Scorned lover tried to hire hitman to murder colleague at Sports Direct store in Milton Keynes, court hears

A shop assistant who had an affair with her manager tried to hire a hitman to kill a colleague she saw as a love rival, a court has heard.

By Sally Murrer
Wednesday, 20th July 2022, 9:32 am

Whitney Franks, 26, from Two Mile Ash, is accused of soliciting to murder after paying through the ‘”dark web” for someone to kill fellow worker Ruut Ruutna .

Both women had an affair with their boss James Prest, a father-of-two who had a long term partner at the time, Reading Crown Court was told.

Passions became inflamed when Franks discovered Ms Ruutna was a rival and she became jealous, the jury heard.

Whitney Franks denies soliciting to murder

Franks, who denies the charge, allegedly looked for a hitman on the dark web and her message was spotted by BBC investigative journalist Carl Miller, who reported it to police.

Prosecutor Andrew Copeland said: "On the website was a message, including Ruut Ruutna's address in Milton Keynes, her Facebook profile and description. The defendant has not denied she wrote this," said Mr Copeland.

He said the message read: 'I'm looking for the murder of a woman. I have £1,000 and I am willing to pay more. This woman has caused a lot of problems for myself and others. Please can you help sort this out.’

The jury heard she added: "I need this done as soon as possible. I'm not looking to waste anyone's time. How can I be sure I'll get away with it? I need it done badly."

James Prest

Franks also inquired if she could pay in monthly instalments, saying "I'm very serious about this”, it is claimed.

Mr Copeland explained how Franks had set up a cryptocurrency account, allowing her to make anonymous purchases online. She bought £282.57 worth of bitcoin, but three days later withdrew the funds.

He said: “Whitney Franks and Ruut Ruutna were work colleagues together with James Prest, who was general manager at Sports Direct in Central Milton Keynes.

"They were not only work colleagues but love rivals of James Prest and both were romantically involved with him at the same time. Both knew James Prest had a long term partner with two young children.

"They were not concerned about that but were concerned about each other. They both knew that James Prest was not prepared to leave his long term partner or their children," said the prosecutor.

"He tried to play them off against each other. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

The court heard James Prest started working at the city centre branch of Sports Direct in August 2014, and a year later Whitney Franks started working there.

"By 2016 they became romantically involved with each other,” said Mr Copeland. “This continued until 2017 when Ruut Ruutna joined the same branch. She started a relationship with James Prest in 2018.

"Those relationships were episodic - they would split and then get back together again. In 2018, Whitney Franks left the branch at Milton Keynes and worked in Sports Direct in nearby Bletchley.

"By 2020 James Prest would, while his partner and children were in bed, frequently leave his house and go to Ruut Ruutna's house. On August 17, 2020, Whitney Franks showed up at the Milton Keynes Sports Direct. It wasn't a work-related visit, but personal.

"James Prest was clearly upset and she made a comment about him sneaking around at night. Both ladies did not speak to each other or about each other - how did she know about James Prest going around Ruut Ruutna's at night?

"She must have been following him. Why would she be doing that? Out of jealousy? “

When Franks’ message about the hitman was discovered, police told Ms Ruutna and, out of concern for her safety, took her to a safehouse, the court heard.

The investigation continued and Franks was arrested on September 10, 2020

Giving evidence to the jury James Prest said: "Ms Franks is someone who I had a relationship with and somebody I used to work with. Initially we would see each other once a week, or whenever we could and then it became two times a week or so, then towards the end it reduced back down again.

"I was in a relationship with a long-term partner and I was living with her at the time. I moved out of where I used to live about two and a half months ago.

He added: "Ruut Ruutna was a colleague of mine who worked at Sports Direct, and someone who I had a romantic relationship with. I believe she started at Sports Direct in Milton Keynes in 2017.

"Ruut was aware that I was in a relationship with a long term partner and that I was also seeing Whitney. Initially the start of the (relationship between Ruut and I) was not meant to be more than a casual fling.

"Eventually Ms Franks told me Ruut had told her. She said something like 'you're sneaking around at night and still seeing Ruut.' I wasn't aware they were talking to each other but I had my suspicions.

"I thought Whitney was hard working, someone who was fun to be around and someone who loved me. She never expressed any desire to hurt Ruut herself, or to get anyone else to hurt her."

Police constable Nicholas Timms, who worked for Thames Valley Police at the time of the alleged offence, said: "We located Ruut Ruutna and took her to a quiet place, the store room and informed her she was a named individual of somebody seeking to have her killed.

"She was clearly shocked and she sat down on the floor. She said she had a hunch on who it might have been and she said the name Whitney. I moved her from her work address as quickly as I could and took her to a safehouse, somewhere that no-one she knew would know about."

Later the jury heard details of the police interview Franks gave to Police constable Mandy Banfield when she was arrested on suspicion of soliciting to murder.

When questioned by the police she said she had accessed the dark web after watching documentaries and finding news articles and decided to see what it was all about.

She told the police: "I started looking at the article and I thought this surely isn't an actual thing. I thought it was mind-blowing. I don't know how I found this website but there was so much information on there.

"It's so weird but I wanted to find out more about it, but I didn't want anyone to get hurt. I wanted to see if anyone would respond - I just thought it was a scam. I never had any intention of signing up for something to happen.

"I filled in the details and never heard anything back. I messaged the website asking for my money back. I tried to withdraw the bitcoin but it never came.

"There is something not right in my head to do that but I also thought it was not real, like, I didn't believe those websites were real."

She also explained in the interview that she had last been intimate with James Prest two weeks prior to her arrest. However she claimed that she was no longer upset about Ms Ruutna's involvement in their relationship.

She added about the website: "I was intrigued by it and I guess I just clicked on it. I didn't search anything on that app - I found that website and I just found that link on a page on a normal article.

."There was a pull-down menu saying 'kill' or 'arson' and it was almost like I wanted to prove to myself it wasn't a real thing - it seems so wrong but I wanted to test the waters, to see if anything would happen but nothing did. They were not giving my money back."

"I never thought it was real - I didn't tell anyone because I thought they would think I was insane. I wish I could explain exactly why my brain went that way but sometimes it's almost like I wake up with a million different personalities. I think I'm just a bit proper mental.

"I know I don't have a job or anything but the £200 or so didn't really matter to me because I had other savings. I thought it was going to get it back because it wasn't real."

The trial continues today and is set to last a further two days.