An obsessed university worker has been jailed for a minimum of 28 years after stabbing his boss to death and scrawling “bully” across
David Browning left Jillian Howell lying covered in blood on the floor of her lounge after attacking her with a knife in the chest, neck and abdomen, before writing the word across her head in one-inch letters with a black marker pen.
The Samaritans volunteer was found by police at her Brighton home on October 26 last year with 15 stab and slash wounds.
A jury convicted Browning on Wednesday of murder after deliberating for just two hours and 20 minutes.
Handing the 52-year-old a life sentence at Hove Crown Court on Thursday, Judge Christine Laing QC said the way in which he murdered
her was “savage”, adding: “This was a sustained attack and the terror and trauma for her in the final few minutes of her life is unimaginable.
“Not content with inflicting those injuries, you then defiled her body by writing the word ‘bully’ on her forehead.”
She said that was a “grotesque act” and could not have been further from the truth with her compassion costing the 46-year-old her life.
She said the “highly successful woman” may have been frustrated with a team resistant to change but it was Browning who “perpetuated
this myth of bullying in an attempt to evade full responsibility for your actions.”
Browning, of Seaford, East Sussex, sat with a pile of papers and took notes while listening intently to the proceedings but stared at
the floor when he was handed his sentence.
The deputy to Ms Howell in the University of Brighton payroll department was a spurned admirer who was deeply self-centred and selfish, with a vindictive streak, the trial heard.
Judge Laing said his “utterly callous actions” caused no end of trauma to Ms Howell’s family and his own.
Nicknamed Spock by his wife Deborah after the Star Trek character because of his methodical manner, Browning was described as the
“epitome of urban normality”, leading a stable life until it was jolted by the loss of his father who died after falling off a ladder in October 2016.
Browning claimed he and Ms Howell clashed when they first started working together in 2015 but then became friends, and he decided he
had to kill her after battling depression following the bereavement.
Ms Howell, who had lost both her parents, told friends she wanted to help him.
Judge Laing said: “I am also quite satisfied from the evidence that you were exaggerating how low you were feeling to maintain Jillian’s attention.”
He bought her gifts and sent her texts in which he called her stunning, said he adored her and “Every Jill needs a Dave.”
Ms Howell told friends she felt manipulated when Browning demanded she must “never leave” the university or get a boyfriend and should be “concentrating on him”.
Judge Laing said there was “no doubt at all” he developed a “crush that turned into an obsession” and she was “quite satisfied” that an “ordinary cocktail of human emotions – desire, jealousy, frustration and anger” led to the murder.
She said this was illustrated in his vitriol towards her close friend Sean McDonald, who he tried and failed to frame for the killing.
In the months before her death, Browning applied for a firearms licence, bought a shotgun and knife, hired a van, deleted swathes of
messages and data on his phone and took a change of clothes to the crime scene.
Members of the jury were in tears as Browning described the moment a “whoosh” came over him after he shared a curry with Ms Howell, and then stabbed her in the back.
He said she screamed “You bastard” before he responded with: “I’m sorry Jill, this is what mental health does to you.”
He stayed in the house for hours, posting a cartoon on Facebook with the slogan “Stand up to bullies, then kill them” and then phoning the very charity she volunteered for seeking advice.
When he handed himself into police he was calm and coherent but the father of a 21-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter denied murder,
claiming it was manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
Graham Trembath QC, defending, said Browning showed “no mercy” in the inexcusable killing but asked for there to be “some light at the
end of the tunnel”.
Judge Laing accepted his diagnosed condition may have played some part in his behaviour but that he had been rational at the time of
the killing, showing no emotion and little remorse other than for his own situation.
His sentence means he will not be eligible to be considered for parole until he is in his 70s.