in which he pushed a woman’s head against a car window and slapped her face. In another, he dragged a woman across a stable yard by the hair.

As far back as 2004 he met women while working as a jockey at stables in Tynan, “some of whom were very young”, a Northern Ireland court was told at a hearing in October 2021.

They included a complainant who said she was 12 when she met Creswell there and “he began separating her from others. There were incidents of indecent assaults before she claims to have been raped in a stable,” the court heard.

Det Sgt Brannigan told the 2021 hearing that there was a “modus operandi” that was “replicated”. Police believed there were other victims, including in the Republic of Ireland.

“The pattern is the same – controlling phones, isolating them from others, then physical, emotional and sexual abuse,” said Brannigan.

This was the pattern of abuse he inflicted on Abi Lyle; yet when he was released from prison, the other women in the equestrian scene threw him a welcome home party.

It was also the pattern of abuse he inflicted on Katie. She moved with her sister Christina, Creswell’s partner, to Donegal, then to Gortnessy Meadows in Lettershandoney, near Derry, where in August 2020 she was living with Creswell and Christina, their two children, and another woman, Rose De Montmorency-Wright.

Hayley Robb: Jonathan Creswell had been controlling Robb since she was 18, had hit her and she had seen him assault other women. Photograph: Trevor McBride

During Creswell’s trial in April, Sam Magee KC, for the prosecution, outlined the events leading up to Katie’s murder. She had met a new boyfriend; the jury was shown a series of text messages in which she worried Creswell would go “crazy” if he found out.

Phone evidence put Creswell with Katie after she had taken part in a horse show in Lurgan on August 3rd. At Creswell’s insistence, she travelled with him in the back of a horse box to Omagh; GPS data from her phone showed they crossed the Border into Lifford, Co Donegal, eventually returning to the house near Derry just before midnight.

Creswell was controlling her phone; he saw a “pivotal message” sent by her boyfriend, in which he said he had not driven an hour and a half “just to sleep with you”.

This message “confirmed Jonathan Creswell’s worst fears... Katie Simpson’s fate was sealed”, the prosecution barrister said.

Creswell spent most of that night in Katie’s bed; he attacked, raped and strangled her, leaving her dying when he left the house around 8am to take his children to his mother’s house. A subsequent postmortem described injuries to her limbs consistent with being struck “with a rod-type implement”.

He then tried to cover up her murder by making it appear like a suicide, deliberately keeping Hayley Robb – another woman he had had a relationship with – on the phone when he re-entered the house, creating an alibi while he pretended to discover Katie’s body.

Katie was, at the time, still alive. Creswell ignored instructions to wait for an ambulance, instead placing her in his own car and driving to meet it. This was behaviour that was so unusual the hospital consultant said he had “never encountered” it before. He then went home to change his clothes before returning to the hospital.

He continued to try to cover his tracks, telling Robb he had given Katie a “hiding” the previous night. Later that day he met Robb and Robinson in a lay-by near the Foyle Bridge in Derry.

Jonathan Creswell was a violent abuser who had been jailed for a series of attacks on a previous girlfriend. Photograph: Trevor McBride
Katie Simpson: Journalist Tanya Fowles repeatedly tried to warn police about Jonathan Creswell from August 4th, five days before Katie died. Photograph: Courtesy of family

“Yous think I did it,” he told them, adding that he would say Katie had been trampled by a horse to explain her injuries.Both women had been in sexual relationships with Creswell, and helped him cover his tracks by destroying evidence and backing up his story.

Robb cleaned blood from the house and helped him take a cold shower, then Robinson helped her wash Creswell’s clothes at an outdoor launderette in Fintona, Co Tyrone, a village that is a 15-minute drive south of Omagh.

Creswell had previously been violent towards them both. He had been controlling Robb since she was 18, had hit her and she had seen him assault other women. Police knew Creswell had assaulted Robinson “numerous times” in a stable yard but such was the extent of the control he continued to exercise over her, she denied this in interview.

Katie did not regain consciousness and died on August 9th.

Among those who raised concerns was a member of staff at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, who said Katie’s injuries did not appear consistent with Creswell’s claims she had attempted to take her own life.

Journalist Tanya Fowles covered the case against Creswell in 2011. Also from Co Armagh, she knew Katie through friends, and repeatedly attempted to warn police about him from August 4th, five days before Katie died.

When Fowles heard the details of her injuries “immediately I thought, hanging, neck constriction... this man has a propensity for strangulation”.

“I went back to the original officer who I’ve stayed friendly with, she’s left the police, but I took her through it and said, ‘if I say one name to you’, and she said, ‘you don’t have to, it’s Creswell’.”

Despite Fowles’ persistence – and the concerns raised by others – Katie’s death was quickly ruled a suicide and the investigation was dropped.

She recalled the funeral with sadness and disbelief. “He [Creswell] ran the funeral... all the sympathy that was coming in was for Johnny, it was all Johnny front and centre,” she said.

Creswell and De Montmorency-Wright were among those who carried her coffin.

“Katie slipped into her grave, and it was over, it was just all over. It’s hard to think that’s a girl’s life,” she said.

Fowles kept pressing for answers, taking her concerns to the press office and then to the Police Ombudsman. The case was reopened after a reassessment, with Creswell identified as a suspect in January 2021, and arrested and charged that March.

Northern Ireland Chief Constable Jon Boutcher. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) referred itself to the Ombudsman, which investigated the original PSNI inquiry. A 1,400-page report, which has not been made public, identified “officers having committed misconduct”.

PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher told the Policing Board earlier this month that a misconduct process was under way. “Whatever we need to learn from this, we most certainly will learn from this,” he said.

Fowles has made her own complaint against the PSNI over its failure to respond to her attempts to raise the alarm about Creswell. Her concerns remain about the police force’s approach to violence against women, not least given the similarities in the murder of Natalie McNally in Lurgan in December 2022, which was initially also treated as a suicide by the police.

“I did not see Katie as being front and centre,” she says.

“I’d like to see lessons learned,” says McConville. “There were failings... it seems they took his [Creswell’s] word a lot, so I think procedures need to be put in place so that it doesn’t happen again.”

They speak of the need for more to be done to safeguard young women in the equestrian world.

“The horsey industry is a bit like a cult,” says Katie’s sister Rebecca.

“When you’re in it, you’re in it... the things that happened to Katie and so many others do get overlooked, it’s like it’s normal in that world, and it shouldn’t be.”

On Friday, Robb and two other women were given suspended prison sentences for withholding information and perverting the course of justice in connection with Katie’s murder.

Robb (30), of Weavers Meadow, Banbridge, had previously pleaded guilty to withholding information and perverting the course of justice by washing clothes belonging to Creswell and cleaning blood at his home.

She was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years, for perverting the course of justice, and 12 months, suspended for two years, for withholding information.

Jill Robinson (42), from Blackfort Road in Omagh, admitted perverting the course of justice by washing Creswell’s clothes and was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years.

Katie Simpson's aunt Colleen McConville hopes Katie knew how much everyone loved and cared about her. Photograph: Courtesy of family

Rose De Montmorency-Wright (23) from Craigantlet Road in Newtownards, pleaded guilty to withholding information and was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years.

Defence barristers for the three women said they had been controlled by Creswell and were genuinely regretful and remorseful for their actions.

Three women given suspended sentences in connection with murder of showjumper Katie SimpsonOpens in new window ]

When Rebecca thinks of her sister Katie, she thinks of her distinctive smile, the one that shines out of every photograph she has of her.

“I think that describes her so much, she just loved the thrills and loved the excitement,” says Rebecca.

“I remember her as someone who had loads of friends, who was loved so much,” says McConville. “I hope she knew how much everyone loved and cared about her.”