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Mother sobs as she tells jury of son's behaviour.

By MARK BENATTAR

Special Correspondent

A mother broke down in court yesterday after giving evidence for the prosecution in the trial of her son, who is accused of murdering schoolgirl Claire Hart.

Craig Smith's tearful mother Patricia told Chester Crown Court how five days before Claire disappeared her son told her of a rumour about him murdering a girl.

A tearful Mrs Smith said: "He said, 'There's a rumour going round I killed a young girl'."

Mr Patrick Harrington QC, prosecuting, asked her if she or her husband, who was in the kitchen with her at the time, said anything.

An emotional Mrs Smith replied: "What could you say?"

The jury has been told that the jobless "loner" who dressed in camouflage gear beat 13-year-old Claire as she walked to school down a country road, shot her in the head with an air rifle and then strangled her.

He then allegedly threw Claire's body into the fast-flowing River Dane near her home in Eaton, near Congleton, Cheshire.

After a huge police hunt, her body was found five days later close to where she disappeared on her one-mile walk to Dane Valley High School.

Smith (20), an unemployed fettler, of Clayton Avenue, Buglawton, near Congleton, denies murdering Claire on June 18 last year.

Mrs Smith told the jury her son's behaviour was not normal in the days leading up to Claire's murder.

She said he was too calm for him, except on the night before Claire went missing, when the noise from his bedroom was like "all hell had broken loose".

It was "horrendous, he was very angry and sounded like he was ripping floorboards up", she said.

"It just wasn't him - sometimes too quiet for him and other times he would be extremely angry. He would fluctuate," his mother added.

Mrs Smith told the court that on the day Claire went missing her son begged her to wash his clothes, something he had never done before.

She said: "He literally begged me, 'Please, mum, do my washing' I said, 'No, Craig, I'm not doing your washing'.

"He said, 'Please, mum, I will buy you a packet of cigarettes'."

Smith's wish to leave the witness box and return to the cells during his mother's evidence was granted.

His father Steven said he also dismissed Smith's comments regarding the rumour that he had murdered a young girl.

"He's always said a few silly things, we just thought he was trying to wind us up."

The trial continues.
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Author:Benattar, Mark
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 7, 1999
Words:415
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