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Woman sent 'sex' letter to ex's new partner before killing, court told

Published 06/07/2016

Sadie Hartley was found in a pool of blood in the hallway of her house
Sadie Hartley was found in a pool of blood in the hallway of her house

A jealous woman told her ex's new partner they were still enjoying "unbelievably fantastic" sex in an affair before murdering her love rival with "demonic savagery" a court heard.

Spurned Sarah Williams, 35, sent the "spiteful" letter to Sadie Hartley, 60, after her ex Ian Johnston, 57, began a new relationship with the older woman.

But after the letter failed to break up the couple, "obsessed" Williams attacked businesswoman Ms Hartley with "demonic savagery", Preston Crown Court heard.

Williams paralysed her victim with a stun gun before stabbing her 40 times in an "orgy of violence" on the doorstep of her £500,000 home in the upmarket village of Helmshore, Lancashire.

One blow with the kitchen knife used by Williams went straight through her victim's neck, the court heard.

Mother-of-two Ms Hartley a "decent, hard-working" communications director, was found dead in a pool of blood in the hallway of her house the day after the attack on January 14 this year.

Ski travel firm employee Williams recruited her friend Katrina Walsh, 56, a horse riding instructor, to help with her "murderous mission" the jury heard.

Both deny murder.

Williams had plotted the murder for 17 months, after ex-fireman Mr Johnston broke off their relationship when she became "possessive and difficult".

On the second day of the trial John McDermott QC, prosecuting, told the court of a letter sent by Williams in September 2014, telling Ms Hartley how she was having an affair with her man.

The letter read: "Dear Sadie

"I think you should know that Ian has been cheating on you for over a year.

"He's been having an affair with me since returning from Camp Suisse in August 2013.

"The sex is unbelievably fantastic, the best he's ever had by a really, really long way. We have never been able to get enough of each other.

"It satisfied a need in him he will never really be able to suppress or manage without.

"Ian is stressed out and extremely depressed. His mental state is somewhat of a serious concern to me hence while I'm writing this.

"I feel you have played a significant part in getting him in the state he's in now, which appears to be worsening by the day.

"Despite doing everything you have done so far, to buy him and trap him, he's still lying to you, cheating and sleeping with me behind your back.

"Maybe it is about time that somebody told you.

"Probably it just goes to show you can buy and trap someone with money and blackmail but can't make them love you or be faithful to you.

"Should you choose to talk to him about this bear in mind it was not a one off, an accident or mistake or any other form of excuse.

"This was a choice made freely, over and over and over again for now more than 12 months because it was what he wanted to do.

"Clearly these are not the actions of someone with any respect, desire, love or affection for you whatsoever.

"Should you wish to discuss anything here you are free to contact me."

Mr McDermott told the jury: "You will decide whether that was an act of kindness to warn her about the perfidious man who she was with, or whether it was an act of extreme spite."

Police arrested Williams at 3.10am on January 17 and searched her home in Blacon.

Swabs from her bath were taken and the DNA of her alleged victim was revealed, the court heard, while Ms Hartley's blood was found on the lens of Williams's glasses discovered in her car.

Williams denied having anything to do with the murder but accepted she had had a relationship with Mr Johnston which ended in "a bad argument".

Interviewed by detectives, Walsh claimed she was "petrified" of Williams but that she never believed her friend would carry out the murder.

The horse riding instructor admitted hiding the stun gun and knife at work at Collinge Farm, Chester, along with the diary she kept detailing the murder plot, the jury heard.

She said she hid various items under manure in one of the horses' fields and her diary in the eaves of a roof.

Walsh suggested that she thought she was playing a game of Hunted - a Channel 4 programme in which people attempt to avoid detection by trackers.

Asked by police if she knew what Williams was planning, she replied: "I got glimpses of it but it all seemed like Hunted, she had me watch Hunted and everything."

Mr McDermott said: "The prosecution suggest that this idea that she thought it was all a game is a preposterous invention. She is not stupid and she does not live in a fantasy world."

Giving evidence, retired headteacher Ann Wood said she met Williams more than four years ago as beginners on the Chill Factore indoor ski slope at Trafford, Manchester.

She said at the time Williams was in a relationship with David Hardwick, a man in his 70s, but later confided to her she was having an affair with ski instructor Mr Johnston.

Mrs Wood said: "Sarah thought Ian was the person for her. She loved him. She wanted to be with him."

She said it was "an understatement" that Williams was infatuated with him because she was "obsessed", and that she thought Williams thought Mr Johnston loved her too.

She said that Ms Hartley would also visit Chill Factore with Mr Johnston, and that on one occasion she was told that Ms Hartley and Williams had "a huge row" at the centre.

Mr McDermott asked: "Did Sarah ever say anything to you about her view of Sadie Hartley?"

The witness replied: "She felt that Sadie was being very manipulative and that she was controlling Ian, I think Sarah felt this was being done through money and her business she was running."

The prosecutor continued: "Did she ever used words to describe Sadie?"

Mrs Wood said: "An evil bitch."

A month before Ms Hartley's death, Williams sent a text message to Mrs Wood about some biscuits she was bringing to the Chill Factore.

Williams wrote: "See if you can get the evil one to eat one of my biscuits and don't tell her I made them until she has eaten one … Got to get my kicks somehow (smiley face emoticon) xxx

She sent a second message which read: "Now got to try to ensure I get the poison in the right biscuit (purple devil emoticon)."

Mrs Wood told the jury she did not take the messages seriously. She said: "I thought she was jesting."

The witness told the jury she learned of Ms Hartley's death and the subsequent murder investigation en route to Switzerland for the skiing trip that Ms Hartley was due to have also taken.

Anthony Cross QC, defending Walsh, asked: "Did you get a terrible feeling that somehow Sarah Williams might be involved?"

She said: "I'm afraid I did because I felt her hatred of Sadie was so strong. I went very cold."

Ms Hartley's business partner and best friend, Julie Taylor, said the pair had set up their business Hartley Taylor in 2000 and that they organised medical conferences.

She said Ms Hartley had first met Mr Johnston in 2004 and it later developed into an on-off relationship until about four years ago when it became more serious.

Ms Taylor said she did not know of Williams or her affair with Mr Johnston.

She said her friend had been planning a "heart to heart" with Mr Johnston on their return from Switzerland "to get the romance on track".

She said they were a fun-loving couple who enjoyed parties and going out for dinner but had "gone into themselves" following the recent death of Mr Johnston's mother and ongoing health problems suffered by Ms Hartley after she fell off a horse.

Ms Taylor told the court that Ms Hartley had not expressed any concern to her that Mr Johnston may have been in contact with another woman.

The trial continues on Thursday.

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