French court sentences British man to 14 years in jail for killing wife

A former Conservative party councillor, David Turtle, was found guilty of running over his wife outside their home in southwest France.

A judge in Cahors, southwest France, has sentenced British man, David Turtle, to 14 years in prison for killing his wife.
A judge in Cahors, southwest France, has sentenced British man, David Turtle, to 14 years in prison for killing his wife. (Photo by REMY GABALDA / AFP)

After a gruelling three-day trial, David Turtle was found guilty of deliberately killing his wife outside their home in Prayssac, southwest France

The former car salesman and town councillor from England was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Friday – although he had been facing life imprisonment. 

READ MORE Briton accused of murdering wife in south west France says her death ‘broke his heart’

The prosecution argued that Turtle deliberately ran his wife over. The court heard that the couple had a late-night argument that started over the choice of a TV programme earlier in the evening. 

Turtle denied that he deliberately drove into his wife, saying that he left the house to go for a drive and did not see her blocking the vehicle. He said that he put his foot on the accelerator and drove a few metres before realising that his wife was lying underneath the car. He claimed not to have realised immediately that he could feel any resistance under the tyres. 

Matthieu Chirez, a lawyer for the victim’s sister, pointed to inconsistencies in Turtle’s story. Court experts noted that in order for a stationary car to run over a body, it would have to accelerate at a staggering rate.

“It doesn’t hold up that Stephanie Turtle would voluntarily put herself under the wheels, knowing that he [David Turtle] wanted to leave,” said Chirez in comments reported local news site, ActuLot.  

“What he did to her was a horror.”

Forensic reports revealed that Mrs Turtle had suffered multiple rib fractures, clavicular and scapular fractures, pulmonary lesions, abdominal trauma, and a fracture of the pelvis.

The prosecutor, David Serra, was definitive in his conclusion. “David Turtle could not have been unaware that Stephanie Turtle was in front of the car when he drove over her body,” he said, according to local media reports. “As soon as he pushed on the pedal, he crushed her.” 

Turtle met his wife on a singles’ holiday in Turkey, when he was 40 years old. They moved to France, in 2016, to renovate a property they had bought, intending to turn it into a bed and breakfast. 

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Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Bikini, topless, swimsuit, wetsuit, burkini - what women wear to go swimming in France is apparently the business of the Interior Minister. Here's why.

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women's swimwear?

It’s a row that erupts regularly in France – the use of the ‘burkini’ swimsuit for women – but this year there is an added wrinkle thanks to the country’s new anti-separatism law.

What has happened?

Local authorities in Grenoble, eastern France, have updated the rules on swimwear in municipal pools.

French pools typically have strict rules on what you can wear, which are set by the local authority.

For women the rule is generally a one-piece swimsuit or bikini, but not a monokini – the term in France for wearing bikini bottoms only, or going topless. For men it’s Speedos and not baggy swim-shorts and many areas also stipulate a swimming cap for both sexes.

These rules typically apply only to local-authority run pools, if you’re in a privately-owned pool such as one attached to a hotel, spa or campsite then it’s up to the owners to decide the rules and if you’re lucky enough to have a private pool then obviously you can wear (or not wear) what you want.

READ ALSO Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?

Now authorities in Grenoble have decided to relax their rules and allow baggy swim shorts for men while women can go topless (monokini) or wear the full-cover swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’. This is essentially a swimsuit that has arms and legs, similar in shape to a wetsuit but made of lighter fabric, while some types also have a head covering.

Is this a problem?

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear has caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move.

Those against it insist that it’s not about comfy swimwear, it’s about laïcité – that is, the French secularism rules that also outlaw the wearing of religious clothing such as the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish kippah in State spaces such as schools and government offices.

READ ALSO Laïcité: How does France’s secularism law work?

The burkini is predominantly worn by Muslim women, although some non-Muslim women also prefer it because it’s more modest and – for outdoor pools – provides better sun protection. 

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC.

Is this France’s first burkini row?

Definitely not, the modest swimsuit has been causing a stir for some years now.

In 2016 several towns in the south of France attempted to ban the burkini on their beaches. This went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional, and the State cannot dictate what people wear on the beach.

The situation in municipal pools is slightly different in that local authorities can make their own rules under local bylaws. Most pools don’t explicitly ban the burkini, but instead list what is acceptable – and that’s usually either a one-piece swimsuit or a bikini. These decisions are taken on hygiene, not religious, grounds.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear, which seems to have passed unnoticed until the Grenoble row erupted.

Why is the Interior Minister getting involved?

What’s different about the latest row is the direct involvement of the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He appears to have no objection to topless swimming in Grenoble, but he is very upset about women covering up when going for a dip.

No, he’s not some kind of creepy beauty pageant judge from the 1970s – he’s upset about laïcité.

Darmanin called the decision “an unacceptable provocation” that is “contrary to our values”.

He has ordered the local Préfet to open a review of the decision, and later announced that prosecutors had opened an inquiry into Alliance Citoyenne, a group that supports the wearing of burkinis in pools.

And the reason that he gets to intervene directly on the issue of local swimming pools rules is France’s ‘anti-separatism’ law that was passed in 2020.

This wide-ranging law covers all sorts of issues from radical preaching in mosques to home-schooling, but it also bans local councils from agreeing to ‘religious demands’ and among its provisions it allows the Interior Minister to intervene directly on certain issues.

So far this power has been used mostly to deal with extremism in mosques, several of which have been closed down for short periods while extremist preachers were removed.

Darmanin’s foray into women’s swimwear seems to represent an extension of the use of these powers. 

Is this all because there is an election coming up?

Parliamentary elections are coming up in June and the political temperature is rising. It’s certainly noticeable that in Darmanin’s initial tweet about the matter he referred to Grenoble mayor Eric Piolle as a “supporter of Mélenchon”, although Piolle is actually a member of the Green party.

Mélenchon and his alliance of leftist parties are currently the main rival for Macron’s LREM at the parliamentary elections.