TACTICAL aid police officer Martin Forshaw was a coward and a cheat who had been leading a double life.

On the night before he was due to fly to St Lucia to marry Claire Howarth, he decided to call the wedding off.

He had been cheating on her with his ex-girlfriend, Lisa Charles, with whom he had a five-year-old son.

Ray Wigglesworth, prosecuting, told Manchester Crown Court: “There is evidence to suggest that a sexual relationship with Lisa Charles had not come to an end and that he was still seeing her during his relationship with Claire Howarth.”

The court heard that Forshaw had been booked on a holiday with his former partner and their son to Disney Land, Paris, on August 24.

Mr Wigglesworth said there was a “plethora” of witness statements to back up the argument that Forshaw was leading a double life with his former girlfriend and that he had even kept his forthcoming marriage secret from some work colleagues.

Peter Wright QC, defending, said Forshaw had been in a dilemma for some time about what to do.

“He was, to put it quite simply, torn. Torn as to his loyalty and torn as to what, if any, future he ought to pursue for the best,” said Mr Wright.

Just hours before the murder, Miss Howarth was in the grip of excitement as she pictured herself getting married on the beach.

She had been with Forshaw for two years and got engaged in Mexico in 2008.

On May 6, the 31-year-old, who had just finished her two-year probation as a student constable in Rochdale, went to the Trafford Centre with a friend to buy some last minute items for her wedding.

At 12.50am on May 7 she sent a text message to her friend saying she was so excited about the wedding, that she could not sleep and was “dancing around the house”. But just two-and-a-half hours later, at 2.20am, Forshaw dialled 999 and called police to his bogus crash after hurling the murder weapon in to a field.

Miss Howarth was in the driver’s seat of her BMW slumped across the handbrake with her head in the passenger side covered in blood.

The car was at the side of the road just touching a bush and the airbags, which are designed to go off in impacts above 20mph, had not deployed.

Spinning a web of lies, Forshaw told police he had been wearing his seatbelt in the passenger seat.

He said Miss Howarth had not been wearing her seatbelt and had been driving at 50 to 60mph while trying to put a CD in the player when she lost control.

But his story did not add up.

Despite the fact Forshaw said he was a fellow police officer, the traffic officers who were on the scene that night remained unconvinced.

They knew the scene did not tally with Miss Howarth’s injuries and Forshaw was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Forshaw – the son of a retired police inspector - resigned from the force on Saturday May 9, on the day he was charged with Miss Howarth’s murder. It was two days before he was due to get married.

He was refused bail despite his parents offering to put up a £250,000 surety — the equity in their £450,000 Cheshire house.

One former colleague of Forshaw’s said: “We couldn’t believe it when we heard what he had done. It’s despicable.

“The police who were on the scene that night did a brilliant job. They didn’t treat him any differently because he was a cop and he couldn’t pull the wool over their eyes.”

Miss Howarth’s mother, Irene Howarth, said her daughter became a police officer to make a difference after an experience in Manchester city centre when she was the only person to go to the aid of a man being beaten up by thugs.

She was half-way through a Police Studies degree at Portsmouth University and was about to take up a new role as a community beat officer in Rochdale.

She had a passion for travel and had worked as a travel rep in Ibiza, Tenerife and Italy before joining Greater Manchester Police.