Gardener ‘tried to suffocate’ missing expat

The gardener charged with the murder of a British expat in southwestern France had a history of violence against his suspected victim and had attempted to suffocate her weeks before her disappearance, investigators believe.

Patrick Desjardins, the prosecutor in charge of the case, told AFP Tuesday that his team were pursuing a theory that Patricia Wilson, 58, had a brief relationship with the gardener and that her decision to end it led to her death.

"A crime of passion looks the most likely theory but we have not ruled out other avenues of investigation," he said.

The prosecutor said there was evidence that Wilson had told friends that Jean-Louis Cayrou, 50, had acted violently towards her and had, on one occasion, attempted to suffocate her.

Investigators have also established that Cayrou made "an enormous number" of phone calls to Wilson when she returned to England between August 10 and 17 to buy a car.

Wilson has not been seen since being dropped off at her French home in Vabre-Tizac, a picturesque village of 441 inhabitants, by a friend on her return from England on August 17.

Dozens of gendarmes, backed up initially by a helicopter and divers, have been mobilised to search for her without success.

"We are looking for a corpse rather than someone still living," one of them confided.

The heavily wooded local terrain, which is intersected by numerous streams, means the search for a body is effectively like looking for a needle in a haystack. "The chances are that whoever disposed of the body knows the area a lot better than we do," admitted the gendarme.

The local authorities are convinced Wilson was murdered because of large quantities of blood they found around the property and in the gardener's car.

The stains are consistent with Wilson having been involved in a struggle and her body subsequently being dragged into a car.

Cayrou was charged with her murder on Saturday but continues to deny any involvement in her disappearance.

The blood found around the house has been confirmed as having come from Wilson. Police were still waiting Tuesday for the result of tests on samples taken from the car.

Wilson had been living in Vabre-Tizac for several years and began the relationship with the gardener after separating from her English partner last year, according to neighbours.

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French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

A French court on Tuesday ordered the partial release of a Corsican nationalist who has served 24 years in jail for the 1998 murder of a top French official.

French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

Under the ruling, Pierre Alessandri will be allowed out of jail to work for a landscaping company in the daytime and will be granted a full conditional release in a year if he behaves well.

The relaxation of Alessandri’s conditions of detention came amid tensions between the Mediterranean island’s pro-autonomy leaders and the French state, after a fellow Corsican detained in the same case was killed in a French prison in March.

Alessandri and a third Corsican detainee were transferred from mainland France to a jail in Corsica in April after the murder of Yvan Colonna.

The Paris appeals court granted Alessandri “a probationary partial release” of 12 months from February 13, the prosecutor-general Remy Heitz said.

If he behaves well, he would then be granted “conditional release” for another ten years, he said.

Alessandri’s lawyer Eric Barbolosi hailed the ruling as a “great relief”.

“For the first time in a court of appeals, the magistrates made a decision based on the criteria necessary for a conditional release, not the particular nature of the case,” he said.

Alessandri had served enough time to be eligible for such a release by 2017, and had already petitioned to be freed three times.

But national anti-terror prosecutors objected, and an appeals court barred his release.

The country’s highest court then quashed one of these decisions, ordering the Paris appeals court to re-examine it.

Colonna, a former goat herder, was announced dead on March 21 after an Islamist extremist who accused him of blasphemy strangled and suffocated him in a prison in the southern town of Arles in mainland France.

He was detained in 2003 after four years on the run, and sentenced in 2007, and then again in 2011, to life in jail over the killing in 1998 of the French government prefect of Corsica, Claude Erignac.

The killing was the most shocking of a series of attacks by pro-independence militant group FLNC.

Alessandri and another nationalist, Alain Ferrandi, had already been sentenced to life in jail in 2003 over the murder.

Ferrandi, who was transferred to the same Corsican jail, has also requested to be released on parole, and a decision is due on February 23rd.

Colonna’s murder sparked violent protests in Corsica.

It galvanised the nationalist movement and led President Emmanuel Macron’s government to offer talks about giving greater political autonomy to the territory.