Policeman's dismay as widow cleared

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The Independent Online
THE WIDOW and stepdaughter of a millionaire businessman were yesterday cleared of his murder at the Old Bailey amid extraordinary recriminations between the police and prosecution lawyers.

All charges were dropped against 42-year-old Linda Watson and Amanda London-Williams, 24, yesterday morning before the case started. But prosecutor Julian Bevan, QC, told the court that the senior officer heading the investigation was "appalled" by the decision not to proceed.

The officer, Detective Inspector Nick Siggs, from Sussex CID, revealed outside the court afterwards that the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service had been taken last Friday without the police being consulted. He and his colleagues stressed the hunt will continue for the gunman who had shot and killed 55-year-old Richard Watson at his home in East Grinstead, Sussex, adding that there was a pounds 50,000 reward for information. There will be case conference between the CPS and the police to review the evidence and the decision not to proceed.

After receiving defence experts' reports last week, the prosecution decided to carry out a reconstruction at the scene with ballistic experts.

Mr Watson, who ran a computer company, was hit by two bullets to the neck and chest as he returned to his pounds 400,000 farmhouse in December l995. The Crown had claimed it was a carefully organised ambush, the shooting had taken place from the balcony of the house, and the gunman could not have been present without the two women's consent.

After Friday's tests, the Crown said its experts could no longer be certain that the second shot was fired from the balcony and not ground level. Mr Bevan told the court " the crux" of the Crown case had been undermined. He continued: "The easy way out... would be to say 'well, let the jury decide'. But I am faced with the single question of 'realistic prospect of conviction'." In his professional opinion, he added, the answer to that was "no".

However, Mr Bevan told Judge Michael Hyam: "The officer in charge of this case strongly disagrees with the decision... that he has used on the telephone to myself over the weekend the word 'appalled'... that saddens me, but being the senior officer he is absolutely entitled to hold a view."

As they left the dock, Ms Watson, a former Miss Arbroath and Miss Scotland runner-up, who was Mr Watson's third wife, put her arm around her daughter. Ms London-Williams had earlier cried when the court was told of her relationship with Mr Watson, who had treated her like his own daughter. Afterwards the two women, both dressed in black, left the court in the company of representatives of a tabloid newspaper to which they are believed to have sold their story. They cannot be charged again for the murder of Mr Watson.

Ms Watson's solicitor, Chris Lewis, said: "She has been appallingly treated. The police have more than sufficient evidence to redirect their inquiries elsewhere. It is not a case where the police are not looking for anyone else."

Det Supt Tim Godwin, the head of Sussex CID, said there were suggestions that Mr Watson's business dealings in Russia may have brought him into conflict with gangsters, but had no evidence of that.

Mr Bevan told the court that Ms Watson stood to inherit around pounds 693,000 from her husband. But Ms Watson's counsel, John Coffey, said there was no will under which Ms Watson would have benefited, nor did she stand to benefit from an insurance policy or the proceeds of the marital home.

Mr Bevan added that Ms Watson at one stage considered divorce as she felt the marriage was not "an equal partnership", and that she had become "more a housewife than a wife". She had been annoyed to learn that Mr Watson planned to leave 51 per cent of his company to his son, Julian, but the couple were said to have reconciled their differences.

On the night of the murder, the court was told earlier by Mr Bevan, Ms London-Williams had heard a gate open, a car coming in, and then her father's voice saying "Get away from me - get away, not again..." Mr Bevan continued: "As she is pulling aside the curtain, she hears a loud bang, and no more from her father. She sees a man in a balaclava carrying a gun, the gun is smoking."

Ms London-Williams went outside and saw her father lying on the ground with blood pouring from her neck. She told her mother, and made 999 calls. The Crown, said Mr Bevan, had considered "oddities" in the 999 calls but now accepted that "in this dreadful crime, you would expect [those affected] to be in a severe state of shock."

After the murder, Ms Watson and her daughter moved to a pounds 300,000 property in nearby Lingfield, where they still live. Ms Watson's solicitor, Mr Lewis, said: " She is extremely relieved that the allegations will be pursued no longer, but it is not a cause for celebration because her husband's murderer is still at large."