Life term for wife killer Malcolm Webster
Tuesday 05 July 2011
A man who murdered his first wife in a staged car crash and tried to kill his second in a copycat smash was jailed for life today.
Malcolm Webster, 52, was told he would serve at least 30 years for killing Claire Morris, 32, in the planned crash in Aberdeenshire in 1994 and trying to kill Felicity Drumm in 1999 in New Zealand.
His "chilling and callous" crimes, driven by an insatiable appetite for money, formed part of a fraudulent plot to pocket almost £1 million in insurance payouts.
The former nurse, from Guildford in Surrey, was sentenced at the High Court in Edinburgh after the longest murder trial against a single accused in Scottish legal history.
Judge Lord Bannatyne described Webster's crimes as "cold-blooded, brutal and callous".
He said: "The murder of your then wife was an appalling one and all right-minded people will be utterly shocked."
Webster claimed his first wife's death was a tragic accident and denied the various allegations against him, but he was convicted at the High Court in Glasgow in May after weeks of evidence built a damning case against him.
The killer, described during the trial as a "cruel, practised deceiver", drugged his first wife Ms Morris before driving the car they were in off a remote Aberdeenshire road and starting a fire while she lay unconscious inside it.
He fraudulently claimed more than £200,000 from insurance policies following her death, later blowing the lot on a Range Rover car, a yacht and on seducing a string of women.
Five years later, he tried to murder Ms Drumm, now 50, in a copycat car crash in New Zealand in an attempt to claim more than £750,000 of insurance money.
On a trip to the bank in 1999, Webster veered across two motorway lanes at high speed before leaving the carriageway in an attempt to kill her.
He had previously siphoned off money from their joint account - intended to buy their dream home - to his own bank account in Scotland. Ms Drumm was not injured in the crash.
Webster also drugged his second wife. She told the court she slept for 36 hours after drinking a cup of tea he had given her on their honeymoon.
The crash which killed Ms Morris was initially thought to be an accident, with Webster telling police in 1994 that he swerved to avoid a motorcyclist and crashed.
Police started investigating Webster's past when one of Ms Drumm's sisters, while on a business trip to England, contacted British police in June 2006 to report her suspicions about him.
After the investigation into Ms Morris's death was reopened in 2008, forensic tests on a tissue sample from her liver revealed she had been given a sedative before the crash.
The charges on which he was eventually convicted filled 11 pages on the indictment.
They included a range of crimes stretching from 1994 to 2008, including theft, fraud and attempting to bigamously marry a third woman, Simone Banarjee, to try to gain access to her estate.
He told her he had cancer to gain her sympathy - even going as far as shaving his head and eyebrows and drawing blood from his own arms to simulate chemotherapy treatment.
Police were so worried about her safety that they sent her an Osman letter - a formal warning that somebody wanted to kill her.
Speaking outside court today, Ms Banarjee said: "I'm very pleased that the outcome of today was as it was."
Asked if she felt lucky to be alive, she replied: "Very much so."
Lindsey Miller, head of the serious and organised crime division at the Crown Office, said: "A vast amount of painstaking work went into this investigation and prosecution.
"Webster was a calculating criminal who wove a web of lies and deceit around people who entered his life in good faith.
"Today, my thoughts are with the families and friends of his victims."
Webster sat silently in the dock, wearing a shirt, grey jumper and jeans, while the judge went over the catalogue of crimes, the most serious being murder.
Lord Bannatyne told the court that Webster had set the car on fire while knowing his wife was inside unconscious.
"It also was a murder which was cold-blooded, brutal and callous," he added.
"This murder was a central plank of a plan to obtain money.
"This was a murder of a wholly exceptional kind, rarely seen in these courts."
Webster had shown "no remorse" and the judge could find "no mitigation for these dreadful crimes".
He also referred to other "very nasty offences", including taking by fraud Ms Drumm's life savings.
"An entirely appalling crime," he added.
The judge set out the 30-year minimum term of the life sentence and said he had "formed a clear view" of Webster.
"You are a danger to women," the judge told him.
He also offered thanks to the police forces in Scotland and New Zealand who investigated the complex case.
Webster's defence lawyer earlier told the court there was "no evidence of a formal psychiatric condition".
"In the absence of a formal diagnosis, there are no matters relevant in selecting an appropriate sentence," the court heard.
Referring to a possible compensation order for Ms Drumm, the court was told: "Mr Webster is unable to provide funds to meet any substantial compensation. Such funds available are derisory."
Outside court, Ms Morris's brother, Peter Morris, said he hoped everyone affected Webster can now move on.
He said: "It's the correct sentence for an extremely dangerous criminal who is a mass danger to society.
"I am grateful to the judge for his conclusions, as I'm grateful to the court for all their efforts in securing the convictions, as well as the police."
Mr Morris wants to set up a foundation in his sister's name intended to help victims of serious cases with their after-court care.
Asked if he was pleased with the length of the sentence, he added: "I'm absolutely pleased - not just for myself and my family and for every other person who has been involved with Malcolm Webster - but also for society as a whole.
"I believe, despite his mild mannered appearance, you are dealing with a very dangerous and a very wicked man, who if he was still at large in society would be a danger to many women.
"I believe the correct sentence has been passed.
"I would love now a situation where people could actually start saying, 'let's forget about Webster, let him rot in jail'.
"Let's start thinking about the people who are affected by crime. Let's treat them as first class citizens, and let's try to get together some proposals which will really promote the bereaved family members, witnesses as very important people and not as second class citizens."
He continued: "Justice for Claire occurred on May 19 when Malcolm was convicted of her murder.
"Nothing will ever bring Claire back. As the judge was reading out the reasons for his punitive sentence towards Malcolm, I got quite emotional. I just felt, 'poor old Claire'. I got taken right back."
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