Helen Bailey murder: Police liaison officer receives special commendation for role during trial of Royston killer Ian Stewart
PUBLISHED: 12:27 01 September 2017 | UPDATED: 13:17 01 September 2017
All broadcast news outlets - including Anglia News; but excluding BBC Look East and East On-Line - will need to agree a fee for
A police officer has received a special commendation for the way he ensured the smooth running of the Helen Bailey murder trial, which made headlines around the world.
PC Justin Sheppard is the police liaison officer at St Albans Crown Court – where, in January and February, Ian Stewart stood trial for the murder of his fiancée, children’s author Helen Bailey.
The seven-week trial was one of the biggest cases ever heard at the court.
Stewart, originally from Letchworth, was jailed for a minimum of 34 years after being found guilty of drugging his millionaire fiancée and then dumping her and her pet dog Boris down a Victorian cesspit under the spacious home they shared in Royston’s Baldock Road.
Cold-blooded Stewart, 56, killed Helen so he could get her hands on her fortune – and a jury convicted him of murder, fraud, preventing legal burial and three counts of perverting the course of justice. He consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Every day reporters, photographers, TV crews, detectives and members of the public – as well as family members and friends of the victim and the accused – were at court to hear the often harrowing details. The public gallery was full every day, and so was the press box.
In the middle of it all was Herts police officer Justin, who, in the highly charged atmosphere of a murder trial that had gripped the nation, had the job of making sure everyone could attend the daily hearings.
His role throughout the trial required professionalism and sensitivity, and involved making sure family friends and relatives had seats in the public gallery, and dealing with any concerns they had.
At the same time, he grappled with the demands of the media to ensure everyone could report on the case.
On Wednesday, that work was officially recognised when he was presented with a certificate of commendation in the same courtroom where the trial had taken place.
Attending the ceremony was Judge Andrew Bright QC – who presided over the trial and sentenced Stewart on February 23, telling the murderer that it was “difficult to imagine a more heinous crime”.
Judge Bright told the gathered guests that Justin had become something of a “legend” at the court, with his ability to sense when his presence might be needed in court to deter anyone in the public gallery from “kicking off”.
He said: “It was PC Sheppard’s job to keep the media circus under control – never an easy job at the best of times – and to ensure family and friends and relatives had access to the public gallery.
“He controlled what could have been pandemonium with great skill and sensitivity. He was universally praised about how hard he worked behind the scenes.”
The judge explained how, on occasions, with families of both victims and defendants in different sections of the gallery, there was always the “potential for uproar” in the highly charged atmosphere – with emotions running high.
He said that not long after taking up the post of police liaison officer at the court, Justin – who lives in Bedfordshire – showed he was the right man for the job.
The judge said: “Justin soon showed he has a very important sixth sense – a nose for when there is likely to be trouble in court and in the public gallery.”
He said the potential for trouble breaking out was usually during sentencing – and he said it was then “as if by magic” that the officer with his no-nonsense “skinhead haircut” would come into the courtroom.
He said the effect was that Justin’s “fearsome appearance” deterred anyone in the public gallery from “kicking off”.
Judge Bright told how he and all the judges at St Albans Crown Court hold the officer in high regard.
“We feel safe when he is around and he is a credit to Hertfordshire Constabulary,” said the judge.
In court to present Justin with the ‘head of department commendation’ was Supt Russell Waterston, the deputy head of criminal justice and custody for Beds, Herts and Cambridgeshire police.
Supt Waterston said no-one in the police service had a bad word to say about Justin and that, having met his family, the pride they felt was clear.
Members of Justin’s family attended the ceremony and afterwards joined Judge Bright for coffee and tea at the court.