Author found dead in septic tank 'joked cesspit was good place to hide body'
Children's author Helen Bailey joked with her brother a cesspit at her home was a "good place to hide a body" - nearly three years before being found dead there.
The body of the 51-year-old writer was discovered swamped in human excrement alongside her beloved dachshund Boris underneath her lavish property in Royston, Hertfordshire, in July 2016.
Her fiance, Ian Stewart, 56, of Baldock Road, Royston, is accused of drugging and killing her, before dumping her body in a septic tank at the home they shared.
Ms Bailey's brother, John Bailey, told Stewart's trial at St Albans Crown Court the quip was made in earshot of the defendant, during a visit in August 2013.
After going into the garage - the location of the septic tank - he was told by the couple it was based in a well, but joked it was not a wishing well.
"Then there was some banter, almost certainly instigated by Helen, that it was a good place to hide a body," he said.
Stuart Trimmer QC, prosecuting, asked if both the defendant and Ms Bailey were present at the time.
"Yes, they were," he told the court.
He told jurors he did not remember the exchange until a police officer told him his sister's body had been discovered in it years later.
The defendant denies charges of murder, preventing a lawful burial, fraud and three counts of perverting the cause of justice.
The court also heard, following her disappearance, Stewart had visited her property in Broadstairs, Kent, and reported clothes were missing.
Asked if this had given him hope his sister was OK, Mr Bailey said: "I was looking for hope at this stage, so yes, it did."
When he visited the property himself he was unable to see any sign of life, the court heard.
Mr Bailey said his sister was a "highly intelligent" and "strong-willed" woman, who was "extremely funny".
He added: "She was very much somebody who would come to someone's aid as a friend, she would always put herself out there."
Following the death of her husband in 2011, Ms Bailey met Stewart on a dating website for people who had been widowed.
Their wedding plans were continually pushed back by Stewart's battle with cancer, he told the court.
On April 13 2016, Mr Bailey first heard his sister had vanished, after the alarm was raised by her close friend, Tracey Stratton, he said.
Also appearing in court, Ms Stratton said she had been in frequent contact with the author in the days before her disappearance about the forthcoming wedding.
The bride-to-be had been "excited" about the wedding, scheduled for September 2016, and had worn a ring since 2014, the jury were told.
She said: "I was just concerned why she was not getting back to me - things just weren't right."
Mr Bailey rang Stewart, who allegedly told him he had received a note saying she had gone to her Broadstairs home and asked not to be contacted.
The writer had been missing for three months when police officers opened the hatch to the cesspit beneath her garage and saw an arm protruding from the waste.
It is alleged the killing had "money as its driving motive", with Stewart in line to be a "substantial" benefactor of the author's £4 million fortune in the event of her death.
Her brother recalled she had expressed concerns her memory was worsening in the month before her disappearance.
In the opening days of the trial, jurors heard traces of an insomnia drug prescribed to her fiance - Zoplicone - was found in her system, which had side effects including drowsiness and short-term memory loss.
She told Mr Bailey in March 2016 she had been on the beach and had struggled to walk, the court heard.
He said: "She described it as though it was very windy, but it wasn't windy, felt like it was like forcing against a wind that didn't exist, she forgot the dog and Ian came to her aid."
Neither Mr Bailey nor Ms Stratton had been told by the victim she had any concerns about Stewart, the court heard.
Ms Bailey was known by younger readers for her characters Electra Brown and Daisy Davenport, but found a new audience with her blog, Planet Grief, about becoming a widow.