Innocent. But this murder tale is far from over

A mother and daughter are cleared of a brutal killing - so who was responsible for the shooting at The Larches?
Click to follow
On a cold December night three years ago, Richard Watson was shot dead outside his home - setting in train a sequence of events worthy of a crime novel.

The final chapter should have ended this week when his wife and stepdaughter were cleared of his murder, but instead this strange and intriguing tale of killing in a small Sussex town is far from over.

Some questions remain: who carried out what appeared to be a contract killing, and what will happen to Mr Watson's fortune, estimated to be more than pounds 1m?

Next week, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service meet to pick up the pieces and decide what to do next. The detectives who have spent the past two years investigating the case are determined it will not remain unsolved.

Having been formally found not guilty, Linda Watson, 44, and 23-year- old Amanda London-Williams cannot be charged again with the murder. If the evidence were available, they could in theory be charged with other related offences such as conspiracy to murder, although there is no suggestion that this will happen. Even if it did, defence lawyers could claim double jeopardy, arguing that to secure convictions the police had fallen back on another charge.

Ms Watson has inherited around pounds 600,000 from her husband's estate including a share of the sale of the marital home - scene of the killing. The Larches in East Grinstead was sold recently for pounds 230,000. Detectives had hoped that a reward of pounds 50,000 on offer for information would loosen a few tongues as to what exactly happened that night. But within 24 hours of her acquittal, Ms Watson had withdrawn her pounds 30,000 share of the reward. Her lawyers said she had no confidence in Sussex police's handling of the case.

Indeed, she and her daughter are said to be taking advice on whether to sue the police for wrongful arrest and or malicious prosecution. Such a legal action may mean, of course, they will have to give evidence, an ordeal they were spared at the Old Bailey when the prosecution decided to drop charges before the trial began on Monday. Ms Watson's lawyers say she has no fear about about being cross-examined in the witness box.

The decision to withdraw the charges was taken because ballistic tests the previous Friday had undermined the Crown case that Mr Watson had been shot twice from the balcony of his home. The gunman's presence there would only have been possible with the collusion of the two women.

The events of the evening of 10 December l996 are strange, violent and confused. Ms London-Williams had been staying with her mother and father, as she considered him. She was watching EastEnders on television when she heard her father drive back. Then she heard a loud bang, and her father saying something like " Get away from me - get away, not again". As she opened the curtain she saw a figure in a balaclava standing with a long- barrelled smoking gun. Her mother too heard the noise, but thought it may have been caused by a pet kitten.

Ms London-Williams rushed downstairs and called 999. The time was around 7.46pm. She asked for an ambulance with words to the effect that there was "a man outside with a shotgun he is going to get my daddy". When the emergency operator asked why there was the need for an ambulance, and had anyone been shot, the answer was "no". But she pointed out that Mr Watson had been attacked three weeks previously.

Linda Watson had by now picked up the phone, and the operator tried to keep her on the line. But she was insistent that the line must be cleared so that she could call some friends. She also said she needed to call her husband on his mobile phone. However, she could not get the number and did not call him back.

When all this was going on Mr Watson was, according to forensic specialists, already dead. He had been shot underneath the balcony with a shotgun. The first charge had come down through his chest, blowing off his top button and tie and ended up in his stomach. The second had blown away most of his neck. He was later discovered lying on his back, arms spread. His gloves were in one hand, and the car keys underneath the body. His glasses had fallen off and there was a small amount of blood.

At 8.08 pm in another 999 call, Ms London-Williams gave a further account of the gunman she had seen. He had been standing with a smoking gun near Mr Watson's parked TVR Chimera car, about 18 feet away from where the body was found. The police forensic version put the range of the shooting at two to six feet. The forensic conclusion was also that from the trajectory of the injuries the shots must have been fired from the balcony, which is only accessible from the house. This evidence was to be discredited in forensic tests a week ago.

Although Ms London-Williams only saw the gunman for between 10 to 15 seconds at a distance of more than 25 feet she was able, with lights around the house, to give a description including details of stitching on his jacket and his training shoes - old and turned up at the toes.

Three weeks before his death, Mr Watson had been attacked with a stun- gun outside the offices of his computer company, Trafalgar, in East Grinstead. The two masked attackers zapped him with the stun-gun, but did not rob him. The police found it perplexing. East Grinstead had never had a stun- gun attack, and has not had one since.

There was speculation that the attack may have something to do with Mr Watson's business dealings in Russia, but the police could find no evidence of this. Instead, the feeling among detectives is that whoever later carried out the murder was laying an elaborate smokescreen.

The Watsons' marriage, his third her second, had gone through a rocky patch. She is said to have felt more like a housekeeper than a wife, the couple had not had sex for eight years. She was also said, in court, to be upset that Mr Watson wanted to hand over control of his computer company to his son Julian.

On 5 March l997, Ms Watson and Ms London-Williams were arrested, questioned and released on police bail. A report was sent to the Crown prosecution Service, and after advice from a barrister, mother and daughter were jointly charged with murder in July.

The decision by the CPS to drop the charges has left some detectives in the inquiry angry and frustrated. The defence counter that the prosecution case was a loosely spun web of circumstantial evidence. Their lawyers say the confusion and apparent contradiction in the emergency service calls was because the two women were in a state of shock.

There is tension between Ms Watson and some members of her husband's family. She did not inform them of the funeral arrangements and when they found out about it had the body cremated an hour before the arranged time. She had wanted to avoid the funeral being turned into a media circus.

In the meantime, the police investigation continues.