Times of Oman
Aug 28, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 01:12 AM GMT
Love and deceit - How the 'spiritualist' betrayed the top BBC make-up artist
July 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Photo - Shutterstock.com

He claimed to be Britain's most fashionable psychic and spiritualist with a clientele which included pop stars and TV celebrities. She was BBC television's top make-up artist and had Bafta and Emmy awards to prove it.

And when blonde beautiful 37-year-old Diane Wickens met the 52-year-old Reverend David Chenery at London's BBC Television Centre in the spring of 1997 it was — so far as she was concerned — love at first sight.

In vain, friends warned her that the spiritualist who made a living reading Tarot cards at £40 a time and passed on "messages from the dead" had something of a dodgy reputation. Diane had already fallen for his gentle voice, kind eyes and the dog-collar that symbolised trust and compassion.

It was a mistake that would prove to have consequences that were tragic and eventually fatal. David Chenery was giving a spiritualist reading on a daytime TV chat-show and was given a brief make-up treatment by Diane Wickens who was standing in for a make-up girl who was ill.

Normally she never did that sort of routine work. Usually she was out on location with top prestige shows like the period dramas Pride and Prejudice and Arabian Nights, for which she won awards, or the cult comedy Dead Ringers.

Like so many women, Diane was mesmerised by David Chenery. From the start she called him her "soul mate" and within six weeks she had ditched her long-term boyfriend and invited the Reverend to share her flat in the trendy London district of Battersea. That summer they married at a London register office followed by a spiritualist ceremony, both dressed in white and garlanded with flowers.

In 2000 they bought a remote £500,000 country cottage near the sea in East Sussex. Diane's career was blossoming and David found he was overshadowed by his wife's success and financially dependent on her.

The blissful relationship soon cooled and David began to make contact with local spiritualist churches. Soon he had at least 12 women in his teaching circle — and was having affairs with most of them.   

While casual acquaintances saw David and Diane Chenery-Wickens as a happy couple living in rural tranquillity, close friends already sensed that the marriage was in trouble. In fact the Reverend David was juggling a harem of mistresses including a pub landlord's wife and an osteopath who was treating him for a back injury.

But one mistress seemed more permanent than the rest. Their relationship began in 2004 after the Reverend had claimed to have had a message from her dead mother. Soon he was staying with her several nights a week and twice went on holiday with her and her children. Friends  would later say that they didn't know just how much Diane, now the BBC's top make-up artist, knew about her husband's adultery but by 2006 she was worried enough to check up on some unfamiliar numbers on David's mobile phone, which he had left at home by mistake. She found that some were Internet chat-lines and the others were answered by women.

Visiting a nearby friend, she poured out her discovery and said that when David came home from a spiritualist meeting she would confront him with what she knew. Diane Chenery-Wickens was never seen alive again.

Two days later, her husband reported his wife missing to the police. He said they had travelled to London together on the train because she had a meeting at the BBC. They arranged to meet later, but Diane failed to turn up.

Shocked and distressed he left numerous voicemails on her phone but never got a reply. At first police treated him as a distraught husband — until railway CCTV showed that he had travelled to London alone. Swiftly changing his story, David Chenery-Wickens told police that the truth was that Diane had begged him to cover up her disappearance.

She had gone to ground, he said, because she couldn't bear the shame of a broken marriage and debts, and she was also having an affair with a colleague at the BBC. He had promised to keep her secret — and his position as a church minister meant he always kept his promises.

But detectives had noted the scratches on his arms and hands and that the texts which were still being sent to friends from Diane's mobile ended "Di" which was a name she never used.

They also knew that although he made the journey to London alone, Diane's phone had gone with him.

CCTV footage in the local Sainsbury's store on the day after Diane's disappearance showed Chenery-Wickens shopping with his mistress. He was also caught on camera selling some of Diane's jewellery in a nearby town, including items of great sentimental value given to her by her godmother.

Police also wondered why a woman who was planning to "vanish" would leave behind her passport, driving licence, phone and bank cards and not pack any clothes. Nor had she a BBC appointment as her husband claimed.

Eight days after Diane Chenery-Wickens disappeared, police arrested her husband on suspicion of murder but released him on bail when no trace of a body was found. But the renegade reverend's freedom was to last only four months — a woman walking her dog in woods outside the Sussex village of Little Horsted came across a decomposed body under a holly bush. Dental records and DNA identified the body as that of Diane Chenery-Wickens. She had been stabbed and strangled.

David Chenery-Wickens was re-arrested and in March 2008 finally appeared at Lewes Crown Court where he denied murdering his wife.

For the prosecution, Philip Katz QC branded the defendant as a "liar a charlatan and a hypocrite" who preyed on lonely wealthy women in the guise of a spiritualist minister when in fact he was not a qualified clergyman.

"He listened to their woes and preyed on their vulnerability", prosecutor Katz told the jury. "He also fabricated illnesses to earn their pity — one victim gave him £20,000 when he told her he had prostate cancer when he was in fact in good health." The prosecution claimed that Chenery-Wickens had stabbed and strangled his wife after she had confronted him with having numerous affairs.

He then took the body to nearby woods and placed his wife's favourite cowboy boots next to it to suggest she had taken her own life. But he had forgotten to take out the shoe-trees inside...

Among prosecution witnesses was the best man at the couple's wedding who told the court: "He charmed Diane and she paid for everything. He repaid her by being continually unfaithful. I am certain he planned her murder in advance.

"He is evil and I hope Diane's spirit haunts him for ever. If I could hang him myself I would do it."

Giving evidence, Chenery-Wickens said he only had affairs because Diane destroyed their marriage by sleeping with other men and refused to give him a divorce out of pride. He denied any involvement in her death.

The jury thought otherwise and found him guilty of murder at the end of a five-week trial. Jailing him for a minimum of 18 years, Justice Cooke told the impassive prisoner: "You have put your wife's family through agonies of not knowing if she was alive or dead and have maintained the most preposterous lies before the jury and shown absolutely no remorse. Diane loved you but you deceived her over many years, engaging in affairs with different women who mostly came to you for help.

"Then you invented an elaborate charade in which you insisted the woman who loved, supported and cared for you, was in fact the guilty party.

"When she found out about your wicked behaviour she paid for it with her life."

Chenery-Wickens later confessed to a friend that he had been assured by his "spiritual guides" that he would be acquitted. "I will have to find out what went wrong," he said.

"When I finally get over to the other side."

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