BA pilot who dug grave in park cleared of murdering wife
Published 24/05/2011 | 12:55
Robert Brown, a British Airways pilot who dug a grave in a park weeks before killing his wife Joanna was today cleared of her murder.
Brown, 47, killed his wife in a hammer attack on the doorstep of her sprawling, mock-Tudor mansion near Ascot, following a costly divorce battle.
He wrapped her blood-soaked body in plastic sheeting and buried her in a carefully constructed plastic coffin he had lowered into a quiet corner of a park several weeks earlier.
Yesterday, a jury cleared Brown of murder. He had earlier admitted manslaughter by means of diminshed responsibility claiming he was suffering extreme stress during the divorce. He was also convicted of preventing a coroner from holding an inquest by disposing of a body.
During his eight-day trial, Reading Crown Court heard claims that the airline captain had become consumed with greed, desperate to win a large slice of his wife's fortune, despite having signed a pre-nuptial agreement which prevented him from doing so.
It was claimed he had dismissed Mrs Brown's offer of a £500,000 settlement and wanted her £3 million house in Ascot, Berks.
The Boeing 747 pilot carried out the killing on October 31 last year, a week before he and his wife were due to come face to face in the High Court for their final divorce hearing.
He attacked his wife within moments of taking the children back to her home after a half-term contact visit.
As he left his owned rented house a few miles away, he picked up a claw hammer from the garage and concealed it in a plastic carrier bag alongside his son’s homework.
He claimed she had belittled him for failing to bring medication he needed after cutting his eye.
Mrs Brown, 46, tried to repel her estranged husband but was overpowered by the impact of at least 14 blows to her head.
Remarkably, there was barely any blood on the carpet and he wrapped her body in plastic sheeting, covering her head with the plastic bag to catch the blood, and put her in the boot of the Volvo 4X4 he had bought earlier that year.
He told the court he was suffering an abnormality of mind but disabled his wife's complex CCTV system before driving the children the few miles to Winkfield, Berks, where he left them with his girlfriend, Stephanie Bellemere, 41.
His daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, would later tell police that she and her brother saw their father “put mummy into the car”.
At home, Brown collected a series of items from his garage, including paper overalls, a mallet, duct tape, garden ties and sheets of tarpaulin, before driving deep into the woodland in which he habitually went running.
There, in a remote, almost inaccessible clearing, he had buried a large plastic box from B&Q. The makeshift coffin was a “perfect fit” for Mrs Brown’s 5ft 5in, nine stone frame.
In order to limit the leakage of blood, Brown had bolted on a lining of thick plastic sheeting to prevent her blood leaking Brown spent several hours concealing his wife's body in a surfboard bag and tying her up before lying her on her side in the makeshift coffin and filling in the hole.
He discarded the CCTV recorder and murder weapon elsewhere in the park before heading home.
Police suspect they might never have found the body had he not caved in and led them to her remote grave after three days of questioning.
Shortly before dawn, with the killing over and the body so well hidden that only he was likely to ever find it again, Brown drove back to the home of his pregnant French girlfriend and climbed into bed.
Two hours later, he called his parents who had only recently left after visiting from Edinburgh, and asked them to return to look after the children. He also called his brother, Kenneth, and asked him not to call the police.
But discovering that he had already done so, he dialled 999 himself. He asked to make an appointment, telling officers there had been a domestic row.
After four days in police custody and nine interviews, Brown eventually confessed to killing his wife but denied murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
The unlikely couple had met in Cape Town in August 1998 when Mrs Brown, then Joanna Simpson, was on holiday with friends and Brown had been working.
The pair got chatting in the bar on his last evening in the South African city and on her return Mrs Brown asked a friend to put a note in his pigeon hole at work, asking him to call her.
Their relationship moved forward rapidly and in November, Brown left Edinburgh to move in to Tun Cottage, the large home she had bought as a near-derelict shell for £350,000 five years earlier.
The couple got engaged in Hong Kong that Christmas and married at the Royal Berkshire Hotel in Ascot in February 1999 but the marriage faltered from the outset, Mrs Brown calling her mother from their honeymoon to say she thought she had made a mistake.
Brown soon sold his Edinburgh flat and they used the £120,000 proceeds to build an extension. He also put £10,000 a year into the house for eight years.
But by July 2007, the relationship had all but collapsed. Brown, who spent long periods away from home on business, became convinced that his wife was having an affair with a friend of a friend, Andy Wilson, a divorced father of two from Wokingham, Berks.
After finding a text message on her mobile phone, he attacked her with a "huge knife" in their kitchen.
Mrs Brown escaped unharmed but vowed never to live with him again. Divorce proceedings were launched and Brown moved out of the house.
His wife was so petrified that she hired a bodyguard and installed a complex CCTV system.
The couple, who came from polar opposite backgrounds, argued about everything from the children's schooling to the finances, accruing massive legal bills on both sides.