A drug dealer serving life in jail for the murders of a mother and her four-year-old son over a £400 debt has been charged with the gangland execution of a British ex-pat in Portugal whose body was found a year after he vanished.
Joel Eldridge, 29, from Bexhill, East Sussex, mysteriously disappeared around six months after moving to Portugal to join a building project in 2018.
His remains were found more than a year later, hidden in woodland near the town of Pedrogao Grande following a public appeal from his family and detectives from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team.
Now, a British former car salesman – already serving a lengthy sentence of at least 36 years in a UK prison for a devastating arson attack – has been charged with Mr Eldridge’s murder.
Sadistic Jacob Barnard, 33, now faces extradition proceedings to Portugal to stand trial for the crime.
Barnard and his enforcer Andrew Milne were caged for a total of 70 years at Brighton Crown Court in May 2021 for setting fire to the home Gina Ingles, 34, shared with her son Milo and partner Toby Jarrett.
Joel Eldridge, 29, from Bexhill, disappeared in July 2018 in Portugal, six months after moving there to join a building project
Mr Eldridge’s remains were found in woodland near the town of Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal
Jacob Barnard, 33, jailed for arson and now charged with the murder of Joel Eldridge in Portugal
State prosecutors in the city of Castelo Branco in central Portugal have now charged the convicted killer and an alleged accomplice named as 30-year-old Joshua Liam Sherwood with murder and desecrating a body.
A harrowing 20-page indictment prepared by the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria force seen by MailOnline accuses Barnard of hitting his alleged victim’s head with an axe after attacking him with a stun gun and stabbing and shooting him.
And it claims Mr Eldridge was killed in a brutal execution his alleged killers had pre-planned because they feared he was about to return to the UK and report them to police for crimes being committed abroad.
Barnard, born in Aberystwyth, had already been jailed for eight years in Portugal before his UK murder trial for drug trafficking and possession of an offensive weapon.
The weapons conviction related to the seizure of a 500,000-volt Scorpy Max stun gun, a machete-type knife and a gun said to been used in Mr Eldridge’s murder before his remains were found.
The Portuguese prosecution indictment says the slain Brit was dumped in a nearby grave on shrubland ‘dug by the suspects days earlier’ and burning his body.
After a clean-up of the murder scene in the village of Macieira, it claims his alleged killers crossed Portugal’s border with Spain and laid a false trail by leaving Mr Eldridge’s wallet, mobile phone and passport near the city of Badajoz around a two-and-a-half hour drive from where his body was eventually found.
Recounting the alleged lead-up to the savage murder, the 20-page document says: ‘For reasons related to Joel Eldridge’s wish to return to the UK, and fearing he would co-operate with police there and report the drug trafficking activity in Portugal, Jacob Barnard and Joshua Sherwood hatched a plan to kill him.
‘We accuse the two men of executing that plan on a date between July 17 and 28 2018, around 4pm, in the living room of Mr Joshua Sherwood’s home in Macieira.’
Detailing how the murder victim escaped the brunt of an alleged stun gun attack by Barnard with his quick reactions before being stabbed in the leg and shot at at least three times as he tried to escape, it adds: ‘Not satisfied with his actions, the suspect Jacob Barnard approached Joel Eldridge armed with an axe as he lay prostrate on the ground and struck him an unidentified number of times around the head.
Barnard and his enforcer Andrew Milne were caged for a total of 70 years at Brighton Crown Court in May 2021 for setting fire to the home Gina Ingles, 34, shared with her son Milo and partner Toby Jarrett
Police said the fire had been his way of enforcing a drug debt thought to have been around £400
According to Portuguese authorities Mr Eldridge was stabbed, shot and hit repeatedly with an axe
Prosecutors say he only stopped when he was ‘tired and convinced he was dead, as was his intention.’
The traumatic head injuries Joel suffered as a result of the axe attack were the ‘direct cause’ of his death.
Barnard, expected to be extradited for his Portuguese murder trial in the coming months from his UK prison cell, snorted a line of cocaine after the horrific crime and sent a mobile phone picture of Joel’s body to an unidentified friend according to prosecutors.
They say the walls and ceiling of the room where Joel was killed had to be repainted after the murder and one of the sofas removed.
Although Sherwood, whose whereabouts is currently unknown, is not accused of physically attacking Mr Eldridge, prosecutors claim the Aylesbury, Bucks-born expat and his co-accused had ‘mutually agreed’ to kill their alleged victim.
The indictment adds: ‘They showed themselves to be insensitive to the value of human life, knowing their conduct was especially perverse and censurable as it was designed to cover up their practice of drug trafficking.’
A date for the pair’s trial by three professional judges has not yet been set. They are expected to face prison sentences of around 25 years if convicted of the two crimes they have been indicted on.
Mr Eldridge’s last contact with his family was in mid-July 2018 after he wished his brother a happy birthday on Facebook. He had travelled to Portugal in January that year to work on a house near the university city of Coimbra.
His disappearance was reported to Sussex Police in late August 2018 and a public and media appeal was issued at the end of that month.
His Bexhill, East Sussex-based parents Jacki and Alan made a video appeal around the time of what would have been his 30th birthday in March 2019, saying: ‘We know someone knows something.
‘Please if you know anything, if you have heard any rumours about where Joel might be, if you have seen Joel, who was the last person to see him…please get in touch with Sussex Police and tell them what you know.’
Detective Chief Inspector Chris Friday, of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said after the discovery of his body: ‘Our inquiries, supporting those of the Portuguese investigators, gave us cause to believe that Joel had come to harm at the hands of others while in Portugal.’
The blaze that killed Gina Ingles and her son was started in the dead of night after petrol poured through the front door was ignited at their home on July 10, 2018.
Fire investigators found Ms Ingles’ body crouching over her deceased son, with the pair huddled under a windowsill in their burnt-out bedroom.
Toby Jarrett spent months in hospital after jumping from the first-floor window of the house in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
Barnard and Andrew Milne, 42, were each found guilty of two counts of murder and one of attempted murder following a trial.
Barnard was jailed for life. Furniture remover Milne, from Hastings, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 34 years.
Police said it had been their way of enforcing a drug debt thought to have been around £400.
Senior investigating officer Gordon Denslow said after they were caged: ‘This was a carefully planned, cowardly, but horrific attack carried out by Barnard and Milne in the middle of the night against a defenceless family.’
Sentencing judge Mrs Justice Philippa Whipple said in court the killers had given no warning, adding: ‘This was a crime under cover of darkness, a crime of stealth and cowardice.
‘They lit the fire and then disappeared into the night. The victims must have been terrified in their last moments as smoke and fire engulfed them.’
Gina’s mum Jayne said in a statement read out after the pair were convicted and sentenced: ‘I still close my eyes and imagine Gina waking to find the house on fire.
‘Today, even as justice is done, it doesn’t really change a thing for us, it doesn’t bring Gina and Milo back to us.’