herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Was Shirley Bassey's daughter murdered?

Mystery case reopened after 25 years over claims that convict bragged of killing, reports Simon de Bruxelles

With her dark glasses and mink coat, Shirley Bassey cut an incongruous figure at the chapel of rest.

Supported by her friend Soraya Khashoggi, she placed a red rose on the coffin and bade her final farewell to her daughter Samantha Novak.

That was 25 years ago. Dame Shirley has never ceased being tormented by the death of her daughter, whose body was found in the River Avon near the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England, after a night out.

She was dressed in motorcycle clothing and had just £1.65 in her pockets. An open verdict was recorded at her inquest, but Dame Shirley always believed that the official version -- that the death was an accident rather than suicide -- never told the whole story. Instead, she suggested, it was murder.

Now, the investigation into 21-year-old Ms Novak's death has been reopened after claims that a convicted killer bragged about being involved.

Avon and Somerset Police say they have been approached by the mother of a woman murdered in 2001. Penny Beale claims that her daughter, also called Penny, had been warned by her boyfriend before he beat her to death that she would suffer the "same fate" as Ms Novak, who was a previous girlfriend of his.

Michael Moffat (47) is serving life in a Scottish jail and is expected shortly to apply for transfer to an open prison in preparation for his release.

In an interview last year, Dame Shirley -- who lives in Monte Carlo and has an older daughter, Sharon, and an adopted son, Mark -- said that she had always doubted that her daughter's death was an accident or suicide.

Although Ms Novak was found in the river, the inquest heard that there was no water in her lungs. A pathologist suggested it was possible that she might have died from shock when she fell into the cold water because there were no signs of injury.

Dame Shirley said: "I never believed [that she killed herself]. If she'd jumped off the bridge, all her bones would have been broken. She didn't have any water in her lungs. I'm suspicious about her death. If someone's drowning, they gasp, don't they?"



Disastrous

Ms Novak was born during the singer's first marriage, to Kenneth Hume, a film producer. He was homosexual -- apparently she thought that she could change his sexual orientation -- and for most of their marriage they led separate lives.

But their daughter's arrival had a disastrous impact on the marriage. The couple broke up, and the singer moved with Ms Novak and her half-sister to Lugano, in Switzerland, with her second husband, Sergio Novak.

They were not good years for Ms Novak. Educated at a boarding school near Lake Geneva, there was talk of "behaviour problems" and reports that she was asked to leave. Always on tour, Dame Shirley has in the past been open about her failings as a mother.

According to her half-sister, Ms Novak suffered depression and moved back to England. In Bristol she appeared to have few friends. Bob Symmons, landlord of the Mardyke, the pub at which she spent her last evening, said at the time: "She was always short of money and scrounging drinks. She never mentioned her mother was Shirley Bassey."

Ms Novak spent her final hours drinking with bikers at the pub. Her body was recovered nine days later about a quarter of a mile from where the Avon passes the pub.

Detective Chief Inspector Mike Carter confirmed that officers were making "fresh inquiries" in the light of information from Mrs Beale.

He said: "Her daughter had said that Moffat told her he was involved in the murder of Samantha Novak. Within the next three or four weeks we'll decide whether we will travel to Scotland to speak to Moffat."

Ms Beale, from Hastings, suffered 123 injuries, including 18 broken ribs, when she was attacked by Moffat. Her mother said: "He told her he was involved in a relationship with Samantha Novak at the time of her death in Bristol. My daughter was trying to leave him and the implication was that he was threatening her as if to say, 'Look what happened to my other girlfriend'."

hnews@herald.ie

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