IN the not so distant past, Daniel Shovelton was a successful man.

Fifteen years of service in the army had seen him rise to the rank of sergeant, a communications expert with the Royal Corps of Signals who had completed two tours of Afghanistan,

By the time 2013 had come around though, 'Army Dan' wanted to spend more time with his young daughter and did not relish the prospect of being posted back to the Middle East.

As a result, Shovelton was given an honourable discharge and left the forces as a highly skilled individual.

But it was at this point that his life began to unravel, developing a taste for online gambling and dabbling in drugs.

It was this latter vice in particular that set him on the path to becoming a murderer.

Warrington Guardian:

Developing a cocaine habit of up to £1,000 per month was a huge contributing factor in him falling behind on mortgage payments on the two properties he owned, his home on School Road in Orford a flat he rented out.

Shovelton was forced to move back in with his parents circa 2017 and, by the summer of 2019, was more than £50,000 in debt.

He brutally murdered his friend of 20 years and 'small-time' dealer Mark Bradbury such was his desperation for a fistful of bank notes and a stash of low purity cocaine.

Detective inspector Sarah Oliver was tasked with investigating the 'doting' dad's untimely death.

She said: "I think Shovelton is possibly the most selfish individual I've ever investigated.

"Not once has he acknowledged that he's a 40-year-old man who has to take responsibility for his own life.

"He put it to the court that when he wants to, he can kick the cocaine habit and sort himself out.

"But he just didn't, he just allowed himself to carry on wallowing in self pity and blaming everybody else for his woes.

"I don't have a high opinion of him.

"If anybody is facing a problem addiction, then this should be a lesson in why you need to get help.

"Shovelton was a successful man – he did well in the army, he came out and he was capable.

"He could have had a fulfilling and affluent life, but his addiction became his master.

"Without resolving that, it took him down a path that he can't come back from."

Warrington Guardian:

It was immediately clear that the murder investigation would be a complex one, largely owing to the wide timeframe – around three days – between the last sighting of the deceased and the discovery of his body.

This was only multiplied by the revelation that Mr Bradbury had been involved in supply cocaine to some of his friends, something even his closest family members were unaware of.

DI Oliver said: "It's probably one of the most challenging investigations that Cheshire Police has faced in many years.

"There were in excess of 10,000 hours worth of CCTV, almost 2,000 exhibits recovered and hundreds of people have been interviewed.

"We were facing quite a task to establish what had happened to him, when it had happened and who was responsible and we had to try and trace people who maybe didn't want to speak to us.

"That automatically created a difficult investigation from the get go.

"The lengths we went to were extraordinary, even getting in touch with Lacoste and getting them to reproduce us a pair of shoes that has been out of production for more than 10 years.

"It's been a real challenge to pull that all together, identify Shovelton and build a case."

Despite these great lengths, Shovelton remained at large for months following the murder.

But throughout this period of uncertainty, detectives remained determined to 'finds answers' for Mr Bradbury's then teenage daughter Hannah.

Warrington Guardian:

Mark Bradbury with daughter Hannah

"It was worrying," DI Oliver adds.

"I desperately wanted to make sure we identified the person responsible and give Hannah answers to the questions she was asking – what had happened to her dad, who, when and why?

"These are the natural questions that the next of kin are going to have when their loved one has been taken from them violently and significantly before their time.

"I do feel that the investigation has provided Hannah with these answers, even if some of them are probably ones that she wishes weren't the case.

"First and foremost, she wishes she wasn't ever in this position.

"But to be in this position and to find out that your very much loved dad had this other life going on I'm sure has been very hard.

"I did have a real personal drive and desire to make sure that I could get those answers for Hannah.

"That was the concern."

Warrington Guardian:

DI Oliver and Hannah Bradbury

It was during these investigations that it was discovered that Shovelton had searched for DI Oliver on Google as he 'researched' progress in the case online.

But gathering small pieces of evidence such as this was crucial in order to form a wider picture which proved his guilt.

DI Oliver said: "It was a little unnerving and a little strange to think that someone has been checking out my CV.

"It was a little bit odd.

"I'm just reaching 30 years of service now, and I can't say I've ever experienced that before.

"One of my strands of the investigation was to establish could it have been anybody else.

"It could not have been anybody else.

"Shovelton was fairly and squarely the only person standing at the end of that question."

Warrington Guardian:

The detective has nothing but praise for the behaviour for both Mr Bradbury's and Shovelton families during what is often a testing and difficult process in court and throughout the force's probe.

She added: "Hannah has shown maturity significantly beyond her years, and I would have to acknowledge Mr Shovelton's family as well.

"Everyone has been very dignified and respectful towards each other, towards the process and towards the investigation and the rule of law.

"Hannah is a young woman with her life ahead of her, and all of those things that a lot of young women dream of – getting married and your dad walking you down the aisle, dad being there at your graduation and all those big celebrations in the years ahead.

"He won't be there and that is hard for her to cope with.

"But if we can enable her to be at those events in the future with some calmness because the questions have been answered, then that's as much as we can do."