Work colleagues treated rat poison comments by Helen Elizabeth Milner as a joke, the jury was told at her trial on charges of attempting to murder and murdering her 47-year-old husband.
The operations manager at Ground Services Ltd, Gavin John Moffat, told the second day of the trial that 50-year-old Milner complained that her husband, Phil Nisbet, had been trying to poison her by giving her sugary foods when he knew she was diabetic.
When she asked about rat poison, Mr Moffat asked, “What do you want that for?”
Milner had just smiled and walked out of the office, he said.
It had become a joke around the office. She would sometimes provide muffins for the office staff, and they would comment to each other: “I hope she hasn’t put the rat poison in the muffins today.”
“We felt the whole thing was a bit of a joke,” said Mr Moffat.
She had been jovial and staff had treated a lot of her talk as joking.
After Mr Nisbet’s death in 2009, she had tried to tell him that her husband had “several affairs going on at one time”, but he did not think it was an appropriate comment and had walked away.
Today is the second day of the trial before Justice David Gendall and a jury in the High Court at Christchurch. Milner denies two charges of attempting to murder her husband, Phil Nisbet, in April 2009, and then murdering him in May 2009. The Crown alleges she put the anti-allergy and sedative drug Phenergan into his food and then suffocated him while he slept.
Desmond Cameron, the general manager of Ground Services Ltd, said he clearly recalled the comment by Milner about buying rat poison.
“She asked me whether Mitre 10 sold rat poison, and for no reason,” he told the trial.
Mr Cameron said Milner’s inquiry about rat poison “came out of the blue”.
He told of employing Milner as an office worker and receptionist. She had worked well, picked up the office systems quickly. She told constantly about problems with her family, and she referred to her husband as a spendthrift. She was always short of money, saying her husband never earnt enough.
It was a surprise to hear that she and her husband were going for a two week holiday on the Gold Coast.
He knew Mr Nisbet and thought he must have had a pretty tough life.
He recalled: “On a couple of occasions she (Milner) made comments that he was adding substances to her drinks at nights, because she was diabetic and this was affecting her and making her feel unwell.”
After Mr Nisbet’s death, Milner at first said it was suicide, but then wrote a message that went on the noticeboard that it had been a medical condition related to sleep apnea, he recalled.
An employee at Ground Services Ltd, Daphne Bennett, said Milner would talk openly at work about her problems at home. Some people had talked about the stories she told, and she found some of them quite unbelievable. Milner, a diabetic, told her once that her husband was “trying to kill her” because he had replaced her cereal with sugary cereal.
Another employee, John Peter Beynon, told of a conversation with Milner where she complained about her husband, saying he was drawing all the money out of their bank account and spending it on model cars and things like that.
“She was pretty angry about it,” Mr Beynon said. “She said, ‘I would like to end it,’ and I said, ‘Well, just divorce him’.”
Milner then said: “No, I want to get rid of him for good.” He told her that if she divorced him, she would get rid of him for good.
He did not know what she meant, but he did not take her comment seriously.
Police evidence was given about Milner’s bank card being used in the vicinity and close to the time of purchases of the drug Phenergan at pharmacies, by a woman who paid in cash. The Crown alleges the purchases were made by Milner who gave false details at the pharmacies.
Another Ground Services employee, Kyle Innes, told of noticing a change in Milner’s behaviour over a period. After her husband’s death, she told him she was upset because her family was blaming her for Mr Nisbet’s death.
He said he was “gobsmacked” weeks after the death, to see Milner in Westfield Mall walking arm in arm with another man.
The Crown is calling more than 70 witnesses in the course of the three week trial.