In 2008, Charles Lavery, the former Sunday Mail chief reporter, broke the world exclusive that Malcolm Webster would face murder and attempted murder charges after a global police investigation. Here he examines the case and his dealings with a mild-mannered sociopath.
“I did not kill Clare. I loved Clare. I would never harm her. I’ll give you an exclusive interview when the police realise I’ve simply been the victim of a series of unfortunate accidents. I don’t blame you, you’re only doing your job. The truth will out.”
He spoke the words with a ringing confidence, a man sure of his own innocence who would allow the authorities to establish that innocence in the fullness of time. It didn’t quite go to plan.
Last Thursday, Malcolm John Webster was found guilty of murder, attempted murder, poisoning and fraud by a jury of his peers. It was the longest criminal prosecution of a single accused person in Scottish legal history. And he went to the cells still believing he was an innocent man. He will always be right, and we lesser mortals will always be wrong.
Webster wept, silently, in the holding cell underneath the High Court as guards wandered past for a sly look.
Thursday 19 May 2011 was a sunny day in Glasgow, but architects of the city’s new high court building hadn’t given a thought to incorporating windows in the basement, where the guilty were gathered.
Webster, a white, middle class, 54-year-old nurse, was finally truly troubled. He had sat in the dock for some four months in total, with barely a frown.
A jury had just returned guilty verdicts on all counts. The tears, perhaps for the first time in his life, were real. He had shown no emotion as the verdicts were read out. He would be going to prison for a very long time, yet the news registered hardly a flicker.
Mr Anyone, the polite charmer who had the clipped, dulcet tones of a BBC Radio 4 presenter, had drugged and murdered his first wife, fooled Scottish police into believing it was an accident, then used to the same modus operandi years later as he attempted to dispatch a second wife on the other side of the world.
His third victim-to-be was warned by detectives her life was in immediate danger after Webster bought her a £6,000 platinum engagement ring and convinced her to sign over her worldly goods. He was still married to his second wife at that time.
The three women had two things in common: they were nurses and they were all of independent means.
Clare Morris died on a quiet country road in Aberdeenshire, in the passenger seat of the family jeep, stupefied by drugs as fire raged around her. The man she loved and had only recently married had staged a car crash and packed the boot with petrol canisters.
An off-duty cop who stopped to help asked Webster three times if there was anyone else inside the car when she found him lying on a grass verge having seemingly crawled from the vehicle.
Chillingly, this practised deceiver waited until the flames prevented anyone from getting near the vehicle before he “remembered” his wife was inside.
In the weeks before the “accident”, several insurance policies had been taken out by Webster. He pocketed £206,000, packed up and left Scotland. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, and in spite of rumblings of disquiet among some officers, police closed the file as an accident.
He moved to Saudi Arabia and began a breathtaking spending spree which saw him plough through the money in just six months. But Webster was unperturbed. He had his next victim firmly in his sights.
Felicity Drumm, like first victim Clare, was a nurse who had moved to Saudi to work. She fell for Webster, and was particularly struck by a softness around him whenever he spoke of his tragic first wife, who he said had died in an horrific car smash. It was why he was in Saudi, trying to forget, he told her.
They moved back to Felicity’s home town of Takapuna in New Zealand and married there. On the second day of the honeymoon, Webster began introducing drugs to her food. It had worked four years previously on first wife Clare, so why change the formula?
The one thing Webster did not anticipate was Felicity surviving the inevitable car crash. Doctors found sedatives in her bloodstream and Webster headed for the airport. By the time New Zealand police issued arrest warrants, he was long gone. They now faced a worldwide probe to catch their man, and he was no easy prey.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this polite predator was his ability to snare the women he did. After fleeing New Zealand, Webster resurfaced on the west coast of Scotland, in Oban, where he worked as a medical orderly.
He met consultant’s daughter Simone Banerjee and they quickly became an item. He even took her to visit his first wife’s grave. By this time, three separate police forces were involved. Grampian Police had re-opened a cold case review of the crash that killed Webster’s first wife, after police in Auckland alerted them to the copycat near miss with second wife.
Grampian told Strathclyde Police there was a “person of interest” living in their force area, who they wanted monitored.
What happened next is unprecedented in a police investigation of a would-be serial killer. So concerned were officers monitoring Webster that they decided to warn Simone Banerjee about the new man in her life.
Detectives had learned that Webster and Simone planned to take part in a yacht race. Alarm bells deafened the cops. They knew it was a perfect setting for murder. They even asked the local harbourmaster to alert them if Webster’s yacht left its mooring.
Simone Banerjee was visited by two detectives and told that the man she had just become engaged to, and had signed over her worldly goods to, posed a serious threat to her life.
Called an Osman warning, the letters are usually only handed to gangsters involved in tit-for-tat shootings over drugs and turf wars. Police are duty-bound to warn anyone of impending danger if they receive intelligence that a life is at risk.
So it was that Simone Banerjee was handed a letter detailing concerns for her safety and stating that Webster was still married to Felicity Drumm.
She confronted him the following day. He packed a small bag within half an hour, printed off a document that reverted her estate back into her name only, and walked out of her life. Officers were in her street, unsure how Webster would react.
At that time, the simply astonishing Malcolm Webster had already realised the game would soon be up. He was aware of the New Zealand warrants and had written to the embassy in an effort to have them overturned.
So, as Webster sat crying in the basement of the High Court at Glasgow, he wasn’t crying for his victims, or from deep remorse or regret. He was crying for himself.
As guards below the High Court packed his belongings into a clear bag and noted each item – the watch, the belt, the wallet and its contents – Webster balked at only one thing: his new iPhone.
He was carrying £800 in cash in the back pocket of his trousers, and offered it to the Reliance guard to turn a blind eye to the phone he couldn’t bear to part with. His offer was refused. Months earlier, just as the trial was about to get underway, Webster had busied himself on the web asking all manner of questions about his new toy and its capabilities.
He joined forums and members answered his “newbie” queries. Here was a man who was more upset at losing a phone than he had been when interviewed by police over a murder, an attempted murder, and several fire-raisings and poisonings. His standard response to detectives during all interviews was “no comment.”
He was a man who administered drugs to stupefy and used fire to cleanse, all for one goal: his love of money.
Webster had the cars, the homes, a yacht and Range Rover. He killed first wife Clare and cashed in over £200,000 in insurance policies. He bought the baubles he had never had as a child. The money was gone from his account in less than six months. One detective described it as like “watching a running tap, sometimes £3,000 a day would just go from the account.”
That was in 1994. Seventeen years later, after squandering hundreds of thousands of pounds of other peoples’ money, he sat alone, awaiting transfer to HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow, a guilty man. He was in a place where his £800 in cash couldn’t help him. He was about to go to a new world, a prison existence where money is not the currency. A world unknown to him or most of his class, where cigarettes, drugs and mobile phones are the hard currency in a violent barter system.
And so he cried. After decades of deceit, from his scouting days where his fellow scouts labelled him “pyro” due to his penchant for fire-starting, to his killing for cash, his fire-starting and thefts.
He feigned cancer, even shaved his head and eyebrows – but the tears, according to one of the country’s top criminal profilers, were not for his victims or because of his actions.
He was crying because he had been caught. A sociopath with no ability to feel remorse for others, a black widower who used women, caring wealthy women, to fund the lifestyle he believed he deserved.
That lifestyle started early for Webster. As a 17-year-old, awkward teenager in Guildford, he was outside the norm, a young man who would be seen wandering the streets at all hours of the day and night, alone, musing.
He wasn’t a classic loner, he moulded himself into what he was meant to be at any given time, and even as a gangly, good-looking youth he managed to find himself a girlfriend, a first love. He was 17 and she was just 15.
Her father was a wealthy man, with a chain of nursing homes dotted around Surrey. He felt sorry for Webster when they were introduced, and gave him a job helping at one of those homes. It was here that Webster honed the skills that would lead him to the riches he so coveted.
Almost 32 years later his first love, now a married mum-of-two, sat her elderly father down in the lounge of his home and revealed a secret she had carried in her heart for over three decades. She had been Webster’s first victim.
She had endured a secret abortion aged just 15 and been bullied into keeping it from her family. When news of Webster started to break around the globe, she knew it was only a matter of time before her secret became common knowledge.
She was Webster’s first victim. She was not the last.
He is an ordinary man capable of extraordinarily bad things. And he doesn’t care what you think about that.
– Follow Charles Lavery on Twitter: @charleslavery