The Richard Watson Murder
Fewer than 10 weeks before the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins, there had been another high-profile murder in Sussex. Richard Watson was shot dead as he arrived home from work.
Within two hours, Sussex police had identified a plausible suspect, only to let him go and instead arrest and prosecute the bereaved family members at the scene. This is the full story of that case.
On Tuesday 10 December 1996, businessman Richard Watson was murdered as he arrived home from work. The killer—ruthless, efficient, dressed in balaclava and jogging bottoms—shot him twice and then ran off. He was assumed to have been a professional hitman.
The case attracted considerable attention. Media interest leapt several notches, however, when the arrests were made. Linda Watson, Richard’s wife, was a former model and one-time Miss Scotland runner-up. On 17 July 1997, she was detained at Gatwick airport. Simultaneously, her 21-year-old daughter, Amanda London-Williams, was arrested walking down Old Steine in Brighton. They were jointly charged with murder.
It was alleged that they had commissioned the crime and then concealed the gunman on the first-floor balcony, from where Richard could be shot.
The trial was set for Monday 8 June 1998 at the Old Bailey. However, at 5.35pm on the Friday beforehand, a brief fax arrived at the offices of Knights, Amanda’s solicitors in Tunbridge Wells. It read:
No evidence will be offered by the Crown in the case against your client.
Instead of the trial starting, it was formally abandoned. Of course, the women were relieved; they were also very angry. From the moment of the murder, they had suffered a lengthy and harrowing ordeal. For twelve months, the most damaging rumours had swirled around them. Now, they were suddenly deprived of their day in court, and their opportunity of rebutting the innuendo. In fact, they realised that almost no one knew the full story.
EastEnders was just starting when the telephone rang at Larches Farm House, Holtye Road, East Grinstead, in Sussex. Amanda turned the sound down and went to take the call. Robert Gater, her boyfriend, was calling from their flat in Chelmsford, asking how to cook mussels. Amanda wasn’t quite sure, but said her father would be home imminently and he would be sure to know.
When she returned to the lounge, she heard the distinctive engine of her father’s TVR Chimera sports car. She heard him stop, open the five-bar gate and then drive down to the garage. She heard his footsteps along the path towards the front door. Then she heard something awful: “a loud sound which I can only describe as being like a firecracker”; and her father’s voice, “No, no, not again!”
There was another loud bang. She pulled back the curtains and saw, clearly illuminated by the security lights, a man wearing a black balaclava and holding a shotgun. Fearing that she would be seen, she dropped the curtain and ran to the phone, crying, “Oh, mummy, something is terribly wrong, there’s a man outside with a gun”.
Linda, preparing dinner in the kitchen, had not heard her husband return home. As Amanda dialled 999 and asked urgently for an ambulance, there was, admittedly, confusion. In their instantaneous panic and anxiety, the women failed to make themselves properly understood to each other, let alone to the emergency services. They became exasperated by what appeared to be the obtuseness of the operator in taking down elementary details and in demanding to know what precisely was wrong. Linda, who had quickly seized the phone, did not actually know.
After some minutes, Amanda unlocked the French windows and went out on to the balcony. She saw her father lying motionless on the ground. She went to make ever more frantic phone calls. Having lost patience with the emergency services, Linda was instead calling friends. She rang Jane Daniels (“I could tell from the tone in her voice”, she said, “that Linda was terrified”) and asked her husband, Colin, to come over. Having despatched Colin, Jane herself rang 999. She was told the police were already aware of the incident.
Colin arrived to find the telephone in continual use, with Linda shouting into it, “Why aren’t you here?”. He took the phone, and explained that they urgently needed police and an ambulance.
Robert’s father, Ian Gater, having been summoned by Amanda, got there next, at six minutes past eight. He expressed disbelief that no emergency vehicles had arrived. “How can they not be here?”, he said, “there’s a police car parked just down the road”. Linda said desperately, “Ian, please go and get him”.
He drove back, only for the police officer to tell him that they were aware of the incident, but he was under orders not to leave his position.
When he returned, Linda, utterly distraught, said, “Please go and help Richard”. He went to the body, saw the gaping hole in the neck and lower jaw, and knew nothing could be done. He briefly consoled Linda, before walking back to the top of the drive to try to hasten the arrival of the police and ambulance.
The next car, however, brought his wife, Bernadette, and daughter, Sally. They, too, found it incredible that no official help was arrived; they had just passed two police cars and an ambulance parked at the junction of Holtye Road and Shovlestrode Lane. Bernadette used her mobile to make yet another 999 call.
Then, a taxi arrived, bringing Bob Collins, another friend. They straightaway asked the driver to go back and get assistance. “We never saw him again”, Ian Gater said, “the police wouldn’t allow him back”.
At last, a doctor’s emergency car, its green light visible, pulled in to the drive. “We beckoned him in”, said Gater, “but he immediately reversed out and drove off.”
Colin Daniels called them all back in to the house to help Linda and Amanda. Linda, in absolute distress, was saying, “Is he still there? Is he in the ambulance? Oh, please God, cover him up”. Gater went outside to cover the body with a duvet. He was sadly contemplating his friend’s body, when, finally, the police arrived.
“I saw the caps come over the wall”, he recalled. “They were armed, they yelled at me to get into the house.”
It was by then 8.35, 50 minutes after the first 999 call was made. The police station was two or three minutes away from Larches Farm; the hospital was slightly nearer.
“The police were there before us”, explained Gater, “but apparently the risk was too great for them. They told us they didn’t want another Hungerford. But they allowed us, the public, through.”
“Really, I’d have done better to phone the Fire Brigade”, commented Amanda, “they’d have come straightaway”.
The armed response officer who was the first to enter the house asked for a glass of lemonade. “He had no idea who I was, or who Mum was”, said Amanda. The first CID officer to arrive inquired, almost casually, “Is that the landlord lying outside?”Amanda recalled, “Mummy just screamed at him, ‘No, that’s my husband, her father’. The eyes rolled to the back of his head, and he went, ‘Oh, shit’”.
Linda clearly recalls the awfulness of events as they unfolded. “When the police did arrive, we’d told them so many times on the telephone who we were, who Richard was, whose house it was. But they came in they just started asking these questions all over again. It was total chaos.”
Later, under armed escort, Linda and Amanda were taken from the house to the nearby Copthorne Hotel. They were joined there by other family members. They all stayed together in one room. It was a long and miserable night.
Linda Millar was born in Glasgow in 1954 into what she describes as “a good working-class family”and seemed destined for a glamorous career from the start. Working as a model, she did promotions for local businesses, British Rail, a television ad for the Royal Bank of Scotland and a calendar for Grant’s whisky.
Entering beauty contests was, in those days, a natural career move. “We only did that to supplement our income”, she explains, “You won hardly anything, but the more titles you won, the more somebody wanted you to promote their products.”
She became Miss Arbroath and was then runner-up as Miss Scotland. John Player’s—the cigarette company—used her in their promotional events for motor-racing and golf tournaments. She met Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill—and the multi-millionaire international sports agent, Mark McCormack.
“We got on incredibly well”, she recalls. "I suppose a lot of people in that position are used to people fawning over them. I think the reason we got on well was because I didn’t really know who he was. I just talked to him naturally. When he asked me out, I said, ’I’ll think about it’. He would have been 40, he’d just split up with his wife; I was 17. He was planning to buy a house in London, and asked me to go down with him. But I didn’t.
“When I was charged, the press made me out to be someone who was only interested in money and glamour, but if I’d wanted all that I could have had it on a plate. I turned it down. I married for love. I married Brian London-Williams, a struggling cabaret artist whom I had to go out to work full-time to support.”
For a time, Linda and London-Williams featured regularly in the Scottish press. Amanda was born in 1975 and the family moved south when he was offered the prospect of a record contract, but it didn’t work out. By 1979 the marriage had broken up and London-Williams went off to try his luck in the United States.
Linda knew of a dance school for Amanda in East Grinstead, so they moved there. At school, Amanda became friendly with Emma and Catherine Watson, so enabling Richard and Linda to be introduced through their children. Within ten days of their meeting, they were talking of marriage.
Richard Watson was born in Surrey in December 1941. (His father, Sylvester, who still lives in the area, was for many years chief engineer at the BBC.) Richard attended Caterham School, but his talents were practical rather than academic. His first love was motor cars. Having passed his driving test the day after his 17th birthday, he went off to work for Ford’s at Dagenham.
He subsequently became interested in computers, and worked for a company which was absorbed into Memorex. There, he rose to become managing director of sales, earning a good salary and handsome bonuses. He enjoyed a prosperous lifestyle, and moored his cabin cruiser in Chichester harbour.
He had two children, Julian and Charlotte, by his first marriage, which was dissolved in 1969. Afterwards, there was some friction between him and his ex-wife; Julian remembered his father driving to Macclesfield to be able to see him and his sister for 20 minutes, and then driving straight back to Surrey.
In 1970, Watson married his second wife, Sue. They had two daughters: Emma, born in 1975 and Catherine, in 1978. In 1982, they purchased Larches Farm House, which Richard himself converted from flats into a spacious, five-bedroomed house. When Sue went off with another man, Richard obtained a Care and Control Order for his daughters.
The reception for his third wedding, to Linda, was held at the Gatwick Hilton on 6 December 1986. Afterwards they honeymooned in France. Larches Farm was a lively family home. Of Richard and Linda’s five children, only Charlotte never lived there. Julian moved out and qualified as a solicitor, Emma went on to college, Catherine to university in Coventry and Amanda completed a course with Ballet Rambert.
In 1987, Richard was made redundant, although the redundancy package enabled him to set up his own company, Trafalgar, to build and renovate mainframe computer systems. The first few years, in the teeth of the recession, were hard work but, with the support of all the family, Richard turned the business round. By 1993, he was making international contacts and seeing a Â£1 million annual turnover. Even so, he found it impossible to delegate; despite the nature of the business, most of his company’s affairs were stored not on computer but inside his head.
Although their friends all attested that the marriage was solid, there were inevitably ups and downs. “Dad and Linda had fall-outs like any normal couple”, explained Julian, “but I think they loved each other very much.”In 1991, there was a major row, which prompted Linda to see a solicitor about a divorce. Almost exactly five years later, in June 1996, there was another, which led to Linda seeing the same solicitor about the same issue. Neither of them mentioned the previous visit.
The marriage was under strain in two respects. Firstly, in those pre-Viagra days, Richard’s sexual drive had waned. Secondly, Linda had become concerned about the estate. She had been told, by an indelicate financial adviser, that, legally, she didn’t own a penny herself. She realised that, should Richard die suddenly, not only would her own financial position be precarious but the legacies for all the children would be very muddled.
The difficulties were soon resolved. Linda believed that all who had contributed to the success of the company should benefit in the event of Richard’s death. He agreed to make a will, and also to seek medical advice over his lack of libido.
Although he did seek medical advice, he never did make a will. “Somehow it appeared not to matter so much”, explained Jane Daniels, “once Linda had received Richard’s assurance about how much she meant to him.”On 17 July, Linda wrote to the solicitor, explaining that the problems had been resolved. On 1 August, she found a new Saab convertible in the driveway, a handsome present from her husband. Arrangements for the will were agreed in principle but, at Linda’s suggestion, deferred and pencilled in to sort out in the New Year.
Linda had booked a trip on the Orient Express as a surprise for Richard’s birthday on 14 December. At the beginning of the month, they had a few days together in Paris. Amanda agreed to stay overnight while Richard and Linda were returning; she would help out the following day with the weekly ballet class that Linda ran, and with wrapping the Christmas presents.
In the evening, Amanda bought her supper from a local Chinese restaurant and, during the night, was violently ill. She had a form of seizure, and seemed to stop breathing. The doctor advised that such reactions were not uncommon in cases of serious food poisoning, but Amanda ended up staying at Larches Farm while she recovered. Without that Chinese takeaway, she wouldn’t have been there the night that Richard was murdered.
In the wake of Richard’s murder, it was not difficult for the family to suggest possible lines of inquiry. There had been a number of suspicious incidents over recent months, both at the house and the office.
In November 1995, a car with two men in it had pulled in at the top of the drive. The men then stared towards the house. Richard went out, spoke to them for a time, and then the car drove off. When Richard returned, he’d said the men had “just broken down”. A likely story.
Then, there were two strange break-ins at Trafalgar’s offices in East Grinstead. Some months after that, Watson, looking out of the office window, noticed a man acting suspiciously, walking up and down the light industrial area, talking into his mobile phone and apparently taking in car registrations. He seemed to jot down Richard’s distinctive number-plate [P30 TVR]. He then got into a transit van and drove away.
Then, on 18 November 1996, as Richard was locking up, he was attacked from behind with a stun gun by two men in balaclavas, who knocked him to the ground. Although carrying a large amount of cash, he was not robbed. Local people chased the men off.
Watson tried to pass it off with feigned bravado, but it clearly disturbed him. “I know the stun-gun attack shook him up more than he admitted”, Linda revealed. “A few days later I noticed that he’d placed an airgun just under the bed. I didn’t draw his attention to it, because I didn’t want him to think that I thought he was frightened. But I could tell that the incident had made him concerned for his safety.”
(A number of Richard’s friends believe that had the stun-gun attack been adequately investigated, then the murder would never have happened.)
There were, initially, three particular theories about why Richard had been killed. The first concerned Russia. Watson won a contract to supply the computer library system of the Moscow telephone exchange. Negotiations were not easy. Richard and Linda went to Moscow and were escorted everywhere by armed guards. They in turn entertained their Russian clients at Larches Farm, and took them sight-seeing in London. Richard sent out engineers to install the equipment. He inserted a chip in the computer which would enable him, in the event of the full payment not being made, to disable the system from England. At the time of the murder, there was about Â£40, 000 outstanding on the deal, and he was pressing them for payment. In the current anarchy of corporate transactions in Moscow, businessmen have been killed for far less.
Richard had also invested Â£100, 000 as an unsecured loan in a high-risk speculative project. He was thrilled at the idea of moving into venture capital, and told all his friends about his investment.
The idea was to produce electricity from chicken litter. Both Conservative and Labour administrations encouraged the production of energy from renewable sources, and accordingly offered attractive inducements. If the scheme worked, the resulting electricity would be sold to the national grid at a favourable price.
Unfortunately, there seemed little possibility of this scheme working. This was partly because a rival venture outside Scunthorpe had got there first, but mostly because of the dishonesty of Watson’s contacts. Documentary evidence now available proves that Richard’s investment was not used as capital for the business. 60% went to pay off accumulated debts; the rest was transferred, within three days, into two personal bank accounts.
Although Watson never knew this himself, he certainly began to suspect as much. Remarkably, though, he might have put even a loss of this scale down to experience. It would have been personally wounding for him to have raised the issue; he’d have been embarrassed to be publicly revealed as quite such a sap.
In the end, however, even his considerable patience was tried too far. He learned that the company’s entire assets (basically, the intellectual property in the scheme itself) had been transferred to a second company. The original company was then put into administration. He was cut out of the deal.
Also, notwithstanding their duplicity, the directors were still trying to coax further funds out of him, merely to pay the six-monthly administration charge. If the original company went into receivership, then not only would the fraud come to light, but the whole enterprise would be scotched. Whether the scheme was actually going to work, or whether it was just going to fritter away millions of pounds’ worth of subsidy from the Department of Energy, was immaterial. While the company remained in business, it was technically worth about Â£18 million, and there was a chance, however remote, of millions being made from the scheme. If the company folded, then everything was lost.
The day after the stun-gun attack, Richard had a conference call with these contacts and created quite a scene in the office. "He became more and more verbally aggressive, "explained one of Trafalgar’s employees. “He was furious. His voice got louder and louder. He was literally shouting down the telephone and pounding his fists on the desk.”
He added that Richard was normally a mild man, and this was the only time he had ever witnessed a display of such anger.
Richard contacted the administrators, and let it be known that at the next opportunity he would be pulling the plug on the whole affair. The next opportunity was a court hearing scheduled for Thursday 12 December. So what, in the event, kept the venture afloat was Richard’s murder 36 hours earlier.
The third theory of a motive for the murder concerned the break-ins at Trafalgar, as a result of which an East Grinstead man was arrested. It was a simple matter, really. The burglar had dropped a set of keys. When the police found out whose front door they opened, they’d got their man. He was in possession of Richard’s brief case, which was one of the few items stolen. He was due to stand trial in January 1997. Richard, of course, was a central witness against him.
The man was an obvious suspect for the murder. While Linda and Amanda were still detained at the scene, police arrived at his flat. There, they discovered that he was in possession of trainers and jogging bottoms, and also a balaclava. He had no alibi, he refused to answer any questions, and his clothes were in the washing-machine. He’d got convictions for possession of firearms.
So from this unusually rich array of possible leads, which course did the police choose to concentrate on?
None of them. They focused their enquiries on the murdered man’s widow and her 21-year-old daughter.
On the day after the murder, at the Copthorne Hotel, Linda was interviewed. “I think that twelve hours of being questioned directly after your husband’s murder is excessive”, she commented, “but I was just so anxious to help and find Richard’s killer that I went along with it.”
Her main concern was for her daughter. “When I did see her, she was like a zombie. She couldn’t talk. The police couldn’t understand why I was so angry because of the way they were treating Mandy.”
Because of Amanda’s state, a doctor asked a psychologist to attend. He waited downstairs for four hours that day, and returned the following day and spent another two hours waiting; but he did not see her until late on the second day, when he felt her state of distress was such that there was nothing he could do.
One of the first immediate problems simply concerned the way she addressed Richard. "I had twenty minutes of arguing with the police, "she said, “because I called him ‘Daddy’. They said, ‘You can’t call him Daddy because he was your stepfather.’ I said, ‘No, he was my Dad’. So this went on and on. There was no way I was going to call him ‘Richard’.”
The incipient tension between the two bereaved women and the police was undoubtedly exacerbated by Linda’s straightforward Scottish manner. She believed that if the force had responded to the emergency more promptly, the family would have been spared some of their subsequent trauma and the gunman could have been apprehended
“I came unstuck with the police straightaway”, conceded Linda, "because I criticised them. I know now that they don’t like criticism, and they don’t like strong women, so I was unpopular on both counts.
“About a week later, at Emma’s house, I had a huge argument with them about they way they’d handled it on the night. They told me that there was an internal investigation underway, but that ’we’re not going to be able to give you any answers’.
“The next major argument I had with them was at the end of the month”, recalled Linda. "The police had been in Richard’s office for three weeks, looking through everything, and I asked specifically if it was all right for us to go in. They said, ‘Yes, we’ve finished’.
“Emma, Mandy and I went in. I took away some photographs, the girls took some papers. Then I was confronted with a deputation of four senior officers, asking what right I had to do that. They said they hadn’t finished searching. One of them tore into me. I said, ‘I asked, and was told it was OK’. I added, ‘If I’d been in charge of the investigation, the first place I’d have looked would have been the desk of the man who was killed’. When we went in, Emma found Richard’s diary, with names and addresses. She handed it to the police, saying, ’Don’t you want this? Isn’t it the kind of thing that’s terribly important?’ But they’d missed it.
“The other thing which didn’t help”, continued Linda, “was that I asked them to get outside assistance from the Metropolitan Police. They didn’t seem to have any idea of how to go about the investigation. I didn’t think they were up to the job.”
A further conflict concerned a televised appeal which the police wanted Linda to make. Linda, both because of her grief and because she realised that such appeals are frequently police devices to entrap those making them, would not agree. She eventually did so, but only with great reluctance.
The women also deplored a subsequent Crimewatch reconstruction, which, at a critical point, used a Volkswagon instead of a Ford. Amanda is still baffled. “How is that going to jog anyone’s memory if they’re showing the wrong car?”
The police learned that, one January night, Linda quizzed Colin Daniels about aspects of the murder, such as where the body had lain. Seemingly believing that she was trying to “get her story straight”, the police went back to Daniels and asked him to make a statement about this. He did so, but insisted on making the context clear: “None of these events was suspicious, it all happened naturally and was a genuine interest in what had taken place”.
Nevertheless, police suspicions were intensifying. Linda sold the house (she could never live there again after the murder) and moved into a new home. Almost immediately, on 5 March, they were arrested. By this time, they’d been told repeatedly the police lacked the manpower to pursue particular lines of inquiry; so they were surprised that it took no less than 14 officers to accomplish the less than exacting task of arresting two docile women.
At this point, they were able to get legal advice. Fortunately, both were represented by first-class lawyers: Linda by Chris Lewis and Amanda by Jeff Hide. The latter was deeply shocked when he first met his client in custody at Haywards Heath.
“I saw this 21-year-old girl, with blonde hair and blue eyes, very slim, very frail, in a state of near collapse, shaking, crying, very scared. Throughout the five days of interviewing, the doctor had to be called on at least three occasions—she was having nosebleeds, she was shaking uncontrollably, unable to stop crying. Yet she insisted on answering questions because the one thing she was absolutely sure about was that she wanted the police to find her father’s murderer.”
Chris Lewis arrived at East Grinstead to see his client. “When I got to the police station”, he recalled, "I didn’t get to see Linda straightaway. I was given a briefing package by the police, which is quite unusual. They briefed me for a couple of hours, giving me a run-down of why they’d arrested Linda, which was essentially differing accounts between her and Amanda, the 999 calls and the trajectory of the shots. They also showed me Polaroid photographs of the body.
“Having digested all that, I went down to see Linda in the cells. She just struck me straightaway as a terrified, innocent woman. She was absolutely confused about why on earth it was her who was under arrest in a police station.”
She was questioned over three days. “It was all about the marriage, the family background and the business”, explained Lewis. “It wasn’t getting us anywhere in terms of a murder enquiry, but she was content to answer the questions. She had nothing to hide.”
There are 400 pages of transcripts of interviews with her. Any innuendo, however malicious, however false, had to be answered:
Interviewer: As a result of Crimewatch, we had people ringing in saying that you were having an affair at the time of Richard’s death? Linda: No, no, never. As anyone who knows me will know, I could not have an affair while I was still married. What is strikingly obvious to me is that I have lost everything and that somebody is trying, or has succeeded actually, in destroying me, because I lost the man I loved, I lost our home, because I could never go back there. My whole life has been wiped out. If you wanted to hurt me, there were two things you could have done, and that would have been to take Richard away [and] to take Amanda and, with the pain and agony that Mandy’s gone through, they’ve done it. No matter what happens from here, I have lost everything.
It was suggested to Amanda that if she’d acted differently on the night, her father could possibly have been saved. She was informed that the marriage of her mother and father was a total sham. She was told: “In the light of the knowledge that your father was having a relationship with another woman…”There was no such ‘knowledge’. None of this was true. Amanda considered that the misinformation fed to her during the interviewing greatly exacerbated the trauma of the situation.
Throughout the questioning, Linda and Amanda each asserted their complete innocence over and over. In the short term, they made their point; they were released without charge. In the longer term, their protestations were unavailing.
Finally, the body was released for cremation. “I knew that in Scotland if there’s been a death in suspicious circumstances, you’re not allowed to cremate the body”, said Linda. “So I asked the police, I said, ‘Is it all right?’ and they said, ‘Yes, go ahead’.”Richard’s funeral was finally held on 24 May.
The next month, i>Cosmopolitan carried a feature entitled Prime Suspects, about tearful relatives making televised appeals who turn out to be guilty themselves. It gave four examples of those awaiting trial. Two of these were Siô Jenkins and Miles Evans (both of whose cases are now regarded by some as miscarriages of justice). Curiously, a third was Linda Watson, who was not awaiting trial for anything. She took legal advice about defamation, and was also obtaining counsel’s opinion about whether they had a case for wrongful arrest. Then, she and Amanda were suddenly re-arrested.
It became clear that, having released them three months earlier, the police had continued to regard them as their quarry. The women and their solicitors knew this because of the timing of the arrests. Amanda was in Brighton to consult with a solicitor about whether she had any claim on Richard’s estate; Linda was arriving at Gatwick at 1.30 on a flight from Glasgow. The police could not possibly have known the movements of either unless they were under surveillance.
There were other indications. The solicitors subsequently found a note in the unused material referring to officers outside the front of Linda’s house “in the L. P.”: listening post. Confirmation soon arrived, in any case, when builders disturbed intruders interfering with the wiring. The builders made it plain they would detain them while they called the police, until the intruders managed to convince them that they were the police.
In view of these events, Linda and Amanda now regarded the release of Richard’s body for cremation as the most despicable of prosecution dirty tricks. Linda and Amanda had naturally believed that enquiries were concluded. Obviously, they weren’t; the authorities were just gearing up for their arrest. Accordingly, a key point of any subsequent trial would concern where Richard was shot from, and the angle of penetration of the bullets. Once his body was cremated, there was no opportunity for the defence to gather evidence via its own postmortem.
Following their arrests, Linda and Amanda were held in Haywards Heath police cells and then taken in separate police vans to Haywards Heath magistrates’ court (approximately 40 metres away). They were remanded to Holloway prison, and stayed there for two miserable weeks while their lawyers desperately tried to arrange bail.
On the day before their crucial bail application, they were shocked to be told by a warder, “The word’s come down that you’re to be sent to the psychiatric wing”. The implication was that they were suicidal. “Somebody had actually got a doctor to authorise this request”, said Linda, “but we’d never seen this doctor.”
Fortunately, human kindness prevailed and, wherever the orders had come from, the warders refused to implement them. The next day, their bail application was successful. Had they been by then in the psychiatric wing, it would not have been.
Nevertheless, the terms of bail were bizarre. Chris Lewis telephoned them at the prison, saying, “You’re not going to like this.”The women could communicate neither with each other nor with potential witnesses. This was an astonishing deprivation; by then, all family and friends were cited as prosecution witnesses. (There were over 400 names on the list.) Further, they were to live a considerable distance from the area and from each other, and had to report to the local police station between 10.00 and noon each day. They could not go out before 8.00am and had to return by 8.00pm. Naturally, all this would make it astonishingly difficult for them to prepare their defence.
Nor, since these conditions would last for many months, was finding accommodation straightforward. Linda opined that they may as well stay where they were while it was sorted out. “You don’t do that”, Lewis told them, “it’s Holloway. You can’t ask to stay the night.”
In conditions that combined profound sadness and high farce (Amanda’s cab took off in the wrong direction), they were finally freed — Linda to go to an aunt in Bournemouth and Amanda to her grandmother’s sister-in-law in Bolton — to begin unhappy periods of purdah. The cab fares alone cost Â£530.
The crux of the prosecution case was that Watson was shot from the balcony of the family home. Accordingly, he must have acted with the support, and indeed at the instigation, of the two women in the house. There was, however, no evidence that a gunman had either been admitted to the house or lain in wait on the balcony.
Watson suffered two bullet wounds, both severe; the first to the neck, and the second down into the chest which caused massive damage to the heart. It was, unfortunately, impossible to determine which shot was fired first. Nor, as Dr Philip Alexander, the forensic scientist, pointed out, was it possible to say where each shot was fired from, as “it would depend on the position and posture of the victim at the moment of discharge”.
Neither from Dr Alexander’s evidence, nor that of Dr Vesna Djurovic, the pathologist, could the police extract information on which to base a prosecution. Further, another forensic scientist was asked to look for gunshot residue on the balcony, and reported back that there wasn’t any.
Some months later, the police commissioned fresh reports from a different forensic scientist and a different pathologist. These opinions, from their point of view, were more helpful.
Dr Franco Tomei, the forensic scientist, was asked if the victim could have been shot from the balcony. Yes, he replied. Then, Dr Peter Jerreat, the new pathologist, asserted that “the most likely scenario was of the victim being shot from the balcony”. It was immediately after the latter had conducted the second postmortem, on 19 May, that the body was released for cremation.
However, this method of investigation, with the Crown in effect touting for expert opinions until it finds evidence to match its theory (rather than matching its theories to the available evidence) is one that highlights the weaknesses, not the strengths, of criminal justice in Britain.
In any case, it was clear from his statement that Dr Tomei had only been asked to look at certain scenarios. Significantly, he had added, “I would consider any other possibilities which might be put to me”. Also, Dr Jerreat had, crucially, qualified his assessment with the words, “assuming that the range was acceptable”. For the moment, however, these caveats were ignored. It was on the basis of these new opinions that the prosecution went ahead.
But why would Linda have wanted to arrange the murder of her husband? Evidence of motive was always flimsy. The prosecution could not find even one witness to say that there were any marital problems. So the Crown theory would be that she had done it for the sake of about Â£12, 000, which police calculated as the accumulated debts on her various credit and store cards. In fact, the amount that Linda would receive from Richard’s death was far less than she could have got from a divorce settlement. There was simply no motive at all for Amanda to have been involved; while Richard was intestate, she was not a beneficiary and so gained nothing.
In October 1996, Linda and Amanda had gone to Scotland together. The prosecution intended to argue that the whole trip was arranged to recruit a hit-man.
Linda explained that she had always intended to show Amanda the area where she had grown up. Further, the defence quickly confirmed that there was no evidence of anything suspicious having occurred: Linda and Amanda had stayed at the Holiday Inn under their own names; paid with Linda and Richard’s joint account card; and could explain all telephone calls and the mileage on their hire-car.
There were, amazingly, only two statements from local people relating to the time of the murder. One woman living further down the road, heard what could have been a shot; she wasn’t sure of the time, but said that EastEnders had started.
Secondly, a woman who worked as an artificial inseminator was driving along the Holtye Road when she noticed a blonde girl standing on the footpath. Then she saw a man in a balaclava, carrying a sports holdall, jogging in her direction. Could the girl have been Amanda, waiting to rendezvous with the killer?
Jeff Hide located the woman who had made this statement. (It’s not straightforward, because addresses of witnesses are never provided to the defence.) Even better, by dint of hard investigative work, he found the blonde girl herself. She was not Amanda; she had nothing to do with the case; she was waiting for her boyfriend. Nor had she even noticed the man in the balaclava.
The police, in fact, had already taken a statement from her, and hence knew all this. Yet the artificial inseminator’s statement remained part of the prosecution bundle. She was listed as a Crown witness. Had the trial gone ahead, would she have been called, even though the police already knew that her evidence was seriously misleading?
It was because of such concerns that the defence became increasingly anxious about the amount of case material being disclosed to them. Accordingly, they sought a court clarification of the position. In October 1997, Judge Richard Brown ordered that the prosecution should disclose everything they were legally obliged to disclose within five weeks. “It never happened”, said Hide. “Five weeks later, we were still saying, ‘What about this? What about that?’ The material was arriving in dribs and drabs.”
The Crown did take out a PII (public interest immunity) certificate, enabling some material to be kept confidential. The PII is, in the main, an Orwellian concept: material which it is clearly in the public interest to disseminate is kept secret under the mantle of ‘public interest’. So the content of this material remains unknown. It may well have concerned the police surveillance operation which, of course, the women were already aware of.
The prosecution had already carried out a series of reconstructions of the crime at the house. With the trial about to start, they carried out another, with the aid of two ballistics experts. It was then confirmed that, if the shots had been fired from the balcony, the distance would have been at least 50% greater than the range originally postulated by Dr Alexander. The results of this reconstruction were explained to Crown counsel at 5.00pm. Within 30 minutes, the Crown case was aborted, apparently on the advice of its leading counsel, Julian Bevan QC.
So the case was dropped on 5 June 1998 on the basis of information which had been available to the prosecution from 24 January 1997.
On 8 June, family and friends, all wearing white roses in their buttonholes to mark the innocence of the two women, attended the Old Bailey to witness the formal collapse of the case. The Daily Telegraph reported that there had been “a bitter row between the police and the CPS”and that the case had been dropped despite the “strong disagreement”of the police. In court, Judge Michael Hyam, asked by the defence about costs, straightaway granted them: “carte blanche”. He said that the two women could leave court without a stain on their character.
Up to that moment, they had still been anxious. “It was very scary”, admitted Amanda. "As overwhelming as the evidence was to say we didn’t do it, it doesn’t mean to say that there couldn’t have been a miscarriage of justice.
“We were very lucky with our defence team; and I think that Julian Bevan was courageous to do what he did. He obviously had an awful lot of pressure on him. Another barrister may well have proceeded with the trial, and let the jury make up their minds.”
What did happen? The likeliest scenario is that the gunman hid by the front door. He confronted Watson, who tried to make an escape down the grass bank to the garage, shouted and was shot. If the second shot was fired as Watson was already falling to the ground, that would explain the downwards trajectory. (The defence had, in fact, consulted international ballistics experts who all gave the prosecution "balcony"theory short shrift. Their expertise was, however, never needed in the courtroom.)
The story is by no means concluded. A miscarriage of justice was averted, but the experience deeply scarred Linda and Amanda. They do not believe that others should have to suffer in a similar fashion. In the months since their acquittal, they have been taking advice on legal actions.
“It wasn’t simply a normal murder”, explained Linda, “it was actually a hostage situation. A husband was shot dead, his wife and daughter were effectively held under siege for almost an hour. The police shouldn’t be allowed to take you from that situation and interview you as if you were just any suspect.”
The case now belongs to a fresh category of cases that are causing concern, in which the newly-bereaved have to endure police questioning that, because of the circumstances, can be psychologically devastating. “The further we come away from last year”, said Linda, "the clearer it becomes what actually happened to us. At the time, we were so busy fighting for our lives, we didn’t have a chance to realise what the police were doing to us.
“It’s hard enough to have to cope with the death of somebody, especially in the way that it happened, but on top of that to be treated in the way we were, to be put under such pressure by the police, and never to be shown any compassion, and for them to do that at the most vulnerable time in anybody’s life, it was absolutely horrendous.
“That’s the damage that will stay with us. You can learn to accept bereavement, it’s natural; but it’s not natural to have to live with the mental torture that we were subjected to for 18 months. That’s what happened, and it happened in this country.”
Having had to leave the first home because of the murder, they then had to leave the next, in nearby Lingfield, because of their treatment by the police.
“The memories were so vivid. I’d said to the police that if they wanted to speak to us again, to let us know and we’d go along. But they chose to do what they did—to hit us as hard as possible emotionally. Within 48 hours of moving in, they had touched everything, and had been through all my drawers. It was like being raped.
“There was no way we could go back and pick up where we had left off. All that had been shattered.”
Police investigations of this kind, Linda pointed out, divide families for ever, often destroying even deep-rooted bonds and leaving legacies of bitterness and recrimination. “Somebody took away my future with Richard”, she said, “the police took away my past. The trauma of what they did outweighs even the grief of Richard’s death.”
With regard to the entire case, a spokesman for Sussex police said, "There was certainly an issue about our response on the evening of the murder. There were problems. We would readily accept that not all was as it might have been.
“There were only two witnesses available to us in the immediate aftermath of the murder, the wife and the stepdaughter. There is an urgent need in terms of the inquiry and ultimate justice to gain whatever evidence is available at the earliest possible stage. It’s a difficult, distressing, unpleasant fact that that’s the police role.
“The case itself is open as it always was. There is still an investigation to be brought to a conclusion.”
“I appreciate they have a job to do”, commented Linda, "but to do what they did to Mandy and I, they should have had some evidence.
“If someone had arranged a murder, and paid for a hitman, would they actually give themselves no alibi and be at the scene? Would I have arranged everything to the extent of booking the trip on the Orient Express and wrapping his Christmas presents, but not have arranged an alibi? And not have arranged that the will was drawn up and signed? That’s the whole stupidity of it.”
Bob Woffinden: ‘Shots in the Dark’, published in the Guardian magazine, 10 April 1999.
This case led to the most strongly-worded Police Complaints Authority report there ever was. (The PCA has now been replaced by the IPCC—Independent Police Complaints Commission.)
Sussex police have since acknowledged at a formal meeting in the offices of Linda’s solicitor that there was “not a shred of evidence”against either Linda or Amanda. They have also conceded that they now believe the actual murderer was the man against whom Watson was due to give evidence. If this is indeed true, then Watson lost his life because he believed in carrying out his civic responsibilities to assist, amongst others, Sussex police.
This suspect is currently in prison, serving a long sentence for another shooting. He had been paid to shoot someone’s business rival—but had bungled it and instead shot the neighbour of the intended target. That man survived, but is now paralysed for life. “So had the police done their job in the first place”, Linda comments, “that man wouldn’t now be paralysed.”
Sussex police and the CPS at present say that they cannot send this man for retrial for the Watson murder, partly because they lost so much evidence at the crime-scene.