Father of two children killed in Spain was on most-wanted list

Chain of events that led to double murder began with arrest for paedophilia offences
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The Independent Online

The sign hanging on door of room 101 of the Hotel Miramar on Tuesday morning was carefully worded to avoid arousing any suspicion about the events unfolding inside. It read: "Do not disturb, my children are ill."

It was only when the reception at the £53-a-night, four-star hotel in the Costa Brava resort of Lloret de Mar was called shortly before 2pm by the room's occupant, 43-year-old Lianne Smith, with a request to call the police and an ambulance that the horrifying nature of what had taken place became clear.

According to Spanish police sources, investigators entered the triple room to find the bodies of 11-month-old Daniel Smith and his five-year-old sister Rebecca lying on a bed covered by blankets. Their mother, who had arrived at the hotel by car a day earlier, had written a note in which she allegedly confessed to killing her children.

Yesterday, it emerged that the road to this tragedy had begun 10 days earlier when detectives from Spain's Guardia Civil had arrived at the family's rented apartment in central Barcelona, some 50 miles south of Lloret de Mar, and detained Mrs Smith's husband, Martin, for extradition to Britain on paedophilia charges.

Media reports said that the housewife had told police – who are investigating whether a plastic bag was used to asphyxiate the two infants after they had been subdued using over-the-counter pain killers – that she feared her children were about to be taken away by the Spanish authorities.

Martin Smith, 45, a television psychic, had been placed on a list of Britain's most-wanted fugitives in September last year after he left the country during an investigation by Cumbria Police into sexual offences against a girl aged under 16 between 1995 and 2005. He is thought to have fled the UK in December 2007 with his wife and Rebecca.

Officers moved to arrest the businessman on 7 May after information was received by Operation Captura, a joint initiative by Britain's Serious and Organised Crime Agency, Crimestoppers, and the Spanish authorities aimed at capturing wanted Britons thought to have fled to Spain.

Police are investigating whether Mrs Smith, apparently distraught at the arrest of her husband, carried out the killings to coincide with his deportation back to Britain on Tuesday on a European arrest warrant.

Smith yesterday appeared at Carlisle Magistrates' Court on 13 charges including rape and sexual assault, hours after being told of the deaths of the two children. Police sources said Smith was "distraught". There were conflicting reports as to whether the former entrepreneur, who is the father of Daniel, was also the father of Rebecca. Mrs Smith has four children, at least two of whom are from a previous relationship.

Outside court, a spokesman for Cumbria Police said: "During the court hearing it was disclosed that Smith's wife, 43-year-old Lianne Smith, has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of the two children. We are saddened by these tragic events and are supporting members of the extended family."

The couple are understood to have settled in the Carlisle area in 1999 after Mrs Smith's previous relationship had ended. The businessman, who was born in North Shields, worked for a management consultancy and had previously had a job as a sound engineer before he set himself up as a professional medium around 2004 after attending a training course in Essex. Advertising himself on a spiritualists' website, Smith described himself as a "clairvoyant and psychic" and offered tarot readings and public demonstrations after explaining that he had been drawn to the paranormal since "seeing lights around myself" as a young child.

The psychic seemed bound for a more high-profile career when he was approached in 2007 to appear on a television programme exploring haunted houses around Britain. The Most Haunted series, for the satellite channel UK Living, showed Smith investigating Brougham Hall, a Tudor mansion near Penrith.

Walking across a bridge, Smith appeared on screen saying: "I got an overwhelming feeling that someone had thrown themselves off the bridge. I had to take a step back because I felt like I wanted to do it myself. I also sensed a baby. What she went through took my breath away." It later emerged that a woman had killed herself and her child by jumping from the bridge.

The family are thought to have left Cumbria in 2007 and settled in Lichfield, Staffordshire, while police were investigating the allegations of sexual assault against Smith. When he failed to answer his police bail in January 2008, it was found he had left the country via Dover a month earlier with his wife and Rebecca, sparking an international police hunt.

Staffordshire County Council told The Independent yesterday that it had begun work along with police to "safeguard" Rebecca in November 2007, when the allegations of rape were first levelled against Smith, but that no action could be taken before the family vanished on 7 December. It is understood the claims against Smith do not relate to Rebecca.

Although police rapidly formed the opinion that Smith had fled to Spain, the trail went cold until this month when detectives were pointed in the direction of an apartment building in the fashionable Horta district of Barcelona, close to the city's famous Gaudi cathedral, which the couple had rented for at least the last six months. Operation Captura, which publicises wanted Britons using posters and a website in Spanish, featured Smith in a list of 10 fugitives released last September.

Smith is understood to have surrendered immediately when he answered the door to officers on the evening of 7 May. Neighbours said that the family had been discreet, making few acquaintances and restricting their interaction with the community to visits to a tobacconist to buy sweets for Rebecca. Natalie Lllorente Lopez, 43, who lived above Mrs Smith, said: "She seemed scared, too scared, and very protective of her children. She avoided talking."

Mrs Smith, who last night remained in custody ahead of a court appearance and was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, phoned to book the hotel room and paid in advance for a four-night stay. Fellow guests said the mother had appeared pale and drawn, allowing her daughter to play alone on the balcony of their room on Monday.

When asked why she needed the emergency services after her call to the hotel reception on Tuesday lunchtime, she reportedly replied: "You will see."

The Spanish newspaper El Pais described how police then brought the Briton down from her room in handcuffs. A member of staff said: "She looked very serious, cold."