THE brother of murder victim Claire Morris has spoken of his pangs of "terrible guilt" at being unable to protect his sister from the killer Malcolm Webster.
Peter Morris said he had been “totally and utterly” hoodwinked by Webster when other family members had suspicions about the man who walked into the life of his older sister and plotted her death soon after they got together.
So great had been his trust in Webster that he held his hand and cried with him at his sister’s graveside in Aberdeenshire, as the two men lowered her coffin into the ground.
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Mr Morris, 48, of Kent, a father-of-four, has since had to encounter him in court on an almost daily basis as he followed proceedings on behalf of his family, including his mother Betty, with his sister’s killer often standing behind him in the queue in the canteen.
Now, following the guilty verdict, his first task is to remove all trace of the murderer from Claire’s gravestone and allow her to finally rest in peace.
Mr Morris said: “I was totally and utterly taken in by Malcolm Webster. He was incredibly charming and I certainly didn’t have any objections to them being together.
“Many members of my family thought he was too good to be true. My mother had suspicions but I put them down to her being protective. She felt that Claire’s attitude towards her changed when she met Malcolm.
“I have felt periods of guilt over the past few years that I had never noticed anything. I never suspected a thing.”
Mr Morris recalled how “radiant” Claire looked at the couple’s wedding in September 1993. The newlyweds moved to East Cattie cottage near Oldmeldrum. They bought kittens, had friends over for dinner and went on night drives looking for the Northern Lights. They appeared very much in love.
Webster started to poison his new bride in the months following the wedding. When friends commented on their romantic relationship, Claire once said: “All is not what it seems.”
Webster finally killed Claire by staging a car crash and setting fire to their jeep as she lay unconscious inside.
Mr Morris described the devastation caused by the loss of his sister, in May 1994.
“You know when you are grieving when you wake up stone cold sober and you are still crying. I would wake up and the tears would still be coming down,” Mr Morris said.
“I hit the bottle and lost a job. Nevertheless, I got through it, but I never imagined that I would have to go through that grief twice.
“When the police re-opened the case, it was like someone taking a sharp knife and cutting open a very sore wound. I was in a state of disbelief for weeks. Every time the police spoke to me, I was constantly asking them if they were sure that this was the case.”
Mr Morris said his “foundation of truth” had been destroyed by Webster’s lies.
“At Claire’s funeral, Malcolm and I stood together at the graveside. In my left hand I had the cord and in my right hand I was holding Malcolm Webster’s hand and we were both in tears.
“It’s hard enough to express emotion as a man and here you had two men expressing high levels of emotion.
“For 14 years that stuck with me as the truth. I genuinely felt sorry for him because he had lost his wife.
“He has managed to dislodge my foundation of truth, what is true and what is not, for life.”
Claire and Peter spent an early part of their lives in Australia, their father Charles taking up a GP practice in a small outback town. On return to the UK, both children were sent to boarding school. They had a “normal sibling relationship”, sometimes fighting and sometimes getting on, and forming a “good brother-sister adult friendship” in later years.
Mr Morris stayed in a rented flat in Glasgow during the trial after receiving financial support from the courts service’s victim support unit. Since February, he has travelled home every fortnight to see his wife and family, and admits the process has been gruelling. He has suffered insomnia and long periods of loneliness as the details of his sister’s death unfolded.
His mother phoned at 7pm every day to get the latest update from court, although he has spared her the details of the way in which her daughter died.
“Since the case was re-opened, my mother’s health has deteriorated significantly. Now at 86, my mother has the right to be able to live her remaining years in a bit of peace.
“My mother never trusted Malcolm and after the crash she always had her suspicions. She would say to me ‘Malcolm never apologised’. It makes sense now, but at the time I just thought it was the way my mum was handling her own grief.”
Mr Morris recalled the last time he spoke to his sister two days before she died.
“We spoke for around two hours and had a really good catch-up. My worry is that the phone call was orchestrated by Malcolm and that in a sick way he said ‘go on, have a chat with your brother’, knowing it would be the last time I spoke to her. Nevertheless, I’m jolly glad that I did have that chat.”
On return to Kent, Mr Morris’s one last task will be to restore the tombstone at Claire’s grave in Tarves, Aberdeenshire.
“I have a serious objection to her being referred to as “beloved wife of Malcolm”. If someone has premeditated that murder and groomed that person from the moment they met, I very much question any right they may have to have their name on their headstone.
“It is not just so that the truth is there for our family, but that in the years to come, when we are all gone, the truth will be there for everyone.”