Balcony father 'did not mean to kill son'

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The Independent Online

A bereaved mother told a murder trial yesterday of her bitter rows with her ex-husband moments before he leapt off a hotel balcony with their children in his arms, killing their six-year-old son.

Natasha Steel, sitting just 2ft from her former husband John Hogan, wept as she told a court in Crete that their marriage fell apart during a "make or break" holiday in August 2006.

Ms Steel, 35, has not spoken to 33-year-old Mr Hogan since he grabbed their son Liam and daughter Mia and jumped 50ft from a fourth-floor balcony at the Petra Mare hotel. Liam fell first and died almost instantly after hitting his head on concrete but Mia, then two, was in her father's arms and suffered only a broken arm.

Ms Steel told the court in the port of Chania that she booked the holiday in an attempt to patch up their failing marriage but the trip was punctuated with rows. On the fourth day, she said, she told Mr Hogan that she might move out when they returned home. After this, she said, he became increasingly "agitated" and later told her: "If you're going to leave and live in a house with the children I will burn it to the ground." Ms Steel told the court: "I asked him to calm down because the kids were there. I bathed the children and then took them down to dinner."

Mr Hogan kept coming down to the restaurant in an increasingly "angry" mood, Ms Steel said, so she decided to take the children back to Britain early. She returned to their room and discovered her husband had haphazardly packed the suitcases in readiness.

Ms Steel said: "I started making them tidy because they wouldn't close. He asked me what I was doing and I said I was making the suitcases tidier. He stared at me with a crazed look and started shouting. He said, 'My packing is crap. John's packing is crap'.

"I had my back to him and when I turned around no one was there. I heard a woman scream downstairs."

Ms Steel then began to weep uncontrollably and collapsed on to the witness stand as her mother rushed to comfort her. The trial was adjourned for 30 minutes.

Ms Steel, who uses her maiden name, denied that her ex-husband was ever violent towards her but said their relationship was strained, especially after the death of his father and suicide of two of his brothers. "I think his family history contributed to his problems," she added.

This allegation prompted an outburst from Mr Hogan, who interrupted his ex-wife's testimony to shout: "She called my family a 'family of death' when my grandmother died one month before we went on holiday."

Ms Steel responded: "He didn't mean to kill my children but I do know with his history of suicide that he should not have taken my children." She added: "He is a selfish man."

Ms Steel, who now lives with a new partner, was questioned by defence lawyer Dimitris Xyritakis about "flirty" e-mails she allegedly exchanged with an old school friend in 2005 that her husband found. She said their marriage had been in crisis for some time, adding: "We loved our children so much but the marriage was not working. This had gone on for a long time."

Mr Hogan, of Bradley Stoke, near Bristol, denies murder and attempted murder. He told the court: "I do not accept the charge that I planned to kill my children. I did not plan it."

Joannis Nestoros, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Crete, said Mr Hogan "was not in a clear state of mind" when he chose to jump from the balcony but believed he was "sending his family to Heaven". "He does not even remember the incident," she said. Mr Hogan, who ran a tiling business, also suffered from "heavy illusions" and schizophrenic symptoms when he was under pressure, she added.

Mr Hogan has been on remand in Greece for 16 months and the court was told he had made several suicide attempts while in jail. His lawyers had previously argued that he was not mentally fit to stand trial. The case continues.