Inquest fails to deliver answer to puzzle of body in Dovestones lake
Thursday 8th June 2017 @ 21:59 by Nigel P.
Greater Manchester Mossley & Saddleworth News Tameside

The parents of victim Craig Wilcox who was found in Dovestones reservoir in 2014.

An inquest in to the death of Craig Wilcox whose body was discovered in Dovestones reservoir  in 2014, has returned an open verdict leaving Craig’s parents and the police with still unanswered questions.

The hearing at Heywood Coroner’s Court was told by Craig’s mum Carolyn, 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.”

Evidence heard that Craig originally from Failsworth had acted as a ” minder” for cannabis farms in residential properties around his area

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Crompton, of Greater Manchester’s Major Incident team, told the court that Craig used his home in Crosby Road, Newton Heath, as a cannabis farm. He said “He played a low level role in the cannabis-growing business as the premises was effectively owned by a man in Bolton.

It is believed he had a good relationship with him.

At the same time, he was also looking after a cannabis farm growing plants at an address on Cedar Crescent in Chadderton, which was run by another gang from  Manchester.

After a burglary at that property on January 3, 2014 which saw the cannabis crop stolen, suspicion fell on Craig and he was blamed for the loss of the plants.

Craig confided with friends that he was being hassled by the gang and he was 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.

The phone was then recorded travelling towards Oldham town centre and arrived in the Dovestones area at around 10.10pm.

The phone was then recorded  travelling back towards Newton Heath at 10.30pm, leaving a window of 20 minutes where Craig was believed to have been 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 Dovestones 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  to have returned 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.

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Crompton believes Craig’s death is connected to a dispute with a gang running a cannabis farm in Chadderton.

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 in evidence referred to some information from Craig’s past- when escaping from the threat of an assault when he younger, Craig jumped into a canal and swam to safety.

It was suggested that given this successful tactic, there is a possibility he may have deployed iy again at Dovestones Reservoir.

Pathologist Dr Charles Wilson explained that, as Craig’s body had been in water for so long, his body was decomposed to the point that it was difficult to conclude whether he had drowned or fallen in the reservoir and died from hypothermia.

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.”

Six men have been arrested in connection with Craig’s death, but no-one has been charged, and the actual cause of his death is still unclear.

Coroner Lisa Hashmi said: ” There was insufficient evidence to support a verdict of unlawful death” and an gave an open conclusion.

She said: “I fully appreciate that an open conclusion may, understandably, feel unsatisfying to the family, who have a number of questions unanswered.”

The parents of Craig Wilcox revealed their heart ache in their three year wait for answers in  an appeal earlier in the year on the anniversary of the last sighting of Criag.

Since 2014 Craig’s parents Carolyn and Stephen have had to live with Craig’s loss, coupled with the added pain of not knowing what has happened to him and who is responsible for his death.

Speaking on the third anniversary of his disappearance which saw Greater Manchester Police launch a fresh appeal for information (as shown in our film report on Face book at the time) Craig’s parents said: “We are reminded of Craig every single day, we miss him. We live every day in a horrible dream and wonder what happened to him and why? What is so bad that you have to lose your life for?

Despite his fears Craig had a lot to look forward to, his parents said:“Craig had plans for the rest of his life, plans that included his six-year-old son.

Carolyn and Stephen describe their regret at Craig’s missed presence in the big moments of his son’s life: “He will never now be with his son at Christmas, birthdays, holidays and special days in his son’s life. His son asks questions about his dad, what do we tell him? Fortunately he has some memories, but he should have many more.”

“We believe someone knows what happened to Craig. As a family, we are asking if anyone can help us find the answers we are looking for.”

Police vowed they will never give up in their quest to find Craig’s killers.

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Crompton speaking at the appeal in January  said ” There are people out there that will be looking over their shoulder.” he told the Tameside Reporter as appealed for any body with information regarding Craig’s disappearance and murder to come forward.

He added:”Those people that are responsible will have to look over their shoulder.”

Police would still like to hear from anybody that was in or around the Dovestones Reservoir around 10pm on the night of  January 6 2014, that remembers seeing anything suspicious.

He asks them to call police in confidence on 0161 856 9283