A retired producer of TV drama The Bill has been convicted of trying to hire three men to kill his partner of 27 years after becoming besotted with a woman 40 years his junior.
David Harris offered £200,000 to murder Hazel Allinson so he could inherit her fortune, sell her £800,000 home and live out his days with Lithuanian Ugne Cekaviciute, who he met in a brothel.
The 68-year-old admitted he got into a tangle of elaborate lies and mounting debt as he lavished expensive gifts on the 28-year-old former professional basketball player during their five-year affair.
He denied wanting retired scriptwriter Ms Allinson dead and claimed he only wanted to talk to hitmen as research for a murder mystery novel, before he was snared in an undercover sting.
An Old Bailey jury rejected Harris’s explanation and found him guilty of three charges of soliciting murder after deliberating for five hours.
Ms Allinson was present as details of her partner’s betrayal were aired in court but did not attend to see him sitting in silent prayer as the verdict was given.
It can now be reported that she refused to co-operate with the prosecution and even offered to give evidence to back up part of his defence.
Judge Anne Molyneux QC adjourned sentencing until July 14 for a report on whether Harris has a personality disorder to explain his “callousness” and “lack of empathy”.
She said: “There was a prolonged period of almost a year where he actively sought to murder his life partner.
“During that year, he displayed an ability to lie almost instinctively.
“He lied to Ms Allinson for cover to see his girlfriend. He lied to his girlfriend to explain why it was he was not in a position to live with her. He lied to neighbours and friends. His lies were elaborate and were maintained.
“He has demonstrated a lack of empathy and he has demonstrated a callousness and willingness to do what is necessary to achieve his own ends.”
Ms Allinson has not yet provided a victim impact statement but was expected to write directly to the judge ahead of sentencing.
Tim Moloney QC, defending, said Harris would be out of his relationship “very soon”, adding: “This was a three-way relationship.”
The trial heard how Harris blew £50,000 of Ms Allinson’s retirement savings and used her reputation as a parish councillor and church chorister to borrow thousands of pounds from neighbours in the upmarket West Sussex village of Amberley.
He pawned a gold wrist watch and diamond ring and made up increasingly elaborate lies to keep breast cancer survivor Ms Allinson in the dark as he travelled to London for trysts with 6ft 1in tall Ms Cekaviciute.
Harris pretended to umpire matches for Arundel Castle Cricket Club to play away with his young lover and also told Ms Allinson he was tending to his sick brother in a mental hospital.
In a show of “complete contempt”, Harris sneaked Ms Cekaviciute into her home and photographed her posing naked on a bed with Ms Allinson’s three spaniels, jurors heard.
Prosecutor William Boyce QC told jurors that Harris decided the only way out of his predicament was to pay a hitman to kill Ms Allinson in a staged mugging or car-jacking.
In February last year, Harris approached mechanic Chris May for debt collection before offering him a deal for the hit on his partner.
When Mr May failed to oblige, Harris sent him a sinister text saying: “She’s back. What the f*** happened? She’s dog walking this afternoon. Where are you?”
Mr May repeatedly tried to warn Ms Allinson of the danger, by approaching her as she left the gym at Goodwood health club and by email.
Harris was then put in contact with 6ft 3in “man mountain” Zed – real name Duke Dean – through a friend at Nooks cafe in Stratford, east London, near to where Ms Cekaviciute had enrolled in college.
Recovering alcoholic Harris promised him £200,000 for the job, but in November last year Zed reported him to City of London Police instead.
Zed introduced Harris to another prospective hitman, undercover officer “Chris”, who secretly videoed the meeting in Sainsbury’s car park in Balham, South London.
As they discussed the murder Harris said: “I will be suitably distressed because I will be distressed there’s no doubt about it. I know what I’m asking. I know there’s no way back but likewise there’s no way out for me. That’s the bottom line.”
Asked if he was sure about it, he said: “I’ve never been more deadly serious about anything.”
The next day police went to arrest Harris and burst into a room at the Balham Lodge Hotel to find him lying naked in bed with Ms Cekaviciute.
Giving evidence, Harris claimed he was researching a book, based on his alter ego Tom Noble, a wife called Holly – named after one of the family dogs – and a sporty young woman who worked in a brothel or cafe.
He said: “I thought what was happening to me at that time, at that particular juncture, might form the basis of a good thriller.
“It was based on a guy based on me, my sort of age, meets a young girl, falls in love, becomes besotted and over development decides he wants to be with her and decides what he has to do about his wife Holly.”
He admitted giving Mr May and Zed all the information they needed to track down and kill Ms Allinson but insisted he was always in “control”.
Andrew Hadik of the CPS said: “The idea David Harris was only researching a murder mystery novel was itself a piece of fiction. He was serious about having his partner of nearly 30 years killed so he could inherit her house in Amberley, Sussex, and start a new life with his younger lover.”
Detective Chief Inspector Edelle Michaels of City of London Police said Harris was “a calculating, manipulative person, who was intent on causing serious harm to his victim”.
She said: “This has been a hugely difficult time for the victim, who has been significantly affected.
“Things could have been far worse if Harris had succeeded with his plan, and there was an element of good fortune that one of the men Harris approached informed the police, prompting our swift response to ensure the safety of Harris’s intended victim.”