Murder accused told police 'things haven't been going well', court hears
The fiance of a children's author found dead in a cesspit told police "things just haven't been going well" before her disappearance, a court has heard.
Ian Stewart, 56, of Baldock Road, Royston, Hertfordshire, is accused of drugging and killing Helen Bailey, allegedly concealing her remains in human sewage beneath the home they shared.
In a recording of his missing-person report to police, played to the jury at his trial at St Albans Crown Court, he said the Electra Brown writer mentioned she had been "wanting space".
But hours before her disappearance, the 51-year-old had been researching and planning the couple's forthcoming wedding, the jury previously heard.
Three months later, Ms Bailey was discovered, alongside her beloved dachshund, in the waste tank deep below her £1.5 million property.
During the call on April 15 2016 - four days after Ms Bailey was allegedly murdered - the phone operator asked if Stewart was sure she was not at home.
He said: "I've literally checked everywhere - we have got quite a large house and I have literally checked everywhere.
"I know she's a very strong person - it would be very hard to abuse Helen. She'd come back at you strongly."
The defendant denies charges of murder, preventing a lawful burial, fraud and three counts of perverting the course of justice.
Asked whether he was surprised about her sudden departure, Stewart told the police call handler: "No, I wasn't. Well, yes, it was a shock, she had talked about it but it was still a shock.
"She has talked about wanting space because things just haven't been going well for her recently, or for us."
In Stewart's account of the day she vanished, Ms Bailey "wasn't calm" during a dog walk due to problems with a wedding venue and had returned from a trip out saying she never wanted to drive again, one police officer told the court.
Stewart claimed that when he last saw his fiancee, they had shared a kiss goodbye and he asked her what she wanted for tea.
Then, as he left for a doctor's appointment, he saw her for the final time at the window, clutching her dog Boris, the jury was told.
Notes of a conversation he had with Detective Sergeant Sarah Gilbertson when she visited the home on the day of the missing-person report were read to the court.
One said: "She is concerned whether I want to marry her."
He told officers that Ms Bailey had left a note saying she had gone to a cottage she owned on the Kent coast.
Stewart claimed it said: "I think I need some time and space for myself. Going to Broadstairs, please don't contact me in any way. Love you more, LB."
Another officer, Pc Richard Webster, told the court of his conversation with Stewart on April 15: "He said he was a bit annoyed about the suddenness of Helen's going away and was a bit puzzled."
DC Kerry Burrows described how Stewart seemed distracted when he saw police walking around his house.
He said: "Some time further into speaking with him, he seemed to pay attention to the movements going on in the hallway.
"He moved back in his chair, he seemed to be focusing his attention there."
The court also heard that Ms Bailey had planned to ditch her career as a book author due to stress.
Ms Gilbertson's notes of her conversation with Stewart said: "She had no plans to write another book, but she had written a blog called Planet Grief.
"She described that it was stressful when she wrote it and, with hindsight, she wouldn't have done."
Ms Bailey had written the blog about her experiences of becoming a widow after her first husband, John Sinfield, drowned in 2011.
According to Stewart, he and Ms Bailey had only spent one day apart in three years - when he was in intensive care.
After her disappearance, the court was told Stewart had made an appeal on Ms Bailey's Facebook page, writing: "Wherever are you?"
Earlier, the girlfriend of Stewart's son Oliver told jurors he had not been in good physical health before Ms Bailey disappeared.
Alexandra McGarry said: "He was frail. Oliver told me he was even struggling to reach up into the cupboards and get food out, and things like that."
The trial continues.