A shopkeeper accused of murdering his postmistress wife appeared to have a loving and affectionate marriage, a fellow villager told a court.

Friends of Robin and Diana Garbutt told Teesside Crown Court the couple seemed happy together.

Mr Garbutt, 45, formerly of Huby and York, is accused of beating his wife to death with a metal bar then pretending she was killed by an armed robber. He denies murder.

The body of Mrs Garbutt, who grew up in Eggborough and went to school in Selby, was found a year ago yesterday in the living quarters of The Village Shop and Post Office, in Melsonby, near Richmond.

On the third day of Garbutt’s trial, Bernard Golding told the court he had become good friends with the couple and would go for meals at a pub or have dinner parties with them.

He described them as “very loving, affectionate”. He said: “They never ever, in the eight years I knew them, had a cross word.”

Mr Golding said Garbutt was “quite jokey”, while his wife used to love telling stories and was a bubbly person.

The jury has been told that about a year before the death of Mrs Garbutt, another robbery was reported at the post office and store.

Mr Golding said after this incident, Garbutt was a “bundle of nerves”, adding: “He would always look up when the door opened.”

The witness also told the court that after the murder on March 23 last year, he scoured the grass verges around Melsonby for evidence while walking his dog .

He told the court he spotted a packet of ten cigarettes with only three missing and a glove beside the road.

Mr Golding said he told a police officer, but the items were still there a month later. The court yesterday heard from more villagers and visitors who were in and around the shop on the day of the murder.

Melsonby resident Stuart Dodshon, who lived two doors away from the post office, told the court he called at 5.05am and Mr Garbutt “seemed normal”.

Milkman David Harper, who arrived shortly afterwards at 5.15am, described the sub-postmaster as his “usual, friendly, affable, personable self”.

Mother-of-four Maureen Roper told the court she called into the shop at about 8.25am to buy 50 cigarettes. She said: “He wasn’t his normal self. Normally he joked about how many cigarettes I bought, but he was quiet.”

The trial continues.