Beds, Herts & Bucks

Libel claim over Bedfordshire Police comment

Amilton "Nico" Bento
Image caption Amilton Bento's conviction for murder was quashed in February 2009

The boyfriend of a woman whose body was found in a Bedford lake has mounted a legal bid against "libellous" police claims he killed her.

Amilton Bento, 31, was jailed for life in 2007 for the murder of 26-year-old Kamila Garsztka, whose body was found floating in Priory Marina.

His conviction was quashed in 2009 after new evidence cast doubt on it.

Mr Bento claims a Bedfordshire Police press release from July 2009 implied he was guilty of murder.

His legal team told London's High Court the release implied he "was guilty of murdering Kamila Garsztka and wrongly escaped justice as a result of confusion in regard to the expert evidence".

Mr Bento's QC, Hugh Tomlinson, said police made the comments just two days after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) "discontinued" the criminal case and any retrial against Mr Bento, who was originally charged with Ms Garsztka's murder in 2006.

Image caption Kamila Garsztka's body was found by canoeing schoolboys

There were no witnesses to her disappearance and post-mortem examinations proved inconclusive on the cause of her death, the court heard.

Mr Tomlinson told Mr Justice Tugendhat CCTV footage supposedly showing Mrs Garsztka carrying a shoulder bag were "central" to the criminal trial.

The Crown alleged Mr Bento, formerly of Rutland Road, Bedford, took the bag back to his flat in an effort to make her death appear like a suicide.

Mr Bento's conviction was ultimately quashed because new evidence undermined the validity of the CCTV footage, the barrister said.

Richard Rampton QC, for Bedfordshire Police, said he would aim to prove "that he probably killed Kamila, and that this was either murder or manslaughter", he told the judge.

In the chief constable's defence statement, lawyers say the July 2009 press release meant "that the decision of the CPS to discontinue the case against the claimant was wrong, because there was sufficient evidence to justify proceeding with his re-trial in the reasonable expectation that he would be convicted of killing her…"

The chief constable is also submitting a defence of "qualified privilege" - arguing the press release was issued in the context of legitimate police business.

After half a day's argument, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled the case should be heard by a judge, sitting without a jury.

The full hearing of Mr Bento's libel claim is expected in April.

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