WHEN mother-of-two Tina Longworth disappeared under water as she overturned her sailing dinghy, her husband Paul was unmoved. "The only trouble is she's coming up," he said.
Three weeks later, the yachting commodore celebrated his 37th birthday by strangling her, then attempting to fake her suicide.
The truth began to unravel when police noticed strange scratches and bruises on her body. Yesterday, despite repeated denials, Paul Longworth, 38, received a life sentence for her murder.
In a month-long trial at Liverpool Crown Court, the jury was told of the Longworths' turbulent marriage through the gossipy conversations of the Southport Sailing Club in Merseyside which was their social life. After seven years together, the marriage had run into difficulties. Longworth admitted to a friend, Dave Smith, that he had hit his wife and on another occasion, Mrs Longworth accused her husband of raping her.
As the marriage deteriorated, she began an affair with local firefighter Gary Silcock. "She met me for the same reason I met her - things were not right at home," Mr Silcock told the court. "She didn't want to leave Paul. She didn't want to hurt him and she couldn't leave her children."
That decision led to her death. Detective Inspector Bob Morrison, who investigated the murder, said he believed the couple had an argument on the morning of Paul Longworth's birthday.
"He admitted he had ripped up a birthday card in front of his wife in the morning," the inspector said outside court.
"He went to work and when he came back the argument continued." The killing itself was less a crime of passion than of temper, he said. "He is a ruthless and possessive man."
What apparently happened was this: Longworth strangled his wife on the evening of 8 January last year. He strung her body from the banisters of their home with a piece of sailing rope as their children, Abby, seven, and Matthew, five, slept near by. And he went for a birthday drink at the sailing club for an alibi. On his return, he dialled 999 sounding distraught and desperate and woke neighbours to demand their help.
As a neighbour who was a nurse searched for Mrs Longworth's pulse, he sat on the stairs, cradling her head and stroking her hair.
Despite the absence of a note, police at first thought at first they were dealing with a suicide. Mrs Longworth had previously received treatment for a phobia about cancer and her husband claimed she was depressed. But the seeds of doubts were sown when police became suspicious of the number of marks on her body. A post-mortem examination revealed 36 separate injuries. The tone of her diary and letters to her grandfather were at odds with an interpretation of depression and medical evidence suggested she had made a complete recovery from her illness phobia.
Longworth, who worked in an opticians, had at first pretended their marriage was perfectly normal. When he was re-interviewed in the light of the suspicions, he admitted he and his wife had had a turbulent year. But he denied murder to the very end.
After the case yesterday, Detective Inspector Morrison said he believed the verdict was the right one. "Paul Longworth has been described as a ruthless and callous individual. The murder he committed and his actions since have proved that description to be true.
"Although I am obviously pleased with the result, the reality of today is that two young children have, in effect, lost their father as well as their mother."
He was surprised, he added, that the dead woman's family had supported Longworth throughout the trial. But that was testimony indeed to how plausible the killer's lies had been.
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