A man has been jailed for 22 years, after a jury at Hove Crown Court found him guilty of the murder of Lewes woman Nicola Stevenson.

A jury heard how Richard Canlin, 41, had been living in Nicola’s flat in Stansfield Road, Lewes, before and after attacking and killing her with a hammer. After a two week trial, he was found guilty of her murder and jailed for 22 years.

Nicola’s body was discovered on November 13, 2019 in a wheelie bin, in shrubbery, on the edge of the Landport Recreation ground on the Landport estate in Lewes. She had suffered extensive head injuries.

Police launched a murder investigation, and through extensive enquiries identified that she was killed more than a month earlier during the afternoon October 10. It is believed her body had been at the recreation ground since that time, which had gone undiscovered, including during a large public gathering for the annual Lewes Bonfire and fireworks display.

Police attended her home address where Richard Canlin was present. He had reportedly adopted Nicola’s lifestyle, making the property his own, changing the lease and utility bills into his name and telling friends Nicola had gone away to Scotland. Forensic examinations of the address revealed that Nicola was attacked in her home, with Canlin making an attempt to tidy up and hide evidence. The suspected murder weapon, a claw hammer, was recovered by police in a dustbin at the property.

Detective Chief Inspector Chris Friday of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, who led the investigation,  said: “Our thoughts at this time are with Nicola’s family and friends and we hope that we have provided some answers as to how Nicola met her death, and crucially who was responsible. Ultimately, we sought to identify who committed what is the most serious crime of all. I would like to thank the jury at Hove Crown Court for their time, commitment and due diligence in bringing about this verdict.

“Canlin killed Nicola in a brutal attack. She had allowed him to stay at her address, and when she asked him to leave he took advantage of her kindness, and attacked her about the head with a hammer, killing her in her own home. He then disposed of her body in a callous way, dumping her in a bin, in the nearby park. Unbelievably, he then carried on as if nothing had happened, assuming Nicola’s life, spending her money on things for himself, living in her property and telling friends she had gone away.

“Despite substantial circumstantial, financial and forensic evidence against him, he continually lied to police during interviews about his whereabouts during October and chose to blame another man for her murder, for which police could find no evidence.

“From the moment that Nicola’s body was discovered, this has been a fast moving and dynamic investigation, where my team worked tirelessly over many days, to maximise the amount of time we could hold Canlin, whilst securing evidence to charge him. I would also like to recognise the courage of the witnesses who came forward to support us in achieving this result.

“Nicola was a well-known figure in the local community and Canlin took advantage of her good nature and sought to exploit it, whilst looking to blame others.

“The murder of Nicola remained my focus throughout and I would like to acknowledge the huge effort that has been made by my team in achieving this. Particular mention should go to the case officer, Detective Constable Dawn Robertson’ for her professionalism and dedication to this case. All involved in achieving this result have demonstrated their commitment to the investigation, making personal sacrifices, of which I am very proud of them all.”

The parents of Nicola Stevenson have said: “We wish to thank Sussex Police and their colleagues in the forensic services for all their hard work and painstaking investigations which allowed the Crown Prosecution Service to bring forward a successful prosecution and provide justice for Nicola. 

“We are also very grateful for all the support provided by the Police and, of course, by all our family and friends throughout a long and difficult year since Nicola’s death.”