KHAKI Roberts played the spider to James Camb's fly.

"Would you consider yourself an honest man?'' the eminent KC asked.

"I think so, sir,'' he replied.

It was the first question he posed under cross-examination - but was deadly. From that moment, Camb became inextricably trapped in the web of deceit.

It was an altogether different Camb who had first entered the dock at Winchester Assizes: confident, even jaunty as the indictment was read out, completely at odds with his extraordinary defence of how he had panicked and lost his head after his sexual conquest had virtually died in his arms.

The 31-year-old ship's steward stood accused of the murder of actress Eileen Isabella Ronnie Gibson, professionally known as Gay. The case made history as the infamous Porthole Murder in which the victim of his lust was never found, her grave the shark-infested warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Camb desired her and thought nothing of a little shipboard romance from the moment she stepped on board the Durban Castle which sailed from Capetown for Southampton. But did romance turn to rape?

Gay Gibson first came to prominence in South Africa but she decided to try her luck in London's West End, embarking on her fateful voyage on the Union Castle liner on October 10, 1947.

Camb could not resist her, even flaunting ship's regulations by being seen near her cabin. Even a ticking-off from a senior officer failed to deter him.

Gay Gibson was last seen alive at about 1am, leaning against a rail and smoking a cigarette. She told the night watchman it was "too hot down below" and she couldn't sleep.

At 3am, the same officer, James Murray, answered a call from her cabin and saw two lights on, indicating she had summoned both the steward and stewardess. Murray thought this was strange and tried to enter. But his way was blocked by Camb standing in the doorway, who assured him "It's all right.''

The following morning, Gay Gibson could not be traced and although the liner was turned around, a search proved fruitless. Murray reported his supicions to the captain.

Camb denied he had been in her room but when examined by the ship's surgeon, was found with scratches on his wrists and shoulders. He said they were self-inflicted, as he had repeatedly scratched himself because of the intense heat.

When the boat docked in Southampton, the police were waiting. Again he initially denied he had been in her room but then changed his story, saying they had enjoyed consensual sexual intercourse. She suffered a sudden fit and died. He panicked when he could not revive her and pushed her lifeless body through the porthole.

Camb was charged with murder and on March 18, 1948, his trial opened.

Camb confidently took the witness box but throughout his testimony he could never adequately explain why he had not summoned help and why he had disposed of her body, if there was an innocent explanation.

That defence began to unravel further when, under skilful cross-examination from the wily Roberts, he admitted he had changed his story no less than six times as a matter of self-preservation.

His callous demeanour did little to impress judge and jury and it was a defence expert who provided the crucial evidence against him. Dr Frederick Hocking discovered the presence of dried urine - missed by the Crown's pathogists - on the bed linen. He explained it was common for the bladder to discharge its contents during strangulation.

Camb was doomed and it took jurors a mere 45 minutes to find him guilty.

It may have been quicker had they known that he had accosted three other women on three different trips but the evidence had been deemed inadmissible.

Camb was sentenced to hang but cheated the gallows. At the time a no-hanging Bill was being discussed by Parliament and he had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

He was released on licence in September 1959. He kept out of trouble for several years but was eventually arrested for sexual offences against schoolgirls and was sent back to prison for the remainder of his sentence.

He was released from prison in 1978 and died a year later.