Catholic Church defends decision to hold mass for murderer

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Much has been written elsewhere on this website about the case of Robin Garbutt, convicted in 2011 of murdering his wife, Diana, in the living quarters of Melsonby Post Office in North Yorkshire, writes Neil Wilby.

Those articles, extending to over 50,000 words and representing over 600 hours of research and writing, cover the lead up to the grim deed of 23rd March, 2010 (read more here), the sub-optimal murder investigation by the police, the trial that followed at Teesside Crown Court (read more here) and a troubling ‘miscarriage of justice’ campaign that has been most notable for its subterfuge, tailored narrative, blatant lies and abuse of its critics on social media (read more here). 

Since the end of 2018, a central figure in that campaigning has been Jane Metcalfe, a York-based special needs advisor who works at the well known Askham Bryan College on the western outskirts of the city. 

Following conviction and sentencing there have been four attempts to overturn the conviction. One directly to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division that was heard in May 2012, the other three to the Criminal Case Review Commission. In 2015, 2017 and December, 2019, respectively. The first two applications to the CCRC were refused, the third is still under review.

Much store was placed in linking the latest Garbutt innocence claim to the now infamous and widely-publicised Post Office Horizon Scandal (read more here). Diana Garbutt was a sub-postmistress and part of the prosecution case against her husband was that he murdered her as part of a plot to cover-up a substantial amount of missing funds.

The Metcalfe ploy worked to the extent that an extraordinary amount of publicity was generated in the local, regional and national press – and on network television. Only one journalist, apart from Neil Wilby – ITV’s Jon Hill – appeared to question the glib Robin Garbutt campaign narrative. Which includes painting the murderer as victim and, in so doing, almost completely subsuming the unremitting grief of Diana’s family. Particularly her mother, Agnes Gaylor, whom the campaigners airily dismiss as ‘not being in possession of the full facts’.

But the most recent posts on the campaign website and on social media, where Robin Garbutt has his own Facebook page, suggest that the Horizon strand of their claim has found little or no traction with the criminal justice watchdog and they have quietly dropped it. 

That may explain, in part at least, why the campaigners have now turned to their God for assistance. On 12th September, 2021 Jane Metcalfe posted on the Robin Garbutt Facebook page:

“We are 99% sure that there will be a Mass offered up by our lovely Canon Jerry Twomey, dedicated to praying for `Justice+freedom for Robin Garbutt` at 10am on Saturday the 25th of September at St Georges Church, Peel Street, York. I hope some of you will be able to come along and pray with us for Robin Garbutt. The more the merrier. Everyone is welcome. You don`t have to be church-goers, just come and be there….xxx

“MATTHEW 18:20 KJV “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.””

And so it came to pass: This is what Jane wrote on the same page on the day after the service.

“Thank you so much, Canon Jerry and St George`s, for yesterday’s special intention for my dear friend Robin Garbutt. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making Robin Garbutt`s lovely family feel so welcome xxx”.

There is no mention of Diana Garbutt or Agnes Gaylor or their family in that thank you note to the church. This, not unnaturally, attracted some adverse attention on social media.

On 1st October, 2021 this press enquiry was sent to St George’s Church in these terms:

“Dear Canon Twomey

“I am a freelance investigative journalist/court reporter (see attached credentials).

“The focus of my vocational activity is crime and miscarriages of justice.

“Over the past 18 months, around 600 hours have been spent investigating the innocence claim of convicted murderer, Robin Garbutt.

“Almost 50,000 words have been written in a lengthy series of articles.

“Probably best summarised by one of the latest:

Blind in one Eye

“The focus of this campaigning journalism has always been with the victim of the murder, Diana Garbutt, her mother and her family and friends. They are, generally, treated with scant regard by ‘Team Robin Garbutt’.

“In consequence, may I put these questions to you:

“What checks did you make regarding:

(i) The honesty and integrity of your parishioner, Jane Metcalfe?

(ii) The merits of the Robin Garbutt innocence claim?

(iii) The views of the bereaved family as to the church holding a special intention Mass for Diana’s murderer?

“I look forward to hearing from you.

“Yours sincerely

Neil Wilby”

On 7th October, 2021, a curt response was received from Michael McGeary, the Diocesan Communications Officer and Data Protection Officer. This is what he has to say on behalf the Church:

“It is not uncommon for Masses to be said for intentions such as these.

“Doing so does not in any way imply a judgement on the guilt of otherwise of a convicted prisoner.

“This weekend is Prisoners’ Sunday, when Christians throughout the country will be praying for prisoners and their families.

“Any discussions between members of the clergy and their parishioners are a pastoral matter and will therefore remain strictly confidential and are not appropriate subjects for press coverage of any kind.

“I hope this response will satisfy you and would ask you not to make any further approaches to Canon Twomey but to keep any communications to this channel only”

As it happens, it actually poses more questions than answers: Not least because, yet again, Diana Garbutt’s family appear to be closed out and the holding of a Mass for her convicted murderer, and his hopelessly misconceived innocence claim, brought by a parishioner of low moral and ethical standards, appears to be both normalised and now shrouded in a veil of secrecy. 

Moreover, the person sanctioning all of this, Canon Jerry Twomey, is now hiding behind an overbearing press officer. It is also a near certainty that none of the checks that were specifically referred to in the press enquiry to the Church were actually made, beforehand. By either the Canon or the press office.

That may be acceptable for the Catholic Church, but not, one might say, for the overwhelming majority of right-thinking, fair-minded people. Regardless of their religious leanings.

One might fairly say: A cardinal sin by any other name.

Right of reply has been offered to the Right Reverend Terence Drainey, the Bishop of Middlesborough.  

Page last updated at 1955hrs on Sunday 10th October, 2021

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Photo credit: Google Maps

© 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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