Family shocked by murder charge

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 29/08/2011
Peter Beckett
ACCUSED: Peter Beckett
laura beckett
MURDERED: Laura Letts Beckett

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After seven years of silence, a phone call from Canadian police was the first a Kiwi family heard their father was an accused murderer.

Former Napier councillor Peter Beckett, 54, will appear in a Canadian court tomorrow charged with the murder of his wife, Canadian school teacher Laura Letts Beckett, one year after she was believed to have drowned in a fishing accident.

Ms Letts Beckett, who was not wearing a life jacket and could not swim, died last August at a national park near Revelstoke, in British Columbia. At the time, it was thought she fell over the side of the boat.

The death had been considered a homicide since June and Beckett was arrested and charged with murder earlier this month.

The first his New Zealand family heard of the arrest was a phone call from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who asked to speak to Beckett's ex-wife Wendy Sail about her former husband.

Mrs Sail, a nurse, was out of the country yesterday.

Her husband, Chris Sail, said Mrs Sail and the four grownup children she had with Mr Beckett, aged 18 to 30, had not been in contact with him since he left New Zealand at least seven years ago.

"We knew he'd been arrested sort of three weeks ago, because the Canadian police rung up and sort of interviewed Wendy a bit. But that's all we know about the case or anything like that."

It was traumatic for the children, and the 18-year-old daughter had taken it particularly badly.

"It's very hard on her ... but she has got some good friends, and she'll be all right. We're just dealing with it, and we're just going to carry on with life and just see what happens," Mr Sail said.

Two of the older children lived in Australia, while one was in England on her OE.

According to those on council with him at the time, Beckett was a "fly-by-night" politician best known for a bar stoush where he abused a rugby team and demanded "Don't you know who I am?" before slapping the captain.

Beckett almost lost his seat on council for the incident in 1999, which current Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott said was typical of his "inappropriate" behaviour.

While Beckett later apologised for his "inexcusable" behaviour, at the time he also said the incident had been exaggerated by other councillors out to get him.

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He said people knew him as a straight-shooter, and he came from an era where "what happens on tour, stays on tour".

Mrs Arnott said no-one in the community knew him well.

"He didn't really have strong ties in this community ... He was an aggressive councillor, and he did inappropriate things both inside and outside of council."

In contrast, his family was lovely and "very well liked," she said.

Former councillor John Harrison said Beckett had appeared out of nowhere to gain a seat on council in 1998, and disappeared just as quickly three years later.

"It's quite a shock, I think, to hear that someone who sat around the table with you could well be a murderer."

Beckett was working as a school bus driver at the time of his arrest.

Ms Letts Beckett's family released a statement after Beckett's arrest, saying they were relieved the investigation was over.

"As a family we are waiting for the justice system to take its course."

- The Dominion Post

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