Published: 08:00, 20 November 2014
| Updated: 08:20, 20 November 2014
The ex-wife of the milkman accused of murdering schoolgirl Claire Tiltman told police of his “over the top” reaction and personality change at the teenager’s death.
Stella Murrell, who married Colin Ash-Smith while he was in prison for knife attacks on two other young women, said his behaviour was shocking, like a “slap in the face.”
A jury at Inner London Crown Court heard Ash-Smith became aggressive and nasty with Ms Murrell, after Claire was fatally stabbed in a frenzied attack in an alleyway off London Road, Greenhithe, in January 1993.
On one occasion he acted out an attack on Ms Murrell in a Swanscombe street, telling her it was to see if “anyone noticed”, she told police.
Ms Murrell was interviewed by police in October last year but a video had to be played to the court as she has since died.
She told cops that Ash-Smith, who denies murder, described Claire as a friend in the days after she was killed.
“He became very withdrawn, he became aggressive when I spoke to him. His whole personality just changed.
“He said he was very upset about the fact she had been killed and I should understand because he knew her.”
The court heard both the Tiltman and Ash-Smith families were members of the Royal British Legion Club in Greenhithe, but were not close.
He and his parents, Diane and Aubrey Ash-Smith, attended the 16-year-old’s funeral in February that year but Ms Murrell said she was not allowed to accompany him.
“It’s weird to explain,” she added. “He was just narky about it, nasty, wouldn’t talk to me about it. Whenever I tried to talk to him about it he was aggressive.
“It was enough of a dramatic change for me to notice. He was just a different person.”
The court heard Ash-Smith, now 46, pretended to attack Ms Murrell after telling her he was upset that no one had seen Claire’s attack. She said that, with hindsight, it appeared to be a “test run”.
“I remember him grabbing me and saying ‘Let’s see if anyone notices’,” explained Ms Murrell.
“He grabbed me from behind with his arm and pulled me backwards.”
She said no one noticed because she may have been laughing at the time.
“I just thought it was a bit strange,” said Ms Murrell. “Why would anyone pretend they were attacking anyone?”
However, although Ms Murrell said Ash-Smith could be possessive and controlling, she maintained he was never violent towards her.
Asked how her former husband was with others, Ms Murrell told police last year: “Everyone said he was wonderful, the nicest person you could ever meet.”
Ash-Smith was arrested in October 1995 after a 21-year-old woman was repeatedly stabbed just yards from Claire’s attack.
Asked how she reacted when she discovered what he had done, Ms Murrell said: “It was just like, ‘Oh OK.’ I wasn’t surprised because s*** happens. I’m quite pragmatic about things.”
Ash-Smith later admitted causing grievous bodily harm with intent, as well as attempted murder, attempted rape and kidnap of another woman in Swanscombe in 1988.
The court heard Ms Murrell wed Ash-Smith in 1997 after, she said, she was given an ultimatum by him and his parents, Diane and Aubrey, to “marry or move out” of their home. However, they soon divorced.
“I remember him grabbing me and saying ‘Let’s see if anyone notices'" - Stella Murrell
She said she could not recall the family talking about Claire’s murder other than in “general” conversations at the time, and that the offences he went to prison for were “taboo” subjects.
Asked whether she had ever spoken to him about Claire’s death, Ms Murrell said: “I did ask him but he said ‘No, I didn’t do it.’”
Before her video interview was played to the jury, trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney said the defence team would not be “content” for her statement to be read if she was still alive.
“There are matters they would have liked to explore,” he explained.
The trial continues.
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