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

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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?