A retired producer of TV drama The Bill has been convicted of trying to hire three men to kill his partner of 27 years after becoming besotted with a woman 40 years his junior.
David Harris offered £200,000 to murder Hazel Allinson so he could inherit her fortune, sell her £800,000 home and live out his days with Lithuanian Ugne Cekaviciute, who he met in a brothel.
The 68-year-old admitted he got into a tangle of elaborate lies and mounting debt as he lavished expensive gifts on the 28-year-old former professional basketball player during their five-year affair.
He denied wanting retired scriptwriter Ms Allinson dead and claimed he only wanted to talk to hitmen as research for a murder mystery novel before he was snared in an undercover sting.
But prosecutor William Boyce QC said Harriss's story was “absurd” and told him: “You were utterly sinister, utterly convincing and utterly intent on the death of Hazel.”
An Old Bailey jury rejected Harris's explanation and convicted him of soliciting murder.
Ms Allinson, who was present as details of her partner's betrayal were aired in court, refused to cooperate with the prosecution. And it can now be reported that while Harris was in the witness box, she offered to give evidence to back up part of his defence.
Harris sat in silent prayer as he was found guilty after the jury deliberated for five hours.
The court was told there was no prospect of Ms Allinson attending court for the verdict.
Harris blew £50,000 of Ms Allinson's retirement savings and used her reputation as a parish councillor and church chorister to borrow thousands of pounds from neighbours in the upmarket West Sussex village of Amberley.
The grey-haired pensioner pawned a gold wrist watch and diamond ring and made up increasingly elaborate lies to keep breast cancer survivor Ms Allinson in the dark as he travelled to London for trysts with 6ft 1in tall Ms Cekaviciute.
Harris pretended to umpire matches for Arundel Castle cricket club to play away with his young lover and also told Ms Allinson he was tending to his sick brother in a mental hospital.
In a show of “complete contempt”, Harris sneaked Ms Cekaviciute into her home and photographed her posing naked on a bed with Ms Allinson's three spaniels, jurors heard. On one occasion, Ms Allinson was accidentally sent a receipt for a handmade cashmere Hermes sweater that Ms Cekaviciute had bought on her credit card.
Harris spun a tale that she was the girlfriend of his nephew who was out of contact after having a terrible car accident in Serbia.
Mr Boyce told jurors that Harris decided the only way out of his predicament was to pay a hitman to kill Ms Allinson in a staged mugging or car-jacking.
In February last year, Harris approached mechanic Chris May for debt collection before offering him a deal for the hit on his partner. When Mr May failed to oblige, Harris sent him a sinister text saying: “She's back. What the f*** happened? She's dog walking this afternoon. Where are you?”
Mr May repeatedly tried to warn Ms Allinson of the danger by approaching her as she left the gym at Goodwood health club and by email.
Harris was then put in contact with 6ft 3in “man mountain” Zed – real name Duke Dean – through a friend at Nooks café in Stratford, east London, near to where Ms Cekaviciute had enrolled in college. He gave Zed a photograph and details of his partner's diary and took him on a tour of places she planned to go, including the church in Arundel.
Recovering alcoholic Harris promised him £200,000 for the job but in November last year Zed reported him to City of London Police instead.
Zed introduced Harris to another prospective hitman, undercover officer “Chris”, who secretly videoed the meeting in Sainsbury's car park in Balham, south London. As they discussed the murder, Harris said: “I will be suitably distressed because I will be distressed there's no doubt about it. I know what I'm asking. I know there's no way back but likewise there's no way out for me. That's the bottom line.”
Asked if he was sure about it, he said: “I've never been more deadly serious about anything.”
The next day, police went to arrest Harris and burst into a room at the Balham Lodge Hotel to find him lying naked in bed with Ms Cekaviciute.
Giving evidence, Harris claimed he was researching a book, based on his alter ego Tom Noble, a wife called Holly – named after one of the family dogs – and a sporty young woman who worked in a brothel or café.
He said: “I thought what was happening to me at that time, at that particular juncture, might form the basis of a good thriller. “It was based on a guy based on me, my sort of age, meets a young girl, falls in love, becomes besotted and over development decides he wants to be with her and decides what he has to do about his wife Holly.”
He admitted giving Mr May and Zed all the information they needed to track down and kill Ms Allinson but insisted he was always in “control”.
He also told jurors that he had spoken to three more potential hitmen – Mr Bethnal Green, Mr Hackney and Dwayne the soldier – but they had walked away.
Mr Boyce asked: “How could you possibly take that risk with the woman you say is your soulmate? You were recruiting these people because you were at your wits' end and could see no way out.”
Harris accepted he had deceived and lied to Ms Allinson for his own selfish ends but denied he would ever consider murdering her. He told jurors the book, which he had yet to write but hoped would be made into a Hollywood blockbuster, was to be called Too Close to Kill.
But Mr Boyce suggested a better title, given his affair with Ugne Cekaviciute and his “wicked” treatment of the “angelic” Ms Allinson, was The Good, the Bad and the Ugne.