A policeman who killed his police constable fiancee and then staged a car crash to make her death appear an accident was jailed for a minimum of 18 years today after he admitted her murder.
Martin Forshaw, 27, bludgeoned Claire Howarth, 31, to death with a hammer just hours before the couple were due to fly to the Caribbean to get married. He then drove her body to a remote country lane where he tried to cover up his crime.
Today, as his trial at Manchester Crown Court was due to begin, Forshaw pleaded guilty to murder. Sentencing him to life with a minimum term of 18 years, Mr Justice David Clarke said it was a “brutal killing”.
Forshaw, an officer with Cheshire police, and Ms Howarth, a PC at Greater Manchester Police, met in July 2007 and started their relationship in November of that year. They moved into a house together in Tottington, Bury. Ten months later they were engaged and were due to marry in St Lucia on 12 May 2009.
But, unbeknown to Ms Howarth, Forshaw was leading a double life. He was secretly having an affair with Lisa Charles, the mother of his four-year-old son. And, the week after he and Ms Howarth were due to marry, Forshaw was booked to go to Disneyworld with Ms Charles and their son.
In the early hours of Thursday 7 May, the day they were due to fly to the West Indies, Forshaw told Ms Howarth that he wanted to end their relationship.
An argument ensued during which Forshaw hit his fiance across the head with a lump hammer. He then carried Ms Howarth’s unconscious body downstairs and put her in the passenger seat of her BMW car.
He drove to a secluded spot between Bury and Bolton and carried his fiancee out of the car with the intention of seeking help, his barrister Peter Wright QC told the court. But realising Ms Howarth was dying, Forshaw took the hammer from the boot of the car and hit her two more times to “put her out of her pain”.
He then set about making it look like an innocent car crash. Forshaw put his dead fiancee’s body into the driver seat while he climbed into the passenger seat. Leaning across with his leg, he pressed on the accelerator and steered the car into a bush.
He called 999 and told the operator he had been involved in a 60mph car crash. He told police that Ms Howarth had been looking for a CD when she hit something in the road and skidded into the bushes.
But police and emergency services who attended the scene were immediately suspicious. Ms Forshaw’s injuries were not consistent with a car crash and the car had barely a scratch. And the air bag had not deployed, something which generally happens in all car collisions above 20mph.
Forshaw was arrested and told detectives that he had hit his wife in self defence, to stop her attacking him with the mallet. Pathologists said this was “totally implausible”.
The court was told that Forshaw was “torn” between his emotions for his fiancee and Ms Charles. Mr Justice Clarke said: “I have some understanding of the position of what you found yourself in. I believe you did not face up to the situation when you should have done.”
He told him that announcing the relationship was over “at a time of the highest emotions” has produced “the results we can all see.”
Following sentencing, Ms Howarth’s mother Irene said: “The heart ache is still very raw and painful for myself and my family to come to terms with Claire’s
horrific and meaningless death. Claire has left a great void in all of our lives and our family and her friends are so proud of all she achieved.
“We will never forget her wicked sense of humour, the compassion and courage she displayed in the police force along with the many happy memories of Claire’s all too short life. She remains in our hearts forever.”