NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Malcolm Webster trial: fatal car fire was 'deliberate'

Claire Morris
Image caption Claire Morris was allegedly murdered by her husband in 1994

A car fire in which a woman died may have been started deliberately, a Glasgow High Court murder trial heard.

Malcolm Webster, 51, denies killing his wife Claire Morris in 1994 by crashing their car and setting it on fire.

Forensic fire investigator Andrew Wade said it almost certainly started in the engine compartment and there was strong support for considering it deliberate.

He highlighted the time it took the fire to start, petrol canisters in the car, and inactivity of the passenger.

In a report, Mr Wade said, in his opinion, if the fire had been caused by an electrical fault it would not have taken so long for it to break out.

Mr Wade said that in view of that delay, fuel canisters in the car and the inactivity of Ms Morris in the passenger seat, he concluded: "This provides strong support for considering this to be a deliberate fire."

He told the court: "By process of elimination this seems the most probable cause having examined all the possibilities."

'Unaware of fire'

Mr Webster, from Guildford, Surrey, is accused of killing his 32-year-old first wife Ms Morris by drugging her, crashing their car in Aberdeenshire and setting it alight on 27 or 28 May 1994.

He also denies fraudulently obtaining more than £200,000 after cashing in insurance policies following Ms Morris's death.

As part of his evidence, Mr Wade told the court that as Mr Webster's Diahatsu was angled down a bank the flames would probably have spread up from the engine compartment into the passenger compartment.

The court heard that Ms Morris appeared not to have moved from her reclined position in the passenger seat.

Mr Wade said: "She appears to have been unaware of the fire."

Terminally ill

Under cross-examination by defence QC Edgar Prais, who accused him of not doing his job properly, Mr Wade admitted that there were difficulties with examining a fatal car crash fire from so many years ago.

Mr Wade said that he would have preferred more photographs and agreed his conclusions depended on the accuracy of statements given by witnesses at the crash scene.

Although he agreed that "rare things do occur", he said an electrical fault was not impossible, but highly unlikely.

In addition, Mr Webster is charged with deliberately crashing his car in Auckland, New Zealand, in February 1999 in a bid to kill his second wife, Felicity Drumm, who was a passenger.

It is also alleged that he intended to bigamously marry Simone Banarjee, from Oban, Argyll, to gain access to her estate.

It is claimed he told her he was terminally ill with leukaemia when he was actually in good health.

The trial, before judge Lord Bannatyne, continues.

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