West London jeweller cleared of murdering abusive boyfriend

Alice Ross and agency
Elizabeth Hart-Browne leaving the Old Bailey after the trial. She told the court that Stephen Rayner mimicked violent criminal Charles Bronson during his attacks on her. Photograph: Emily Pennick/PA

A jeweller wept in court as she was cleared of murdering her boyfriend by stabbing him in the neck at their west London home.

Elizabeth Hart-Browne, 27, told the jury during her trial at the Old Bailey in London that Stephen Rayner, 25, was abusive and would mimic Charles Bronson, one of Britain’s most violent prisoners, during attacks on her. A jury found her not guilty on Thursday.

The mother of two denied murdering Rayner in a champagne-fuelled rage after returning from a family party on the night of 17 September last year, while her children slept in the home. She told the jury she stabbed Rayner after forgetting that she was holding a knife as they grappled with one another during an argument. “I thought he was going to kill me,” she said, adding that he had threatened to do so before.

She told police: “I have just killed the man I love” after being arrested for stabbing Rayner three times in the neck with a large kitchen knife at the flat they shared in Hanwell, west London. Rayner staggered outside and collapsed. Neighbours described hearing “hysterical” screams and saw Hart-Browne kneeling over Rayner’s body. She told the court she had stabbed him accidentally while he was attacking her. As he lay outside, Hart-Browne went back inside the flat to clean up some of the blood and wash the knife. She later explained that she had panicked.

Rayner, a call centre worker, had regularly inflicted domestic violence on Hart-Browne during their six-year relationship, she told the court. But despite this, she said, she wasn’t unhappy in the relationship. “I have always been happy with Stephen. Obviously we had our ups and downs with our relationship … I didn’t like what went on in our relationship at times, but I wasn’t unhappy,” she said.

Within months of the relationship starting, Rayner injured her wrist during a row outside the Hammersmith Apollo in February 2011. “I just thought it was an accident,” she said of the incident, which left her with a suspected fracture. “It was a bit rough the way he was pulling me, but I didn’t think it was an assault.”

Hart-Browne described how the following year she hit Rayner with a stiletto as he grabbed her by the throat during an argument outside an Uxbridge nightclub. “He had his hand very tightly around my throat. I ended up falling to the floor,” she told the court. Rayner was ordered to attend a domestic violence programme as part of an 18-month community order following the incident.

On another occasion, when the couple were living with Hart-Browne’s mother, Rayner shoved her during an argument about washing-up and she fell against a mirror, cutting her back on a shard of glass. “Stephen was shouting, ‘I think I’ve killed her, I think I’ve killed her’ to my mum,” she said.

Hart-Browne then told how in October 2015 Rayner came home drunk and threatened to kill her. “He had a fascination with Charles Bronson. He would take on that persona sometimes when he was angry,” she said. “His whole accent changed, his whole being would change, and I couldn’t get through to him.”

She was so afraid that she took out life insurance the same year, she said. “I believed I was in danger of him killing me and I didn’t want my kids to be left with nothing.”

Rayner bit her face on one occasion and in June last year “waterboarded” her by holding her head under the taps in the bathroom, the court heard.

Prosecutor Rosina Cottage QC said the couple had a volatile relationship. “The rows appear to have been stimulated by allegations of infidelity against Stephen Rayner and jealousy and controlling behaviour by the defendant.”

She outlined how Hart-Browne had also physically attacked Rayner at times, on one occasion with a candlestick. He told friends about having to wrestle a knife from her, and said she had slashed his arm.

After the trial, which last six weeks, the jury spent 15 hours in deliberation before clearing Hart-Browne. She left the court and went straight to a waiting black cab without commenting on the verdict to reporters. Her lawyers said they were pleased with the outcome.

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