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University worker is found guilty of murdering his boss by stabbing her 14 times as she screamed ‘you b*****d’ before scrawling ‘bully’ in marker pen on her head because she rejected his romantic advances
- Boss tried to help deputy with depression despite being unhappy with him
- But he mistook her attempts at helping him for affection and later attacked her
- He scrawled ‘bully’ on her head after stabbing and posted message on Facebook
- Killer was today found guilty of murder and faces a life sentence in prison
David Browning, pictured smiling as he leaves court earlier this month, has been found guilty of murdering his boss
A former university worker has been found guilty of murdering his boss when she rejected his romantic advances.
David Browning knifed Jillian Howell 14 times in the chest, neck and abdomen as she screamed ‘you bastard’ in a struggle at her home in Brighton last October.
As she lay in a pool of blood on the lounge floor, Browning scrawled ‘Bully’ across her forehead in marker pen.
The 52-year-old is now facing a life sentence after he was found guilty of murder today. Friends and family of Ms Howell gasped and shouted: ‘Yes’ as the verdict was delivered.
Browning drew up a plan to kill his boss at the payroll department at the University of Brighton, buying a 10cm lock knife and shotgun with which he intended to kill himself.
He also posted a series of suicide letters claiming he could no longer put up with the intense workplace bullying.
He arrived at her home on the evening of October 25 with flowers and a bottle of wine and the meal the pair chatted.
The court heard that around 10.30pm she told Browning he ought to think about leaving and going home.
He told the court: ‘I said: “I can’t go home.”, She said: “Why?”, I said: “Because I’ve posted my suicide notes”.’
Browning (right) attacked his boss Jillian Howell (left), who he has accused of bullying him, but had also become obsessed with
He said Miss Howell told him she was going to take him to hospital and went to get her trainers and jacket and as she bent to tie her shoelaces he stabbed her.
Browning said: ‘I was behind her. I felt this whoosh feeling come over. I pulled the knife out and stabbed her in the back.
‘She fell towards the sofa and as I stabbed her in the throat once she grabbed knife with her hand and screamed: “You bastard”. I said: “Sorry Jill this is what mental health does to you”.’
Afterwards he daubed other messages around the house in spray paint in which he blamed Sean McDonald – the former mayor of Worthing – who he mistakenly believed was in a relationship with Miss Howell.
Ms Howell, 46, was Browning’s boss at the payroll department, having been employed in 2015 to improve an unproductive department.
She told friends she was frustrated by Browning, who had worked there since 1989, and another male colleague who were resistant to changes she wished to bring in.
Staff said Miss Howell had picked on Browning, shouted at him and ‘belittled’ him in front of colleagues.
But she had also offered to help him because he was suffering from stress and anxiety following the death of his father.
Police footage shows the moment Browning walked into a police station and confessed
Killer’s family say mental illness was to blame for murder
In statement made after the court’s verdict today, Browning’s family said: ‘We would like to offer our condolences to the family and friends of Jillian Howell.
‘Depression is a devastating mental illness, and David was desperately affected by the traumatic death of his father causing him to react so dramatically out of character.
‘We love David and his family will always stand by and support him.’
His plea for help is understood to have been especially poignant to the Samaritans volunteer, who herself suffered depression in the wake of her own father’s death just a few years before.
Elaine Rowe, one of seven employees in the payroll unit, said if Browning and Miss Howell disagreed there could be fireworks.
She said: ‘If they did not agree she would not take that very well and shout, intimidate or be very rude. It was in front of the whole finance office. It happened quite often, every week, every other week.’
But Miss Howell was also mindful Browning was suffering from depression and she felt if she offered help and understanding it might ease work tensions.
In June she invited him out for drinks after work and the pair went to the Signalman pub in Ditchling Rise in Brighton.
Browning posted this picture, showing a ‘bully’ being stabbed, after he carried out the attack
Browning was grateful for the support and texted her after saying: ‘I adore you personally and professionally. I am there for you anytime Dave x.’
But over the coming weeks his condition worsened and he confessed to having suicidal thoughts.
Killer bought gun despite mental health problems
Despite suffering severe anxiety, depression and having suicidal thoughts, David Browning found it easy to get a firearms licence and buy a lethal 12-gauge shotgun and cartridges.
Under law, police interview any applicant for a firearms licence and also check criminal records and medical history before making a decision on whether to issue one.
Browning was asked whether he was suffering suicidal thoughts, stress, depression, anxiety, dementia or any other type of mental illness to which he replied: ‘No.’
He then provided police with his GP details so officers could contact them to double check whether they had any concerns.
Browning was granted a five year firearms licence on July 30 which would have expired in 2022.
Shortly afterwards he bought a 12-gauge shotgun, 50 shotgun cartridges and a lock knife later used in the murder, paying around £1,000 in cash.
Despite being referred to the University of Brighton’s occupational health team in September it seems no alert or warning was issued to the authorities.
Concerned, Miss Howell told friends she was going to invite him round to her house for a meal to ‘cheer him up.’
Claire Taylor, a close friend, was concerned by this step and felt she might be overstepping her professional role as his boss.
The invitation went ahead and Browning took wine and flowers and Miss Howell cooked and the pair shared a chicken curry and wine and chatted afterwards.
The following day, Browning, who was married with two children, texting: ‘Thank you for tonight. Can I just say now we’re not full of red wine. I think you realise what you mean to me as a person and a friend. I will continue to be inappropriate at times to make you smile.’
It is clear Miss Howell’s attempts to lend a helping hand to her deputy to help him through his depression were almost immediately misconstrued by Browning.
Ms Howell realised too late that Browning had become hopelessly and dangerously attached to her.
On one occasion Browning, told her: ‘You must never leave the university or get a boyfriend because I need you.’
The court heard Browning began to suspect Miss Howell was in a relationship with another man, Sean McDonald – the former mayor of Worthing – when in fact the pair were just close friends.
Attempting to put some distance between them, Miss Howell recommended he see a counsellor from the university’s occupational health team which he eventually agreed to.
But after the counselling session he felt worse telling his boss: ‘The problem is I’m not okay. I feel doomed.’
Browning told counsellor Jane Faulkner he had suicidal thoughts and wanted to die, but at no stage did the university inform the police or his GP about his deteriorating mental health.
Browning was said to be resisting changes his boss wanted to make in the payroll department at the University of Brighton
In the run-up to the killing Browning came up with a plan to implicate Sean McDonald in the killing.
In an elaborate ruse he submitted a form to the university pension department requesting a change of beneficiary on Jill Howell’s pension to make Sean McDonald the sole benefactor.
However the pensions department became suspicious because the signature did not resemble Miss Howell’s signature.
His last appointment with the counsellor was on October 24 – the day before he killed Ms Howell.
On October 25 Browning again went round to Miss Howell’s house in Fiveways, Brighton bearing wine and flowers – only this time he arrived with a 10cm lock knife with which he intended to kill her.
Timeline of the killing
1989: David Browning starts working at the University of Brighton’s payroll department.
2015: Jillian Howell takes over the department becoming Browning’s boss.
June 6, 2017: Browning and Miss Howell go for drink at the Signalman pub in Ditchling Rise. Afterwards he texts her to say ‘I adore you personally and professionally’.
July 9: Browning applies for a shotgun licence.
July 13: Miss Howell cancels drink with Browning.
August 2: Browning texts Ms Howell to say ‘what a wonderful lady you are’.
August 3: Miss Howell invites Browning over for dinner and he later texts: ‘I think you realise how much you mean to me as a friend.
August 8: Miss Howell contacts the university’s occupational health department seeking help for Browning.
August 20: Mis Howell tells friend Russell Nall Browning had told her she must never leave her job or get a boyfriend.
September 16: Browning pays a deposit for a second-hand 12-gauge Browning shotgun from C&H Weston in East Street, Brighton.
October 24: Browning hires a rental van from Choices. He later told psychiatrists he wanted it to conceal the shotgun.
October 25: Browning is invited to dinner for a second time.
11pm to midnight: Browning stabs Ms Howell 15 times.
October 26: Hands himself into police asking to be sectioned.
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