Family of murdered tycoon calls for his wife to be charged

Widow in 1985 killing 'carried gun in her handbag'
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The Independent Online

The family of a fashion tycoon shot dead almost 24 years ago is pushing for murder charges to be brought against his widow after Scotland Yard released unseen witness statements that allegedly undermine her account of what happened.

Lawyers acting for the family have written to the new Director of Public Prosecutions claiming that there is now a compelling case for prosecution. Keir Starmer QC, who received the letter last Monday, may have to withdraw from making any decision, however, because he previously acted for the family in securing access to the files.

Aristos Constantinou was shot six times at close range shortly after returning home with his wife Elena from a party in the early hours of New Year's Day 1985. The couple lived in a mansion on the Bishops Avenue, a street in north London also known as millionaires' row. He financed their lavish lifestyle through Ariella, a fashion business run with his brother.

Mrs Constantinou has always maintained that their arrival home disturbed two masked burglars, one of whom locked her in the upstairs bathroom. She said she escaped by climbing down a drainpipe and raised the alarm, by which time her husband was dead. The initial police inquiry resulted in no charges. However, detectives queried her story, which she is reported to have changed significantly nine months after the murder. Suspicions about Mrs Constantinou have torn apart the family, which remains estranged from the widow and her three sons.

The dead man's brother, Achilleas Constantinou, said: "There is one thing my family are sure of and that is [Elena] knows exactly how and why my brother was murdered and by whom."

A second police investigation in November 1998, based on new evidence, was found by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to be insufficient to warrant prosecution. Since then the family has raised the case at the highest levels of the Government and Scotland Yard. But the CPS still refused to prosecute. A £250,000 reward has elicited a mixed bag of leads, including the suggestion that a contract killer was used.

In 2006, the family decided that the only way forward was a private prosecution. Mr Starmer, a leading human rights lawyer, was instructed to get access to the murder files. DNA examinations of hairs found on the dead man's clothing and blood on a piece of glass from the broken kitchen door had proved inconclusive.

However, a recent examination of the newly disclosed material has convinced the family's legal team that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Mrs Constantinou. It is alleged that eight statements from family friends and domestic staff undermine her claim at the inquest never to have owned a handgun.

Mr Constantinou was shot in the back and then twice in the head at close range with small-calibre bullets. The killer used an Italian-made Fiocchi gun with bullets that had not been produced since 1961.

One witness, a family friend, said that six months before the murder Mrs Constantinou admitted carrying a gun in her handbag for protection. Other statements disclosed to the family suggest that Mr Constantinou was planning to disinherit his wife after discovering several infidelities. A maid claimed that shortly after the murder, Mrs Constantinou asked her not to tell the police about an affair.

The family's legal argument is bolstered by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which makes certain hearsay evidence admissible. This means that witness statements about the couple's personal life could be taken into account. "For these reasons, and the substantial amount of additional evidence that the police have that we cannot talk about, we would like this woman brought to trial," Achilleas Constantinou said. "We do not care whether Elena goes to prison or not. We simply want her to tell the truth so we can have closure."

Mrs Constantinou could not be reached for comment yesterday. She has consistently denied any involvement in the murder.