A policeman who bludgeoned to death his police constable fiancee just hours before they were due to fly to St Lucia for their wedding was jailed for life today.
Martin Forshaw, 27, told Claire Howarth, 31, their marriage was off and repeatedly struck her with a heavy lump hammer at their home in Tottington, Greater Manchester.
He then carried her into her BMW car and drove around secluded country lanes before he staged a bogus road traffic accident with her slumped body at the wheel.
The former Cheshire Constabulary officer, an expert in self-defence techniques, was “torn” between his feelings for Pc Howarth and the mother of his four-year-old son from a previous relationship, Manchester Crown Court heard.
Forshaw became increasingly agitated as the wedding loomed but “simply buried his head in the sand” and ultimately “lost his self-control” on the day they were set to jet out to the Caribbean island, where they were to be married five days later.
Her mother Irene Howarth told the court that she was “overwhelmed” with grief.
“Instead of watching my beautiful daughter at her wedding, I was left with the unimaginable task of organising her funeral,” she wrote in her victim impact statement.
Mrs Howarth added that her family and friends had all been preparing to fly out for the wedding and her daughter looked “absolutely stunning” when she tried on her dress.
Eight hours after last seeing her, she said what greeted her at the hospital was “horrific beyond belief”.
“My lovely Claire was unrecognisable. Having to wipe the blood from her eyes is a memory that will live with me until I die,” she said.
“My only hope is that Claire could hear me telling her that we all loved her before she died.”
Forshaw was sentenced to a minimum term of 18 years after he admitted killing Pc Howarth ahead of the trial, which was set to start today.
The attack took place in the spare bedroom of the couple’s three-bed semi-detached home, where blood spots were found close to her wedding dress and their presents.
Pc Howarth sent a text message to a friend at about 12.50am on May 7 which said she was “excited” and that she and Forshaw, her partner of 10 months, had been dancing around the house to a CD.
Ray Wigglesworth QC, prosecuting, said: “The prosecution say that a very short time after sending this happy text message – some time between 1.50am and 2am - Claire Howarth sustained very severe head and facial injuries which led to her death.”
He said that just before 1.50am, someone, thought to be the murder victim, was checking their Caribbean flight details on their home computer.
Thirty minutes later Forshaw dialled 999 and reported a road accident.
At the scene in Tottington Road, Bury, he told emergency services that Pc Howarth was looking for a CD in the vehicle when she swerved and careered into a hedge. He added she had not been wearing a seatbelt but he was uninjured because he had.
In reality, he had placed his unconscious fiancee in the driver’s seat and had reached across beside her to floor the accelerator.
Pc Howarth, a serving officer with Greater Manchester Police for two years, was taken to Royal Bolton Hospital but was pronounced dead later that morning. She had died from severe head trauma and suffered 14 separate injuries to her head and neck.
Detectives became suspicious of Forshaw’s account and discovered specks of blood in the hallway and the stairs when they entered their home.
In an upstairs bedroom was a large pool of blood, while blood was also splattered over the doors of a wardrobe.
Forshaw, wearing in a suit in the dock, held his head in his hands as Peter Wright QC, representing him, outlined the incident.
Mr Wright said the defendant was a “responsible and caring father” to his son, who was living with his ex-partner.
“The problem was that in maintaining contact with the son, there was also a continuing affection towards that lady,” he said.
“It was the root cause why the defendant was in such a dilemma, running out of time. That he was intending to marry Claire Howarth. He was torn. Torn as to his loyalties and torn as to what, if any, future he ought to pursue for the best.
“The position was not resolved in the weeks and months leading up to the proposed wedding.”
Forshaw was also said to have kept the impending wedding a secret from some of his colleagues and none of his family were planning to attend the ceremony.
Explaining the build-up to the hammer attack, Mr Wright said: “He knew and had known for some little time that he had no desire to go through with the wedding.
“He told her he did not wish to go through with the wedding. He realised that was the end of the relationship.”
An argument ensued and he went into the spare bedroom to put on his shoes and leave the address, Mr Wright said.
Pc Howarth returned to the room with a hammer to confront him and she was injured as the pair struggled. But his claims of self-defence were described by the pathologist as “totally implausible”.
It was then that the defendant “plainly lost his self control”, Mr Wright said.
Forshaw “panicked” as he carried his fiancee to the car and put the hammer in the boot.
“He ought to have driven immediately to the hospital. He did not,” Mr Wright said.
“This was an absolute tragedy. It unfolded over a relatively short period of time, involving a man who had not previously shown violent tendencies and had a position of responsibility.”
Sentencing Forshaw, Mr Justice Clarke said: “This was a brutal killing. Whatever immediately led up to it, you struck Claire Howarth at least five times to and around the head with a very heavy and dangerous instrument, designed to strike very hard blows.
“I have some understanding of the position of what you found yourself in. I believe you did not face up to the situation when you should have done.”
He told him that announcing the relationship was over “at a time of the highest emotions” has produced “the results we can all see”.
Outside court, senior investigating officer Andy Tattersall, of Greater Manchester Police, said: “Irene (Mrs Howarth) thought she was getting a very truthful son-in-law but she was getting a coward.
“It is an absolute disgrace he struck her again with two blows of the hammer. You would not do that to a dying dog.”