“I was terrified I was going to get the axe one way or another,” Colin Gale, 40, told a jury at Lewes Crown Court today.
“I had hit him now, it was like poking an bear – he was intent on getting me with the axe at that stage,” Gale said, telling the court that Mr Manning had attacked him with an axe.
Mark Manning was last seen alive in April 2014. It was not until last year that remains identified as Mr Manning were found near Hampshire Hill in Mid Sussex, more than 20 miles from where he lived.
Gale himself appeared in the witness box today, giving evidence to the jury and answering questions from his defence counsel, Michael Bromley-Martin QC.
Gale told the court how he had owed Mark Manning £17,000 on April 19, 2014, the day Mr Manning disappeared, but only had about £2,000 in cash.
He said Mr Manning came to visit him at his workshop and found out he did not have the money.
“He got a bit stressed,” Gale told the court, saying Mr Manning then walked away.
“On his way out I said something sarcastic to sort of let him know it wasn’t going to be today [that he would get the money],” Gale said.
“I was trying to cheer him up because he wasn’t very happy.”
“I was looking down and when I looked up I saw him coming back,” Gale told the court. “He had an axe in his hand.”
“He came towards me, it was all so quick,” Gale said.
“He swung the axe towards me. I was up against the wall. All I could find was a handle of something which I picked up and swung in his direction to keep him away from me,” Gale said.
“I knew that I had hit him,” he told the jury, breaking down in court and shaking as he spoke. “I didn’t know it was in the face.”
Gale said the object he struck Mr Manning with was a metre-long, industrial Stillson wrench, which was heavier than he had expected.
“Then I just went out of control,” he said.
The blow knocked Mr Manning back a couple of steps but he proceeded to come towards Gale again, Gale told the court.
“I was terrified I was going to get the axe one way or another,” Colin Gale told the jury.
“I had hit him now, it was like poking an angry bear – he was intent on getting me with the axe at that stage,” he said, adding that he struck Mr Manning three times in total.
“He just collapsed,” Gale said, “fell straight on his face.”
Gale, however, denied striking Mr Manning once he had fallen to the ground.
At this point Robertson walked in, Gale said. He said he told Robertson he had hit Mr Manning, and asked Robertson if he was dead.
Gale told the court: “Stewart [Robertson] walked over and then got down. ‘Basically,’ he said.”
“I did not know what to do,” Gale said. “I knew if I called the police I was going straight to prison.”
Gale told the court he had wrapped the weapons up in a towel and put them into the boot of his car, dropping Mr Manning’s phones down the drain.
He stopped in Ringmer Road and threw the weapons away, Gale told the court.
The next day he and Robertson returned to the workshop, Gale told the court, loading Mr Manning’s body into a white van.
The pair drove in convoy into the countryside to find a place to dispose of the body, Gale told the jury.
As they came to Hampshire Hill they came across a ‘gap in the hedge’, Gale told the court, saying they had pulled over.
They left the body there, Gale said, and drove off.
Gale explained to the jury that he had then returned to the workshop and used a hose to try to clean up the ‘pool of blood’ left after the incident.
“Stewart was saying we have got to go to the police,” Gale told the court.
Gale agreed to go to the police, so the pair drove to Worthing Police Station, he said.
It was closed when they arrived as it was Easter Sundauy, he explained, so he went home.
In the time that followed he lied about what had happened to Mr Manning first to Anna Manning, Mark Manning’s sister, and subsequently to the police and Mr Manning’s son, Kane, he told the court.
He told the jury he said to Anna: “I said I had seen him dropped into Worthing train station on the Saturday.”
Bringing his questioning to a close, Mr Bromley-Martin asked Gale if he had any motive in April 2014 to want Mr Manning dead.
Gale responded by saying he ‘none whatsoever’.
He had previously told the court he had never discussed killing Mr Manning with anyone.
When asked earlier in the day about a previous conversation in which he had said he hoped Mr Manning died in a plane crash, he replied: “ As bad as it would sound, I was just joking.”
The trial continues.
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