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Malcolm Webster convicted years after committing the 'perfect murder'

HIS charm was equalled only by his cunning; he was capable of both small gestures of kindness and grand acts of evil.

Malcolm Webster, a qualified nurse who thought he had fooled police after committing the "perfect murder" of his first wife, was yesterday found guilty of killing her in a staged car crash 17 years ago. The 52-year-old was also convicted of trying to murder his second wife, again in a staged crash, as part of a plot to obtain almost 1 million in life insurance payouts.

His conviction followed the longest criminal trial with a single accused person in Scottish legal history, and involved one of the most significant Crown Office prosecution cases since Lockerbie.

Webster was described by the senior detective who helped bring him to justice as a man who showed a "complete contempt for human life" as he attempted to satisfy his "insatiable appetite for wealth".

Peter Morris, the brother of Webster's first wife, Claire, said the guilty verdict against the "wicked murderer" had broken the spell of "psychological sadism" over him and his family.

"I now feel that Claire, who has waited 17 years for this, after her death, will now be able to rest in peace," he said outside court.

"Today is a good day. There is now justice for Claire."

The conviction brought to a conclusion the largest investigation of its kind in Grampian Police history - it lasted five years and circumnavigated the globe.

The operation was sparked by modern forensic examination techniques, which allowed officers to determine from a tiny fragment of Ms Morris's liver tissue that she had been drugged.

At the time of his arrest, police believe the "cruel, practised deceiver" might have been planning to kill again, after uncovering evidence of joint wills he had made with other women he had deceived.

The trial at the High Court in Glasgow, which began on 1 February, had heard how Ms Morris died after being drugged with Temazepam by Webster, who then drove their car off a remote road near their Aberdeenshire home and started a fire while she was unconscious in the vehicle, which contained petrol cans.

Webster, originally from Guildford, Surrey, fraudulently claimed more than 200,000 from insurance policies after the 32-year-old's death in May 1994.

• The process of bringing Malcolm Webster, pictured, to justice spanned decades. Picture: PA

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He was convicted of attempting to murder his second wife, Felicity Drumm, in a deliberate car crash in New Zealand in February 1999, in a bid to claim about 500,000 of insurance money. He accelerated to about 60mph and veered across two motorway lanes before leaving the carriageway in an attempt to kill her.

The court heard he had drugged Ms Drumm at locations in New Zealand and the UK between July 1996 and February 1999, to the danger of her life and the wellbeing of her unborn child. When Ms Drumm, 50, confronted Webster and accused him of trying to kill her, he told her: "You would have died happy."

Webster was also convicted of attempting to bigamously marry his fiance, Simone Banerjee, and lying to her that he had leukaemia to obtain her estate, which included a trust fund set up by her father, a retired consultant surgeon.

In all, he was found guilty of a range of crimes over a 14-year period, from 1994 to 2008, including theft and fraud. The charges on which he was convicted made up 11 pages on the indictment.

A jury of nine women and six men took less than four hours to find Webster unanimously guilty of murdering Ms Morris, with a majority verdict on the charge of attempting to murder Ms Drumm. Webster sat still and showed little emotion as the verdicts were announced, although he could be seen shaking his head.

Witnesses travelled from Peru, Yemen, Australia, New Zealand and America to give evidence during the trial. In his closing address to the jury, prosecutor Derek Ogg, QC, said Webster's "reign of destruction is at an end".

Edgar Prais, QC, defending, argued that Webster was a liar, a philanderer and a thief, but not a killer. The jury, however, chose not to believe Webster's version of events.

Detective Chief Inspector Phil Chapman, the senior investigating officer in the case for Grampian Police, said Webster was a "skilled conman" whose material yearnings saw him "routinely betray those who placed their trust and faith in him".

He went on: "He peddled his lies across different continents, believing his chilling and callous crimes would go undetected. But he severely underestimated the determination and will of the many people whom he had deceived.

"The thing that struck me was he was an individual who has, and will continue to have, an insatiable appetite for wealth and the trappings of wealth, which knew literally no bounds.

"He basically has used his wife as a vehicle to obtain money.

"He literally spent over 200,000 in a six-month period (after Ms Morris's death], so that basically took him back to being almost insolvent again.

"Seventeen years ago, that amount of money was a huge, huge amount of money to spend in six months."

Webster decided not to spend the insurance money on paying off his mortgage. Instead, he lavished gifts on women he became involved with soon after Ms Morris's death. He also splashed out on a Range Rover and a yacht.

Police started investigating Webster's past when one of Ms Drumm's sisters, who was on a business trip to England, contacted UK police in June 2006 to report her suspicions.

Ms Drumm, a New Zealand citizen, told the court she and Webster, whom she married in 1997, had travelled to New Zealand from Scotland towards the end of 1998 with a view to setting up a permanent home there.

Webster told the court he feigned a heart attack and deliberately drove the car off the road because they were on their way to their bank, and he knew there were no funds in a joint account.

Ms Drumm said that, during the time of their house-buying negotiations in New Zealand, she had added Webster's name to one of her bank accounts at his suggestion, after being made to feel "churlish" for saying she did not want to do so. She later found nearly all of the NZ$140,000 (68,000) in the account had vanished.

Giving evidence during the trial, Ms Drumm described the terrifying moment when Webster crashed the car they were travelling in.

Neither of them was injured when the vehicle came to a stop, but Webster screamed at his second wife to stay in the car.However, she ignored him and got out of the vehicle to safety.

Webster also drugged his second wife. She told the court she had slept for 36 hours after drinking a cup of tea he had given her on their honeymoon.

Prosecutors were able to try Webster for crimes committed in New Zealand because his bank accounts linked to the insurance policies were in Scotland, and the planning for the fraud had begun and been executed in Scotland.

Judge Lord Bannatyne adjourned the case until 5 July at the High Court in Edinburgh. He said he would like to obtain a social inquiry report and also asked for information about Webster's financial position.He said: "I would like to have some understanding of the accused's financial position as I would like to consider a compensation order, given what happened to Ms Drumm."

Advocate Steven Borthwick, defending Webster, said he understood there were no assets. Mr Prais, who defended Webster throughout the trial, was not in court to hear the jury's verdict.

 
 
 

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