WHEN Malcolm Webster proposed to Simone Banerjee, in 2006, she was over the moon and the couple began planning an epic honeymoon aboard her yacht.
Little did she know that her fiance was a cold-blooded killer, who murdered his first wife by staging a crash and setting fire to their car then attempted to kill his second wife, in New Zealand, using the same method, for a £1million life insurance payout.
Now Webster – who had also convinced her he had leukaemia – was planning to kill her in a sailing “accident”, possibly as they embarked on their transatlantic honeymoon.
Tragedy was only avoided by a life-saving letter, delivered by Strathclyde Police, telling Simone she was in danger and the dogged persistence of Detective Inspector Charles Henry and his team of detectives in Oban, Scotland.
Ahead of the new Channel 4 documentary Married to a Psychopath, which airs on Monday, Charles tells The Sun that Surrey-born Webster targeted women with a charm offensive before drugging them and, in the case of first wife Claire Morris, killing them.
“Webster was an extremely charming individual,” he says. “He had an English public school accent and walked around the hospitals where he worked as if he was a sergeant.
“Any woman he befriended, their relationship was full of charming antidotes, little messages, romantic presents.
“He was funny and engaging and even befriended police officers that worked in the local office in Oban, convincing them, and all his colleagues, he had terminal cancer.”
The new documentary hears from surviving wife Felicity Cross, who reveals he put drugs in her food soon after they wed and bodged a plan to kill her, as well as childhood friends and forensic experts.
Webster escaped justice for Claire’s 1994 murder for 15 years and was finally tripped up by his own greed and a lifelong obsession with fire.
Charles reveals Webster’s move to the seaside community of Oban was the start of his downfall.
“He made a classic mistake, thinking he could flee to a small town where he can disappear, not get noticed and not have his past catch up with him,” he says.
“But the converse is true because individuals stand out in a small community so it’s easier for us to obtain information.”
Tragic death of ‘perfect’ wife
The son of a top cop in the Metropolitan Police, Malcolm Webster had a wide circle of friends with one, Janet Davis, describing him as “a truly lovely, friendly, warm, cuddly, fun, humorous person,” who was well-mannered and popular with parents.
The only quirky thing about him was an “total obsession” with fire, which pals noticed on a scout trip, earning him the nickname Pyro.
As a teenager he had a string of girlfriends but, after moving to Aberdeen to work in a hospital, he met nurse Claire Morris and the pair seemed a perfect match.
Janet Davis attended the wedding in Scotland and said the marriage was “a fairy tale.”
“She was very sweet, very kind, very gentle, the ideal partner for Malcolm, absolutely perfect,” she says. “The only thing that stuck for me at the time was that she was young, she was pretty and yet she had to go and sleep in the afternoon.”
Colleague and friend Lesley Roberts says Claire began to complain of “feeling odd and very exhausted,” but she put it down to extra study.
Just eight months into the marriage tragedy struck when the couple’s car careered off a narrow country road, near their home in Aberdeenshire, and plunged 20ft down an embankment before catching fire.
Webster crawled from the car onto the road but Claire was burned to death in the passenger seat.
I always thought he’d killed her,” she says. “Nobody believed me.
An inquest ruled the death a tragic accident and friends rallied round the seemingly grief-stricken groom, who broke down “wailing and howling” at the funeral.
But Lesley’s suspicions were raised a week later when Webster turned up in an expensive Range Rover and boasted he was buying a yacht, with money from Claire’s life insurance.
“From that day I always thought he’d killed her,” she says. “Nobody believed me.”
A year after Claire’s death, Webster was living and working in Saudi Arabia where he met oncology nurse Felicity.
“He had a very good sense of humour, he could be very personable, very attentive,” says Felicity. “I wouldn’t say he was the only one true love of my life but I loved him.”
The pair moved to New Zealand and married in 1997, but soon after the wedding Felicity began to suffer from dizzy spells and fatigue, on one occasion sleeping for 36 hours.
After becoming pregnant with their son, born in 1998, she began to notice “a bitter, acrid taste in my food. I literally described it as if someone has crushed tablets and put them in my food.”
At the time the couple were buying a new house and, while Felicity had put her half of the deposit down, Webster kept stalling.
Every day, he insisted on long drives in the car and one one occasion, he drove Felicity and her son to a local beauty spot, sedating her on the way with a drink laced with drugs.
When she was woken by a call from her dad, telling her money had been taken from her account and that she could be in danger, she saw Webster disappearing into the woods with her son.
“I believe he was taking our son to a place of safety and that his intention was to come back and set fire to the car,” she says. “When we met up with my father, he popped the boot of his car and in it discovered a 10 litre container of petrol.
“I felt so humiliated at, you know, the breathtaking extent of his deception and how I was so immersed in it that I couldn’t see it.”
Rumbled, Webster fled the country before police charged him, taking his wife’s life savings of £72,000 with him. She later found forged documents for nine life insurance policies in her name, worth £1million.
Oban and Simone
Former cop Charles first came across Webster in 2006, when he was accused of stealing £4000 from a local angling club in Oban, after taking on the role of treasurer.
Although arrested for the theft, the case was dropped when Webster returned the money and told the club he had terminal cancer.
A few months later, Charles began receiving reports from New Zealand, that Webster was a “person of interest” over the attempted murder of Felicity Cross.
He began to dig into Webster’s past, including the death of first wife Claire and the similarities between the two cases were clear.
He also traced a string of fires which had followed Webster around, including one at Felicity’s cottage, another at her parents’ home and several at hospitals where he’d worked.
By this time, Webster was engaged to Simone, who worked at the Lorn and Argyll Hospital where Webster also worked.
She also came from a wealthy family who had put a trust fund in her name and owned a large property in Oban.
“I knew a lot of people who worked at the hospital so we learned quite early on that he was engaged to Simone, that they were planning a transatlantic trip in her yacht,” he tells The Sun.
“Simone was talking about her elderly parents maybe going on the trip.
“We were filled with absolute horror at what could take place, that they could sail away into international waters and he could do something similar, perhaps to all three, and we couldn’t do anything about it. There were a lot of sleepless nights, to be honest.”
Incredibly, Grampian Police, who led the first investigation into Claire’s death and has already been contacted by the New Zealand force about Felicity Drumm, refused to reopen the case and Charles’ application for an Osman letter – an official document to warn a potential victim they are in danger – was rejected.
“It was frustrating and worrying,” says Charles. “It’s mind-boggling that Aberdeen and Grampian police didn’t take action when it was laid on a plate to them.
“I should say that subsequent investigation by Grampian Police was phenomenal, extremely well-resourced and absolutely no stone unturned. But it took an awful long time to get to that stage.”
Bin fire and ‘smoking gun’ sample
After a year of fruitless work, it was Webster’s love of fire that would catch him out, in late 2007.
A bin caught light in a patient’s room and Webster was hailed a hero for putting it out but some staff suspected him and a doctor confirmed the elderly patient in the room could not have used the cigarette lighter suspected of starting it.
It was a turning point in the investigation and a new application to warn Simone was approved but she instantly dismissed their claims as “bunkum”.
“When we approached Simone, she was initially incredibly hostile towards us,” says Charles.
“She fixated on one phrase in the letter, that he had a wife in New Zealand that she knew absolutely nothing about and was unbelieving of the suggestion she was in danger.”
She was also stunned when they revealed her fiance was not suffering from leukaemia, refusing to believe what she was hearing.
After persuading her to talk to the New Zealand police, Charles’ team stayed close to the couple’s house when she confronted him, but he merely fled the scene.
Knowing he could soon dupe another woman, it was a race against time to find the “smoking gun” which would reopen the murder case.
That came when a tiny sample of human tissue kept on a slide as historical evidence was reexamined by Grampian police
“It was a eureka moment,” says Charles. “Grampian Police got the sample back which showed Temazepam in Claire Morris’s system.”
Claire had never been prescribed the drug and the fact that the same sedative was used on Felicity Drumm meant the similarities could no longer be ignored.
Forensic experts were asked to look at the old evidence and discovered damning evidence, including the fact that the first witness on the scene said the car was not on fire, until 20 minutes after impact, suggesting it had been started after the crash.
They also recalled asking Webster if anyone else was in the car, and being told there wasn’t. Only after the car went up in flames did he say “my wife is in there.”
Justice at last
Over 15 years after Claire Morris’s death, Webster was charged with her murder as well as the attempted murder of Felicity Drumm and attempting to bigamously marry Simone Banarjee to gain access to her estate.
Other women also came forward about their romances with the cold-hearted killer, including Christina Willis who he persuaded, in 2002, to make a will in his name and give him power of attorney.
There was also speculation about the deaths of three children under six, who died in his care when he worked as a nurse in Abu Dhabi, but this was not proved.
After a 50 week trial – the longest in Scottish history – he was sentenced to life imprisonment on 5 July 2011, with a minimum sentence of thirty years.
Charles says his need to control and manipulate was as much a motive for his crimes as the fortunes he tried to con from the women.
“Money is a motivation but also the lifestyle, being the centre of attraction because narcissism is a trait that psychopaths have,” he says. “They have to be controlling so it’s not all about money, but also manipulation and the enjoyment of manipulation.”
The former DI, who retired before the trial, was “relieved” that his long quest to catch a killer was over but admits he found the investigation “traumatic.” And he says the saga was hard on Simone.
“When we presented her with that letter she was in love with the guy and wanted to have his children,” he says. “So to be told he was lying about his background, lying about his cancer, was married to another woman in New Zealand and had killed his first wife was utterly devastating for her.
“But she has moved on and she’s getting on with her life.”
Chillingly, Simone later discovered that the gas cylinder designed to pump up her life jacket had been pierced with a drill.
“It would be very easy to drop somebody over the side of a boat,” says Simone.
“I do believe I’m very lucky. If it wasn’t for Strathclyde Police, things may have turned out very, very differently.”
Married to a Psychopath begins in Channel 4 on Monday