A jeweller who stabbed her abusive and controlling boyfriend to death broke down and wept in the dock today as an Old Bailey jury cleared her of murder.
Elizabeth Hart-Browne, 27, stabbed her lover Stephen Rayner three times with a kitchen knife after years of emotional bullying and bouts of violence.
As 25-year-old Rayner lay dying on the ground, Hart-Browne told police she had “just killed the man I love” but insisted her lover had his hands around her throat when she inflicted the fatal wound in self-defence.
She laid bare the extent of his domestic abuse during an emotionally-wrought trial, telling jurors she was “happy” in the six-year relationship despite attacks and foul-mouthed abuse from her boyfriend.
The stabbing, on September 17 last year, had eerie echoes of Helen Titchener’s domestic abuse storyline in The Archers, and happened just five days after the character was acquitted of attempting to murder her partner Rob on the BBC Radio 4 show.
At the Old Bailey today, Hart-Browne broke down in the dock and wept as a jury found her not guilty of murder after deliberating for nearly 15 hours.
The court heard Rayner had repeatedly attacked Hart-Browne, a mother-of-two, during their turbulent relationship, accusing her of cheating on him and not being a good enough mother.
She said Rayner had brandished a knife at her on several occasions, including an incident around 20 months before his death when he grabbed her hair and put the blade to her throat before she managed to wrestle the weapon away.
Hart-Browne told how she had once hit him with her stiletto to defend herself when he grabbed her round the throat outside a nightclub.
And she revealed how Rayner had knocked her unconscious by pushing her against a mirror while they were staying with her mother.
Jurors were shown a stream of abusive text messages Rayner sent to Hart-Browne, accusing her of seeing other men behind his back and not being a fit mother in expletive-ridden rants. But instead of ending their relationship, Hart-Browne repeatedly begged for him to “love” her.
In court she revealed she had taken out a life insurance policy, fearing that Rayner would kill her and her children would be left with nothing. She also told how Rayner had an obsession with Britain's most violent prisoner Charles Bronson.
But while admitted their relationship had its “ups and down”, she insisted she was “happy with Stephen”. “I have never been unhappy with our relationship. ‘I didn’t like what went on in our relationship at times, but I wasn’t unhappy”, she said.
Hart-Browne, who was the assistant manager at Ernest Jones’ flagship jewellery store in the Westfield shopping centre, wept as she relived the night of Rayner’s death, at her flat in Nightingale Road, Acton.
When she returned in the evening from a party, Rayner had already undressed for bed but an argument broke out. She said he did not like her texting other men and jealously believed she was having an affair.
Fighting back tears, she described how Rayner grabbed her by the neck and pushed her up against a mirror just yards from where her young daughter was sleeping.
“Stephen started kicking and punching at me, I was trying to move so he couldn’t catch me”, she said. “He had hold of my hair at one stage, I was telling him to stop.”
She said she grabbed the kitchen knife which was lying on the living room table, but had forgotten she was holding it when she inflicted the fatal neck wound.
“I was just trying to get him off me, I wanted him to stop”, she said. “I had forgotten I had it in my hand at that stage, I just wanted him to get off me.”
Hart-Browne said she followed Rayner outside and tried to stop the bleeding with her hands after he collapsed to the ground.
“I wish I had just gone inside and stayed quiet and then none of this would have happened”, she told the court.
“I wish I had never said anything I wish I had just gone home and been quiet and gone to bed. Then he would still be here and our family would still be together.”
Prosecutors claimed Hart-Browne had stabbed her boyfriend in a jealous rage because she believed he was having an affair, putting emphasis on the fact she had been drinking champagne that evening and washed the knife after the stabbing.
Hart-Browne said she wandered round in a daze following the stabbing and began to clean the flat, but said she could not remember washing the knife.
She has been held in custody since the night of the stabbing and failed in a bid for bail during the court proceedings. She will now be hoping to be reunited with her children when she is released from prison.
Hart-Browne, of Acton, denied murder.