A "DEVOTED" pregnant mother who disappeared without a trace in 1999 was killed by her husband and her body hidden, a court has heard.

Prosecutors said the body of Debbie Griggs was disposed of and her car was found dumped streets away from her home in Deal, Kent.

They said this followed suspicions that her husband Andrew Griggs was having a relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

Griggs, 57, of Ringwood Road, St Leonards, denies murdering the mother-of-three and is standing trial at Canterbury Crown Court.

Mrs Griggs complained at the time that her husband had threatened to "get me sorted", Canterbury Crown Court was told. He told police at the time that his wife had left of her own accord on May 5 1999, but the prosecution alleges it was something "altogether more sinister".

The body of the missing 34-year-old has never been found.

Opening the case, prosecutor Duncan Atkinson QC said: "The prosecution case is that Debbie Griggs did not just up and leave her husband and children in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard of again.

"She was a devoted mother who would not have just abandoned her children."

Mr Atkinson said the evidence points to her death being the result of "foul play".

"The evidence relating to her car, both the sighting of it, the condition of it and the science from it, all support the contention that her body had been disposed of and car dumped."

He argued that Griggs was the person with "the most reason" to wish Mrs Griggs to disappear, amid suspicions of him having an affair with a 15-year-old girl, as well as for business reasons.

Mr Atkinson added: "Andrew Griggs, moreover, had not only the opportunity, on the evidence, to have killed and concealed the body of his wife, but his behaviour and his lack of consistency all point to him being the killer.

"The prosecution therefore alleges that this defendant, Andrew Griggs, killed his wife and it is for that reason that he is therefore charged with her murder."

The court heard that the defendant and Mrs Griggs had run a freezer business together at the time she disappeared.

On March 2 1999 - just days before his wife disappeared - Griggs set up a new account for the business in just his name.

"Andrew Griggs had then closed the joint business account, a process that was completed on May 6 1999, the day after Debbie Griggs disappeared," Mr Atkinson said.

The jury was read extracts from an affidavit that Mrs Griggs wrote in 1999, describing problems in her relationship with her husband.

In it, she said: "Everything we have together is in fact his, and I am only allowed to enjoy anything that is a joint matrimonial asset by reason of being with him.

"He does not let me go out by myself. His needs come first.

"He tells me I am sick and mad in the head."

She described an incident in which her husband kneed her in the stomach, despite knowing that she was pregnant.

Also in an affidavit from the time, Mrs Griggs said: "During the course of our marriage my husband was bombastic and bullying.

"He has threatened to get me sorted. I took that to mean he will do me harm or will arrange for some other to do me harm."

The court heard that Griggs told police his wife would have been entitled to half of their business if they divorced, and he said he had obtained legal advice to that effect.

On May 12, 1999 - days after Mrs Griggs was last seen - police officers visited Andrew Griggs' home and spoke to him.

"He told one of the officers, PC Smith, that Debbie Griggs had left between 10 and 12, saying 'you see what it's like with the boys', Mr Atkinson told the jury.

"He also said that she had left whilst he was asleep."

He denied ever being in a relationship with the 15-year-old girl, telling the officers she was "just a mate".

On the same day, officers recovered Mrs Griggs' white Peugeot 309 car, 14 minutes' walk from where she had lived in Cross Road, Deal.

A smear of blood was found on the rear wing of the boot, and there was no carpet or boot lining in the boot, the court heard.

Prosecutor Mr Atkinson continued: "It is the story of the car being used not in Debbie Griggs' voluntary departure from her home but something altogether more sinister. The use of the car to remove her when she was beyond making any such choice, and removing her in a way from which there was no return."

The trial continues.