In May, when the Canadian socialite Jasmine Hartin shot a police officer dead near the Belize hotel she co-owns, her lenient charge left many dumbfounded. Here was a woman who, during a mysterious moonlit meeting at the end of a dock, blasted a beloved officer in the back of his head with his own pistol and then—at least if early reports are to be believed—attempted to lie about it to police. Despite this, she was charged with manslaughter by negligence and was likely to escape with a fine.

At the time, the overriding feeling was that Hartin had been protected by her in-laws. Hartin’s partner is Andrew Ashcroft, whose father—the British-born billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft—holds heavy sway over Belizean society. Lord Ashcroft owns, or has owned, Belizean banks, television stations, shipping registries, and telephone companies. Earlier this year, he donated a fully equipped gym to Belize’s police department. Given all this, you wouldn’t have to be a crackpot conspiracy theorist to assume that the Ashcrofts had leveraged some of their heft to get Hartin out of hot water.

Perhaps such thinking was premature. Because in recent weeks the relationship between Hartin and Ashcroft has cratered spectacularly. They are now in free fall, desperately squabbling for custody of their children and publicly smearing each other like gangbusters. This is a miserable, messy mud fight that leaves nobody looking even remotely good and threatens to undermine the entire Ashcroft machine. As such, it is incredibly entertaining to watch from a distance.

Mug shot: Andrew Ashcroft was pulled over by Florida police officers in 2013 on suspicion of speeding and driving his Mercedes-Benz while under the influence.

The first sign that all was not well—if you ignore the whole fatal-shooting thing—came a month after the incident, when a video emerged. Filmed and narrated by an audibly agitated Hartin, it shows her attempting to gain access to the Grand Colony Island Villas, a resort she owns with Ashcroft. Catching sight of her, Ashcroft bolts. Security guards block Hartin’s access to the resort, to which she wails, “He’s going to rot in hell for this. Like I’m not going through enough.” Later, she corners Ashcroft in a hotel kitchen and, while he attempts to shield his face, pursues him, shouting, “Why are you stopping me from being at my house and seeing my kids, Andrew? You don’t want to be on camera?”

According to Ashcroft, Hartin, while off-screen, attacked the hotel’s general manager, an incident that landed her with an additional charge of common assault. The commotion was apparently enough for him to take his children to safety on a boat, while Hartin—accompanied by “four heavyset unknown men”—according to 7 News Belize—attempted to re-storm the hotel in a golf cart.

“He’s going to rot in hell for this. Like I’m not going through enough.”

Soon afterward, Hartin sat down with the same Belizean current-affairs program, 7 News, and explained that she had been denied access to her four-year-old twins. Claiming that she’d had no visitors while she was in jail, Hartin accused the Ashcroft family of distancing themselves from her to protect their reputation. What’s more, according to 7 News, she also wheeled around several police stations, where she announced that Ashcroft had kidnapped her children and then fled to Mexico. But police later confirmed Ashcroft and the children were at home in their villa.

As an aside, the manager whom Hartin allegedly attacked was also the woman who posted bail for her release post-shooting. Unsurprisingly, after the interview, she revoked bail, landing Hartin back in jail for four more nights.

Hartin with her twin children, Ellie and Charlie.

Then, if such a thing is even possible, the situation escalated. In July, Ashcroft filed for sole custody of the couple’s children, offering a cinder block of a statement in his defense. Hartin, he claimed, “hardly spends any time with the children.” Her primary occupation, he said, is “socializing, and she is addicted to non-prescribed and illegal drugs and is a habitual drunkard.”

The pair finally met in family court on July 20. Following the hearing—which resulted in an adjournment—Ashcroft slunk away without addressing the press.

Meanwhile, Hartin inevitably visited the 7 News studios and absolutely off-loaded about her former partner. “So he has, what, one D.U.I. from 2013 in Florida,” she said of Ashcroft, before adding, “There is also a public intoxication, where he was kicked off an airplane in Dallas in 2019 because he was so incoherent, and he was believed to be a danger to himself and people around him.” Ashcroft’s drinking problems apparently caused Hartin to leave him three years ago. “I only came back to Belize with my children because he promised to stay sober,” she claimed. “Which lasted three weeks.”

Why does Hartin primarily talk to 7 News? It could be that its rival network, Channel 5, is thought to be under the majority control of Lord Ashcroft. As you would expect, it has therefore settled on a quietly anti-Hartin agenda. When she claimed that she hadn’t seen her children while she was in jail, Channel 5 retaliated with a photograph contradicting her.

Henry Jemmott, the police superintendent and father of five who was shot by Hartin.

Just before the custody hearing, it ran a story claiming that Hartin had previous firearm misadventures, accidentally shooting a gun poolside at her resort last May. And this is likely to be the pattern. Accusation followed by counter-accusation, played out in broad daylight by two parties who fully understand the power of the press.

Her primary occupation, he said, is “socializing, and she is addicted to non-prescribed and illegal drugs and is a habitual drunkard.”

With every new revelation, it seems clearer that Hartin and the Ashcrofts are hell-bent on total destruction—in much the same manner as the Depp-Heard wars of last year. On one side, a rich and powerful family with everything to lose. On the other, a (literal) loose cannon who once had everything and is now reduced to crowdfunding her own legal fees.

Hartin has already proved that she’s more than willing to burn down everything in her quest for vengeance. With news that her manslaughter-by-negligence charge has been adjourned and will now be adjudicated along with the common-assault charge beginning October 5, this story is surely going to run and run. And it’s unlikely to have a happy outcome for anyone at all.

Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL