A carpet fitter murdered his ex-girlfriend and “callously dumped” her body close to a lay-by near the M1, a court has been told.

Darren Hall killed Sarah Henshaw and disposed of her body in woodland beside the westbound A617 near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, 20 miles away from her home, prosecutors told Derby Crown Court.

Ms Henshaw, 31, was last seen at her home in Norman Street, Ilkeston, on June 20, with her body found just after midnight on June 26.

Hall, of Rodney Way, Ilkeston, denies murder and trembled in the dock as his trial began on Wednesday.

Opening the prosecution’s case, Michelle Heeley KC said: “The Crown say it was this defendant who had killed her a few days previously and callously dumped her body.

“He says she died accidentally when she fell down the stairs.

“We say you can be sure she didn’t die accidentally, but rather at the hands of this defendant.”

Ms Heeley told the jury of nine men and three women that Ms Henshaw and Hall, 36, had been in a relationship “punctuated by arguments, separation and reconciliation”.

After their latest split, Ms Henshaw “wanted the defendant out of her life” but he kept a key to her home despite multiple requests – in text messages read to jurors – to return it, the trial heard.

On the afternoon of June 20, Hall let himself into the house while Ms Henshaw was out with a friend, jurors were told.

He was asked to leave when she got home but remained, Ms Heeley said, with banging and shouting heard in the early hours of June 21.

After a neighbour texted Ms Henshaw to check on her, Hall replied on his victim’s phone, having already murdered her, the court was told.

Her phone was later turned off and never recovered, though Hall called the device in the following days to try and “cover his tracks”, prosecutors say.

Telephone analysis showed Hall used his work van to drive to the lay-by, where he stopped for nine minutes before returning home, in the early hours of June 21, jurors heard.

“This was a well-chosen, well-thought-out spot, hoping that she would not be found,” Ms Heeley said.

In the following days, Hall got rid of Ms Henshaw’s belongings – including a dressing gown cord, slippers and a duvet – at a recycling centre and a skip, but told family and friends that she had taken them herself, the jury was told.

After Hall’s arrest on June 23, searches of the spot where his phone was stationary revealed Ms Henshaw’s body, with the defendant claiming she died accidentally during an argument, the court heard.

While no marks were found on the stairs at the house, bruising to Ms Henshaw’s neck was found during a post-mortem examination, which Ms Heeley said was “about the width of a dressing gown cord”.

She said: “The prosecution cannot say precisely how Ms Henshaw died. It was not, though, from natural causes. Something happened to her that killed her.

“If this was an accident, as we now understand he claims, then he had multiple opportunities to call for help from the ambulance service, the police, or to tell people, and explain himself.

“We understand now that he will say she died accidentally during the course of an argument, as he was defending himself from her. Why he didn’t then just call the police is a matter for you.

“There is no evidence that he was panicking in the aftermath of this offence. On the contrary, his actions were calculated and controlled – lying to her friends, using her phone to send messages, disposing of her body and then her clothes.”

The trial, before Mr Justice Goss, continues.