Sex, lies and Louise Woodward's lawyer

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The Independent Online
FRIENDS of Louise Woodward rushed to the au pair's defence yesterday at the end of a week in which support from the British media began to show signs of cracking.

"Louise is a lying monster" screamed the Mirror, quoting one of her lawyers, Elaine Whitfield-Sharp, complaining about her to a friend - later identified as the freelance journalist Annette Witheridge - during a secretly taped telephone conversation.

No matter that the "lies" related not to the death of Matthew Eappen, the baby who died from head injuries while in Louise's care, but to Ms Whitfield-Sharp's claims that she was negotiating to sell her story - something she had promised not to do. Coupled with the lawyer suggesting that a book deal was in the offing, it still smacked of something going horribly wrong.

The cracks began to show on Thursday following the arrest of Ms Whitfield- Sharp, 44, on a drink-drive charge during which she allegedly told the arresting officer: "I thought she was innocent, but now I know she is guilty and I can't handle it."

The lawyer has since denied making the statement and alleged that the officer, Sgt Randy Cipoletta, said he would let her off if she agreed to have sex with him, something he has denied. But it gave the Mirror the opportunity to use the splash headline: "She did it."

For Louise, 20, it all added to the tension. She was convicted of the second degree murder of eight-month-old Matthew in Boston, Massachusetts. She was freed last November when Judge Hiller Zobel reduced the charge to manslaughter and sentenced her to time served.

Now she is awaiting the outcome of prosecution and defence appeals which could see her either sent back to jail for life, with a minimum of 15 years before parole, or cleared of all charges and allowed to return home. The result is expected any day.

During the taped telephone conversation published in yesterday's Mirror, Ms Whitfield-Sharp allegedly tells her "friend" about her disintegrating relationship with Louise, who lived at her home for some time before moving out acrimoniously.

"I don't want any more trouble with Louise Woodward than I have already got," she says. "You know she is a fucking pain in the ass. I have to tell you that when this is over, I want to quit."

Describing Louise as "a duplicitous monster" and her family as "very low class", Ms Whitfield-Sharp claims that she and her mother, Sue, lied about meeting a lawyer colleague when, in fact, they were holding negotiations with a Daily Mail representative who was offering pounds 40,000 for their story.

"I am flabbergasted," she said. "I have just found out about this Daily Mail thing. The agreement was - and the representation has always been - that the Woodwards would never make any money on this at all."

The Daily Mail said yesterday that it would not be paying money to Louise in line with the Press Complaints Commission rule that criminals should not benefit by talking about their crime. Silverglate and Good, her Boston lawyers, said no book deal had been done, but that did not prevent Ms Whitfield-Sharp from raising the spectre of wrongdoing during the taped conversation.

"I find it a little strange when some people have already contributed money in Britain that they are taking pounds 40,000," she said. And, expressing worries about Louise's defence fund, she said: "I worked for six months for free."

This, at least, gave Louise's supporters something to hit back at. The Rev Ken Davey, the vicar of Ince and Elton in Cheshire and one of the fund's trustees, said: "Everything is fully accounted for as far as the trustees are concerned. Any allegations that there is no accountability would be downright lies." He said legal fees had been running at about pounds 50,000 a month and that world-wide donations of pounds 250,000 were now down to the last pounds 50,000. "I have got a bill from [Ms Whitfield-Sharp] here," he added in response to the lawyer's claim to be working for free.

Paul Barrow, the fund's solicitor, also said that Ms Whitfield-Sharp's claims to have worked for nothing were "nonsense", adding: "It is an absolute load of rubbish. I can show you the invoice she submitted and the date it was paid, which was about two weeks ago. As to where all the fund money has gone, with the greatest respect to her it's none of her business. She has demonstrated her lack of confidentiality with some of her comments."

Support in Elton, where the Woodward family live, was still staunch, according to Mr Davey. "Our resolve has not been weakened. People in the village are still committed to Louise."

Susan Woodward refused to comment on the latest furore but, privately, friends said she is pleased that there is at least one piece of good news in all the gloom: Matthew's parents, Sunil and Deborah Eappen, have a new son. Baby Kevin weighed in at 7lb 8oz when he was born last Monday, the day after Matthew would have celebrated his second birthday.