THE ex-partner of a woman who vanished without trace more than a decade ago has been found guilty of her murder.

Darren Osment, 41, killed Claire Holland, 32, in a drunken argument hours after she was last seen leaving a pub in the centre of Bristol in June 2012.

Despite extensive police investigations, the mother of four has never been seen since and her body never found.

Bristol Crown Court heard that when Osment fell under suspicion detectives deployed an undercover officer to befriend him who then recorded his confessions to her murder.

Between December 2020 and July 2022, the officer – posing as a man called Paddy O’Hara – created a fiction of being involved in the criminal underworld. 

Following a two-month trial, Osment, of Chessel Drive, Patchway, South Gloucestershire, was found guilty of Ms Holland’s murder on a date between June 5 and June 8 2012.

Gazette Series: Avon and Somerset Police

During the trial, the court heard the undercover officer had witnessed many examples of Osment’s violent temper, particularly when drinking.

Andrew Langdon KC, prosecuting, said: “That is relevant because we suggest that when he met with Claire Holland that night, he is likely to have lost his temper, lost control of himself and in using unrestrained violence he killed her.

“In other words, he is a man with an explosive temper with a propensity to use violence when angry, including to those who are weaker and more vulnerable than he.”

Osment was convicted despite Ms Holland’s body never being found and there being no crime scene or forensic evidence linking the defendant to the murder.

Police had evidence of several confessions Osment had made over the years in which he claimed to have strangled Ms Holland, dismembered her body and dumped her remains in the River Avon.

The jury heard evidence that Osment had confessed to six different people, including a former girlfriend, her brother, friends, a 999 call handler, Mr O’Hara and finally a prison inmate.

Mr Langdon said Osment had been “carrying the burden of knowing what he did to her” and had “sought to relieve himself of the burden” by making repeated confessions.

Gazette Series: Darren Osment confessed to killing Claire Holland to an undercover police officer, who recorded his confessions Darren Osment confessed to killing Claire Holland to an undercover police officer, who recorded his confessions (Image: Avon and Somerset Police)

“He has, we suggest, never forgotten what he did to Claire,” he said.

“He has always been haunted by the memory of it and that weight, the trauma of that memory, has taken a considerable toll upon him.”

Following Ms Holland’s disappearance, police launched a missing persons inquiry.

They began re-investigating in 2019 after Osment, who by this time was living in Devon, dialled 999 and admitted killing Ms Holland.

The following year the undercover operation began and the officer would spend many hours with Osment playing pool or snooker, going for walks or engaging in supposed criminality.

Jurors were played several of the recordings of their interactions, with Osment confiding in Mr O’Hara about what had happened to Ms Holland, discussing alibis and potentially trying to blame other people.

In one Osment tells the officer: “Yeah because of what she did, f****** c*** mate, f*** her. End of, f*** em, she ain’t going to be seeing the light of day again, don’t worry about that.”

Osment denied murdering Ms Holland and claimed the confessions were the ramblings of a “drunken idiot”.

Explaining why he made them, he told the jury: “Drinking too much, trying to big myself up, make myself out to be something I am not … the combination of the three.

“Again, I haven’t got a proper explanation.”

Osment will be sentenced on Wednesday, December 20 at Bristol Crown Court.

The Honorable Mrs Justice Cutts told him: "I am not going to sentence you - but sentence you next Wednesday, December 20.

"You must understand the law requires me to pass a sentence of life imprisonment.

"The question I must resolve is what the minimum term should be. In the meantime you remain in custody. You can go down."

"Osment is a selfish and violent misogynist" say police 

Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Superintendent Darren Hannant, said: “The evidence we’ve gathered painstakingly over the last four years has proven that Osment is a selfish and violent misogynist who has abused almost everyone he has been close to. 

“Our investigation found he’d made repeated confessions to others about his involvement in Claire’s murder, but because of a lack of supporting evidence, a decision was made to obtain authorisation for the deployment of an undercover officer, with the express aim of uncovering the truth about Claire’s disappearance, and in the hope of finding her body.

“The evidence and recorded footage gathered by the officer exposed Osment’s disturbing and hateful character and most importantly, details about the murder that otherwise would have remained unknown. 

“This operation required the careful coordination of many aspects of covert policing, alongside the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit and frequent in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, to ensure that tactics were applied to fairly obtain admissible evidence.

“Due to the real risks posed to the officer in the event of the operation being compromised, the investigation team were unaware of the deployment until July 2022, when a decision was made to re-arrest Osment, after which he was charged with Claire’s murder.

“The evidence gathered by the undercover officer, along with the witness evidence, phone data, and missing person investigation records, proved that Osment was responsible for this crime.

“We discovered he had lured Claire to the pub where he worked as a chef in Clifton on the evening of Wednesday 6 June, 2012.

"He killed her and then disposed of her body, we believe most likely in water. He got rid of the physical evidence, through burning his clothes and disposing of a knife he claimed to have used.

“It was a brutal and pre-meditated crime motivated by his intense hatred of Claire, who he blamed for having their child taken into care. 

“The undercover officer put his safety at risk to expose Osment’s offending.

"He spent hours in his company and in doing so, was able to gather vital evidence to achieve justice for Claire and her family.

"The covert material showed Osment’s actions on the night, and how the reality of what he had done had affected him.

"He was both disgusted by, and felt justification for, his actions, and on one occasion was physically sick when he saw a televised police appeal for witnesses.

“I’m in no doubt, Darren Osment is a danger to women, and our communities are a safer place with him behind bars.”

Gazette Series: Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Darren Osment, 41, at Bristol Crown CourtCourt artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Darren Osment, 41, at Bristol Crown Court (Image: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire)

“We don’t expect Darren Osment to tell us where Claire’s body is"

Det Supt Hannant added: “This investigation has been extensive and complex, so it’s important to recognise the efforts of all those involved in achieving this outcome.

"The undercover officer who put his safety at risk to gather vital information, those who worked tirelessly to support him and review material throughout the operation, and members of the investigation team who have greatly contributed to this outcome.

“We know our investigation and the subsequent court proceedings have had a profound and emotional impact on Claire’s family.

"They are always in our thoughts. The support and strength they have shown in the very worst of circumstances has been admirable. 

“While we don’t expect Darren Osment to tell us where Claire’s body is, we can only hope the principles of Helen’s Law will prevail.

"This law ensures that criminals who do not disclose the location of the remains of their victim can have this used against them when it comes to applying for parole.

"For the sake of Claire’s family, there remains the hope this will provide them with the information they so desperately need.”

"Claire’s family have endured over a decade of pain"

Ben Samples, Senior District Crown Prosecutor for CPS South West, said: “This was a heinous crime and Claire’s family have endured over a decade of pain as Osment sought to conceal his crimes by weaving a web of deceit, all while cruelly refusing to provide any information which would help locate Claire’s body. 

“Murder cases where a body has not yet been recovered are notoriously complex, because it is harder to prove a murder has been committed and there is less evidence to pin the crime to a suspect – so prosecutors must think outside the box. 

“Piece by piece, we worked with police to present a compelling case to the jury which made clear that this was ‘foul play’ and that only Osment had the motive to commit murder.

“We know that today’s result won’t bring Claire back, but we hope that knowing justice has been served will bring comfort to her family as they continue to grieve her loss.”