Peter Beckett was a 'controlling spouse' court hears

By Tim Petruk

Peter Beckett. a former Napier councillor, who is on trial for killing his wife in Canada.
Peter Beckett. a former Napier councillor, who is on trial for killing his wife in Canada.

A friend and colleague of Laura Letts-Beckett has told a jury she was immediately suspicious of the woman's husband -a former city councillor in Napier - when she found out she had drowned in a British Columbia lake, despite the fact the death was initially ruled accidental.

Kim Webster took the stand on day three of Peter Beckett's first-degree murder trial in British Columbia Supreme Court in Kamloops.

The Crown alleges Beckett, 59, killed Mrs Letts-Beckett in 2010 out of greed.

In 2010, Mrs Webster was a trustee in the Pembina Hills school district in Alberta, where Mrs Letts-Beckett worked as an elementary teacher.

The two knew each other from Webster's childhood, having attended the same conservative Christian church.

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Webster said she ran into Mrs Letts-Beckett at the school district's Christmas social in December 2008. Mr Beckett and Mrs Letts-Beckett were separated at the time.

The court heard the two began to catch up, Webster telling Mrs Letts-Beckett that her first marriage had ended in divorce - something frowned upon by their church.

"I started talking about how my life had turned out maybe not how I'd imagined," she said, describing her first marriage as an abusive relationship.

"I never imagined divorce. Then Laura grabbed my hand and got quite serious and said, 'We need to talk."'

Mrs Webster said Mrs Letts-Beckett pulled her into a small room and became emotional.

"She started crying and saying that she had also gotten out of an abusive relationship," she said.

"The gist of the conversation was a lot of her crying, me sometimes sharing what had happened to me in my first marriage and her agreeing - a controlling spouse.

"She kept saying she was a shell of who she used to be - that she had been beaten down, pushed down. She talked about how her husband had been very controlling - that he was this powerful person up on a pedestal and she was just small.

"She was trembling at times. We embraced several times and I could feel her trembling."

Mrs Webster said Mrs Letts-Beckett told her she would never reconcile with her husband. However, court has heard, the couple got back together the following month.

At the 2009 school district Christmas party, Mrs Webster said, a hesitant Mrs Letts-Beckett introduced her to Beckett.

"We shook hands," she said.

"She said, 'Well, we're back together and we're trying to work it out."'

Mrs Webster said she was informed of Mrs Letts-Beckett's death by her superintendent prior to a school district function in 2010.

"As soon as I heard about Laura's drowning, I did have a bias or a preconceived notion that Peter had killed her," she said.

Mrs Webster said she went to police in 2011, after police announced they were treating Mrs Letts-Beckett's death as a homicide.

Mr Beckett made a number of outbursts in court on Thursday, particularly during the testimony of Ray Barlow, the lawyer who dealt with Mrs Letts-Beckett's will.

During a meeting after Mrs Letts-Beckett had died, Mr Barlow said, he caught Mr Beckett rifling through a Letts family file while he was out of the room making photocopies.

At one point during Mr Barlow's testimony, Mr Beckett called him a "liar," causing the jury to be excused briefly from the courtroom.

Mrs Letts-Beckett drowned in Upper Arrow Lake on August 18, 2010, while she and Mr Beckett were on holiday in British Columbia. Mr Beckett was arrested and charged in August 2011.

Crown prosecutor Sarah Firestone has told the 14-person jury Mr Beckett stood to gain a significant amount of money through pension and insurance payouts if his wife died.Through her questioning, defence lawyer Donna Turko has suggested Mrs Letts-Beckett was depressed prior to her drowning.

Mr Beckett was a city councillor in Napier, New Zealand, in the 1990s. He met Mrs Letts-Beckett while she was on holiday in New Zealand in 1995, and moved to Canada in 2000. The couple wed in 2003.

Mr Beckett's trial is expected to last three months.

- NZ Herald

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