A short press statement issued by the Criminal Case Review Commission earlier today (16th February, 2022) appears to confirm the contrary view, held almost alone by the author of this piece, Neil Wilby, that the conviction of a man who murdered his sub-postmistress wife in 2010 is, in criminal justice terms, safe.
“The current position with Robin Garbutt is that the case remains open.
“In October last year the CCRC issued a provisional decision not to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.
“Mr Garbutt and his representatives now have the opportunity to respond to that decision before we reach a final view.
“It is likely to be several months before the CCRC is in a position to make its final decision on this case – the exact timescale will depend on a number of factors including the nature and complexity of any response(s) received”.
The CCRC are referring to the third application made to them, submitted in December, 2019. Two previous applications by the Garbutt team, in 2015 and 2017, had been rejected by the watchdog. An appeal to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, in May 2012, was dismissed and both the conviction at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011 and the life sentence handed down by Mr Justice Openshaw, with a minimum recommended term of 20 years, stood.
There are fourteen articles on this website, amounting to over 50,000 words, chronicling the history of this troubling murder and, in particular, its, so far, fruitless journey through the criminal appeals system. Over 600 hours have been spent on research, analysis and reporting. Aided by a retired North Yorkshire Police detective, whose energy, assistance and knowledge of some of the dramatis personae was, of course, invaluable.
At the time of the publication of the first article, 28th March, 2020 (read here), the Robin Garbutt innocence claim was in full swing. New evidence had been unearthed, they said, and in an unprecedented flurry of media activity, which included broadcasts on BBC and ITV plus a welter local, regional and national press coverage, a return to the Court of Appeal and a quashing of the conviction appeared to be mere formalities.
Even more so with the attachment of the innocence campaign, soon afterwards, to the Post Office Horizon scandal which was the subject of what was described as ‘an addendum’ to the December, 2019 application.
The fact that North Yorkshire Police conducted a poor investigation into the death of Diana Garbutt, bludgeoned to death in the upstairs living quarters of Melsonby Post Office, is well rehearsed. Very probably, in more detail on this website than anywhere else (read here and here). The headline of the second of those two articles paraphrases what the trial judge told the jury when summing up: NYP showed ‘a regrettable lack of professionalism’.
But a sub-optimal police investigation does not, automatically, equate to a miscarriage of justice, a point not well understood by Team Garbutt. Robin suffered injustice at the trial, of that there can be no doubt but, at the end of the evidence from over 80 witnesses and closing speeches from counsel and a meticulous summing up, the jury had a binary choice: Was Diana killed by armed robbers, who left not a single trace at the scene, or nearby, and were seen by no-one before, during or since, or by her cuckolded, financially overwhelmed, lying husband? By a 10-2 majority verdict, they chose the latter.
A fourth article, headlined ‘Fourth time lucky‘ (read here) set out, in forensic detail, why this investigative journalist was prepared to put his neck on the line and assert that the CCRC would be unpersuaded by the ‘new evidence’. Or, later, by the fatuous, bandwagon-jumping claim that the safety of the conviction could be connected to the infamously defective Fujitsu-driven Horizon software.
From the very outset, there was very significant hostility shown to Neil Wilby by a number of campaigners closely attached to Robin Garbutt, led by Jane Metcalfe, who came to the innocence party late but emerged as its principal and most visible spokesperson, and Garbutt’s sister Sallie Wood and her husband, Mark Stilborn. Some of their behaviour, and particularly those closely attached to them, was very highly personalised and not just beyond the pale, but palpably dishonest (read here).
A tailored narrative was developed, and honed, by the campaign team that simply omitted inconvenient truths and blocked out uncomfortable questions: The Garbutts were a happy, devoted couple; everything was hunky-dory with the village shop business; Robin would never harm Diana; armed robbers killed Diana before emptying the shop safe and till; a one-eyed police investigation; forensic and pathology failures; the CCRC is ineffective.
A strategy always doomed to fail: The marriage had palpably faltered; Diana had become bored with shop life some years before; they lived a millionaire lifestyle on a sub-postmistress wage of £14,500pa and a shop that either made or lost small sums each year; Robin quickly threw suspicion on himself by lying to police and, most crucially, the armed robbery story just doesn’t bear any form of scrutiny. Rigorous, or otherwise.
The campaign low spot was a disastrous, one hour interview of Jane Metcalfe by criminologist, Dr Sandra Lean. It was the pilot episode of a new podcast venture billed as ‘The Truthseekers‘. After publication of an article on this website (read here), which ruthlessly dissembled the most appalling, mostly false, and in parts grotesque, Garbutt narrative around the murder, the Lean project was abandoned after just one more episode. It also led to Sallie Wood and Mark Stilborn claiming that Jane was not part of the family campaign, but running a satellite operation. Which was, of course, just another lie to spare them embarrassment over the ‘Truthseekers’ debacle.
The most recent article on this website, published on 10th October, 2021 reported on a service held in a Catholic church in York in support of the campaign (read here). The suspicion is that Jane Metcalfe, who organised and promoted it, already knew that the case was not going back to the Court of Appeal and formal, albeit provisional, notification of that situation was imminent from the CCRC.
The official campaign website has not been updated since April, 2021 when they gave a truncated report on progress of the CCRC application:
“The CCRC kindly keep agreeing with everything we put too (sic) them. They keep saying let’s remove this evidence from the equation, lets remove that from the equation, but still keep making the excuse as to wanting some evidence to prove if someone else could have been in the property on the morning of the Di’s death. Well now we have given them that!!”.
There was no mention at all of Horizon software in their update and it was at that point Neil Wilby was sure that the CCRC had already availed the campaigners of the knowledge that defective software was not a strand of the Garbutt application that was likely to take the case any further.
The Robin Garbutt Facebook page, which has 132 followers, is updated more regularly, but exclusively, by Jane Metcalfe. With one post about the work of the CCRC appearing very recently (15th February, 2022) but no mention at all of the CCRC Provisional Statement of Reasons issued last October. The last mention of the Horizon software being a supportive feature of the innocence claim was in May, 2021.
Garbutt’s lawyers will have been given the prescribed 28 day period to respond the those CCRC Reasons but, reading into the watchdog’s press statement, it is clear that Martin Rackstraw and Jim Sturman QC have applied for an ‘Extension of Time’ allowed under the process. They have been approached for an anticipated date of submission of their response to the CCRC.
It is likely to be later in the year before the criminal justice watchdog concludes its deliberations over those submissions. If the decision is still unfavourable, the only available option for Robin Garbutt would be to challenge the refusal to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal by way of judicial review.
But, for the time being at least, the convicted murderer remains in HMP Frankland where he is in his eleventh year of his sentence.
In the meantime, the Garbutt campaign remains in denial over the latest CCRC setback. Jane Metcalfe removed a link to this article from their Facebook page, shortly after it was posted, and her Twitter feed remains silent on the latest news. As does the official campaign website. No other mainstream, or niche, media outlet has, so far, covered the story.
Mark Stilborn and Sallie Wood have always steadfastly refused requests to publish the Statement of Reasons accompanying the refusal of the 2015 and 2017 applications to the CCRC.
Page last updated at 0955hrs on Sunday 20th February, 2022
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