A 24-year-old rock musician has admitted murdering 18-year-old Bobbi-Anne McLeod, who disappeared from a bus stop in Devon in November last year.
Cody Ackland grabbed McLeod, who was less than 5ft tall and looked younger than her age, off the street near her home in Plymouth, drove her away and carried out a prolonged attack on her with a blunt instrument before hiding her body in woods on a lane down to a beach.
A huge search was launched after McLeod did not turn up to meet her boyfriend. Ackland walked into a police station three days after the attack and told police where to find the young woman’s body and what he had done.
The pair were not known to each other and the motive for the attack remains unclear but it is believed Ackland used violence to get her into his vehicle and then beat her repeatedly.
Members of McLeod’s family, including her mother, Donna, and older brother, Lee, sat at the back of the court. Donna wept and both were comforted by supporters.
Before Ackland was brought into court, the judge, Robert Linford, asked for restraint from those watching from the public gallery. “These are difficult and tense hearings. I expect the case to proceed in silence,” he said, asking anyone who felt they would be unable to comply to leave.
Ackland spoke only to confirm his identity, date of birth and to plead guilty to murder between 19 and 23 November. Wearing a grey sweatshirt and blue jeans he stood in the dock as far away from the public gallery as possible, surrounded by four security guards. Two police officers were posted in the body of the court.
Richard Posner, prosecuting, said a charge of kidnapping would not be proceeded with given the murder plea. He also said the prosecution was waiting for a report from a neuropathologist. No details of what happened were given in court. Ray Tully QC, defending, said the defence would provide the court with a psychiatric report on Ackland.
Ackland showed no emotion as he heard he would be sentenced on 19 May. Linford told him he would be jailed for life, with the only issue the length of minimum term he would serve before being eligible for parole. He remanded Ackland in custody and told him to return to the cells. The judge thanked the public gallery for its restraint.
Alison Hernandez, the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, said: “I can’t even start to imagine the pain that Bobbi-Anne McLeod’s family and friends have been through over these past few months.
“While there is no justice that can bring Bobbi-Anne back, I’m pleased this case will be concluded swiftly and I truly hope the family will get the answers they need to provide some closure on this terrible incident.
“I’d like to thank the police for their hard work in bringing Cody Ackland to justice.
“I’d also like to thank the community of Plymouth who have shown courage, empathy and incredible support during this dark time for the city.”
Assistant chief constable Nikki Leaper of Devon and Cornwall police said: “We note the guilty plea entered at court today by Cody Ackland for the murder of Bobbi-Anne McLeod.
“We now await sentencing of Ackland at a later date by Judge Linford. Our thoughts remain with the McLeod family and those close to Bobbi-Anne who have had a daughter, sister and friend so cruelly taken from them.”
Speaking after the hearing, a relative of Ackland, said they had no idea what had led to the violence. The relative, who asked not to be named, said: “Everyone is devastated and absolutely it’s a tragic time for everyone, especially Bobbi-Anne’s family.”
The killing sparked marches, candlelit vigils and calls for urgent measures to make the streets of Plymouth safer for women. A commission to examine violence against women and girls has been launched.
It came three months after another tragedy in Plymouth when Jake Davison, a 22-year-old apprentice crane operator who harboured extreme misogynistic views, killed five people with a shotgun before turning the weapon on himself.
McLeod was last seen at 6pm on Saturday 20 November at a bus stop close to her home in the Leigham area. The alarm was raised when she did not reach her destination and police, family and friends began to search for her. Her headphones and tobacco were found at the bus stop, suggesting she had been abducted.
On 23 November Ackland gave himself up, telling police McLeod’s body was in woods close to Bovisand Beach, seven miles from where the teenager went missing.
Ackland lived with his mother in the Southway area of the city, about two and half miles from McLeod’s home. He was the lead guitarist and songwriter for the Plymouth indie rock band Rakuda.
Ackland is to be sentenced next month, at which point the full facts of the case will be given.