Murder charge against Hawke’s Bay man Peter Beckett dropped

New Zealander Peter Beckett is now a free man after a murder charge was dropped by a Canadian court, 11 years after the death of his wife.

The move comes after two trials – and after the former Hawke’s Bay man spent nine years behind bars.

Beckett was initially arrested in August 2011 and charged with the murder of Laura Lees-Beckett.

His first trial ended in a hung jury in 2016, before he was convicted a year later and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Beckett appealed his conviction last year, claiming a prosecutor made improper submissions to the jury and the judge erred in providing instructions.

British Columbia’s Court of Appeal agreed and overturned the conviction, before the Crown appealed that decision to Canada’s Supreme Court.

In April of this year, the Supreme Court announced it would not hear the appeal.

Years of legal wrangling finally ended in a Canadian court earlier this week, when the Crown stayed proceedings again Beckett.

Beckett, who has been free on bail since December, will no longer be bound by any conditions.

Death on the lake

Former Napier city councillor Peter Beckett met Laura Letts in New Zealand in 1995 when she booked a seat on one of Beckett’s tours of Cape Kidnappers.

In 2015 he told a Canadian newspaper that their relationship “wasn’t a love-at-first-sight thing; it was more a meeting of the minds”.

“I hate to use cliches, but it was soulmate stuff. I’d been married before, I’d had break-ups before, I’d fallen in love before – but this was different,” he said.

“It’s just an amazing love story.”

That love was long-distance until 2002, when Beckett quit New Zealand and moved to Canada, marrying Letts the following year.

Witnesses in the 2016 trial described a rocky relationship between the pair and they split in 2007 before reconciling months later.

Laura Letts-Beckett died on August 18, 2010, while the couple were boating in a small inflatable vessel on Upper Arrow Lake, northeast of Vancouver.

Her death was initially reported as a drowning, Beckett saying she accidentally fell from the boat, however he was arrested one year after the death.

Prosecutors alleged Beckett was motivated to kill by the significant amount of money he would receive through pension and insurance payouts if his wife died.

Beckett maintained his innocence throughout.

Beckett’s defence argued Letts-Beckett was depressed prior to her drowning and the Crown case was marked by a complete lack of physical evidence connecting Beckett to his wife’s death.

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