'Suicide' text sent wife hysterical

MURDER TRIAL: Philip Nisbet, left, and Helen Milner, cut from a family photo taken in late March 2009.
MURDER TRIAL: Philip Nisbet, left, and Helen Milner, cut from a family photo taken in late March 2009.

A police officer said Helen Elizabeth Milner was hysterical after turning on her cellphone and receiving a suicide note text message from her husband who had been found dead in his bed.

The Crown alleges that Milner, 50, sent the message to her own phone on a night when she had drugged her husband and suffocated him in his bed.

Sergeant Christopher Roy Barker told the second day of Milner's murder and attempted murder trial in the High Court at Christchurch that Milner's long period of hysteria seemed a quite unnatural reaction to grief.

CONSIDERED HIT: Helen Elizabeth Milner in the High Court at Christchurch.
CONSIDERED HIT: Helen Elizabeth Milner in the High Court at Christchurch.

He and the constable with him talked about the suicide text having been discovered "conveniently" in front of the police who had attended the scene about 6am on May 4, 2009.

They decided then to contact their supervising officer.

Barker said Milner had said she had been in bed with her husband Phillip James Nisbet until 2am, but the body was positioned at an angle and it did not look as though anyone could have been in bed beside him earlier in the night.

Milner said she had got up at that time because she needed insulin for her diabetes and had spent the rest of the night on the sofa in the lounge.

The sergeant said the suicide text had been sent at 10.30pm.

It said: "I'm sorry honey. Can't keep going like this. I love you so much. Please take care and tell Ben I love him."

Ben is Nisbet's son.

The Crown is alleging at the three-week trial before Justice David Gendall and a jury that Milner had fed the drug Phenergan to Nisbet with his evening meal and when he became unconscious in bed from the anti-allergy and sedative drug, she suffocated him with a pillow.

She denies two charges of attempting to murder him in April 2009, and then murdering him in May 2009.

The defence will say that it is reasonably possible that Nisbet did commit suicide.

Barker said he found empty blister packs for pills in a bedside cabinet.

The trial spent a lot of the day hearing of comments that Milner made to work colleagues about poisons, or feeling like suffocating her husband.

It also heard that the couple had taken out an insurance policy on Nisbet's life in February 2008.

The 13-month suicide exclusion clause ceased to apply in March 2009.


Work colleagues treated rat poison comments by Helen Elizabeth Milner as a joke, the jury was told.

The operations manager at Ground Services Ltd, Gavin John Moffat, said Milner complained that her husband had been trying to poison her by giving her sugary foods when he knew she was diabetic.

When she asked about rat poison, Moffat asked, "What do you want that for?"

Milner had just smiled and walked out of the office, he said.

It had become a joke around the office. She would sometimes provide muffins for the office staff, and they would comment to each other: "I hope she hasn't put the rat poison in the muffins today".

"We felt the whole thing was a bit of a joke," said Moffat.

Milner had been jovial and staff had treated a lot of her talk as joking.

After Nisbet's death in 2009, she had tried to tell him that her husband had "several affairs going on at one time", but he did not think it was an appropriate comment and had walked away.


Desmond Cameron, the general manager of Ground Services Ltd, said he clearly recalled the comment by Milner about buying rat poison.

"She asked me whether Mitre 10 sold rat poison, and for no reason," he told the trial.

Cameron said Milner's inquiry about rat poison "came out of the blue".

He told of employing Milner as an office worker and receptionist. She had worked well and picked up the office systems quickly.

She told constantly about problems with her family, and she referred to her husband as a spendthrift. She was always short of money, saying her husband never earnt enough.

It was a surprise to Cameron to hear that Milner and her husband were going for a two-week holiday on the Gold Coast.

He knew Nisbet and thought he must have had a pretty tough life.

Cameron recalled: "On a couple of occasions she [Milner] made comments that he was adding substances to her drinks at nights, because she was diabetic and this was affecting her and making her feel unwell."

After Nisbet's death, Milner at first said it was suicide, but then wrote a message that went on the noticeboard announcing it had been a medical condition related to sleep apnea, he recalled.

An employee at Ground Services Ltd, Daphne Bennett, said Milner would talk openly at work about her problems at home.

Some people had talked about the stories she told, and she found some of them quite unbelievable.

Another employee, John Peter Beynon, told of a conversation with Milner where she complained about her husband, saying he was drawing all the money out of their bank account and spending it on model cars and things like that.

"She was pretty angry about it," Beynon said.

"She said, 'I would like to end it,' and I said, 'Well, just divorce him'."

Milner then said: "No, I want to get rid of him for good."

He did not know what she meant, but he did not take her comment seriously.

Police evidence was given about Milner's bank card being used in the vicinity around the time of Phenergan purchases at pharmacies, by a woman who paid in cash.

The Crown alleges the purchases were made by Milner who gave false details at the pharmacies.

Another Ground Services employee, Kyle Innes, told of noticing a change in Milner's behaviour over a period.

After her husband's death, she told him she was upset because her family was blaming her for Nisbet's death.

He said he was "gobsmacked" weeks after the death, to see Milner in Westfield Mall walking arm in arm with another man.

The Crown is calling more than 70 witnesses in the course of the three-week trial.

The Press