Dartford submarine killer's violent past revealed at inquest

This Is Local London: Able Seaman Ryan Donovan. Able Seaman Ryan Donovan.

A DARTFORD sailor had been reprimanded by his superiors, arrested by police and was facing prison for disobeying a direct order.

Able Seaman Ryan Donovan’s troubled career in the Royal Navy was laid bare to jurors at a Southampton inquest.

As the widow of the man he murdered watched on, the crazed gunman’s violent past was revealed.

A former colleague revealed how he had seen a drunken Donovan, who lived in Hillside Road, staggering out of a taxi hours before he shot dead Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux at point blank range on the nuclear submarine HMS Astute while it was docked in Southampton.

Southampton Coroner’s Court has already heard how Lt Cdr Molyneux was killed by a single gunshot to the top of his head when the submariner, who had been acting as sentry on board the vessel, went on the murderous rampage on April 8, 2011.

Jurors were told how Donovan had been reprimanded after biting the finger of a doorman outside a club in Rochester, Kent.

The 23-year-old was also arrested by Canadian police during a visit to Halifax, after he was involved in a nightclub brawl.

The court heard how Donovan had “thrown a tantrum” just days before the fatal shooting, disobeying a direct order to clean a part of the submarine.

Facing prison, Donovan had been lined up to leave HMS Astute for an attachment on another vessel, but was told he would no longer be getting that opportunity because of his actions – and faced a prison sentence into the bargain.

Jurors heard how Donovan’s intended targets were Petty Officer Christopher Brown, 36, and Chief Petty Officer David McCoy, 37, the two men who had reported his insubordinate behaviour.

Donovan’s former colleague on board the sub, Able Seaman Joe Cockerill, described him as “a bit of an idiot” who had “childish and immature” tendencies.

He told the court he had seen a drunken Donovan “staggering” from a taxi into the Southampton hotel where they were staying in the early hours of April 8 – just hours before the shooting.

Mr Cockerill recalled how he helped Donovan to his room, but had to put him to bed again minutes later after he let off a fire extinguisher in the corridor.

Mr Cockerill said it was in character for a man who he regarded as “the prime candidate to get arrested or do something stupid” during their time ashore.

But he told the court that he did not consider Donovan to be a violent man.

He told jurors: “He always seemed quite cheerful, always laughing and joking. He was known to be a bit of an idiot, but violent? I personally wouldn’t have thought it. I wouldn’t have thought he had it in him.

“It was a bolt from the blue.”

Mr Cockerill gave his evidence after jurors were played a harrowing audio recording of the incident, in which four gun shots were heard among shouts from members of the crew.

Lt Cdr Molyneux’s widow Gillian bowed her head and put her hand to her mouth as the recording was played out in court.

Donovan was jailed for life to serve a minimum of 25 years after pleading guilty at Winchester Crown Court to the murder of the father-of-four and to the attempted murder of Lieutenant Commander Christopher Hodge, who he shot in the stomach.

The inquest is expected to finish on January 16.

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