Helen Milner found guilty of murder
Police admit failings in first investigationBLAIR ENSOR, DAVID CLARKSON & CHARLES ANDERSON
LATEST: Police have admitted there were a number of failings with their initial investigation into the death of Philip James Nisbet, saying it should have been treated as a homicide from the start.
A High Court jury has convicted Helen Elizabeth Milner of murder and attempted murder, four-and-a-half years after the death of her husband.
It took the jury of seven men and five women roughly half a day to reject the defence's claim that the May 2009 death of Nisbet, 47, was an act of suicide.
The 50-year-old Halswell woman reacted calmly when the jury announced its verdicts. It found Milner not guilty on one charge of attempted murder.
The Press understands an internal police report has revealed a number of basic failings with the initial police investigation into Nisbet's death.
Police have so far refused to release the document for privacy and employment related issues.
Canterbury District Detective Inspector Tom Fitzgerald this afternoon accepted there were a number of failings with the first investigation into Nisbet's death.
''We accept that the initial inquiry, some aspects of it weren't handled thoroughly,'' Fitzgerald told The Press.
''The initial investigation wasn't treated as a homicide as it should have been.''
The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has previously confirmed a complaint was received in August relating to an allegation of an ''inadequate police investigation''.
''Because police had already investigated the substance of the complaint and had effectively upheld it, and taken disciplinary action against the officers involved, the IPCA referred the matter back to police to engage with the complainant to resolve the matter,'' a spokeswoman said.
Fitzgerald said officers involved in the initial inquiry had been ''counselled'' internally which meant failings of the investigation were brought to their attention by a senior officer.
''All the failings have been pointed out to them - they accept those - and I'm confident that they will never make those mistakes again.''
Changes were not necessary in the wake of the case, he said.
''The inquiry wasn't treated as a homicide and that's where the problems started and stopped.
''Hindsight is a great thing, but the officers that did the initial investigation missed those initial points as treating it as a homicide. Had that been done we would have got the result we got from the second inquiry.''
It was unfair to single out one officer for their role in the botched inquiry, he said.
''You cannot point the finger at one person in this inquiry. The initial investigation was handled by a number of people.''
'LET HER ROT'
Family in the High Court at Christchurch reacted with hugs, tears, and a cry of, "Yes", as the guilty verdicts were announced this morning.
Kasey Woodstock, who testified against Milner, spoke briefly outside the court.
"She deserves everything she got. Let her rot," said the former girlfriend of Milner's son Adam Kearns.
Nisbet's brother Andrew Nisbet thanked police and friends and family for their support. He welcomed the verdict.
"Finally some justice for my brother after four and a half years. We want to move on"
TWO WEEKS OF CROWN EVIDENCE
The Crown had mounted a two-week case involving evidence from more than 70 witnesses, that Milner tried to kill her husband twice on April 15, 2009, with doses of the anti-allergy and sedative drug Phenergan.
It also alleged that she had killed him with a further drug dose and then possibly suffocation as he lay sedated in bed on the night of May 3 to 4, 2009. It pointed to a financial motive - claiming Nisbet's $250,000 life insurance pay-out.
Two empty packs of Phenergan were found next to him in a bedside drawer.
A message sent to Milner's phone said: "I'm sorry honey, I can't keep going like this..." Police initially believed his death was suicide and referred the matter to the coroner.
However, after an inquest, they launched a homicide investigation and Milner was arrested in October 2011 and charged with his murder and attempted murder.
The Crown said Milner bought Phenergan using false names and addresses, and used it to poison her husband.
It was likely that she mixed it into Nisbet's food the night before his body was found and may have suffocated him once he was sedated.
She then tried to cover her tracks - manipulating the scene, fabricating a suicide text and two suicide notes and telling people her husband killed himself because he had discovered his son was not his biological son, which is untrue.
The Crown said Milner had been caught out by a web of lies.
Although authorities were initially deceived into thinking Nisbet's death was suicide, by the time the matter reached a coroner's inquest there were doubts about how he died.
Milner married Nisbet in 2005. She knew her husband had a bad reaction to Phenergan.
The defence said the death was a suicide, but the Crown attacked the validity of suicide texts and notes, saying they had been concocted by Milner herself.
Justice David Gendall remanded Milner in custody for sentence on February 20. He ordered a pre-sentence report and at the request of defence he also ordered that a psychiatric report be prepared on Milner.
The death and subsequent investigation led to deep and bitter divisions in the family, which surfaced during the trial.
The Crown brought together a circumstantial case which it said was strong, but defence counsel Rupert Glover said told the jury it would be dangerous to convict Milner on the basis of such an "orchestrated body of tendentious evidence".
The defence had strongly contested the first attempted murder charge where Milner was found not guilty. It pointed out that the Crown had claimed Nisbet had been given a Phenergan overdose before he collapsed at work.
He had suspected he had been bitten by a spider or insect so ambulance officers gave him more Phenergan, and after that dose his vital signs returned to normal.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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