Andrew Berry regularly received emails at work from his ex-wife Sarah Cotton that left him feeling angry, agitated and unable to focus on work, a colleague testified Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
Arjeet Quinn told the jury she met Berry while working at B.C. Ferries in 2006. Berry was her supervisor from March 2015 until his resignation in May 2017.
The Oak Bay father has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murders of his daughters, six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey, at his Beach Drive apartment on Christmas Day 2017.
In 2013-2014, Quinn worked weekends and Berry often dropped into the office with his children.
“The first time he brought the girls in, he seemed to be the same Andrew I always knew,” said Quinn. “He took little Aubrey and put her on my lap and I asked the girls: ‘Where’s your mom?’
“Andrew quickly motioned not to ask any further, so I stopped and just kind of chatted with the girls.”
Berry told Quinn he would fill her in later. On weekends, he slowly started telling her the details of his marriage breakup.
The two had a comfortable relationship, said Quinn, even when Berry became her supervisor. He began to open up more and talked to her about his separation multiple times a week, sometimes more than once a day, she recalled.
Berry told her that Cotton was trying to leave a paper trail of their conversations and it made him really upset, Quinn testified.
“I’d go into his office with questions and he’d tell me about the latest communication he just got from Sarah and he wouldn’t be able to focus on what I went in there to talk about,” said Quinn.
“It would come out. This email from Sarah and all the troubles and problems he was having with Sarah.”
Using her own experience as a mother, Quinn tried to help Berry sort through the issues.
“I’d be trying to figure out where she was coming from and give him some advice about how to deal with the situation.”
“How did he react?” asked prosecutor Clare Jennings.
“Sometimes he was very understanding. Other times, not so much. It varied,” Quinn replied. “He would get angry with me and say: ‘Really. Really, Arjeet.’ He would raise his voice. His facial expression would change. I’d get a little bit uncomfortable and nervous speaking to him. Other times, he would start swearing a lot, swearing at Sarah, calling her names.
“He was very concerned about her plan to destroy his reputation and put a financial strain on him. It just seemed to just grow in intensity. He got more and more distraught about the whole situation.”
Berry felt that Sarah was trying to get him out of the picture before she inherited money from her father, Quinn said. His parents had also put a financial strain on them, she recalled.
“They apparently lent them money to purchase the house and then were demanding it back at a very inopportune time for Sarah and Andrew, so that caused him a lot of strain,” said Quinn. “And then the alimony payments. Just the fact that she had the house and all his money was tied up in the house.”
The situation got progressively worse, Quinn testified.
“His feelings just got stronger and stronger as time went on. His demeanour got more aggressive when he spoke about it. He would get louder. He would not be able to actually speak about it for very long. He would say: ‘I need to stop this conversation’ and storm out of the office and go outside and have a cigarette to calm down.”
Quinn recalled Berry complaining about not having access to the girls over the 2016 Christmas holiday.
“This is the one time I clearly remember how agitated he was. He had received an email from Sarah. She was making it difficult for him to be able to see the girls prior to and after Christmas Day. And he wasn’t happy about that at all,” said Quinn.
There was an aggressive anger in his voice and in his mannerisms, she told the jury.
“Knowing Andrew for as long as I’d known him, he was usually very friendly and kind, so to see him angry and agitated, it was very clear to me when he was upset. He was really, really upset, but also wasn’t wanting to be co-operative at all …”
Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough stood up and objected to Quinn’s testimony.
The witness and jury were excused while the court looked into the defence objection, which is covered by a publication ban.
When the jury returned, Jennings asked Quinn what Berry said to her.
“He always thought [Cotton] had some kind of a plan. … He was very fired up and saying a bunch of different things, that he was pissed off. He called her a bitch for trying to do it. Those were the two things I remember hearing.”
Jennings asked Quinn to elaborate on what she meant by some kind of plan.
“He felt she used him as a sperm donor. Those were his words and that this was her plan from Day 1. Once she had the kids that she wanted, she wanted to get the house and get him out of the picture,” Quinn testified.
Quinn said she thought Berry needed to be stronger and calmer in his reactions to Cotton and not let her get the better of him.
Berry also talked to Quinn about his parents from time to time, she said. At one point, he seemed to have had an argument with them that put a lot of strain on him and their relationship.
“I didn’t know a huge amount of detail, just that there was a big blowup and later he learned his mom had also reported him to the ministry,” Quinn testified.
Berry also told Quinn that Cotton had reported him to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, alleging he had inappropriately touched Aubrey. He seemed very upset about it and was adamant that he did not do it, she recalled.
“He was also worried about his reputation. He actually said that he was concerned about how this looked and that Sarah was out to get him and destroy his reputation so that she could have custody of the girls,” Quinn testified.
Berry told her that when he met with a social worker, he was shown a computer screen with all the reports against him.
“He found out his ex-wife had reported him as well as his mother,” Quinn testified. “He was extremely surprised about learning his mom had also reported him. He was angry.”
However, Berry was OK with having supervised visits for a while with his daughters. He was happy that the allegations were unsubstantiated, she said.
Just before Berry left B.C. Ferries, he was “very upset” to learn his mother was supporting Cotton financially to move the girls to a new school, she recalled. The trial has heard that Chloe was in Grade 1 at Christ Church Cathedral School, which is farther away from Berry’s apartment.
“That made it difficult for him to pick the girls up after school. … He felt Sarah did this intentionally.”
“Can you describe his demeanour?” asked Jennings.
“He was upset, agitated, angry. You could see it on his face, hear it in his voice,” said Quinn.
In December 2016, Berry told Quinn he had won a large sum of money and she probably wouldn’t see him after the Christmas break. Back at work in January, he told her he’d made a mistake and it wasn’t what he thought it was. “He wanted to win a large sum of money in order to hire a lawyer to fight Sarah for custody of the girls or to disappear with them,” Quinn said.
In January 2017, when B.C. Ferries reconfigured their office space, Berry and others lost their offices and people worked in closer quarters.
By this time, Berry had lost a lot of weight and his clothes were hanging on him, Quinn said. One day, she went to help him with his computer and noticed he had not showered for a few days.
“He had a very foul odour. … I’d never experienced that before,” she said.
Sometimes, he was untidy. At other times, it appeared he was trying to be who he was before, Quinn said.
She urged him not to quit his job but he did. Quinn gave him a memory stick to help him download his personal files from his office computer.
In mid-June 2017, Quinn sent Berry an email to find out if things were OK.
“Things were looking up for him. So I felt comfortable,” said Quinn.