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BECKETT TRIAL: What the jury didn't hear

During his single term on City Council in New Zealand, Peter Beckett became known as a "loner'' and his behaviour was described as “odd.” One of his fellow councilors told the New Zealand Herald, Beckett had a “conspiracy mentality.”
Image Credit: Hawke's Bay Today (with permission)
September 14, 2017 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA – Two dozen people on two separate juries have heard a lot in the trials of Peter Beckett, a New Zealand man accused of drowning his Albertan wife near Revelstoke while on summer vacation in 2010, but there's so much more to the story.

After three months of evidence the jury in the first trial was unable to come to a verdict and a new trial started in Kelowna this summer. In between, there were numerous mini-trials to determine what can be used in evidence and in several instances witness statements were barred from publication. In some cases, jurors heard what witnesses said, but were told to forget it.

The second jury has been deliberating on a verdict to a charge of manslaughter since Sept. 11.

Crown says Beckett pushed Laura Letts-Beckett off a rigid hull inflatable boat knowing she could not swim and then watched her drown. Beckett's lawyer says she fell in accidentally and sank so quickly he couldn't save her despite jumping in after her.

Beckett has a colourful past. He was one of four men elected to the Napier City Council in New Zealand in 1998 after a campaign that pulled no punches. An archived story from Hawke’s Bay Today says Beckett used caricatures mocking his opponents and promised to expose corruption within city administration.

At the time of his election he had four children with his first wife Wendy.

During his single term, he became known as a "loner'' on council and his behaviour was described as “odd.” One of his fellow councillors told the New Zealand Herald Beckett had a “conspiracy mentality.”

"At one stage he made very serious allegations about Neil Taylor, the Chief Executive Officer at the time, and they were clearly totally unfounded,” Alan Dick said.

Dick also said Beckett would often ring him up at night “out of the blue” and start abusing him.

"It was like he flicked a switch, as he could also be charming,” Dick is on record saying.

Another councillor who didn't want to be named described him as "erratic, self-serving and obnoxious".

“He had a pattern of arriving late at councillors' get-togethers and then leaving with a bottle or two of the stocks they collectively paid for,” the news story says. “That became a matter of concern to others to the point of an unexpected explanation at the table, including details of private problems.”

Beckett, born in 1961, is a physically imposing man though he usually uses a wheelchair. He is well over six feet tall, weighs more than 400 pounds and often appeared in a dark suit and at times wore a pair of worn out Crocs for shoes.

Crown called 19 witnesses in the second trial, including insurance agents, police, campers and a lawyer who says he kicked Beckett out of his office shortly after Laura died. He testified that while getting copies of two of Laura’s wills, he returned to find Beckett going through a private file. He says Beckett came “looking for a fight” that day and the file he went through belonged to Laura’s parents who own thousands of acres and a cattle ranch in Northern Alberta. Despite their wealth, Barlow says they live a “conservative lifestyle.”

The Becketts lived in Westlock, a town of roughly 5,000, but frequently visited the Revelstoke area for summer vacations.

Laura Letts-Beckett was in her late 50's when she drowned in Upper Arrow Lake near Revelstoke in 2010.
Laura Letts-Beckett was in her late 50's when she drowned in Upper Arrow Lake near Revelstoke in 2010.
Image Credit: Facebook

Ray Barlow met Laura through her father, and she briefly dated one of his friends from university.

He says he only met Beckett a couple times. Once was when he kicked him out of his office, but Barlow also testified to a phone call he got from Beckett in the spring of 2011. Barlow says he’s not sure what the call was about but it had something to do with Laura’s will.

“It was difficult to follow. It was a rambling conversation. In my opinion, he was drunk.”

He says Beckett threatened to report him to the Law Society of B.C. but Barlow couldn’t remember why.

“It was just a general complaint about me and what I was doing or not doing,” he said. “His words were so slurred … he volunteered that (the reason for the slurred speech was) he was eating an apple, which is difficult to forget. He didn’t quit eating the apple though.”

According to Barlow’s testimony, Beckett then accused his in-laws of causing Laura’s death. Beckett’s lawyer Marilyn Sandford submitted Laura’s history of fainting during medical injections as a possible reason she fell overboard the day she died, but she also described her relationship with Laura’s parents as “strained.”

Court heard testimony from friends of Laura who said she was so afraid of her parents that she would shake when she saw them in town and suicide was put forward as another possible reason Laura went overboard.

Barlow says at the end of the drunken phone conversation, Beckett told him he had “enough evidence to have (her parents and Barlow) convicted of involuntary manslaughter."

Beckett’s lawyer dismissed it as “a drunken conversation” of which her client remembers “very little.”

Justice Allison Beames instructed jurors to ignore some testimony given to them by a former cellmate of Beckett. His name is protected by a publication ban but he claimed to be associated with a powerful B.C. motorcycle gang. Sandford described the witness as critical to Crown's case but the jury was instructed to ignore a large portion of his testimony.

The man was paid $5,000 for giving evidence against Beckett. He told the court that the only reason he helped police is because his own sister had been murdered.

Peter Beckett has been on trial three weeks for killing his wife in 2010.
Peter Beckett has been on trial three weeks for killing his wife in 2010.
Image Credit: Hawke's Bay Today (with permission)

In jail after his arrest, Beckett allegedly told his new cellmate the version of the events surrounding the drowning he gave to police.

“He explained to me he was out boating in a zodiac with his wife and told me he was positioned in a way that he was facing the stern of the boat,” the witness said. “His wife was up front at the bow. He said he didn’t notice she had fallen off and as the boat travelled he could see her flailing under water.”

The witness said he thought it unlikely anyone would believe a 400 pound man wouldn’t notice someone falling off the front of a small boat.

“I asked if that was his story he said ‘yeah.’ I said he was fucked,” the man testified. “That bow would have been standing straight in the air as soon as she fell off.”

Beckett and the witness formed a friendship inside jail until Beckett allegedly showed his cell mate a list of names of people he was not allowed to contact.

The list included his wife’s parents, Ray Barlow and others.

“He had a bail conditions form with some names on it of no-contacts. He said there is a lot of money involved with wills, property, life insurance policies.... He started going on more and more that we could live a lavish lifestyle on the (outside). He knew I was getting out soon. He knew I was very well known in the system and that I hung with some pretty shady characters on the street. Things started to develop a little bit more after that.”

The cell mate testified that Beckett inquired about a retainer to hire him to “take care” of some people who were making it difficult to get the money he felt he deserved.

“Mr. Beckett was pretty upset with (Ray Barlow) and figured that him and a few other people altered the will to try and, I guess, hinder him from some monetary gain. There was something going on with the wills that his wife had drawn up.

“He mentioned if things were done correctly on the street there could be relocations to Costa Rica and live a pretty good lifestyle.”

He testified that Beckett asked how much it would cost to kill one of the witnesses but make it look like a motor vehicle accident and to burn down his wife’s parent’s home with them inside.

During a brief voir dire mid-trial, Beames ruled those details “inadmissible” and “unreliable” and the jury was instructed to ignore them.

Sandford called for a mistrial, saying the damage had already been done but it was denied.

“The most significant issue… is whether or not (the witness) testifying yesterday about a conversation he says he had with Beckett where Beckett expressed a belief that Barlow and the parents of the deceased were in a conspiracy to alter the will for the purpose of cutting him out,” Beames said.

At many points in his defence, Beckett was again his own worst enemy. Before his first trial in Kamloops, Beckett tried to act as his own lawyer. The Crown gave him a hard drive for disclosure — all the evidence against him. That hard drive went missing around the time that he gave extensive interviews to a newspaper reporter. Mere weeks before one of his trial dates, Kamloops This Week reporter Tim Petruk exposed much of his defence.

At a hearing, Beckett then tried to argue he couldn't get a fair trial and appeared to be shocked that the stories did not advance his defence.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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