Leeds man 'confessed to murder of transsexual'

A roofer now living in Leeds confessed to the 1997 killing of a pre-op transsexual prostitute in letters to his partner and young son, a court heard on Tuesday.

James Hopkins, 42, got away with the murder of 23 year-old Robyn Browne in London's West End for 10 years, it is claimed.

Miss Browne, who had several famous clients, was stabbed nine times at the flat where she worked.

A bloody palm print was found at the scene but the case remained unsolved until a match was found using the police computer database in 2007.

By then Hopkins had started a new life in Leeds with his partner Donna Abbott, the Old Bailey heard.

A week later he wrote her a letter from prison saying: "Sorry for all the s*** this has caused you and your family, but it is something that happened 10 years ago."

He added: "If I see you or someone who knows me well I will tell them the whole story, the truth about 28th February, 2007.

"It is a lot more straightforward than it looks and if the evidence is really bad against me then the truth will have to come out which might send me down for a long time."

Hopkins also wrote to his young son Jack: "Sorry you have got involved in this mess. My past has come back to haunt me.

"Did I do it? Well let's just say I know a lot about it and how it happened. Whether people believe me depends on a few things."

Hopkins later claimed he had been offered 500 by Yardie gangsters to steal the victim's address book because it contained the names of famous clients who were being blackmailed.

He also told his partner during a prison visit that Miss Browne was stabbed accidentally during a struggle inside the flat.

Jurors heard Robyn Browne, born James Errol Browne, was HIV positive and was taking female hormones as well as using amphetamines.

The victim lived at a housing association flat at 6b Gosfield Street in Gosfield Street, Marylebone, west London, with another pre-op transsexual called Natasha Brentwood.

She advertised for clients in phone kiosks and newspapers including the Sunday Sport.

Prosecutor Nicholas Hilliard QC told jurors: "There is some evidence that Robyn Browne did have some clients who were in the public eye.

"Robyn used to receive clients wearing makeup and a shoulder-length black wig."

On February 28, 1997, Natasha went out to meet an ex-boyfriend for dinner while Robyn was preparing for work.

She returned at 8pm but got no answer either by knocking on the door to the flat or calling the landline.

Natasha then climbed up and in through the first floor window and found Robyn lying on the bed.

"She realised that Robyn had been stabbed and was not breathing," said Mr Hilliard.

"It was obvious she had suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest and neck. There was no surviving a knife attack of the kind she had sustained."

Miss Browne had been stabbed nine times including once to the heart and three times to the neck which cut through the carotid artery.

There was no sign of forced entry to the flat but a drawer had been taken out of the chest of drawers in the bedroom.

Pages were missing from the Filofax belonging to the victim and clothes had been put into a holdall, the court heard.

Police found a palm mark and fingermarks in Robyn Browne's blood on the door of the flat.

Palm marks were also found on that day's copies of the Sun newspaper and Loot in a plastic bag on the floor.

Mr Hilliard said: "In 1997 the police were not able to identify who had left the particular palm prints on the newspapers or the palm mark in blood on the victim's door.

"The case went unsolved at that time. But years later advances in technology allow palm marks to be checked against the national fingerprint database.

"You can now search them automatically. That couldn't be done in 1997.

"Once it was done it was discovered that it was the defendant Mr Hopkins who had left these marks."

Hopkins was arrested on June 27, 2007, at his home in Leeds and shook his head when he was asked about the murder.

In interview he gave a prepared statement saying: "To my knowledge I don't know the person or address referred to by the police.

"I met lots of people at different times due to my lifestyle in the late 1990s. I did not stab anyone at this time."

Mr Hilliard said: "He must have thought for years that he had got away with it."

Hopkins had moved in with his partner Donna in 2004 and had begun working as a roofer.

But when she had asked if he wanted to return to London to see his friends he said "something had happened in London" and that he had been on drugs.

His partner visited him at Wormwood Scrubs on July 6, 2007, after he wrote her the letter and asked him about the murder, the court heard.

Hopkins told her: "It's not what it seems. I didn't go in to murder anyone. I was hanging around with the wrong people."

Mr Hilliard said: "He said he went looking for the phone book and began ripping the pages from it. A fight started between them, Robyn Browne pulled out a knife and the defendant got a cut to his arm.

"Somehow the knife cut Robyn in the neck. They ended on the floor, Robyn on top of him, and somehow the knife cut Robyn in the chest area. He said when he left Robyn was still alive."

Hopkins later claimed that the Yardies involved had been named in the news in relation to the "M25 Murders."

But a police check revealed the men convicted of those murders were in prison at the time of Robyn Browne's killing.

Hopkins later wrote another letter to his partner asking her to change her statement and add that one of the Yardies went into the flat.

It read: "You will have to say you were totally confused when you gave the statement.... The main thing to say is I wasn't alone."

He then asked her not to let any 'silly c***s' read the letter.

Mr Hilliard told jurors: 'Oops. Well some silly people have read it, haven't they.'

Hopkins, 40, of Bawn Drive, Leeds, denies murder.


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