Monday 27 March 2017

Jealous woman (35) 'stabbed love rival (60) to death on doorstep - and planned to place Isis flag on house to mislead investigation', court hears

Police outside a house on Sunny Bank Road in Helmshore, Lancashire as a murder investigation has been launched after Sadie Hartley was found dead. Pat Hurst/PA Wire Inset: Mother-of-three Sadie Hartley
Police outside a house on Sunny Bank Road in Helmshore, Lancashire as a murder investigation has been launched after Sadie Hartley was found dead. Pat Hurst/PA Wire Inset: Mother-of-three Sadie Hartley
Police outside a house on Sunny Bank Road in Helmshore, Lancashire as a murder investigation has been launched after Sadie Hartley was found dead. Pat Hurst/PA Wire
Ian Johnston with his partner Sadie Hartley, as Sarah Williams is appearing at Preston Crown Court accused of the murder of the mother of two. Lancashire Constabulary/PA Wire

Pat Hurst and Kim Pilling

A jealous and obsessive woman paralysed her love-rival with a stun gun before stabbing and slashing her victim with "demonic savagery", a murder trial heard..

Sarah Williams, 35, shot "decent, hard-working" businesswoman Sadie Hartley, 60, in the head with the weapon on the doorstep of her £500,000 home in the village of Helmshore, Lancashire.

Williams then stabbed and slashed the mother of two 40 times in an "orgy of violence", Preston Crown Court heard.

The defendant, who denies murder, had been in a past relationship with Ian Johnston, 57, Ms Hartley's partner, who was out of the country at the time of the attack.

He had ended the relationship with Williams after she became "possessive and difficult" John McDermott, opening the case for the prosecution, told the jury.

"Obsessed" Williams "set her mind" to rekindle the relationship - but Ms Hartley, who owned a medical communications business, was the "obstacle".

She recruited a second defendant, Katrina Walsh, 56, also from Chester, to help her with the "murderous mission" and who kept a "revealing" diary as they hatched the plot, the court heard.

At just after 8pm on January 14 this year, Ms Hartley received an unexpected knock at the door to her home, on an up-market road in the rural Lancashire village.

"What happened next is truly shocking," Mr McDermott continued.

"Sarah Williams stood on the doorstep. As soon as the door was opened we suggest she lunged at Sadie Hartley with of all things a stun gun - the sort of thing you might use legitimately to prod cattle.

Police outside a house on Sunny Bank Road in Helmshore, Lancashire as a murder investigation has been launched after Sadie Hartley was found dead. Pat Hurst/PA Wire
Police outside a house on Sunny Bank Road in Helmshore, Lancashire as a murder investigation has been launched after Sadie Hartley was found dead. Pat Hurst/PA Wire

"She pressed it against her - Sadie Hartley's head - and incapacitated her.

"Then with what can only be described as almost demonic savagery, she attacked her with a knife.

"She stabbed and slashed at this unfortunate woman; blow after blow, causing appalling and fatal injuries.

"She left her victim in a pool of blood in the hallway; closed the door; walked back to the car she had used on her murderous mission and set off back to her home in Cheshire.

Ian Johnston with his partner Sadie Hartley, as Sarah Williams is appearing at Preston Crown Court accused of the murder of the mother of two. Lancashire Constabulary/PA Wire
Ian Johnston with his partner Sadie Hartley, as Sarah Williams is appearing at Preston Crown Court accused of the murder of the mother of two. Lancashire Constabulary/PA Wire

"It was a premeditated, planned assassination of an innocent woman."

Williams, from Treborth Road, Chester, and Walsh, of Hare Lane, Chester, both deny murder.

Mr McDermott QC said Walsh kept "a remarkable, compelling record" of the "murderous aim" of her "good friend" Williams.

A September 2014 diary entry read: "Sarah came round so got caught up in endless murder plots for Ian's other half", while a June 2015 entry said: "We're also seriously talking of getting rid of her opponent. I agree is probably a good play ... she does seem to be a totally evil bitch."

The prosecutor told the jury: "Nothing could be further from the truth. Sadie Hartley was a decent, hard-working and much-loved guiltless woman. But in the skewed minds of these defendants, she had become the enemy and she had to go."

In August 2015 there was "a sinister development", said Mr McDermott, when Williams attempted to recruit Walsh's ex-husband, Kevin Walsh, to her cause and use his "skill set".

Detailing the contact in her diary, Walsh said: "Wow, I may get to be instrumental in helping remove the awful woman! This may happen. Wow! Am unexpectedly excited by it. Was so buzzing so much I needed a Southern Comfort to wind down a bit."

Walsh texted her ex-husband to arrange a meeting but he later pulled out when he realised Williams was using an untraceable mobile phone, the court heard.

Walsh went on to write: "Plan B will be needed ... I have no moral qualms, just a serious don't let us get caught twinge."

In September 2015, Walsh refers in her diary to thoughts of "a hit" on a motorcycle.

The entry read: "Fortunately Sarah's had an idea that would spare me the anxiety as she things (sic) of just riding on a motorcycle, killing and leaving said floosie and riding off.

"I just have to clandestinely train Sarah to ride a bike and store said bike."

She also wrote of using an Isis flag "to mislead the investigation too, I'm much more into that."

Neither defendant appeared to know around that time where Ms Hartley and Mr Johnston lived, the court heard, however the couple had moved in together in Sunnybank Road, Helmshore, in November 2014.

The pair bought a tracking device which was later fixed to Johnston's car so he could be followed online, said the prosecutor, but were almost certainly unaware that the selling company also kept a log of where the tracker goes.

Williams went on a number of reconnaissance missions to his address to make sure she had the right house and organised a "sinister" test run exactly one week before the murder.

Mr McDermott said: "It involved both women travelling to the address, going to the local Tesco to buy some flowers - of all things - and then delivering them on the doorstep to the great surprise of Sadie Hartley.

"It was almost the stuff of spy novels.

"It was Katrina Walsh who actually went to the door and knocked with the flowers. She knew the deceased's name, she wore a cap and, having delivered the flowers to Sadie Hartley, she left as quickly as she had come.

"Meanwhile, Katrina Walsh was to tell the police that Sarah Williams skulked nearby out of sight - probably in a bush - watching her prey at the very door which she would approach one week later."

The Crown said Walsh used cash to buy the car that Williams drove on the night, used her Tesco club card to purchase the large kitchen knife used in the killing and, like her co-defendant, had used a throwaway "burner" phone.

In December 2014 the pair took a ferry from Hull to Rotterdam and then travelled to Darmstadt in Germany, where they bought the stun gun.

In her diary, Walsh wrote: "I said no matter what her way of testing the bitch, then she could do with that zapper or she risks being injured herself.

"So will get a trip to Germany out of this. Took ages to wind down, all the excitement of plotting the perfect murder!"

Mr McDermott said Walsh did not join in the action on the night of the murder but she was "far from a shrinking violent" as she cleared up and disposed of the evidence.

He said she waited at Williams's home on January 14 for the call to say "mission accomplished" and to collect her from a pre-arranged dumping ground for the murder car and to effect the clean-up.

He said: "Unfortunately for both of the defendants, most of the murder kit was found after Katrina Walsh's arrest. She took the police to the hiding places where the various items were stashed."

Explaining her actions, Walsh went on to tell police that she "largely thought" she was taking part in a game of the Channel 4 programme Hunted.

Aired in September 2015, the jury was told that Hunted involved a challenge to various individuals and teams to evade detection from military-style trackers and people with state-of-the-art surveillance and intelligence apparatus.

Mr McDermott told the jurors it was a matter for them as to whether Walsh was "really that stupid".

Despite believing they were carrying out the "perfect murder", police were also able to track and trace the defendants' movements via mobile phones and car number plate monitoring, and also caught them on camera.

On the night of the murder, Williams was allegedly caught on CCTV arriving 40 yards from her victim's home, going to the house and returning back on camera four minutes, 40 seconds later.

Mr McDermott said walking to the house, knocking on the door, using the stun gun and inflicting 40 knife strokes in such a short space of time showed this was a "no-hesitation, determined and swiftly executed murder".

The jury heard that Ms Hartley accompanied Mr Johnston to a Christmas party on December 2 last year at the Chill Factore, an indoor ski-slope in Manchester, where Williams worked and Mr Johnston practised skiing.

During the event, Williams left the party and put another tracker on Mr Johnston's Subaru car parked outside.

Two weeks later, after the device's battery ran out, at night she drove to the home he shared with Ms Hartley, took the tracker off and drove home to re-charge it.

She then returned the following evening at around midnight to put it back on his car.

Williams, who worked at Crystal Holidays based at the Trafford Retail Park, knew that Mr Johnson was going on a skiing trip to Switzerland on January 6, the prosecutor said.

Mr McDermott continued: "She knew Sadie Hartley was going to join him on Saturday January 16.

"We suggest to you that it is no coincidence that the day before the flower delivery was the day he departed.

"They would, we suggest, never have dared approach the house in any meaningful way whilst he was there. But once Sadie Hartley was alone in her home, they had to act before she too went abroad."

After another visit to Sunnybank Road to retrieve the tracker before Mr Johnston departed, the same device picked Williams up on January 6 very close to Ms Hartley's place of work, Hartley Taylor Medical Communications, in Knutsford, Cheshire.

Later Williams visited a PC World store to buy binoculars the day before January 7, when the "most sinister of the reconnaissance missions began".

The pair drove in Williams's Volvo car to a Tesco score in Haslingden where the bespectacled Williams bought a bunch of flowers for £3, the court heard.

With Williams known to her victim by sight, said Mr McDermott, it was Walsh who went to the door with the flowers and rang the bell.

Mr McDermott said: "We suggest it was perhaps to see if Sadie Hartley would open the door, how she might be dressed or to make doubly sure it was her address. We cannot tell you precisely."

Shortly after the delivery, Ms Hartley texted Mr Johnston: "A woman has just this minute turned up at the door with a bunch of chrysanthemums but didn't know who they are from? Xxx."

Mr Johnston replied: "Not me xxxx."

Ms Hartley texted back: "She knew my name. That's a bit worrying when I'm here on my own...No label or anything on them and late at night! XXXX."

Mr McDermott said Ms Hartley sent an email about the delivery the next day to her business partner, Julie Taylor.

It read: "Had a knock on the door just after 9 last night (thought twice about opening it but did). It was a woman with a bunch of Chrysanthemums in her hand - the sort you'd pick up at a garage for a couple of quid - said 'Mrs Hartley these are for you'.

"But when I ask who they are from she said she'd forgotten the name and then she disappeared down the drive.

"No label or anything on them - bit creepy really. Not from Ian of course but no idea who would do something like that... Needless to say had a bad night sleep last night as a result!"

With the reconnaissance complete and Mr Johnston out of the way, said the prosecutor, it was "time for the remaining pieces of the plan to fall into place".

"Believing themselves to be clever" a blue Renault Clio was bought for £430 with them apparently believing the use of Williams's Volvo in the run-up to the murder would cause them no problems, the jury was told.

Mr McDermott said: "They thought they were planning the 'perfect murder' to quote Katrina Walsh but it was far from it."

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