No birthday present for convicted murderer

August 7th is the birthday of Robin Garbutt, convicted of murdering his sub-postmistress wife, Diana, in a brutal attack in the living quarters of the village shop they had both run since 2003 (read more here).

Now 55 years old, he is in his eleventh year of a life sentence handed down at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011, thirteen months after the foul deed of which he was found guilty.

The judge, Mr Justice Openshaw (as he was then), recommended that he be detained for 25 years before parole could be considered.

Garbutt has consistently claimed his innocence, before, during and after the trial. He has, regrettably, not been well served by a campaigning team built around his sister, Sallie Wood, and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn. There is a perennial thread of opaqueness and at times, blatant dishonesty, woven into their crusade. Notably, from the mouth, or keyboard, of a later addition to the team, Jane Metcalfe. Her ability to discredit herself and the rest of Team Garbutt is, seemingly, boundless (read more here).

Much the same can be said for the permanently aggressive and often fact-free output on social media of the private investigator attached to the case, Michael Naughton (read here). This, not surprisingly, leads to frequent changes of ‘handle’ on Twitter, as he seeks to dodge his critics. Naughton claims to have ‘inside information’ and access to ‘legally sensitive’ material that, he says, will ensure the freedom of Robin Garbutt.

The Garbutt family dispensed with the legal team that were instructed at both the Crown Court trial and a subsequent failed appeal at the Court of Appeal. The discontent of Mark Stilborn, in particular, is well rehearsed with lurid tales of a post-trial row in which he angrily protested to his lawyers as to how they could not prevent the conviction of ‘the most obviously innocent man in the world’.

The replacement legal team of solicitor, Martin Rackstraw, and counsel, Jim Sturman QC, both highly experienced in the criminal justice and appeal systems, has not fared any better: Two failed applications to the Criminal Case Review Commission in 2015 and 2017 and a third, submitted in early December 2019, that, according to some speculative tales in the mainstream media and specialist press, appears to have focused on a misconceived re-purposing of the Post Office Horizon scandal (read more here).

The ‘Robin Garbutt Official’ website, curated by Mark, appears to have now abandoned that line of argument, as scores of other Post Office miscarriage of justice cases have been referred to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC and all but three have had their convictions quashed (read more here).

It appears, from the most recent update on the campaign website, that the focus of the criminal justice watchdog is the absence of probative evidence that any other person was upstairs in the living quarters of Melsonby Post Office on that fateful morning, apart from Robin Garbutt. The claim that Diana Garbutt was killed by armed robbers, who then, much later, robbed the shop of over £16,000 without harming or impeding Robin, was rejected by the jury. The judge in his sentencing remarks described the alibi as ‘ludicrous’.

His supporters say they have sent in the necessary proof, but four months have elapsed since that claim was made and another birthday has slipped by. Miss Metcalfe, in her message to Robin to mark the anniversary, said that she hopes he will be home with his family by this day next year.

A press enquiry to the CCRC last month confirmed those made earlier in the year, to the effect that the third Garbutt application was still ‘under review’ by a Casework Manager.

Page last updated at 2145hrs on Saturday 7th August, 2021

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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