Businessman cleared over 'body in pool' killing

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A shady businessman who was accused of paying a friend £20,000 to kill his wife by clubbing her and dumping the body in a swimming-pool walked free yesterday after being cleared of murder.

A shady businessman who was accused of paying a friend £20,000 to kill his wife by clubbing her and dumping the body in a swimming-pool walked free yesterday after being cleared of murder.

But the judge at Nottingham Crown Court said the allegation that he had arranged the murder was "probably essentially truthful". Colin Harrold, 35, was charged with putting out a contract to have his wife, Diane, murdered and being made to look like an accident.

Darren Lake, 31, who was best man at Mr Harrold's first wedding, admitted beating Mrs Harrold with a wooden post and throwing the unconscious woman into a swimming-pool at Barn House, the couple's home in Uffington, Lincolnshire.

Yesterday Lake was jailed for life. He had claimed Mr Harrold hired him to carry out the murder and had blackmailed him.

Sentencing Lake, Mr Justice Morland said: "You were the actual cold-blooded and merciless planned murderer of a woman who, seconds before you attacked her, was treating you as a friend and with whom you falsely pretended to be friendly.

"It is, however, to your credit that you have pleaded guilty and, at risk to your own life, have given evidence for the Crown which, in my view, was probably essentially truthful, but I am satisfied, whatever your reasons may have been for committing this terrible crime, that your primary motive was financial reward."

The jury was told Mr Harrold wanted his wife, a beautician, dead because he had been having an affair with a fitness instructor and did not want to pay a costly divorce settlement. He was also said to be becoming frustrated because his wife wanted to start a family buthe did not want any children with her.

Yesterday, after deliberating for nine and a half hours, the jury reached its unanimous verdict on the 11th day of the trial. Mr Harrold looked stunned as the not-guilty decision was returned, swaying slightly before steadying himself by holding the bar at the front of the dock. Many of the eight women on the jury were in tears as they left the courtroom after the verdict.

The jury rejected the prosecution's case that Mr Harrold had wanted his second wife dead so that he would be free to lead a "playboy lifestyle".

Lake accused his former friend of paying him to commit the crime while he was enjoying a trip to Amsterdam's red- light district.

The alleged plan was that Lake, a former nightclub bouncer, would make it appear Mrs Harrold had slipped, hit her head and fallen into the pool while out in the dark looking for the couple's cat.

But police found blood in the kitchen at Barn House. A post- mortem examination showed that Mrs Harrold, a former nurse, drowned after being bludgeoned inside the house and dragged to the outdoor pool. A torch and the body of Cleo, the couple's black cat, was found beside her in the water. Lake, from Peterborough, eventually confessed to the murder, saying he attacked Mrs Harrold with a staircase post that he had bought the day before.

Detectives who later searched his flat found a letter Lake had written to his father that was to be given to police in the event of his suspicious death. In it he named Mr Harrold as the likely killer.

The prosecution alleged Mr Harrold wanted his wife dead because she was "bleeding him dry".

He admitted shortly before her murder that he had had an affair with Tania McCarter. Lake said he murdered Mrs Harrold because he was frightened of Harrold, who had blackmailed him with a photograph which allegedly showed him being raped by three men on holiday 10 years ago.

The jury was also given details about Mr Harrold's business affairs, including a fraud involving selling books that were destined to pulped. Mr Harrold admitted bribing people at two book companies.

His lawyer, Robert Starr, said after the verdict: "You can imagine how relieved Mr Harrold is right now.

"Obviously, with the length of time the jury were out, there were certainly some worries." He said that Mr Harrold was now going to return to his Lincolnshire home and rebuild his life.

Mr Starr added that Mr Harrold had turned down an offer of £35,000 from a national newspaper for his story. He said: "At this stage it is not about the amounts of money."