Expat 'murdered his wife to claim her life insurance'

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A British expatriate went on trial in France yesterday accused of murdering his wife and trying to make her death look like an accident.

Robert Lund, a former tree surgeon, denies killing his wife Evelyn, whose body was found in her car in a lake almost two years after he reported her missing.

When the couple met in 1994, she was the wealthy widow of a property tycoon and he lived in a caravan. Prosecutors claim the couple had a stormy relationship and Mr Lund, originally from Darwen, Lancashire, wanted to live off her life insurance money at their farmhouse near Albi, south-west France.

Mr Lund, 55, reported his 52-year-old wife missing on 1 January 2000 and led the hunt for her. More than 200 streams and lakes were searched but Mrs Lund's body was not found until 22 months later, when drought caused the water level in Lake Bancalié to fall by 30ft.

Mr Lund insisted his wife must have driven into the water as she returned from drinking with friends on 29 December 1999. But police became suspicious when searches of the car and lake failed to locate the glasses Mrs Lund always wore while driving. She was also dressed in different clothes from those she wore to her friends' house the day she vanished. Her outfit from that night was found at home and traces of blood were on her other clothes and in the car, it was alleged.

Maître Barthe, the examining magistrate, told the court that Mr Lund lied when he told police his wife did not come home after a row. He added: "When her body entered the water, she was no longer breathing – or breathing so little she did not inhale any water, which indicates she had already been smothered or knocked unconscious."

The trial continues.