‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’

At the end of March, 2020 I published an article on this website covering a ‘miscarriage of justice’ claim to which I had become adjacent (read here). It, and four others that followed on the same topic, the murder of a Melsonby postmistress, were the product of well over 300 hours of research, interviews and correspondence.

A journey that started out as a concern that one of the four police forces I routinely scrutinise had screwed up yet another major investigation (read more here), ended up in a very different place.

North Yorkshire Police did, unsurprisingly, make a series of grotesque mistakes after the senseless attack at Melsonby Village Stores and Post Office by shopkeeper, 44 year old Robin Garbutt, on his postmistress wife, Diana. The popular, vivacious 40 year old was killed by three brutal blows to the head with a rusty iron bar as she, apparently, lay sleeping in her bed in the early hours of 23rd March, 2010.

Her husband was convicted of the murder just over a year later and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is currently serving that term at HMP Frankland in County Durham and parole cannot be considered until he has served at least 20 years.

Justice campaign is formed

Shortly after the trial ended a campaign was formed protesting his innocence. The two founders were Sallie Wood, Robin Garbutt’s sister and Mark Stilborn, his brother-in-law. They have a very rudimentary website, absent of any substantive material and rarely updated (click here). A failed appeal at the Court of Appeal in London against Garbutt’s conviction was then followed by two unsuccessful applications to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC). Those events occurred in 2012, 2015 and 2018 respectively.

CPS – Neil Wilby
Jane Metcalfe (left), Mark Stilborn and Sallie Wood

The two family members were joined some years later by Jane Metcalfe whom, enigmatically, describes herself as ‘an old friend’ of the murderer. Other local newspaper reports say she knew Garbutt from the time when he lived in York. She works in the Additional Learning Support Team at Askham Bryan College on the outskirts of the city.

She now leads the campaign and has attained a high profile in the media, and amongst other justice campaigners, within a relatively short time. Her outpourings on social media tend to suggest there is more to the relationship than a former acquaintance for whom she feels sorry.

The catalyst for the articles was a third application to the CCRC submitted by Garbutt’s legal team in January, 2020.

Work in progress

It was to Jane, therefore, that I turned when I needed information to back up the articles that were, at that time, very much a work in progress. Her first email was sent on 30th January, 2020, but after 57 further exchanges, with little or no progress, it was suggested, by me, that the correspondence between us be brought to a close and the articles remain grounded in what was either publicly accessible, or available to a resourceful journalist.

There was always the suspicion, throughout our contact, that Jane was disclosing correspondence marked ‘strictly private and confidential’ to others. It was also drawn to Jane’s attention, several times, that those emails carried journalistic privilege and were not to be shared without my express approval. That confidentiality and privilege has now lapsed, to the limited extent that, within this article, information from just two of the emails is shared. Given the high profile nature of the campaign, widely reported on television and in the press, it is very much in the public interest to do so, in order to give context to what is being said to those media outlets – and a better understanding of the questionable behaviour of the campaigners after publication of my Robin Garbutt articles.

The situation regarding the sharing of the emails, and it later emerged that the suspicion was well grounded, gave the appearance that Jane was simply a puppet at the front of the stage – and unseen hands were pulling the campaign strings. She is in very regular contact with Robin Garbutt and his mother, Joyce Brook. They also travel together on prison visits. The level and frequency of contact with other Garbutt campaigners is not known.

Nevertheless, it was a cordial exchange between us, throughout, with the only tense moments arriving after I had sent her a list of questions that went to the heart of both the murder case and the miscarriage of justice campaign.

The list of questions:

– CCRC applications: What were the dates (month, year) upon which the first two applications were made. Correspondingly, on what dates were the decisions disclosed to Robin. Sight of those applications and decisions would be very helpful (they are not publicly accessible)?

– Diana’s credit card was declined at the cash and carry in Stockton on the evening before the murder: Had the credit limit been exceeded – and do you know what the limit was? Or was there another problem, expiry date for example?

– Was her maiden name Kiefer or Kieffer?

– There are conflicting reports of whether Diana was ‘on’ or ‘in’ the bed when she was found on the morning of the murder; Which is correct?

– She was reported to be in night attire: Was that pyjamas or nightdress?

– Do you have a photograph of the pillow with the clump of hair on it (not for publication I might add)?

– Is the report that Robin opened the shop at around 4.30am correct, and that the first customers came into the shop around 5.15pm?

– Did Robin and Diana habitually sleep together?

– Did the stairs ‘creak’? It is an old property.

– Was there a toilet downstairs in the living quarters of the shop?

– If a toilet flushed upstairs could that be heard in the shop?

– Who unlocked the back door to the shop, and at what time, on the day of the murder?

– Was Robin able to give the police a description of the gun (eg round barrel like a Smith and Wesson or ‘square’ barrel like a Glock)?

– Did Robin notice if the gun had a sound moderator (silencer) fitted?

– There are conflicting versions as to whether the entry into the shop by the robber was via upstairs, or from the living quarters: Which is correct to the best of your knowledge?

– Did Robin report any blood on the clothing of the robber?

– Was he (the robber) wearing gloves?

–  Can you shed light on why Diana is reported to have spoken through the door to Robin, several times, on the fateful morning, rather than popped her head round the door, or entered the shop to speak to Robin?

– It was said in court that Diana, habitually, did not rise until 8.30am or later: What arrangements did the couple normally have for Robin to take a toilet or refreshment break, for example, in the four hours or so between the shop opening and Diana’s first appearance in the shop each day?

– I have identified three people, apart from Robin and Diana, who assisted in the shop from time to time: Did any of them work on a Tuesday, usually.

– Did Robin, at any time, have sight or sound of a second robber on the morning of the murder.

– From what was said by the robbers in the shop in 2009, and again by the robber in 2010, was Robin able to give the police a clue as to accent or dialect?

– In Robin’s opinion, is there a connection, from physical description, posture, voice, between the 2010 robber in the shop and one of the two robbers in 2009?

– It is reported that the two robbers in 2009 wore hoods, in addition were their faces covered?

– Would Robin describe the gun brandished in both robberies as similar, or the same?

– How big was the holdall used in the 2010 robbery? Was a similar bag used in 2009, if not was Robin able to describe to the police what they used to carry away the proceeds?

– Where is the most likely place that a getaway car would be situated, close to the post office? Would such a location make the direction of exit from the village to the north, south, east or west?

– Where did Robin stay after the murder and for the three weeks leading up to his arrest?

– It is said that he spent part of the afternoon of the murder giving a witness statement to police and the whole of another day (a Sunday) assisting the police with enquiries: Was he treated as a witness on those occasions. That is to say, not cautioned and offered legal representation?

– How frequently was there contact with NYP’s Family Liaison Officer: Do you have name, collar number of that officer? Was he/she a uniformed officer or a detective?

– How many witness statements did Robin make in total?

– Was there a transcription of the tapes from the interviews over the five days he was held before charging?

– As a remand prisoner at Holme Hall was he alone in a cell, or did he have cell mate(s)? A police trick is to put an informant in with a prisoner they are trying to convict, to try to get him to talk about the alleged offences for which he is being held.

– Was he visited by NYP officers during the remand period and offered ‘a deal’ if he pleaded guilty (standard NYP tactic)? If so, what was the deal?

[At the time of sending the questions I was not aware of the layout of either the ground floor or the first floor of the premises]

  *      *       *        *       *

Readers are invited to judge for themselves whether those questions should alarm any honestly grounded miscarriage of justice campaign.

In spite of her previous promise, repeated several times, that all questions would be answered, and I would receive complete assurance that Garbutt was an innocent man, this is the relevant part of Jane’s response:

“As soon as I get time I will look through your list, most of which I am sure I can answer…I just need to triple check with you what your plan is, your agenda is Neil? I need to know for sure that your agenda will help progress mine…we only have the truth and that is all there ever has been from Robin…you have seen enough in your job to understand I’m sure where I’m coming from, I really hope so anyway”.

My response was plainly expressed and, one would hope, very fair to all concerned:

“The only agenda I have is a search for the truth. To see that justice is done for Diana and her family. That is my vocation as an investigative journalist and how I eke out a living.

“My principal motivation is to force NYP to re-open the Garbutt investigation, as the evidence, as I see it, points to the person who struck the fatal blows to Diana’s head still being at large.

“My starting point was not as a cheerleader for Robin’s campaign, but as an independent investigation – and I hope that was made sufficiently clear from the outset. It is precisely the position that is rehearsed in the article’s opening paragraphs.

“What is written in the rest of my articles (there are now two and, possibly, three) is a summary of the assembled facts, reports and evidence, that are publicly available to me. Plus, what I have gleaned about the case from my other sources and network of informants.

“Around those facts I have applied my own specialist knowledge. Where there are gaps, or inconsistencies, or an unwillingness to provide them, then I am, of course, forced to draw inference. Which is unusual, as when I investigate a case it is customary to be given access to all the case documents. On the very sound principle that a falsely convicted person should have nothing to hide.

“To be frank, I’m uncomfortable with you questioning my integrity or intentions (and previously, on more than one occasion, my ability to maintain confidentiality).

“My instinct is to say; let us leave our communication here and then you cannot chastise yourself if how the facts and evidence are ultimately presented, viewed through my lens, does not fit the campaign narrative.

“It is still, of course, open to you, or the campaigners as a collective, to provide a statement for inclusion in the article, if you so wish.”

An open book policy

Jane Metcalfe had claimed that an emailed request, on 6th March, 2020, for sight of Robin Garbutt’s witness statements, was not received by her. The only one of twenty-nine emails, sent in a fairly compressed timescale, seemingly not to arrive in her inbox. A second request appeared to create panic, which simply underscored the perception that the first request had been ignored, hoping it would not re-surface.

That is the pre-amble to the sending of the list of questions, many of which would have been, presumably, unnecessary as the police, one generously assumes, would have made similar enquiries of Garbutt during many hours of interviews.

The answers to most of those questions have since been obtained through other enquiries, but not without a great deal of extra time and effort. Not entirely wasted, as the search opened up other lines of investigation. None of them, it must be said, favourable to the Garbutt innocence narrative.

In every other miscarriage of justice claim, or case, to which I have been adjacent there has been an open book policy: All police, prosecution and defence materials made available. Nothing held back. Yet the Garbutt campaigners follow a different track; filtering out, it seems, material that may undermine their narrative or harm their case.

One of the competencies for which I am recognised, limited though they are, is said to be a sharp eye for detail and picking up on matters others might have missed. Another is a very good knowledge of police and prosecution practice (and malpractice), aided and trusted by a large number of contacts and informants within the criminal justice system.

The provisional conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that Robin Garbutt, and his family and friends, do not welcome that type of interrogative approach for fear of what might be uncovered and, subsequently, enter the public domain. Preferring, it seems, media outlets where they have control over the narrative. Or, where, perhaps, a less rigorous evaluation is undertaken.

Campaigner claims Robin Garbutt was 'let down' by criminal justice ...
Campaigners protest outside Royal Courts of Justice

Organised smear campaign

After publication of the first Robin Garbutt article, a series of personalised attacks, with the appearance of being an organised smear campaign, was launched against me. Jane Metcalfe appeared to be central to it. If so, it was a dramatic turnaround from the routine, gushing praise that featured in our earlier email exchanges and her slavish liking of almost everything I posted on Facebook. She says on Twitter, using a curiously named anonymous account (@hanksoff03), that I am ‘not to be trusted’ as ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing‘. Adding, ‘my instincts were right not to share sensitive information with him’. Laughable, in any event, as the quashing of a criminal conviction is not a process conducted under a veil of secrecy. But, more particularly, as I, very probably, handle more police whistleblowers than any other journalist in the country and, as a court reporter, accredited by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), frequently hear legal submissions from which juries and the public are all excluded. As a journalist, I also routinely receive embargoed materials from public authorities ahead of a nominated time and date for release into the public domain.

The others appear close to her: Michelle Diskin Bates, whose brother Barry George was ultimately cleared of the murder of BBC presenter Jill Dando, having been convicted in 2001 (read more here). This is one of her peurile social media posts about the case, entirely devoid of fact: “Robin Garbutt had this [Horizon Post Office software] used against him in a murder trial, he was a postmaster. He’s Innocent. The evidence was ‘bad character’ based on the supposed theft! Since there was nothing to link him to the murder, and Horzon (sic)  was to blame, case should be reviewed”. Horizon wasn’t used against Garbutt at trial, he said the contents of the safe matched the post office accounts; he wasn’t a postmaster; the judge gave a standard ‘good character’ direction to jury; there was a welter of circumstantial evidence that led the jury to convict him.

Diskin Bates claims that, in publishing the first article, I had ‘jumped on the Robin Garbutt bandwagon’. After the second, third, fourth and fifth articles her view may have changed. The ‘bandwagon’ hit some fairly large bumps in the road and has now been brought to a virtual halt.

William Beck, an uncouth, sweary, know-it-all Glaswegian, and convicted armed robber (read more here), is plainly aligned to the knockers. He also offers, in the style of the other campaigners, another fact-free assertion: ‘You have criticised NYP many times yet you appear to accept everything they say about Garbutt as gospel. Please make up your mind’. The truth is: Facts rehearsed in the article, regarding NYP, are what was heard either in Crown Court or at the Court of Appeal. Or what Garbutt himself, or the campaigners, have said. My scathing view on that police force’s lamentable investigative capabilities, in major crime incidents, remains unchanged by what I have learned about the Garbutt case.

Some of “Wullie’s” criticism was rather more coarse: “Get f*****g real ya fanny just can’t be arsed with arseholes today so f**k right off” is an example.

Diskin Bates thought that was hilarious and posted a GIF to that effect below her friend’s post. Which merely adds weight to the proposition that Garbutt is, variously, surrounded by lightweights, crackpots and the gullible.

But, most notable both for the class, and persistence, of abuse was Michael Naughton. A gobby former special constable and military police officer who now, rather grandly, claims to be ‘the UK’s leading miscarriage of justice investigator’. He has, also, publicly claimed that Robin Garbutt is ‘a client’, although his website, with its numerous exaggerated assertions, is silent on that point.

Naughton runs two low-follower Twitter accounts. One of them, @reliableintel1, with just 2 people (or bots) interested in its output, set up to troll the budget airline Easyjet, and me, it seems. He has, rather oddly, used that social media account to announce that there is ‘sensitive legal information’ that will clear Garbutt after describing the articles about the murderer as the ‘rantings of a bitter and twisted man’.

He does not assist his two followers with an explanation as to the source of the bitterness or contortions, or which parts of what are, in effect, neutrally written and much expanded court reports, can be characterised as ‘rantings’.

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The other Twitter account, in the name of his business, the enigmatically styled ‘Lewis Legal‘, has just 46 followers, set against his own boast that he is very popular and has many friends. By contrast, the @Neil_Wilby Twitter account has 5,588 followers, many of them highly influential; fellow journalists, senior police officers, judges, QC’s and other lawyers, senior politicians, academics, with a potential combined audience reach in the millions, at the latest count, and notifications running into the hundreds every day.

Having met him, seen his sub-optimal website and his social media output, it was always going to be a straightforward exercise to catch him out – and so it proved. He lied in open space about his use of social media, claiming he ‘rarely used Twitter’. After making around 300 (three hundred) posts in just over a month, between the two accounts he operates. There are other inconsistencies in what he says across those accounts, the output from which, complete with numerous syntax errors (also a feature of his website), is very often aggressive and unpleasant.

Unseen hand?

An unseen hand supporting these malcontents may well be namesake, Dr Michael Naughton, an academic and author who features regularly as a proponent in failed miscarriage of justice cases, including that of Beck and, most notably, the Simon Hall case. Hall confessed to the murder of Joan Albert after a long and sustained campaign to clear his name in which Naughton, and his Bristol University innocence project, was prominent. Hall committed suicide in prison after the confession (read more here). There appears to be bad blood between Naughton and Stephanie Hall, the murderer’s widow.

The latter has also been relentlessly critical of the Garbutt articles, and their author, but the basis of the criticism remains unclear as it appears that she, too, attaches little credence to his innocence claim. She does, however, assert, from a highly knowledgeable standpoint, that Jane Metcalfe has been ‘groomed’ by Garbutt – and on those two points we are in agreement.

Dr Naughton has also highlighted the Garbutt case as one of the strongest in his present portfolio. He is the driving force behind another low-follower Twitter entity known as Empowering The Innocent, which appears to have been set up to constantly attack, and undermine, the CCRC. Curiously, he appears very reluctant to use the Simon Hall case as a stick to beat them with. The criminal justice watchdog was seven months into their second investigation into Hall’s case, prior to the confession that he was, in fact, the murderer. His innocence bid had run for ten years prior to that and had gathered some very prominent figures into the campaign fold. Garbutt’s campaign is also in its tenth year, by way of a coincidence.

Jane Metcalfe unfailingly refers to Dr Naughton in reverential terms. To her, it seems, he is ‘The Miscarriage of Justice Messiah’ who will lift Robin from his Category A cage and transport him into her waiting arms. He also wrote the foreword to the Diskin Bates book, Stand Against Injustice (read more here).

During my investigation, Dr Naughton was invited to explain the evidential basis of his very public support for the Garbutt innocence campaign. He did not even acknowledge the email – and his silence when asked simple questions, via social media, is similarly deafening. He is perfectly entitled to adopt that stance, of course, but the independent observer might well question that as odd from a person who appears to purposefully seek out the limelight and act as a rallying point for justice campaigners.

A hazard of the vocation

The fact that any reader does not care for what a journalist writes is a hazard of our vocation. As is unvarnished public criticism of the content, although that usually carries more force if there is a challenge to the facts, and reasoning, attached to it. But when it simply amounts to an ugly ad hominem attack on an author’s personal qualities, credibility, integrity and ability to investigate, that is when alarm bells should sound. Especially, after right to reply has been spurned by that same person, or “team”, as they describe themselves.

Even more so, when the attackers point to articles on the same topic ‘in other credible, professional publications’ that have schoolboy errors within them and are, palpably, lacking in rigour. In this particular case, Private Eye and The Justice Gap. Neither of whom appear to have read, or digested, the 2012 Court of Appeal judgment, or the transcript of the judge’s summing up of the murder trial. Or, alternatively, if they did, there was a signal failure to apprehend how seriously both documents undermine the Garbutt innocence claim.

The Garbutt campaigners, and ‘the UK’s leading miscarriage of justice investigator’, are also blissfully unaware that I have previously contributed to The Justice Gap website (read here) and was also the principal source for most of the investigative material that went into this unusually lengthy Private Eye article (read here).

What is written in the articles on this website, with its hundreds of thousands of page impressions, is firmly grounded in those two court documents, together with a piecing together of a timeline from other contemporaneous press or TV reports – and a variety of other trusted sources, including witnesses at the trial and very senior retired police officers, one of whom grew up in the village where Diana Garbutt was murdered. To the extent that it would be very surprising indeed if the articles could not withstand a challenge as to their accuracy and independence.

But they have not been challenged in any of their specifics: “This is wrong because of ‘x’; that is a mistake and should have been ‘y'”. It is the conclusion Robin Garbutt talked himself into prison, by first lying to the police, after inviting attention to himself with some bizarre behaviour, and then, much more crucially, lying to the court from the witness box, that is the problem for the campaigners: There was no armed robbery by a passing psychopath on the day of Diana’s murder, as Garbutt claimed, absent of a single scrap of evidence other than an empty safe.

The ‘Robin has always told the truth’ fallacy

The very foundation of the Garbutt innocence campaign is now exposed as being falsely grounded, built on the shifting sands of ‘Robin has always told the truth’. In other words, it was a fraud on those unsuspecting members of the press, the public, and others in the miscarriage of justice fraternity, who were simply prepared to take Jane Metcalfe at her word. For it is she, since taking over as the main spokesperson, that appears to have developed and propagated this mantra.

If the Neil Wilby articles achieved nothing else, they did put a stop to this particular, and grotesquely dishonest, line of campaigning. One that must be very hurtful to the victim’s family, towards whom the campaigners appear to show disappointingly little regard. The opinion of Diana’s mother, Agnes Gaylor, that the right man is in prison for the murder is curtly dismissed by them, with a veiled proposition that she is not in possession of ‘all the facts’.

Notwithstanding the campaigners’ claim, Mrs Gaylor sat through every day of a four week trial and her observation is grounded in what she saw and heard there. It was the same conclusion as the jury, the judge and the police. Later, that view was heavily underscored by three law lords sitting at the appeal court in London.

That position was put to the campaigners in a televised interview with the three principals, by ITV’s Jon Hill earlier this year (view the package here). It is the nearest any media outlet has come to asking a remotely searching question. Their response was that ‘there is nothing left of the prosecution case‘ without, it seems, actually understanding what the prosecution case (and strategy) was. There also appears to be a naievity surrounding the hurdle that has to be overcome before a referral can be made to the appeal court by the CCRC and, even higher, for three different law lords to go behind the findings of both the jury and their own legal peers involved in the 2012 judgment.

For the avoidance of doubt, the jury had two relatively simple scenarios to consider: Did a passing, psychopathic armed robber go upstairs and, without motive, kill Diana Garbutt, with a rust-flaked iron bar he had taken to the scene, before going back down and robbing the post office safe, and the shop till, at gunpoint, leaving the only witness completely unharmed; or, was there no armed robber and Robin killed his wife having emptied the till and safe for himself?

After hearing all the evidence, and the best arguments of the prosecutor and the defence barrister, in their respective closing speeches, directed on the law by an experienced judge, the rest is history.

It is the Court of Appeal judgment, referred to by Jon Hill, that persuades me that Robin Garbutt will never be cleared of the murder, unless the perpetrators of the armed robbery he claims took place are apprehended, tried and convicted. As the police are not investigating a ‘crime’ they strongly believe did not take place, then the chances of such an occurrence are very, very small indeed. Resting entirely on a fortuitous match of unknown DNA found on the murder weapon with a male not yet on the Police National Computer database.

‘Worse than the gutter press’

So, what would be so offensive to the Garbutt campaigners that they would attack a conclusion reasoned in that way with such spite and malice – and in such a very personalised way? Naughton (the private investigator) has described the articles as ‘worse than the gutter press’ and me, variously, as ‘a trouble causer whom nobody likes’; a ‘nasty little nobody’; ‘couldn’t be trusted’, accompanied by dark mutterings about what I might, or might not be, if one scratched beneath the surface. He might, in my certain knowledge, be better engaged by enquiring about the bona fides of at least one other high profile Garbutt supporter.

Diskin Bates simply characterises anyone who doesn’t agree with her views as a ‘nasty troll’ whom she likes to OUT (her emphasis). ‘What on Earth is this?’ she exclaimed to her 448 followers on Twitter when quote tweeting a post of mine that included a weblink to the first of my articles. ‘Robin Garbutt is innocent’ she added breathlessly. But made no reply when asked if she’d either seen, or read, the Garbutt Court of Appeal judgment. The answer to that was almost certain to be ‘No’. It may still be?

She is also a highly vocal supporter of the perpetual Jeremy Bamber is innocent campaign. Another lost cause to anyone who has ploughed through the three publicly available court judgments on the case. Most notably, the mammoth 522 paragraph Court of Appeal findings after Bamber’s appeal in 2002 (for those with the time and patience click here). 10 years later Bamber was to be back at the Royal Courts of Justice, where a Divisional Court peremptorily dismissed the best of the murderer’s arguments that he had accumulated since the failed 2002 appeal (read here). An appeal in 2009, against the full life term imposed on Bamber, also failed. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.

A favourite line of “Wullie” Beck is that all judges and barristers are bent – and all trials, appeals are a fix. He was incredulous that, as a court reporter, I couldn’t adopt that view. But that, regrettably, is the calibre of supporter in the Garbutt enclave.

The innocence fraud phenomenon

Up until shortly after publishing the first Robin Garbutt article, I had never come across the term ‘innocence fraud’. Since then, enough has been learned about the phenomenon to be able to characterise the Garbutt campaign as a serious contender for inclusion in that category. Alongside the Simon Hall and Bamber cases.

There is a concerning culture of deceit and, at times, flagrant dishonesty amongst Garbutt’s leading proponents; the most visible effects of which are to lie about his own integrity: It is, quite simply, preposterous to claim, repeatedly, that he has always told the truth; conflating a poor police investigation with a wrongful conviction; a continued focus on matters already the subject of disposal by the criminal justice system; the refusal to disclose materials that would inform the public more fully about the merits, or otherwise, of the campaign, for example the Decision Letters and Statements of Reasons from the previous two CCRC applications; avoiding questions about the case where a straight answer, honestly given, might well put a critic firmly in his, or her, place; and mindless, vitriolic, personalised attacks on any person the campaigners identify as railing against the innocence narrative. It is also concerning that Sallie Wood says on the campaign website ‘I will stop at nothing to clear Robin’s name‘.

Interestingly, the Bamber campaign shares at least some of those unfortunate traits and it is no surprise at all to find the same class of individual populating both. Michelle Diskin Bates is a Patron of the Bamber campaign.

United Against Injustice?

A more surprising connection to this Garbutt story, and the festering, ill-informed malcontents surrounding it, is United Against Injustice (UAI), an organisation, and its leading lights, well known to me for the past nine years. Kevin McMahon, a likeable, erudite former Merseyside Police civilian officer, is one of the co-founders; Andrew Green, an academic with a strong interest and long-term background in innocence projects, is the other. McMahon, like his friend Michael Naughton, has also served with the military police.

The link to their website appears dead and UAI have a limited presence on social media.

The UAI treasurer is (or, at least, was) Eric Major, whose son’s miscarriage of justice campaign, and my former role within it, is covered elsewhere on this website (read more here). When I was considered useful to the Major family, Eric and I were very good friends. Now, he does not even afford me the courtesy of acknowledging or responding to emails. Entirely his prerogative, of course, but disappointing on both a personal and professional level, nevertheless.

On 12th April, 2020 a message was sent to him expressing concern at the behaviour of the Garbutt campaigners and how that might impact adversely on UAI. A request was made to pass it on to the founders. No-one has made contact with me since, as a result of that email, but both Green (see also concluding paras in this article) and McMahon are aware, via social media, of the concerns I have. The latter is particularly friendly with Jane Metcalfe and appears highly supportive of the Garbutt innocence campaign on social media. As he does with the Bamber campaign.

Jane Metcalfe had attended UAI’s annual conferences, held at John Moores University in Liverpool, both in October, 2018 and as a speaker in October 2019. In fact, she sat one row below me in the lecture theatre, just a few feet away. Michael Naughton, the private investigator, was sat next to Metcalfe and directly in front of me; he made a point of introducing himself and handing me his business card. Just along the same row as me was Michelle Diskin Bates, sat alongside her brother, Barry George, who also was a speaker on the day.

Diskin Bates, according to McMahon is the “much loved” Patron of UAI.

The main purpose of the conference visit, apart from to renew old acquaintances, was to hear the talk given by the three representatives of the CCRC – and take part in a Q&A with them afterwards.

To complete the circle, amongst the other speakers on the day was Trudi Benjamin, lead campaigner for Jeremy Bamber. Irrespective of the merits, hers was a genuinely awful presentation, amounting to a boring, flat-tone monologue, read from a script. In complete contrast to the quite brilliant, straight from the heart, burning sense of injustice presentation from the Shrewsbury 24 campaigners. One of the best I have ever encountered (read more here). The audience heard, amongst the remarkable tale of the campaign’s journey, that on 30th April 2019, midway through a Judicial Review hearing in the Birmingham Administrative Court, the CCRC had agreed to withdraw its previous decision not to refer the pickets’ cases to the Court of Appeal. They agreed, by consent order, that they would reconsider the case.

Accordingly, and in a remarkable turnaround, on 5th March, 2020 it was reported that the CCRC had finally referred the pickets’ case to the Court of Appeal, based on new evidence unearthed by the remarkable Eileen Turnbull, the Shrewsbury 24 researcher and secretary (read more here).

How UAI selects its patrons, runs its organisation, and its long-standing and well respected conference is, of course, entirely a matter for Kevin McMahon and his co-officials. Who am I to question them? But condoning, or failing to challenge, the type of behaviour reported upon here – and giving encouragement to cases that are repeatedly clogging up the criminal appeal system would be matters of public concern – and ones they should address in open space.

McMahon is, of course, familiar with the Court of Appeal, having failed to overturn a conviction for doing an act tending to, and intended to, pervert the course of justice. He was found guilty of the offence at Liverpool Crown Court in June, 2004 after the jury had heard there had been an attempt to interfere with a key witness, prior to an appeal hearing. He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

What happens next with the Garbutt campaign?

The CCRC was due to give a decision on or about 30th April, 2020 as to whether Robin Garbutt’s third application to them, submitted at the end of January, 2020 actually merits investigation. The watchdog has been approached to ascertain whether that decision has been communicated to him. Or, if not, an estimate as to when it is likely to be sent. An enquiry has also been made as to whether either of the previous two applications were investigated, or simply rejected on their face.

What is known is that neither of the previous decisions by the CCRC was challenged at court by way of a judicial review application, which would, at least, have put their substance, or otherwise, into the public domain. Nor is there any mention of them on the campaign website. Jane Metcalfe was unwilling to even give me the dates when they were made and when they were dismissed by the watchdog. From all of that, and taking the third application as a further guide, the independent reviewer is entitled to infer that both previous applications were misconceived.

The modus operandus of the Garbutt campaigners has been to say nothing, publicly, when the CCRC rejected the previous two applications. They may not have that same option this time having created their own blaze of publicity. If the latest Garbutt bid for freedom falls flat yet again, there is some explaining to do. In public.

There appears to be no political or policing body support for the campaign. The Garbutt website still lists William Hague as his MP, even though he retired in 2015. The other campaigners would each be perfectly entitled to contact their own representative in Parliament for assistance. That would bring Julian Sturdy and Kevin Hollinrake into the equation. There is no evidence available to suggest they have done so.

Instead, Metcalfe, she says, has written to the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, asking her to intervene. It is simply astonishing that those ‘experts’ around the campaign who should know better, haven’t explained to Jane that Ms Patel has no locus in such matters. Naughton the investigator has, even more ludicrously, suggested she write to Max Hill QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose CPS representative would be in the appeal court, opposing the attempt to quash the conviction, in the unlikely event the case progressed that far.

Also, there has never been any mention of an approach being made by Garbutt, or his representatives, to the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, Julia Mulligan, regarding the abject failings of the police force, over which she has statutory oversight responsibility (holding the chief constable to account).

One feasible conclusion available to draw from that is MP’s, and the PCC, would require all matters relating to the innocence camapign to be opened up to independent scrutiny, by their caseworkers, before deciding whether to support, or not. Perhaps, by way of an adjournment debate in Parliament?

But the bugbear is, that is precisely the type of open book process Robin Garbutt and his narrative-controlling band of supporters appear to fear most.

Jane Metcalfe, the two Naughtons, Michelle Diskin Bates and UAI (via Andrew Green) have all been offered right of reply.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, the Chief Constable for North Yorkshire, and the two MP’s mentioned in this article, Julian Sturdy and Kevin Hollinrake have also been approached for comment. As has William Hague.

Andrew Green has, since the publication of the article, kindly pointed out that he has not been involved with United Against Injustice since 2016. He was approached some time ago, via the INNOCENT organisation he has run for many years, by the Garbutt campaigners. He wanted to offer support, but was unable to do so as they refused to disclose anything beyond ‘he is a nice chap’.

Michael Naughton has not taken up his right of reply but has deleted the trolling Twitter account, @Reliableintel1, following publication of this article. His Lewis Legal account (@LEWISLEGALMISC1), meanwhile, continues to regularly spew out its familiar bile and nonsensical assertions. In amongst claiming he is ‘a good, honest, genuine guy with Christian values’. Which is wholly inconsistent with how he behaves in open space and the character traits evidenced elsewhere in this article.

The highly opinionated Naughton recently suggested on Twitter, in a quote re-tweet to Jane Metcalfe, that a Court of Appeal judgment (in this particular instance the dismissal of the posthumous appeal on behalf of Gordon Park) could be challenged by judicial review. This, from an individual who claims high expertise in challenging wrongful convictions, simply beggars belief.

Similarly, he claims that a fact he asserts is wrong in one of my articles (he does not state which fact or in which of the five articles it appears) could amount to a criminal offence by way of prejudicing a CCRC application. Which simply demonstrates further that Naughton has little real understanding of the criminal justice system: A sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Jane Metcalfe’s response to this article has been to carry on with the smear campaign. In a tweet posted on 24th May, 2020 she told her 166 followers that ‘….we too have come under fire from a very troubled individual who’s trying to cause harm‘.

Despite our obvious differences, I am sorry to report that Wullie Beck died suddenly on 20th May, 2020 after suffering a heart attack. He spent 39 years trying to clear his name. One of his main supporters, Dr Michael Naughton, told Scottish TV News: “I don’t say this lightly and I don’t say it about many other convicted people, but I believe he was innocent. The miscarriage of justice world has lost a big voice”.

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Jane Metcalfe commented, via her anonymous Twitter account, “Great picture of lovely people [Beck and his wife]. Rest in peace dearest Wullie xx”.

This article will be updated further as and when other responses are received.

Page last updated: Thursday 28th May, 2020 at 0925 hours

Photo Credits: ITV

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

 

Appeal hearing report: Leeds High Court Dr Abdul Rashid v West Yorkshire Police

The hearing ws listed to commence at 10.30am on Thursday 14th May, 2020 before Mr Justice Nicholas Lavender in the Leeds District Registry of the High Court. It got under way shortly after 10.45am after dealing with some minor technical glitches.

Pemission to appeal was granted on the papers by the same judge on 17th December, 2019 sitting in Newcastle Cown Court.

The judgment under appeal was handed down by Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC on 20th September, 2019 at the conclusion of a ten day trial (read full daily reports here). Dr Rashid is claiming damages against West Yorkshire Police (WYP) for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and trespass over events that took place in March 2012 when 16 police officers attended his home in Bradford at 6.15am.

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The parties were represented, respectively, by Ian Pennock of counsel, instructed by Simon Blakeley and Olivia Checa-Dover of counsel, instructed by Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services at WYP.

The background to the appeal can be read here. There was palpable tension between the two legal teams, throughout the substantive hearing, most notably concerning disclosure.

The appeal hearing was held remotely via Skype Business. Quality of transmission was generally good and proceedings progressed smoothly. Particularly, as the judge’s dexterity in dealing with an elecronic bundle filed by the Claimant which, because of its size (232MB) was slow to load, and two lever arch files, supplied by the police, improved markedly during the morning session.

Mr Pennock, on behalf of Dr Rashid, took the court to the eight Grounds of Appeal upon which his client’s case is based. There are two further alternative Grounds that would only be triggered if the appeal succeeds.

But the first part of his submissions were taken up with what he characterised as ’22 bad points’ in the police’s skeleton argument, that had necessitated a supplementary skeleton argument from him, extending to 40 pages. He lamented that ‘the sideshow’ of correcting WYP’s version of facts and evidence, from the court below (the hearing at Bradford County Court), was not at all helpful to this court. It had, Mr Pennock said, required ‘a root and branch approach’, occupying a large amount of time, and the necessity of exhibiting a large number of passages from the court’s approved transcript.

The judge made clear that, whilst he would scan read the supplementary skeleton, it was not part of his judicial function to referee such class of disagreements between competing counsel unless, of course, they went to the heart of the matters under consideration in the instant appeal.

Mr Pennock focused to a significant extent on the police’s ‘shifting goalposts’ of the reasonable grounds for arrest of Dr Rashid, of which there are five different versions as things stand. The necessity of the arrest was also the subject of extensive discussion as another of the key appeal points.

There was a moment of levity after Mr Pennock explained that the ‘eccentric’ Dr Clive Tedd, upon whom the police relied for their ‘expert’ medical advice, claims to be able to induce whiplash injuries by clapping his hands. Something he had learned by buying second hand books on Amazon. Mr Justice Lavender enquired, deadpan, if Dr Tedd ‘had clapped his hands at trial’.

The final ten minutes of the morning session were taken up by Miss Checa-Dover, on behalf of West Yorkshire Police, and continued with her client’s response to the Grounds of Appeal after the lunch adjournment. She maintains, on behalf of her client, that the judgment from the substantive hearing was adequate, sufficiently well reasoned and that Detective Inspector Mark Taylor, the main police witness came through the examination and cross-examination of his evidence “with flying colours”.

As expected, Mr Justice Lavender indicated that judgment would be reserved and handed down at a future date, yet to be determined. There was a discussion with Mr Pennock as to whether, in the event that the appeal was upheld, he would be able to substitute his own findings for those of the court below and dispose of the matter substantively.

A more complete report of the hearing will appear in conjunction with the handing down of the judgment.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 14th May, 2020 at 1915 hours

Photo Credits: Bradford T&A

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Licence to kill?

On 5th March, 2015 at Bradford Crown Court, Ralph Christie was sentenced to 7 years in prison at the end of a trial lasting almost 8 weeks. He had been found guilty on 5 counts of fraud by false representation relating to property business dealing on the Greek island of Crete (read more here). He was found not guilty on a further 14 counts.

The not guilty counts included those alleging money laundering and theft. The total of the sums listed on the indictment, in connection with fraud, theft and money laundering, amounted to a staggering sum approaching £50,000,000.

Born in Leeds in 1961, but domiciled on Crete since 2005, Christie has maintained his protests of innocence since the day he was convicted. He was released from prison on licence on 4th January, 2018 and, ever since, has campaigned vigorously to clear his name.

One significant success, along the way, is reducing his liability under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) from £1.4 million plus interest to £482,666 plus interest. The count on the indictment concerning an investment made by Howard Tenens plc in Christie’s land and properties has been called in to question. It now appears arguable that it should not have been put before the jury, as there was already a prior High Court court finding concerning the dealings between Tenens and Christie.

This part of the police’s Section 16 POCA application, to recover £987,000 connected to the Tenens charge, which led to him being jailed, rather than a suspended sentence, was deducted from the POCA liability by the judge, HHJ Durham Hall QC on April 26th, 2018, again at Bradford Crown Court.

In the event, Christie was ordered to pay back a total of £569,990.64, inclusive of interest, to the complainants in respect of the remaining four frauds for which he was convicted.

At the time of the original court case he was bailed to a Ripon address, although police referred to him at the POCA hearing as being ‘a Bradford man who had moved to Crete’. A point confirmed by the fact that he holds a class of Greek residency permit that can only be granted after living there for 10 years. The relevance of those matters unfolds later in this piece.

Ramona Senior, Head of the Economic Crime Unit (ECU) at West Yorkshire Police, said: “This was a complex confiscation hearing, but the Financial Investigator worked tirelessly to recover money from Christie”.

“At the centre, were the victims who lost a lot of money because of the fraud. Christie now has 3 months to pay the money back or face an additional 4 years imprisonment in default.

Ms Senior added: “The POCA Order will be robustly enforced and, if Christie fails to pay, not only will he will face a further 4 years in jail, the debt he owes to society will remain with him for life, until paid in full.”

She was silent on the reduction in the alleged value of the crimes from nearly £50 million on the indictment, to £1.4 million upon conviction, and then to £482,000 via POCA, and no questions were asked by the tame local press, who reported on the hearing, as to how this reconciled with a ‘complex hearing’ and such glowing praise for the ‘tireless’ financial investigator, Nigel Crowther. Or, how it impacted on the sentencing of Ralph Christie, receiving a 7 year prison sentence instead of a considerably lesser sentence, that may well have been suspended.

There was no mention, either, of the lengths that WYP would go to in order to frustrate Christie in his attempt to raise money in order to discharge the POCA obligation. Or, explain the final destination of funds that were in accounts frozen, or sequestered, in 2011, following their actions taken in conjuction with the Crown Prosecution Service’s David Levy and the Greek authorities. Other financial restrictions had been in force since 2009.

Christie had represented himself at the final POCA hearing, after his legal representatives withdrew at a late stage in proceedings, whereas the police had instructed a QC, Paul Reid, also involved in the diminishing claims debacle from the outset, whilst, it is right to observe, making a small fortune for himself along the way.

Operation Laggan, the bungled, meandering, six-year police investigation into Ralph Christie and his Greek property dealing, has cost the taxpayer well over £1 million; far more than will ever be recovered via POCA. If Christie is able to clear his name over the five counts upon which he was convicted, and there seems a reasonable chance he may do so, then WYP face a multi-million pound (or euros) payout in compensation to him and his investors. Probably, the largest in their history.

Cedric Christie, Ralph’s younger brother was a predecessor of Ramona Senior, as WYP’s Head of ECU, during his 30 years service with the force he had joined as a cadet. One of a number of remarkable coincidences and connections that form a labyrinthine thread through this article.

He retired in 2011 and became a vigorous, high-profile campaigner for justice for his brother, both in the press and on television; founding a campaign for election as West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner in 2012 on that very case, as part of a wider, and well justified, attack on police corruption in his home county. Arguably, the most peristently dishonest police force in the country.

On that solus anti-corruption platform, he was very nearly elected. Taking the hot favourite, the Labour Party-backed Mark Burns-Williamson, to a re-count. The author of this piece, Neil Wilby, was Cedric’s campaign manager. Burns-Williamson was, previously, the Chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority for 9 years and through a period of some of the most grotesque failings of the police force in its history. The perennially failed PCC, a former gritter lorry driver, has provided no assistance, whatsoever, in holding the chief constable to account over the force’s failings, both in the Operation Laggan investigation and matters closely connected to it.

Just over a year later, Cedric had turned turtle and was, it appears, plotting with his former colleagues to convict his own brother, who had been on bail since 2009, with the police case against him, originally comprising of only 3 charges, now seemingly floundering. It is his elder brother’s strong contention that Cedric’s own private investigation work led to the additional counts upon which he was tried in Bradford during early 2015.

It has transpired very recently that, according to Cedric, West Yorkshire Police detectives have never been to Crete to pursue the investigation against Ralph. That appears to be borne out by conversations with property and land owners who were party to some of the transactions that led to the Bradford trial.

One plausible conclusion is that Cedric was visiting the island at the behest of WYP. A proposition he denies. It is clear, and well evidenced, however, that Cedric made visits to Crete in September/October, 2013; then in January, and April, 2014. On the latter visit, he was accompanied by Declan Christie, Ralph’s eldest son, who was acting as interpreter and local guide, being fluent in the Greek language.

The following month Cedric texted his brother to say that he was ‘going to go to the police and the courts’. At about the same time, he also issued civil proceedings against Ralph, knowing that, as he had been by this time arrested whilst on a visit to the UK, he would not be in a position to defend that claim.

The additional charges were made against Ralph in September, 2014.

During this same time period, Cedric was also meeting with another high profile miscarriage of justice proponent, Leeds property developer, John Elam. His case had been raised in an adjournment debate in Parliament at the end of January, 2014 by Gerry Sutcliffe, MP (read more here). Cedric met with Elam and Sutcliffe shortly afterwards, ostensibly to assist that campaign.

However, Cedric was covertly recording Elam and, it is claimed, reporting back to two senior police officers, C/Supt Andy Brennan and DCI Simon Bottomley (now chief superintendent). Cedric also lied about his own involvement in two covert operations into Elam, codenamed Operation Primary and Operation Teddington. Unaware that formal documents had been unearthed by Neil Wilby with Cedric’s spidery, but distinct, signature on them.

In another remarkable coincidence, towards the end of his prison sentence at HMP Hatfield, Ralph Christie came into close contact with Andrew John Rudd, whose covertly recorded evidence played a significant part in the conviction of John Elam. Rudd, for reasons that are still unexplained, was allowed to live the high life in Marbella, driving a distinctive Bentley motor car and residing in a £2 million villa for a number of years, by West Yorkshire Police, despite an arrest warrant being in place and claiming they couldn’t locate him for almost 8 years. A task that took an Andalusian private investigator less than a day, complete with photographs of Rudd, his car, and his luxury home.

Cedric Christie also lied to senior detectives, and at least one chief constable, about his involvement with the well-known police whistleblower website, unProfessional Standards Department (uPSD). This followed Operation Vertex, an investigation into ACC Ingrid Lee, following her catastrophic ‘whitewash’ of the force’s involvement with Jimmy Savile, in which Cedric was named as one of the two complainants against Lee. Neil Wilby was the other. The investigation outcome and report, compiled by Nick Gargan, the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police at the time, was highly critical of WYP.

Cedric was, in fact, a significant contributor to uPSD at the time of its formation – and it is a matter of record that the Twitter account @uPSDWYP was opened with the main intention of supporting the PCC election campaign. It has never emerged why he went to such extraordinary lengths to conceal that involvement.

Ingrid Lee was Cedric’s boss, and nemesis, during the latter stages of his police career, removing him from his senior post in the Economic Crime Unit and allocating him a ‘non-job’, stripped of detective status, in the Safer Leeds community liaison team. It was a spectacular fall from grace. One that made him ill – and he retired from the force in 2011 having spent a considerable part of the last 2 years of his service on extended sick leave, whilst pursuing grievances against Lee and other senior officers.

This followed the discovery by the police of an investment of £100,000, by Cedric, into Ralph’s property business in 2008. He made a profit of over £7,000 in around 3 months on that investment. Cedric denied any impropriety concerning the fortuitous arrangement and, although interviewed at Wetherby Police Station, by a senior officer, DCI Frances Naughton (now a superintendent with the North Yorkshire force), he was not formally disciplined or charged over it.

Cedric Christie then tried to divert attention from his own troubles by publicly claiming that Neil Wilby was ‘a police informant‘ and, it seems, encouraging at least one other individual, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to do the same. That person is a rape victim, the perpetrator having admitted the crime in police interview, but not prosecuted, and another with well grounded, bitterly-fought, long-running miscarriage of justice issues with both West Yorkshire Police and their neighbours, and junior partners, in a grotsque and long-running ‘cover-up’, North Yorkshire Police.

During his incarceration, and as can be seen here in this piece, there was certainly no shortage of action surrounding the Ralph Christie case in his absence.

After his early release from HMP Hatfield Lakes on 4th January, 2018 he was ordered to attend the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Centre (WYCRC) in Wakefield the following day, where he produced his signed probation licence. It expires on 6th July, 2021. WYCRC is operated by Interserve plc, presently in serious financial difficulties. The supervising officer assigned to his case was Anne-Marie Carrott.

The main requirements of a licensee, for those not adjacent to the prison system, are:

– Good behaviour

– Not to commit any offence

– Keep in touch with supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by him/her

– Receive home visits from the supervising officer

– Reside at an approved permanent address and obtain approval for any overnight stay at a different address

– Only undertake work unless approved by supervising officer

– No travel outside of UK, except with permission

It appears, from correspondence between the two, that a good working relationship was established from the outset and maintained. Christie was licenced to an address in Wakefield where he had the permission of the owner to stay.

Because of concerns raised about his safety from retaliation by Halifax-based drug dealers, whom both Christie brothers had helped convict in two investigations codenamed Operation Godstone and Operation Facedome, West Yorkshire Police put in place risk assessments and security arrangements, at the behest of their chief constable, Dionne Collins. To whom a letter, setting out the perceived dangers and threats, had been sent by leading Bradford criminal defence solicitor, Simon Hustler.

Those safety concerns were raised again, by Christie, with Ms Carrott at WYCRC on 22nd March.

In early May 2018, Christie travelled to Greece and notified a permanent address in that country to Ms Carrott. He had been given permission to go there to attempt to realise assets on the island in order to raise funds to discharge the POCA Order.

A return to UK in October, 2018 was described as ‘a visit’ in correspondence with his supervising officer. By this time, Laura Martindale.

Ms Martindale tried to arrange a visit to the Wakefield address on 13th March, 2019. That was not progressed after she learned that permission to reside at the property had been withdrawn by its owner and Christie was still at his home in Crete.

In May, 2019 Christie received an email from the manager at WYCRC, Richard Brotton, who was about to leave his post. He copied in his colleague, Janine Pedley, who was to take over the matter, subsequently. Mr Brotton raised the conflict with his licence terms and residency in his home on Crete.

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Ralph Christie: “I will never stop fighting to clear my name”

After it was pointed out that Ralph Christie would be both homeless and jobless if he returned to the UK, correspondence from WYCMC appeared to lapse. It is a highly unusual case, where a Greek resident, convicted over offences committed on the island of Crete, is held on a prison licence in the UK. One that, no doubt, has perplexed a number of bright minds within the offender management system. It is made even more complex by the unresolved civil court case and the need to realise assets on Crete to discharge the POCA obligation.

That was the last correpondence from a supervising officer until early 2020. From the available correspondence, there were no home visits arranged, or attendances required at the WYCRC offices in Wakefield, during that period.

The reasonable inference to be drawn was that Ralph Christie was better served trying to repay the debt from his home base in Crete and, as he had caused no-one at the probation service any issues, there was no good reason to disturb that process: Necessarily slow, as the police still persist with the freezing orders they requested as far back as 2009 and other assets are, or have been, subject to other legal processes due to his protracted absence from the island.

At one point during his prison sentence, arrangements were made by the Home Office to deport Christie back to his home in Crete under the early release scheme for foreign offenders (often referred to by the acronym, ERSED). This was due to take place on 10th April, 2017. From the available documents, there appears to have been an unseen hand more adjacent to West Yorkshire, than London SW1, preventing that process from being fulfilled.

In the early part of 2020, there was an attempted reconciliation between the Christie brothers, at first in Athens, then in Crete, during which, it is said, Cedric admitted his role in the investigations that played a part in the conviction of his elder brother. A matter, Ralph says, he had always previously tried to conceal.

On 9th February, 2020 Cedric stormed out of a meeting with his brother and Geoffrey Brown, an investor in Ralph’s property business and a long-term supporter ever since, saying Ralph should be back in prison. The reason for the younger brother’s hasty departure was the revelation that his role in the conviction of Ralph, either actual or perceived, formed a significant part of the appeal documents that are in preparation for submission to the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Two days later, on 11th February, 2020 Ralph Christie received an email, out of the blue, from yet another WYCRC supervising officer, Shahid Ibrahim: A meeting was required to take place at their offices in Wakefield on 6th March, 2020.

That date is just a few weeks before an important civil trial was due to start in Chania, the capital of Crete, to settle disputes between Ralph Christie and his former business partner, the aforementioned Stephen Thomas. The latter, unexpectedly, failed appear in criminal proceedings on the island in which Christie was exonerated (read full verdict here).

That criminal trial took place in October, 2013. Thomas was the complainant and main prosecution witness. He claims that he was subjected to threats and forced to leave the island.

In spite of his evidenced status as a partner of Ralph Christie, and being the subject of very serious fraud allegations by his ex-wife, involving large sums of cash concealed from her during their divorce settlement, Stephen Thomas was not  arrested, or charged with any offences, during the Operation Laggan investigation. He was not called as a witness at the Christie trial in 2015, either, despite being the original complainant back in 2009.

His brother, Simon Thomas, is one of the victims of the Christie convictions.

Starting with the first email from Mr Ibrahim (who appears to be also employed by a company based in Bradford) until mid-March, there is a significant amount of correspondence between him and Ralph Christie. It encompasses a quite extraordinary travel odyssey that ended with Christie being arrested at Athens airport by Greek police when about to board a connecting flight to Heathrow, en route to the meeting at Wakefield. Following his release from custody at the airport, and a visit to the British Consulate in Athens, it transpires that Christie is subject to a travel ban from Greece (and Crete) until the completion of the civil trial. A matter confirmed fully by the consulate to Mr Ibrahim, both by telephone, and via email, and later by Christie’s Greek lawyers.

Christie also has pre-existing health conditions that would have rendered him vulnerable in the Corona Virus pandemic, particularly if he was returned to prison. In the face of all this, Mr Ibrahim’s response was to insist, very firmly, that the 6th March meeting in Wakefield was to go ahead. The virus, he said, was not an issue beyond washing of hands, which, to be fair to the supervising officer, was also the Government line at that time.

He did not, however, respond to emails sent by Christie on 8th and 11th March, asking for clarification in the light of the travel ban, and consequent difficulties leaving Greece, and, of course, by then, the worsening pandemic. Instead, he emailed on the day following the second email blankly stating that Christie’s prison licence had been revoked – and he was to make his way back to the UK, whereupon he would be arrested and taken back to prison. That would seem to indicate that the decision had already been made to revoke the licence, prior to the first Ibrahim email in February, 2020. The ‘meeting’ on 6th March in Wakefield was simply a convenient time and location at which to serve Christie with the notice and arrange for his arrest and detention.

Dated 12th March, 2020 the ‘Licence Revocation and Recall to Custody’ document sets out that Ralph Christie had:

– Failed to attend appointment(s) with supervising officer

– Failed to attend pre-arranged home visit(s)

– Failed to reside as approved

– Allegedly committed a further offence

– Displayed poor behaviour

– Other

It goes on to say that the Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS) will send a dossier, giving comfirmation of the reasons why the recall has been made, once the licencee is back in prison. Which, viewed independently, might appear a little harsh: “We’ll arrest you, put you back in prison, and then tell you why, in more detail, having just used a formulaic, scattergun approach to revoke the licence knowing that some, if not most, of the allegations have no basis in fact or evidence”.

Whatever the views about Ralph Christie, and there are, on occasions, very strong opinions at both ends of the spectrum, the fact remains that he is a white collar criminal, attempting to raise the money to repay his victims, who was of unblemished character (in the eyes of the law) prior to the 2015 trial at Bradford, and presents no flight risk. He was, for example, on unconditional police bail for 3 years, with free passage between his home in Crete and the UK – and has answered every call on his bail and never missed a court appearance.

Since the communication from Mr Ibrahim on 12th March, there has been extensive email correspondence with the aforementioned Janine Pedley. She is always responsive, professional, patient and courteous, if not a little exasperated, in her dealings with Ralph Christie.

She has also forwarded the file on to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in Petty France, London. Christie has previously had extensive dealings with NOMS regarding the controversy over credit for time served on remand, prior to conviction. The upshot of which is that the prison service has defied recommendations from two different circuit judges and added 84 days rather than deducted them. A total penalty of over 5 months. Ralph Christie, not unreasonably, maintains that in those circumstances he should have been released on licence in 2017 with his licence expiring at the beginning of 2021.

In answer to Christie’s requests for particulars of the allegations against him, Ms Pedley simply says, in an email dated 14th April, 2020: “Your licence was revoked because you were not given permission to leave the UK indefinitely¨.

That is very different to what is stated on the formal Revocation of Licence. It also chimes with enquiries made of West Yorkshire Police, who say that there are no complaints recorded on their crime systems that have been made since the issue of his licence and Christie has, certainly, not been contacted by them in connection with any allegations, or received any intimation from any person, or lawyer representing them, that such a complaint would likely be forthcoming.

There are no missed appointments at the WYCRC offices, apart from the very recent one on 6th March, 2020 or missed home visits, apart from the one on 13th March, 2019, which was not pursued by the supervising officer. That is clear from examination of email trails of all correspondence between the various supervising officers and the licencee.

Those same email trails reveal a cordial relationship between the parties at all times and it is difficult in those circumstances to reconcile such conduct with an allegation of ‘bad behaviour’.

On strict reading of the licence there has been a breach, there can be no argument about that. But, in the exceptional circumstances that prevail, on any number of legal and moral premises, it might seem to the man in the street that justice, fairness, the public interest and the public purse might all be better served by an amended licence, rather than a revocation. That would also reconcile with the Ministry of Justice’s aim to try to reduce the prison population during the pandemic.

Who will win the tug of war over Ralph Christie’s liberty remains to be seen. He cannot leave Greece and, even if no travel ban by the courts was in place, in the present circumstances of the virus pandemic it would not be advisable to do so, for the foreseeable future. The containment of Corona Virus will also determine the resumption of the civil court proceedings which appear to be the key to unlocking many of the doors presently barred.

This is, clearly, a story with some way to run. Indeed, very shortly after publication of this article, Christie received a letter from the PPCS, following several requests, setting out the formal position, absent of reasons or evidence, regarding the recall to prison.

(i) Be of good behaviour and not do anything which could undermine the purposes of the licence period;

(iii) Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

This, again, is different to the Licence Revocation and, of course, not the same ground(s) as that given by Ms Pedley in earlier correspondence. Christie, meanwhile, is trying to raise funds to challenge the decision.

The eagle-eyed will also have spotted that, most curiously, there is no reason (ii).

It has now been clarified by PPCS that the recall was for 28 days, after which the Parole Board could consider re-licencing Ralph Christie. All of which, one might say, was an awful lot of work, for a considerable number of people, to put in danger not only the licencee but prisoners, prison officers, probation officers with whom he might come into contact after six hours in two aeroplanes during the journey back to the UK from Crete.

Questions have been put to the Ministry of Justice, the CPS and, of course, West Yorkshire Police. Any responses will be posted in a later update.

Cedric Christie was given specific right of reply.

“This article was published before the expiration of the period you gave me to reply. However that does not particularly concern me.

I do not consider that I have lied in either of the circumstances you have described.

There are also some points you make in the above article about Ralph’s case that imply that I’ve been mischievous in his regard. I do not agree. I have information and documents that I believe would support my view. It is my personal opinion that the WYP investigation into his Cretan financial affairs was inadequate.

Perhaps some communication may resolve the above aspects”.

The further communication is keenly awaited, particularly in respect of the, as yet, unanswered matters relating to his private investigations in Crete and his view that his brother should be back in prison.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 14th May, 2020 at 1825 hours

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A ‘car crash’ of a judgment

On 20th September 2019, Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC handed down his judgment in a £5 million civil claim brought by Dr Abdul Rashid against West Yorkshire Police. It followed a Bradford County Court liability hearing lasting two weeks, during which evidence was heard from three police officers repesenting the defendant. The claimant, a well-known Bradford GP and medico-legal practitioner also gave witness box testimony.

The claim concerns wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and trespass over events that happened in March, 2012 during a police investigation codenamed Operation Thatcham. It, ultimately, resulted in the conviction of 45 men over what have become known as ‘cash for crash‘ fraud offences.

A terrifying pre-dawn raid, in a middle class suburb of Bradford, saw eighteen police officers turn up at the doctor’s home where he, his wife and three young children were asleep. Other squads of officers had been despatched to his two surgeries and other business premises. It was alleged he was part of a conspiracy to defraud, relating to the cash for crash claims, although no particulars were ever put to Dr Rashid in thirty-five hours of police interviews, across a seven month period. He was never charged with any offence.

Interview records show that the questioning of the doctor, by purportedly experienced detectives, was largely infantile and almost entirely pointless. The police simply had no evidence of criminal offences, but were down a rabbit hole without an escape route. Not least, because there is no incentive for any medico-legal practitioner to commit fraud: He (or she) is paid by an instructing lawyer, whether an injury insurance claim succeeds or not – and irrespective of the content of the doctor’s report. A point that seemed completely lost on the police.

Dr Rashid was eventually released from police bail in June, 2013. The justification for the arrest or, in legal terms, the reasonable grounds for suspicion of the offence for which he was arrested, lie at the very heart of the matter.

Notable for his absence from the civil court proceedings was the arresting officer, DC Mark Lunn, described in court as ‘a bad apple’, and about whom much has been written elsewhere (read here, here and here). The police, via their barrister Olivia Checa Dover, had told the court at a pre-trial review, seven months earlier, that they were ‘unable to locate’ DC Lunn – a matter later denied at the substantive hearing. The detective (the term is used loosely) was, in fact, working for the police watchdog, the discredited and now dissolved Independent Police Complaints Commission (re-badged in January 2018 as the Independent Office for Police Conduct), just 300 yards from police HQ, in a job actually facilitated by those who said they couldn’t locate him.

Lunn pic 3
Mark Lunn, whom the police were ´unable to locate´

An account of that pre-trial hearing, before HHJ Neil Davey QC, can be read elsewhere on this website by clicking here and has stood unchallenged since that time, including by the police to whom right of reply was offered.

A comprehensive day-by-day account of the final hearing can also be read on this website by clicking here. West Yorkshire Police tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the author of this piece reporting on those proceedings in an attempt, not only to frustrate open justice (routine for them), but, more crucially, to prevent public exposure of the rotting effect of the ‘bad apple’ officer, culminating in what appears to be a shocking conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by six of their officers in the same barrel, that has left an unpleasant stench hanging over the large number of Operation Thatcham convictions.

At the conclusion of those proceedings in Bradford Law Courts, conducted in a palpably toxic atmosphere throughout, Recorder Nolan dismissed the claim in controversial circumstances. Not least, because of the bitter and long-running battle over disclosure, or, more to the point, the lack of it, by the police. The handling of those matters, viewed from the press seats at least, appeared to fall short of the standards one might reasonably expect of an alert, fair-minded judge. It also must be said, by way of balance, that it is a feature of many civil or tribunal claims (and in some notable criminal trials) involving West Yorkshire Police; the latitude the force is frequently given from the bench, and a tame local media, simply encourages their bad practices.

A permission appeal to the High Court by Dr Rashid was, unsurprisingly, filed by his lawyers soon afterwards. It was granted on the papers (without a hearing) on 17th December, 2019 by Mr Justice Lavender. Not a common occurrence in such matters.

A full appeal hearing is listed for 14th May, 2020 before the same judge, sitting in the Leeds District Registry. It is, however, more than likely, in the prevailing SAR-COV-2 crisis, that the hearing will take place via video conference.

The written judgment of Recorder Nolan, typed, unusually, in 16pt with generous margins top and bottom, runs to 14 pages. It is littered with schoolboy syntax errors; headed ‘judgement’ not ‘judgment’; pages are not numbered; it is undated; and carries no unique case reference or details of the parties’ representation. It even includes an exclamation mark at the end of one sentence, unprecedented in the author’s experience, encompassing many hundreds of court judgments. Likewise, the sight of a barrister being addressed only by his surname is, similarly, unheard of.

All of which gives it an amateurish look: Surprisingly so, for a part-time judge who has been at the Bar for 49 years and, plainly, has a very high opinion of himself – and one not at all slow in derogating others, both in his courtroom and on social media. A memorable example being that hard-won press cards, hologrammed and with photo ID embedded, authorised by the National Union of Journalists and the National Police Chiefs Council, are “handed out to anybody“.

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There was no perfected copy of the judgment provided to the press and it was not published electronically by the court. So, this piece is grounded in what was handed, by the court clerk, to the two members of the press present at the time.

By the tenth, and last, sitting day, the claimant’s legal team knew what to expect. A hearing where one party, and their counsel, appeared to be favoured throughout was not going to end well – and so it proved.

But, it was not just the judge’s decision to dismiss the claim that caused dismay; that was already built into the claimant’s expectations. It was the perplexing way the background narrative was rehearsed, and the equally puzzling finding of fact, that gave rise to very considerable concern. As did the judge’s consequent rulings on the applicable law.

It is well-established case law that parties to a civil claim should be able to understand why they succeeded or failed. Indeed, it can be a ground upon which an appeal can, in some circumstances, be upheld.

In interview after the trial, Dr Rashid, a highly intelligent and accomplished individual with an acquired, if reluctant, knowledge of civil law and procedure, was, it is fair to say, completely bewildered. As was his legal team, Ian Pennock of counsel (the barrister simply referred to as “Pennock” in one section of the judgment) and his instructing solicitor, Simon Blakeley.

Moreover, taking the daily court reports as a starting point, it seems as though the Nolan judgment concerned a different trial altogether. Those reports, amounting to almost 12,000 words, stand unchallenged by both the police, and the judge, despite dark, but unspecified, mutterings during the trial.

The handed down judgment, most regrettably, gives the appearance of a pre-formed decision with threadbare, and in places, inexplicable or, indeed, a complete absence of cogent analysis or reasoning. The background narrative, and consequent fact finding, also appears to leave too many crucial issues unresolved and bizarre, apparently unsupportable, conclusions on at least two of the central matters: The credibility of the principal police witness and the diligence (and record keeping) of the Operation Thatcham investigation.

More crucially, to those adjacent to the applicable statutory framework, the judge appears not to have turned his attention to the state of mind of the arresting officer and each of his alleged reasonable grounds for suspecting Dr Rashid of committing the offence, for which he was arrested, and attached to them his reasoning for finding in favour of the police. That, one might say, was his primary function as sole arbiter of this claim.

From the press seats at least, the claim largely turned on the evidence of one police officer: Detective Inspector (DI) Mark Taylor. A sergeant at the time of the arrest of Dr. Rashid and the supervisor of the errant former detective constable, Mark Lunn.

Having previously served as a custody sergeant, DI Taylor was part of the Kirklees-based Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) recovery team. Lunn was seconded to that team from his previous role as a beat officer in Huddersfield and, later, that town’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

As reported contemporaneously, DI Taylor’s evidence underwent a remarkable transformation between examination on his evidence-in-chief by Miss Checa Dover and cross-examination by Mr Pennock. From a witness giving ready answers, with quite remarkable recall of detail from events 7 or 8 years previously, to a hesitant police officer constantly having to think carefully about what he was saying, and who answered thirteen times in the mode of ‘don’t recall, don’t remember, don’t know, can’t answer that, got that wrong’. Despite having been very closely involved in the police’s defence of the civil claim for almost three years before he gave his testimony in court – and in other connected regulatory proceedings, in which the police were the prime movers, since 2012.

In answer to Mr Pennock’s probing, he frequently had no explanation as to why many of the key documents that would have assisted the claim of Dr Rashid had either gone missing, been destroyed or were concealed from the claimant. Particularly, those that were effectively under his control, if the judge’s version of his role in the case is to be taken at face value. These include his own pocket books, day books, email trails, weekly reports to his superior officers, meeting notes, seized materials, copies of warrants and their supporting documentation (At the pre-trial review it was heard in legal submissions that DC Lunn’s emails were no longer available on the police’s ‘Cloud’ data storage. The judge at that hearing did pointedly observe that someone must have taken pro-active steps to remove them).

During cross-examination, DI Taylor was unable to direct the court to any document in the trial bundle – running to twelve densely packed lever arch files – where the reasons for a decision to arrest Dr Rashid are set out, and properly recorded, in accordance with authorised police practice. He did, however, concede, in evidence, that for such a major decision affecting a high profile and well-established local doctor he would have expected them to be recorded in the investigation’s policy log at the very least, together with pocket books or day books of those involved in the decision, meeting notes and his own weekly reports. It is a specific requirement under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) that notebook records are kept of actions preceding, during and after arrest of a suspect. DI Taylor, the supervisor of the arresting officer in Dr Rashid’s case, is unable to explain where those specific records are – or why they were not retained. Or, indeed, if they were ever made.

The court also heard that DI Taylor was centrally involved in the presentation, by West Yorkshire Police, of no less than five different versions of the ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ that underpinned Dr Rashid’s arrest. The first, in May 2017, being in answer to the filing and serving of the claim form, by way of their formal Defence; the last one during the trial, at the request of the judge whom, presumably, like most others present in court, was bewildered at the constantly changing police landscape. The second version was in an Amended Defence filed in July 2018 when it became clear that the original Defence was unlikely to resist the claim; the third and fourth differing versions were, respectively, DI Taylor’s witness statement dated December 2018 and his oral evidence from the witness box at trial nine months later.

One of the three remaining grounds cited by DI Taylor as the support for the decision to arrest the doctor, in that witness box testimony, from a list that at one time comprised twenty-one purported reasons, concerned a matter that only became known to the police over five months after the arrest. The other two were (i) an appointments list found in the vehicle of a person arrested in the first phase of the crash for cash investigation, but not subsequently prosecuted, and (ii) the alleged inadequacy of Dr. Rashid’s medico-legal reports. Those two grounds alone, says the detective, are sufficient to resist the claim of wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.

Examination of the trial bundle now reveals a different ground advanced by DI Taylor that is not in either of his witness statements or his court testimony. In an email to the Ministry of Justice he states baldly: ‘The main thrust of our fraud case: Was the doctor [Rashid] doing anything different to other professionals’.

The fact that all five (or now six) police versions of the reasonable grounds for suspicion are different is an important point; one that an independent reviewer might consider strikes at the heart of both the police force’s probity, and DI Taylor’s own credibility as a witness in these proceedings, yet is completely absent from the judgment. There is no reference to them at all, including the fact that the twenty-one shot West Yorkshire Police machine-gun had been reduced to just two weak blows on a pea-shooter.

Furthermore, on at least three occasions in the witness box, DI Taylor gave oral evidence that directly contradicted written evidence of his own that was to be found in the trial bundle. They were not minor points either, they were central to the police’s defence of the claim. It is more difficult to conclude that this class of historical revisionism was the product of innocent mistakes, or memory aberrations, given his remarkable powers of recall on his first day giving evidence.

Fortunately, for Dr Rashid, when taken to a compromised Third Party Disclosure Order (in successful proceedings wherein the decision of the General Medical Council to suspend the doctor from medical practice, at the instigation of DC Lunn, was quashed) which confirmed, many months after his arrest, that West Yorkshire Police confirm that [Dr Rashid] was not arrested on the basis of a specific allegation made by an individual outside, or within, West Yorkshire Police, DI Taylor, as Lunn’s supervisor, agreed that was how he understood the position to be. He was the disclosure officer in those GMC proceedings and, as such, attached to the persistent smearing of the doctor, by the police, then and ever since.

He could not, however, explain to the court why the note of a meeting, recorded on the policy log as taking place on 19th January, 2012, at which he claimed he was present, did not feature his name amongst the list of attendees posted by DC Lunn. That ‘team’ meeting was to assume high importance in the judgment, by way of deflecting Lunn’s central role in the arrest. DI Taylor claims that the grounds for Dr Rashid’s arrest were discussed there, even though the log only records that the decision to proceed was maintained. That strongly infers there was at least one other meeting, about which there appears to be no entry on the policy log, or entries in day books, or post-meeting email notes, or follow-ups. There was also conflicting testimony from DI Taylor as to whether the meeting was held in Batley or Bradford.

This January 2012 meeting appeared to be the only area of his cross-examination where DI Taylor’s powers of recall were revived. Distinctly remembering detail of a meeting with a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, Julian Briggs, whom, on his own admission, he either met, or spoke to on the telephone, almost every single working day during that era. Quite remarkably for a meeting of such purported gravity, no-one at that meeting, it seems, made any record of the grounds of arrest of Dr Rashid. Including the CPS lawyer. Or, if they did, the police chose not to disclose them. Another, one might say crucial, point absent from the judgment.

Under questioning, it emerged from DI Taylor that the policy log itself was a key part of the general shambles that threaded through the running and supervision of Operation Thatcham. DC Lunn, on the evidence and with his shocking disciplinary record, was an unwelcome cuckoo in the POCA nest at Batley Police Station. Curiously, as a lowly, inexperienced, self-aggrandising detective constable, with a history of unlawful arrest complaints against him, albeit unsubstantiated, and a stranger to the department, DI Taylor allocated Lunn an office of his own. In the face of him still being on a written warning over a previous internal police finding of misuse of the force’s computer systems.

The policy log created by DC Lunn did not, incredibly, form part of those same police systems and was not linked to either their force-wide servers or the more local Infoshare network. He could add, amend, delete any entry on the Word document and no-one would be any wiser. Operation Thatcham was, to all appearances, a one man maverick operation that breached any number of authorised police practices, management of police information protocols, codes of conduct and, very arguably, was operated outside data protection laws.

DI Taylor told the court Lunn had been ‘recommended’ to his POCA team, but he did not say by whom. It was not explained, either, why this major investigation did not fall under the remit of one of the specialist criminal divisions in West Yorkshire Police under the supervision of a qualified Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). [In response to a post-trial freedom of information request, West Yorkshire Police made a number of palpably false responses concerning these matters in order to further conceal Thatcham’s procedural shortcomings].

Although presented by the police as the officer in charge of Operation Thatcham, in an attempt to downplay the role of the discredited DC Lunn, DI Taylor gave conflicting evidence over the number of suspects arrested in the first phase of the investigation. He told Miss Checa-Dover it was ten, when it was put to him by Mr Pennock that the actual number was thirty-eight, it was conceded, reluctantly, that he ‘got it wrong’.

Thatcham was the biggest fraud investigation in the history of West Yorkshire Police with ninety one suspects arrested in total. DI Taylor, as noted elsewhere, had been involved in regulatory and civil proceedings against Dr Rashid for seven years, in matters arising from it. Yet couldn’t answer correctly a simple, basic question concerning the operation.

Mark Taylor’s dual role of supervisor of the discredited arresting officer in the criminal matter, then sole disclosure officer, conflicted but apparently unsupervised, in the civil claim, should have given rise to concern amongst those anxious to maintain public confidence in the civil justice system. But the seriously alarming catalogue of disclosure failings, with implausible explanations, or simply no explanation, attached to most of them, did not appear to cause any anxiety to the judge at all. Indeed, his verbal attack on Mr Pennock, on the last day of the trial, when the issue of disclosure failings was raised, yet again, was as unnecessary as it was unpleasant.

These were, in essence, the disputed disclosure points which should be read with these two comments from the judge very much in mind; (i) ‘I don’t want to deprive Mr Pennock of material which he quite rightly wishes to use’, (ii) ‘I don’t want this case to go wrong by dint of  disclosure error’ and also the admission from DI Taylor that he was ‘exhibits officer trained’:

– The reasons for arresting Dr Rashid do not, or no longer, appear in the operational policy log. No audit trail relating to that document has been filed and served by the police.

– The Word document setting out reasons for suspecting Dr Rashid of criminal offences, given to Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court by way of a formal application for search warrants of Dr Rashid’s premises, is not retained on the police server.

– DI Taylor’s workbook, covering, according to his own evidence, twelve significant police investigations during that period, and, more crucially, recording the reasons for arresting Dr Rashid, was missing. As is that of every other officer involved, including the arresting officer, DC Lunn.

– The police have not produced the weekly e-mail reports, from DI Taylor to his superiors, setting out the reasons why they wanted to arrest Dr Rashid. He told the court that they still exist and could be accessed via the force’s Enterprise Vault.

– During the phase one arrests in Operation Thatcham copies of scripts that were to be used by personal injury claimants, during their consultations with doctors, were seized. When both Mr Pennock, and then the judge, asked DI Taylor where they were, and why they had not been retained, there was an interjection from Miss Checa-Dover who asserted that ‘it has been years since the criminal prosecutions had ended [in fact, April 2014] and the civil claim issued [in fact, letter before claim issued December 2015].

– Appointment diaries seized by the police from other medico-legal practitioners involved in ‘crash for cash’ claims are missing. DI Taylor told the court, ‘they are no longer in the police’s possession because it’s [the criminal trials in Operation Thatcham] gone through the statutory appeals process’. He could not explain to the court, when asked by the judge, why, when the requirement is to retain such materials for 6 years, they were no longer available. He did confirm that a CD disc for each of the doctors’ diaries had been exhibited at the trial.

– Not one contemporaneous record of the reasons given for the decision to arrest Dr Rashid can be located anywhere in the many police records where one should find them or, indeed, where it is a serious breach of Police Regulations not to find them.

– The police seized Dr Rashid’s phone and laptop. From those devices they extracted text messages (SMS). They disclosed only part of those text messages (oddly enough those that might fit the police narrative). The PC and phone had been ‘wiped’ when eventually returned to him. DI Taylor, or the police lawyers when asked, have provided no plausible explanation beyond a haughty ‘we can’t disclose what we don’t have’.

– DI Taylor’s evidence in the witness box concerning both his own philosophy as an experienced detective and, more crucially, wider police force policy: ´If it is not recorded, it didn’t happen’.

Mr Pennock submits that these provide a more than a sufficient evidential base to advance the proposition that the police records had been ‘sanitised’ to remove (or conceal, or an admission that they never existed) all the contemporaneous reasons for deciding to arrest Dr Rashid. A plausible, indeed likely, reason is that the police subsequently believe such reason(s) to be insufficient to justify that arrest and, as such, resist the civil claim.

However, none of his highly questionable evidence, or witness box testimony that was not in either of his witness statements (very often fatal to the credibility of a live witness), or the list of disclosure failures, either of, or involving, DI Taylor, appeared to trouble Mr Recorder Nolan even slightly. Indeed, his judgment, incredibly, records him as ‘a truthful, reliable and extremely professional police officer of the highest calibre’. He embellishes that claim by asserting that ‘his evidence was wholly corroborated by contemporaneous evidence’ and, to top off, gives his ‘firm view’ that ‘this [Operation Thatcham] was a well-run, closely-monitored, highly competent criminal investigation’.

Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC

It is, set against the evidence heard first hand in court, contemporaneous reporting and, for certainty, a review of the section of the transcript covering DI Taylor’s testimony, a passage in a judgment that is as astonishing as it is shocking. Even without taking into account the number of times he had to be ‘rescued’ or led by either the judge himself, or Miss Checa-Dover, when stuck for answers to questions put to him by Mr Pennock. Indeed, Dr Rashid’s lawyers submit that on at least three different occasions the judge appeared to stray into giving evidence himself.

The only conceivable explanation being, that if an objective conclusion had been drawn from DI Taylor’s variable and selective memory, and his contradictory, frequently unimpressive evidence; his troubling supervisory failings in the criminal investigation; and his highly questionable role as disclosure officer in the civil proceedings, then he would have been found as a witness whose reliability was open to serious question and the defence of the claim dangerously, and probably fatally, undermined.

Recorder Nolan, in the face of an invitation from Mr Pennock, also drew no adverse inference from the absence of the arresting officer from the proceedings, saying ‘although he is in name the arresting officer his importance to the case has been overblown’. An inexplicable finding given that it was drawn out in evidence that DC Lunn was the only officer working full time on Operation Thatcham during its first year, and, more particularly, the period leading up to the arrest of Dr Rashid, and, of over 200 entries on the investigation’s policy log in that timespan, the definitive record of decisions, rationales, actions and outcomes, every entry except one was made by that same officer. A policy log, under authorised police practice, is required to be the domain of the SIO, usually at detective chief inspector or superintending rank.

More crucially, the records of the trial clearly reveal that DI Taylor had conceded, very early in his cross-examination, by Mr Pennock, that Lunn was ‘the main man’.

DC Lunn was also, unusually, the author of the operational orders that were drawn up in connection with two different planned arrests of the doctor. DI Taylor said in evidence these orders would have been approved by a senior officer at chief inspector rank, or above. But couldn’t point the court to any written document evidencing such approval, although he asserted that the approval would not have been by telephone.

On any view, this was a one man band operating well outside conventional police constraints, with minimal and ineffective supervision. Indeed, the court heard that, in an email to a superior, Lunn described himself as ‘Team Thatcham’ in answer to a complaint about his conduct – and in a way that appeared to suggest that his pivotal role gave him a shield against any disciplinary action over any complaint from a member of the public.

The judgment is also absent of discussion, analysis, reasoning and reasons in relation to whether, or not, DC Lunn’s unauthorised, pirate activities as a private detective to the insurance industry; or an inadequately explained payment of £183,000 by a motor insurance company to that same serving police officer, via a bogus company, around the time of his arrest of Dr Rashid; the associated leverage to obtain the ‘scalp’ of a high profile medico-legal professional to promote both DC Lunn’s and motor insurance company interests; and, the startlingly deliberate decision by senior officers involved in Operation Thatcham, and three Professional Standards Department (PSD) officers to engage in what appears to be a prima facie conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by keeping DC Lunn’s ‘extra-curricular’ activities secret from the criminal defence teams in the ‘cash for crash’ fraud prosecutions.

There is also no evidence that a thorough, proportionate investigation was ever carried out by the police, or the IPCC to whom the matter should have been mandatorily referred, into the whereabouts of that £183,000, or whether Lunn was acting alone, or in concert with other police officers, over monies that give off the strong whiff of an inducement to extend his powers beyond what was, necessarily, lawful. The judge again strays into error with his finding that, by leaving West Yorkshire Police in August, 2013, Lunn “jumped before he was punched (sic)”. It is clear from the trial bundle that disciplinary proceedings had concluded with ‘words of advice’ and DI Taylor’s testimony, during the hearing, is that he left because he had been sent to work back on the beat and was unhappy about no longer having detective status.

Even though in almost every other civil claim of this class he would be the very first port of call, DC Lunn never even provided a witness statement in the these proceedings, and West Yorkshire Police have gone to the most extraordinary lengths to conceal both his true role in the Thatcham investigation and the full extent of his own misdemeanours – and those, it appears, of many others involved in this case. In Lunn’s case that included lying in a post-arrest report about ‘patient records being strewed about the doctor’s home and car’. A matter that both the judge and DI Taylor found very uncomfortable to deal with when when taken to the evidence by Mr Pennock that there was no such occurrence.

The police were, and still are, condoning that alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in order to do so. At least one person, convicted via the tainted Operation Thatcham, has complained to their PSD about the conspiracy, since the conclusion of this civil claim, and the police have sought to disapply the requirement under the Police Reform Act to investigate this very serious matter.

The IOPC (formerly the IPCC), the notoriously toothless ‘police watchdog’, with so much to lose themselves, have also chosen to further break the law by not ‘calling in’ the investigation as a Recordable Conduct matter arising out of civil proceedings. They stonewall any questions about their shielding of the corrupted ex-DC Mark Lunn for over three years in their Wakefield office. The Home Office similarly block any press enquiries on the topic.

Returning to the Nolan judgment, Dr Rashid and his lawyers point to some of the matters that the judge sought to highlight in the background narrative that did not appear to have the necessary relevance to the matters to be determined in this trial or carried disproportionate weight. For example:

– Reference to a company named NK Business Consultants Ltd, and a payment of a £825 administration fee by Dr Rashid to that company, when the police had no knowledge of either the company, or the payment, until alerted by Stuart Davies of the Ministry of Justice on 17th August, 2012, over five months after the arrest. The fact that NK never appeared on the policy log supports that fact. [The judgment goes so far as to say that the payment to NK raised ‘intense suspicion’ pre-arrest based on DI Taylor’s witness box evidence].

– The appointment of his 19 year old nephew as a director of a company Dr Rashid has formed.

– A tenant of Dr Rashid who runs a claims management company, completely unrelated to the organised crime group featuring in Operation Thatcham, or any fraudulent claim, from the downstairs shop premises of the doctor’s private medico-legal offices above (thus keeping his private practice completely separate from his NHS surgeries), is suspected to be his brother. DI Taylor had confirmed in his testimony that ‘there was nothing unusual in this’.

– The police claim that Dr Rashid’s reports are of a poor standard [relying on an ‘eccentric’ doctor who admits to the police he ‘is no expert’ and just happens to be a friend of DC Lunn’s mother] and the scale of fees charged for the reports [which DI Taylor conceded in evidence were consistent with the market rate in the personal injury arena].

– Whilst being questioned about Dr Tedd, DI Taylor conceded that despite the entry on the policy log that the doctor was a family friend of DC Lunn, he knew nothing at all about the relationship until asked about it by Mr Pennock during the trial. ‘It´s actually news to me, even at this late stage’ said the officer purorted by West Yorkshire Police to have been running Operation Thatcham.

– How quality of medical reporting became a police matter rather than a regulatory issue [The GMC in a protracted four year investigation found nothing untoward with the reports].

Conversely and perversely, Dr Rashid and his legal team might well contend, taking the contemporaneous reporting, and their own legal note-taking during the trial, as guides, that much more relevant points were either omitted from the judge’s discussion of the case, or understated as to their relevance within the factual matrix:

– The police were told pre-arrest, by a number of personal injury specialists, that the way in which Dr Rashid runs his private medico-legal practice was not uncommon and the impact that would have on any of the alleged reasonable grounds for arrest or, indeed, its necessity. This was also confirmed by DI Taylor in oral testimony as was the fact that the police had omitted to disclose this in trial documents.

– The refusal of the police to call the arresting officer to give evidence of what he considered the reasonable grounds to be. Or for him to provide a witness statement when at the material time he was working, as a public servant, and for the police watchdog no less, in very close proximity to WYP HQ.

– The failure to preserve, or disclose, one single document where the reasonable grounds for arresting Dr Rashid could be expected to be contemporaneously, and expressly, recorded.

– The alleged failure to apply for an arrest warrant for Dr Rashid at the same time that they applied for a search warrant [In earlier preliminary hearings the police had told the court that there was no arrest warrant, a position they appeared to resile from at the final hearing].

– The failure of the police to produce evidence they seized, showing block appointments, appointment duration, fee charged, standard of reports, payments made and to whom, by other doctors. Especially, those in claims that were ultimately proved to be fraudulent.

– The fact that it is common ground that Dr Rashid never reported on any of the numerous proven fraudulent claims, or the fact that the police cannot prove and refused to disclose, any evidence that could even form a basis to say Dr Rashid had actually reported on a claim even suspected of being fraudulent.

– All the transcripts of Dr Rashid’s audio tapes, taken during patient consultations, are entirely consistent with his subsequent reports. The judge might have anxiously considered whether tape recording these interactions was consistent with alleged wrongdoing. If he did, it was omitted from his verdict.

– The fact that West Yorkshire Police knew pre-arrest that a number of other doctors actually reported on numerous proven fraudulent claims, and at least one of those doctors reported on all 14 fraudulent claimants in a completely fabricated ‘accident’ wherein all were said to have been in the same mini-bus, yet did not suspect that doctor of complicity with those fraudulent claims.

– There is no reference to the use of scripts by personal injury claimants or the fact that the police offered a ludicrous explanation for their absence from the trial bundle.

– The lawfulness of alleged reasonable grounds for arrest to be determined on a communal basis between a team of officers against the alleged reasonable grounds having to be held and believed by the actual arresting officer alone.

– Assuming there were reasonable grounds to suspect Dr Rashid of the stipulated offence, the law requires the police to also prove it was ‘necessary’ to effect an arrest. They already had search warrants for all Dr Rashid’s premises (obviating the need to arrest him to invoke powers of search). DI Taylor’s evidence in court was  that he had no reason to suspect Dr. Rashid would not co-operate with them and would have voluntarily attended for questioning. The priority, he said, was obtaining access to his mobile phone.

– The failure by the police to put even one specific allegation to Dr Rashid during 35 hours of interview over a five month period subsequent to the arrest.

– The immediate revelation, within six hours in fact, to the GMC and local Primary Care Trust of the fact that Dr Rashid had been arrested, the grotesque exaggeration of the alleged offences for which he was arrested and the avoidance of required protocol by DC Lunn, and his supervisor DI Taylor, and the circumventing of the WYP Force Disclosure Unit, who would normally undertake such sensitive matters involving regulated professionals. [The extraordinary and unauthorised missives from DC Lunn asserted to the PCT the commission of very serious offences as fact, even before one question had been put to Dr Rashid in interview. They were never, subsequently, corrected].

– The police repeatedly failed to identify any actual fraudulent claim or even suspected fraudulent claim, that Dr Rashid was even involved in.

– None of the medico-legal practitioners who were proved to have reported on fraudulent claims within Operation Thatcham, or indeed on a wider view, were arrested. This included Dr Ayoub whom had reported on the ‘headline’ case in that investigation, a bogus mini-bus crash that resulted in 14 fraudulent claims.

Other mistakes, ambiguities, under- or over-statements in the judgment include:

– No mention of the number of officers attending at Dr Rashid’s arrest (16) or its timing (6.15am).

– Dr Rashid’s release from bail in June 2013 came after a review of their original decision not to charge by a more senior lawyer, requested by the police, not after ‘a review of the evidence’.

– The false, improper and malicious notification to the GMC by DC Lunn is simply noted by the judge as ‘in the course of the investigation WYP notified the GMC’

– The judgment is silent on the point that Dr Rashid’s suspension was quashed by the High Court in September, 2012 after a senior judge presiding in that review, HHJ Mark Gosnell, had observed that ‘the police evidence against him was sparse’. Evidence gathered and put to the court by DI Taylor.

– Judgment records that the Insurance Fraud Bureau ‘assisted with’ Operation Thatcham which is a position from which their press office resiled when asked.

– The judgment asserts that one of the ‘crash for cash’ organisers, Nadeem Khaled, was a Director of Advanced Claims (UK) Ltd. That was not heard in evidence and, in any event, has no grounding in fact – as a simple check at Companies House reveals.

– The judgment repeatedly refers to Concept Accident Management Ltd as ‘Concept Claims’. It also asserts that Khaled was ‘replaced as a director’. It is a matter of public record that he never was an officer of any description in that company.

– A Lamborghini car leased from a finance company in Portsmouth was described as being ‘of dubious provenance’. It was the driver about which there were police and Ministry of Justice concerns, not the vehicle.

– The driver of that vehicle, Fouad El Habbal, was said in the judgment to be 19 or 20 years old. It is a matter of public record that he was 21 years old at the time of his arrest (born May 1990).

– The judge describes the prestigious 4 star Cedar Court Hotel as ‘a budget hotel’.

– The judgment states that CPS lawyer, Julian Briggs, ‘was present on earlier occasions when the team had met’. That, put shortly, was not the evidence of DI Taylor.

– The judgment makes no mention of DI Taylor’s unequivocal evidence that ‘the policy log was compromised‘ by the lack of time, date, entry identification (usually by author’s initials) and its remoteness from police systems.

– A passage in the judgment concerning how the nefarious activities of DC Lunn first came to the attention of senior officers also falls into error. The judge’s acceptance of DI Taylor’s account of events, against the factual matrix and another of the detective’s losses of memory is concerning to say the least.

– The judgment refers to pre-arrest interview notes (that were, strangely, undated and with no author identified): Because they refer to events that only came into the knowledge of the police many months later, they were plainly post-arrest notes.

– During the proceedings the judge referred to a payment by Dr Rashid to a solicitor as a “backhander” (in Yorkshire, and probably elsewhere, a term for a bribe). That is not how the GMC characterised it during their lengthy investigation into Dr Rashid, nor was any such suggestion, oblique or otherwise, heard in evidence from the police officers. The solicitor has never been subject of complaint, application or arrest over that payment.

– The judgment refers twice to the number of Operation Thatcham convictions as 48. That was not heard in evidence and no source is quoted. West Yorkshire Police, by way of a freedom of information request, say the number was 45.

That is a long and troubling list and readers are invited to form their own view as to what might, in the interests of fairness and balance, have been an appropriate level of care, attention and impartiality from the bench and, more crucially, might reasonably be included in the judgment of Mr Recorder Nolan, or excluded, and the impact on his decision to dismiss the claim. His almost complete absence of note-taking, throughout the trial, may have contributed to this catalogue of errors.

There are also similar misgivings from Dr Rashid and his legal team as to how the law was applied to the judge’s finding of fact. They will be dealt with more fully, in a separate article, after Mr Justice Lavender has unpicked the competing arguments and made his decision.

Mr Justice Lavender

Whatever the outcome of the this appeal by Dr Rashid, neither the police, for the manner in which they routinely conduct civil or tribunal litigation, or the judge who was, arguably, prepared to overlook too many of their shortcomings and sharp practices, emerge with credit. The latter, in the twilight of what appears to have been a distinguished legal career, might well, in future, take a leaf out of the book of the Recorder of Bradford, HHJ Jonathan Hall QC, when presiding over court proceedings. An exemplar in how to conduct any hearing.

Page last updated: Wednesday 13th May, 2020 at 0900 hours

Photo Credits: Twitter (@F10BENQC); Serle Court Chambers

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

 

 

The Melsonby post office murder – Timeline

The murder of Diana Garbutt in 2010, by her husband Robin at the post office they ran in Melsonby, North Yorkshire, is a case that has recently attracted widespread media coverage. Convicted a year later at Teesside Crown Court, Garbutt has continued to protest his innocence. The trigger for the recent press and television activity was a third application to the miscarriage of justice watchdog, the Criminal Case Review Commission.

On this website there are four articles about the case, published since the beginning of April 2020, and comprising almost 20,000 words. It is the deepest, independent open-minded dive yet into this troubling crime.

~ ‘Don’t do anything stupid we have got your wife’ (read here)

~ ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’ (read here)

~ ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’ (read here)

~ “Fourth time lucky?’ (read here)

This timeline is intended to both underpin those articles and give the reader a first-time opportunity to have a compact view of who did what, where and when.

Surprisingly, there is no such narrative on the website of the campaigners who support Garbutt’s claims that he is a victim of a grotesque miscarriage of justice.

If any reader has any other substantive information that would enhance the timeline it would be gratefully received. Contact can be made via this link.

1965: Robin Joseph Garbutt born on 7th August, 1965 in Tholthorpe, near Easingwold. His mother, now Joyce Brook (née Wilson), gave evidence at the murder trial some 45 years later. His father, Joseph Garbutt, lived in Clifton, York at the time of the murder.

1969: Diana Michelle Kiefer was born in July in East Suffolk. She was daughter of William Kiefer, a sergeant in the United States Air Force, and his English wife Agnes (now Gaylor).

Screenshot 2020-04-10 at 22.17.54
Allerton Castle, scene of the wedding of Robin and Diana Garbutt

1999: Robin meets Diana at a party at a friend’s house. They start dating afterwards.

2001: Diana moves in to live with Robin at his house in Huby. At the time Robin is a manager for an autoelectronics company, Yorktech.

2003: In April, Robin married Diana, 4 years his junior, at Allerton Castle, near Harrogate having bought Melsonby Village Stores and Post Office a few weeks earlier.

Twice-married Mrs Garbutt served in both Women’s Royal Army Corps and 2nd Close Support Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps between 1990 and 1997 and, later, for G4S transporting prisoners to and from Leeds Crown Court.

2005: Business and property put up for sale. Diana said to be disenchanted with postmistress life’. Robin, who started work in the shop at 4.30am daily, had, on at least one occasion, told Diana, who rarely rose before 8.30am, ‘to get off her fat arse and help.’

2008: In December, Diana was “intimate on a settee” with John Illingworth whilst the couple stayed with friends at a house in York. Robin had gone to bed earlier.

2009: First reported robbery took place on 17th March at the post office. Around £11,000 was said to have been stolen from the safe by two masked, armed robbers.

In that same month, Diana was in an “evolving relationship” with Kevin Heapey, her cousin’s husband, and they kissed at a family party. The affair ended Mr Heapey’s marriage. She was also spending a lot of time with fellow villager, Craig Hall. Exchanging explicit private messages and regularly going for nocturnal mountain bike rides.

Expensive holidays to Paris, Amsterdam; weekends away in Northumberland, York and at Bolton Abbey twice, were taken during the year. They both also had a love of good food and fine wine. Diana was an accomplished cook. She also had a trip to Glastonbury music festival to see Bruce Springsteen perform.

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 08.49.06
Robin and Dianne Garbutt in happier times

Diana moots the idea of leaving Robin and renting a room elsewhere in the village. The couple undergo counselling at RELATE; they were working on the physical side of their relationship because Diana had a high libido and wanted more sex. Mr Hall confirms the Garbutt marriage was going through ‘a rough patch’.

Work starts on new kitchen in the living quarters above the shop, this project chosen instead of installing CCTV inside or outside the premises. Campaigners say the Garbutts asked Post Office Ltd for extra security and the request was declined.

2010: Book trip to USA to see Diana’s sister and grandmother a cost of £3,000. Paid in cash. Diana signs up for a page on the Badoo dating-focused social networking site, where she said she was looking to meet ‘a guy 35-50’. She visited the site three times in the 24 hours before she was murdered, including being logged on around midnight.

Diana is murdered on 23rd March; Robin is arrested on 14th April after previously assisting police as a significant witness; charged on 16th April; remanded in custody at committal hearing 19th April; Diana’s funeral 7th May; plea hearing 24th June; released on bail following pre-trial hearing on 27th Septemember; murder trial scheduled for 4th October is adjourned due to irregularities regarding the discovery and scientific testing of the murder weapon.

2011: Murder trial opens on 21st March; Robin’s bail revoked on 12th April immediately after he has given his evidence in the witness box. Jury returns guilty verdict on 19th April and the murderer is sentenced to life imprisonment. The jury found that, on the evidence, Robin’s story about the armed robbery was untrue. Appeal lodged with Criminal Division of Court of Appeal on 11th November.

2012: Court of Appeal hearing on 15th May, but is dismissed by three law lords after reserving judgment. They reason that the conviction is ‘safe’ and underscore jury’s finding that the armed robbery could not have taken place.

2015: First application made to Criminal Case Review Commission for a referral of the case back to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. The grounds are not known and the Statement of Reasons for refusal, issued by the watchdog, are not in the public domain. There is no reference to them at all on the campaigners’ website.

2018: (estimated) Second application to CCRC. No grounds or reasons for rejection are known. Again these details are not revealed by the campaigners or alluded to in any way.

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 18.49.59
Jane Metcalfe – justice campaigner for Robin Garbutt

2019: Described in the local press as ‘a long-term friend’, Jane Metcalfe appears to join the Robin Garbutt justice campaign at around this time and emerges as its principal spokesperson and presenter. Previously, the campaign was fronted by Robin’s sister, Sallie Wood and his brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn. Sallie is quoted in a press statement as saying she ‘will stop at nothing’ to clear her brother’s name.

2020: Third CCRC application submitted at end of January. This time the campaigners have gone public with their grounds. Although there is no unequivocal statement from the campaigners, they can just about be pieced together from studying an ‘exclusive’ article in The Metro, a free London-based newspaper; and two other media platforms: The Justice Gap and Private Eye, the iconic satirical magazine.

The Garbutt campaigners are hoping that their determined media campaign will pressure the CCRC into triaging their case as urgent. Some reviews have been taking up to 7 years to finalise. The suspicion is that the Garbutt case will take much less time to determine. A decision on whether the CCRC will launch an investigation into the matters raised by the new application is expected to be communicated to his lawyers at the end of April, 2020.

This timeline will be updated with any new developments as they occur.

Page last updated: Wednesday 22nd April, 2020 at 1425 hours

Photo Credits: Allerton Castle.

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’

In an article published recently on this website, ‘That dubious constabulary merits careful investigation‘ (read in full here) a section referred to a number of catasrophic investigative failings, by North Yorkshire Police, following the murder of Diana Garbutt at Melsonby post office in March 2010.

Her husband, Robin Garbutt, was convicted in Teesside Crown Court just over a year later. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and is currently held in a high security jail near Durham, HMP Frankland.

The case has, over the years, attracted a large amount of publicity, most recently as a result of a third application to the Criminal Case Review Commission. He continues to protest his innocence.

This is an amplification of the catalogue of blunders from the previous article (the numbering of the paragraphs is the same):

(i) Police claimed a soiled, bloodstained pair of boxer shorts found in an outside rubbish bin belonged to Robin Garbutt. They belonged to a neighbour. This ‘evidence’ enabled the police to persuade Northallerton Magistrates’ Court to refuse bail at the committal hearing and have Garbutt held on remand at Holme Hall prison. Garbutt had protested vehemently they were not his. A matter that could have quickly, and easily, been checked, by the police, if they had checked the size, they were too big. Had they needed to, of course. It also later transpired that the shorts had been found in the neighbours’ bin, not in the one used by the Garbutts. This does not go to the guilt, or innocence, of Garbutt, but revealed a troubling, prejudiced police mindset against him that threads through the investigation all the way to trial.

(ii) An iron bar – said to be the murder weapon – has caused consternation over the years, both regarding the circumstances of its alleged discovery, two days after the murder, and the results of DNA tests taken from it four months after its discovery – and only at the insistence of the Crown’s barrister prior to the pre-trial review in September, 2010. Until that hearing, the defence were completely unaware of the murder weapon. The fact that a police officer’s DNA showed up on the bar was also, at first, concealed from Robin Garbutt’s lawyers. The officer involved in the discovery of the iron bar on 25th March, 2010 did not make a witness statement until 12th October, 2010.

The bar has Diana’s DNA on one end, the DNA of the police officer at the other end and the DNA of one other unknown male is also present. There is no DNA of Robin Garbutt on the bar, a point upon which the Garbutt campaigners, quite rightly, place great emphasis. When it was first forensically examined, the officer’s DNA was also classed as an unknown male DNA. The Police Forensic Scientist, Sarah Gray, clearly states that the DNA on the bar is in keeping with the carrier not wearing gloves. Once it was established that DNA on the bar was linked to a North Yorkshire Police officer, the forensic expert made a supplemental statement to say the DNA could have been transferred onto the bar through cross-contamination. This sequence of events is concerning on any level. But there is more.

The police officer whose DNA is present on the rusty iron bar, PC Darren Thompson, says he cannot remember which of his colleagues he was paired with during the search, but he can remember the colleague who first found the bar and called him over to it. The officer can also remember which of his other colleagues was talking to garage owner, Bill Nixon, as he was also part of that conversation. He assumes there would probably have been another colleague present whilst searching, as they always search in pairs, but he cannot recall who that was. This begs the obvious question of why pocket note books, or duty rosters, or the policy book was not checked. Mr Nixon told the court at the murder trial that he had never seen the bar before on his premises. He also asserted that members of the press used that section of the wall as a vantage point for taking photos of the scene outside the post office.

On Friday 26th March, 2010, a local newspaper reported that underwater search teams had been focusing on a beck and gullies for evidence of a discarded weapon and bin collections had been suspended in the village. Other searches had been taking place in the area and motorists were being stopped and questioned by officers. Some of this activity appears to have taken place after the alleged discovery of the iron bar the previous day.

(iii)  Much has been written already about the strands of hair recorded on camera by a Crime Scene Investigator, on the morning of the murder. They were on a pillow, next to a bloodied hand print. They never made it to the forensic science labs after being captured on scenes of crime photographs. A DNA expert, under cross-examination at the subsequent murder trial, said it could have given DNA evidence [if the follicles were present] to prove that there was someone else in the bedroom, and that Robin was telling the truth. This clump of hair was allegedly lost by North Yorkshire Police. It is clear from the photographs that the clump is not the colour of Diana’s or Robin’s hair.

This is not new evidence and will not assist the Garbutt campaigners in the third application to the CCRC. Indeed, I would go further and say that it is very unlikely to have been pulled, by a drowsy female in her night attire, from the head of a man wearing a balaclava, holding an iron bar as a weapon in a surprise attack. With an accomplice, according to Robin Garbutt’s account, equipped with a handgun.

There is also the possibility that it was not even human hair. Or planted there to cast suspicion away from the killer. We will never know.

The claimed loss of this potentially case changing exhibit, by the police, is seriously troubling, altough to one with an in-depth knowledge of this particular force, not entirely surprising. Anyone with basic knowledge of preservation of a crime scene, handling of evidence and continuity, will know that evidence does not disappear without trace, or satisfactory explanation. It needs a willing hand to do so. At the end of the trial NYP should have referred its disposal to the police watchdog, and another force appointed to criminally investigate what has the appearance of an attempt to pervert the course of justice. Perhaps, a more robust approach from Mr Justice Openshaw (as he was then) would have ensured that happened?

(iv) DNA tests taken from the pillow are now the subject of further challenge by the Garbutt campaign team over potential cross-contamination with biometric samples taken from the murder weapon. They say that the policeman’s DNA found on the bar may also have transferred onto the pillow near the bloodied head of Diana Garbutt. Rust samples were found in her matted hair.

(v) Two bedside lamps were removed by the police from their position within the crime scene, and placed in a cupboard. There were signs of blood spots on at least one of them. At trial it was heard that there was no disturbance at all in the bedroom where Diana died, she was struck as she lay sleeping. Campaigners now say, reported by The Justice Gap, that they were picked up from the floor. This is, curiously, at odds with what is reported on the Robin Garbutt Official website.

Screenshot 2020-04-13 at 11.51.48

(vi) A bedside mirror and carpet beside the bed were also not tested for blood spatter say the campaigners. There was no blood spatter on any of Robin Garbutt’s clothing.

(vii) The defence team assert that the fish and chip wrappers, containing the remnants of the couple’s supper on the evening before the murder, were the wrong ones. Police recovered some wrappings from an external bin. The actual wrappers were still in a waste bin inside the house. This casts doubt on the analysis of the food decomposition in Diana’s stomach by the police’s chosen expert.

(viii) Questions for Melsonby villagers, interviewed during post-incident house to house enquiries, included confirmation of their hair and eye colour, whether they wore body piercings, or a watch. Householders were also asked ‘intrusive’ questions about neighbours. It did not emerge at trial why these questions were asked but were likely to have been for entry onto the HOLMES major enquiry database. Another line of enquiry was that there was a ‘swingers club’ in the village.

(ix) Detectives issued an appeal regarding owners of white vans, and a number were interviewed and eliminated. But a similar appeal was not made about a metallic or electric blue car seen driving erratically around the village on the morning of the murder. Or a vehicle seen parked near the entrance to Low Grange Quarry, about a mile from the post office along West Road.

(x) According to CCTV evidence, a vehicle following Robin Garbutt was picked up eight times on the journey to Stockton-on-Tees and back, via Darlington, on the night before the murder. The campaign team say that the driver was not traced and the vehicle was sold four days after the murder.

(xi) Police and prosecutors claim that no struggle between Diana and the killer took place before the murder. That is disputed by the Garbutt campaigners whom, variously claim, pictures were knocked over and two bedside lamps were also knocked over.

(xii) A heavy knit balaclava and a ball-bearing handgun (these replicas are usually indinguishable from the live round-firing versions) were found by Cleveland Police in Thornaby, 19 miles from Melsonby, on 24th March, 2010. The campaigners say there was no attempt to link them forensically to the Garbutt murder and armed robbery.

(xiii) At first, the police accepted the time of death of Diana Garbutt was 6am at the earliest. This stance was changed at trial, which started a year later, based on expert evidence from a forensic archeologist, Dr Jennifer Miller. She calculated a time of death between 2.30am and 4.30am based on rate of consumption of a fish and chip dinner eaten by the couple on the previous evening.

(xiv) Neighbour Pauline Dye was allowed to wash her bloodstained hands in the Garbutts’ bathroom sink after handling the body of Mrs Garbutt. This, yet again, demonstrates a baffling lack of understanding of the the importance of crime scene management or even basic policing procedure.

At the murder trial, Mr Justice Openshaw said during his summing-up that the police’s management of the crime scene showed ‘a regrettable lack of professionalism‘. He was being generous, on any independent view. There is no evidence that he wrote to the chief constable either during or after the trial to request an enquiry into these failings. If he didn’t, then he failed in his public duty to maintain confidence in the criminal justice system.

Efforts to establish whether a review into the actions of Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Supertindent Lewis Raw, and the rest of the Operation Nardoo team, was ever carried out has, so far, produced no meaningful response from North Yorkshire Police (read here).

From a personal standpoint, I can say with some certainty that policing chaos appears to run in the family. His brother, Allan Raw, was an inspector in the infamous Professional Standards Department in West Yorkshire Police in 2010 (the year his brother played a leading role in the bungled Garbutt murder investigation) when I had extensive dealings with him over what one might consider a simple, straightforward issue: If three police officers each give a different account of the same event, how many are telling the truth? His answer of ‘all of them’ was unsustainable on any independent view.

As discussed in the fourth article in this series (read in full here), this dreadful catalogue of police failures warrants further investigation in order to maintain public confidence in the police and the criminal justice system.

Readers may be assisted by referring to an at-a-glance timeline of the key events before and after this troubling crime. Read here.

Page last updated: Monday 13th April, 2020 at 1600 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, PA, Daily Mail.

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Fourth time lucky?

This is the fourth in a series of five articles that comprise the deepest dive yet into the murder of Diana Garbutt, by her husband Robin, in March 2010. She was bludgeoned to death in the living quarters above Melsonby Village Store and Post Office as she lay sleeping in bed.

The first article, headlined ‘Don’t do anything stupid, we’ve got your wife‘ can be accessed here.

The second, ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigationhere.

The third, which is an amplication of the list of investigative failings which forms a part of the second article, ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’, here.

From his cell in HMP Frankland, 54 year old Robin Garbutt continues to vehemently deny the crime of which he was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011. A stance he has never varied since the day he was arrested, three weeks after his wife was so tragically and brutally killed.

His protestations have spawned a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, led by Garbutt’s close friend, Jane Metcalfe, and his sister and brother-in-law, Sallie Wood and Mark Stilborn.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package
Jane Metcalfe (left) discussing the case with fellow campaigners during a televised interview with ITV reporter, Jon Hill.

The catalyst for recent widespread coverage of the case is a third application to the miscarriage of justice watchdog, the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC). The first was submitted in 2015, the second believed to be in 2018. These applications followed an unsuccessful appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal in May 2012. Three senior judges, led by Lord Justice Hughes, ruled that the conviction was ‘safe’.

Details of the previous Garbutt applications, and the CCRC’s Statement of Reasons for rejection, are scarce. On the campaign website there is a brief mention of the 2015 application being made, but nothing thereafter. Curiously, there isn’t a single mention of the specific grounds upon which those two prior applications were made, or why they were dismissed, in any of the multitude of press and television reports. The suspicion is, absent of explanation from the campaigners, that the grounds were not strong enough for the CCRC to even launch an investigation.

That surprising omission is a case in point in an ‘exclusive’ given to The Metro newspaper on 6th March, 2020. But, it appears, from reading Sam Corbishley‘s piece, that the grounds for the latest Garbutt application are as follows:

(i) DNA evidence: When the murder weapon, a 58cm rusty iron bar, was first swabbed, it was found to contain a full DNA profile belonging to an unknown male, and another which later matched one of the police officers present when it was discovered, PC Darren Thompson. The campaigners now suggest, following further testing, that the same constable’s sample could potentially be among a mixed profile, of at least three unknown males, recovered from a rust mark on a pillowcase in the bedroom where she was killed – despite the officer not being on duty when the scene was examined – suggesting key evidence may have been contaminated.

~ This part of the application may meet the test for ‘fresh evidence’, not before the jury at the murder trial, if the techniques for DNA profiling have changed since. Otherwise, the CCRC will, quite legitimately, ask why the testing was not carried out pre-trial and the issue of alleged cross-contamination raised there by the defence team. They will, one presumes, also look at what evidence was presented to the jury regarding the murder weapon, the competing arguments during closing speeches and how they were directed on the law on that specific item and, most crucially, whether the campaigners’ fresh information would have impacted on the jury’s route to verdict. The answers to those questions appear to be (a) The weapon has been tested post-facto by a different scientist with results that do not go much further than speculation. (b) The jury was aware that there was no Garbutt DNA on the weapon and there was DNA of the police officer, and at least one other unidentified male identified on it. The defence argued strongly that this was a crucial strand supporting Garbutt’s claimed innocence. (c) The jury was also aware of rust specks on the pillow and cross-contamination onto Garbutt’s clothing. The judge directed them to disregard that piece of scientific evidence. (d) The jury’s finding was that the armed robbery alleged by Garbutt didn’t take place. Largely, as a result, one might fairly infer, of hearing Garbutt’s testimony in the witness box. Which led, immediately afterwards, to the judge revoking his bail mid-trial. This new DNA evidence, if that is how the CCRC classify it, would make no difference at all to the verdict. Particularly, in the light of the DNA on the murder weapon not matching any biometric data on the Police National Computer (PNC). It would be highly unlikely that perpetrators of such a brutal, random, murder and armed robbery would make the quantum transition from ‘clean skins’ to serious, highly dangerous criminals in a single leap. It would also be at least as remarkable that they would have returned to a law-abiding life, having escaped detection from the killing of Diana Garbutt and a successful £16,000 raid on a rural post office.

Conclusion: It is doubtful that this ground would persuade the CCRC that the ‘reasonable prospect of success’ test is met and a referral of the case back to the Court of Appeal would be appropriate. It does, however, raise further grave concerns about the conduct of the police investigation [see also ground (iv) below].

(ii) Time of death: The food digestion scientist who gave expert evidence at trial, Dr Jennifer Miller, has since, the campaigners say, been contradicted by a Home Office pathologist. Jurors heard her proposition that Diana may have died between 2.30am and 4.30am. Well before the Post Office central locking system de-acivated the alarm and allowed the safe to be woken up, at 8.30am. Dr Miller’s report may have further persuaded the jury that Garbutt’s claims of a robbery gone wrong was false, but given that it concerned, bizarrely, the rate of consumption of a fish and chip dinner there can be no certainty about that. Especially in the light of the other more conventional scientific evidence put before the jury. The expert now instructed by Garbutt’s legal team, Dr David Rouse, has concluded the time of death may have been much later than 4.30am – possibly even after 6.45am.

~ The matter of the timing of Diana’s death was well ventilated at trial. The key evidence was from the pathologist who examined Diana’s body at the scene, Dr Stuart Hamilton. He was a prosecution witness and gave testimony to the effect that death occured at least one hour before Diana’s body was discovered, and possibly, in the early hours of the morning. Cross-examined by defence counsel, he said that it was “reasonably possible” for death to have occured later. It also emerged that a second pathology report had been commissioned by the Garbutt defence team – and its conclusions were, more or less, the same. A short time after retiring, the jury asked to see the statement of a witness, Brian Hird, who said he heard Diana speaking through a closed door at 6.45am, even though he didn’t know her. As a matter of law, the request was refused, but the jury was plainly alert to the significance, or otherwise, of that evidence and, more widely, the other expert assessments concerning time of death. The new opinion does not appear to alter the position at all.

Conclusion: For all those reasons set out above, it is more likely than not that the CCRC will reject this ground.

(iii) Horizon Software scandal:

Defects in the in the Post Office’s Fujitsu-driven IT system culminated in them recently settling a high profile High Court case. A consolidated claim, brought by over 500 former postmasters and, unoriginally, known as The Post Office Group Litigation, was heard before Mr Justice Fraser and, ultimately, after a bitter fight, resulted in an award of £58 million in damages (read full judgment here). Although Robin Garbutt is not one of the 56 postmasters who applied to the CCRC, regarding criminal prosecutions brought against them, following thefts alleged by the Post Office, it is said his campaigners hope the added weight of the scandal will help force the criminal justice watchdog into action. 39 cases have already been referred by the watchdog to the Court of Appeal.

~ The attempt to piggyback the scandal by the Garbutt campaigners has been successful to a degree: Their latest application to the CCRC has attracted more press and television coverage than it might otherwise have done. The downside to the strategy is that the resort to leveraging public support in this way simply invites closer attention to how weakly grounded the rest of the application really is. On the The Justice Gap website, they report that the campaigners now assert that similarities in the Horizon failings existed in the Melsonby post office accounts at the material time. That is to say, in simple terms, the software showing more cash deposited in the safe than was actually held there, and the assumption by the Post Office, in all cases, that the difference was pocketed by postmasters. The difficulty for the campaigners, within the terms of this application, is that Robin Garbutt asserted that the sum in the safe – and allegedly stolen by the armed robber – tallied with the accounts. There was no apparent discrepancy. If there was no armed robbery and an empty safe, then the only explanation left is that Robin helped himself to the cash. The CCRC will also be alert to fact that he admitted false accounting during the course of his evidence (“not all the business [receipts] went through the till” he said under cross-examination).

Conclusion: Based on what is set out in the Court of Appeal judgment, regarding the impact on the jury of the Post Office evidence at the murder trial, and the applicable law regarding the proving of motive, this ground appears to be misconceived.

(iv) Television footage of West Road, Melsonby on 24th March, 2010:

This, apparently, shows the wall outside Nixon’s Garage (see blue map pin) where the murder weapon was found the following day. The iron bar is not there. A fact, it is said, confirmed by at least one journalist who sat on the same wall, as a vantage point, on that day. Bill Nixon says he had never seen the bar before on his premises, and that members of the press were stood on that section of wall taking photos. On some television footage, there appears to be a mobile police cabin (from which a forensic science officer emerges) positioned as close as six to eight feet from where the bar was found. It was more or less opposite the rear gate of the Village Store and Post Office premises.

Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 20.08.22

~ This, again, may meet the fresh evidence test. But the CCRC may adopt a counter argument and say: Why didn’t the defence team challenge more rigorously the peculiar circumstances in which the rusty iron bar was discovered? By, for example, obtaining police and press photographs, and TV film, between the pre-trial review on 28th September, 2010, when the existence of the weapon was first disclosed to them, and the start of the trial in March, 2011? The question is also likely to be asked by the watchdog as to why the journalist(s), or indeed the film crew, didn’t come forward with this vital information in the period between the time the discovery of the iron bar became public knowledge and the early part of 2020? A gap of over 9 years.

Nevertheless, the CCRC will have to anxiously consider these two competing arguments within their overall assessment of the application: (a) Campaigners rightly point to the flawed prosecution hypothesis regarding the murder weapon, in that Robin Garbutt had placed the iron bar on top of the wall after bludgeoning Diana, together with an oblique suggestion that he had scraped his knuckles, that morning, scaling the eight foot high wall. Those factors advance both the arguments that the case against him wasn’t entirely well grounded – and that he suffered further prejudice. (b) On the other hand, conversely and perversely, the absence of the iron bar, for two days after the murder, further undermines the claim, by Garbutt, that the murder was committed by an armed robber. It would be far-fetched in the extreme to expect a criminal of that class to, firstly, hold on to a weapon, with the victim’s DNA upon it (and possibly his own), then, secondly, stealthily return it to a position around 10 metres from the scene of the murder, two days later. Even without the latest evidence, the jury found that Garbutt had lied about the armed robbery and before that, the trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, was so concerned about his evidence in the witness box that he revoked his bail and had him remanded in custody for the remainder of the trial. There is, then, the matter of positioning this ‘new evidence’ in the matrix of (c) the overall police conduct of the investigation, which is covered in great detail in two earlier articles on this website: Is police impropriety a factor in the belated discovery of the iron bar so close to the murder scene? No doubt the North Yorkshire force will have plenty to say to the CCRC on that topic, with the considerable benefit of their submissions being made well away from public scrutiny.

Conclusion: This ground is the one that should trouble the independent reviewer the most, and is the only one that may go close to persuading the CCRC that the appropriate test is met. But, irrespective of the watchdog’s ultimate decision, as with ground (i) the latest mystery around the ‘discovery’ of the iron bar raises further serious concerns about the police investigation.

Will the CCRC refer the case back to the Court of Appeal

The key points the CCRC consider, in determining an application, are whether there is a ‘real possibility’ the appeal court would overturn a conviction, sentence or
finding and whether this real possibility is due to evidence or argument (or in
the case of sentences, evidence or information) which was not put forward in
the trial or appeal. This is generally referred to as the need for ‘new [or fresh] evidence’.

‘Real possibility’ was assessed by the High Court in the case of R v CCRC ex
parte Pearson [2000] 1 Cr.App.R. 141 as being “more than an outside chance
or a bare possibility but which may be less than a probability or likelihood or a
racing certainty. The Commission must judge that there is at least a
reasonable prospect of a conviction, if referred, not being upheld.”

The CCRC cannot perform a ‘re-run’ of a trial just because the evidence of the defence was not accepted by the jury and the evidence of the prosecution was. They have to be able to present to the appeal court a new piece of evidence or new legal argument, not identified at the time of the trial, that might have changed the whole outcome of the trial if the jury had been given a chance to consider it.

As set out in the previous Robin Garbutt articles on this website, the jury had two main points to resolve, the approximate time of the murderous attack and did the armed robbery actually take place? The Court of Appeal, in 2012, was asked to rule on new evidence brought before them. This was Post Office Ltd records dating back to 2004. At trial, only the records dating back to 2009 were made available to the defence. There was also new evidence, of marginal significance, in regard to variable limits for cash requests, made by postmasters to HQ, which would trigger an enquiry or request for justification. The appeal court ruled that the conviction was not unsafe, as the Garbutt legal team argued. Lord Justice Hughes underscored the jury decision, with comprehensive reasons set out in six lucid paragraphs (26 to 30 in the judgment), that the robbery did not take place, and was one in which they would be very slow to interfere. Those reasons included three generous assumptions in Garbutt’s favour.

Taken individually, or together, the grounds in the latest re-application do not appear, from what is in the public domain, to be compelling enough to meet the real possibility test of overturning that finding by both the jury and three law lords. It is also clear from the action taken mid-trial that Mr Justice Openshaw did not believe Garbutt was telling the truth, either.

The overall conclusion, therefore, is that Robin Garbutt and the campaign team face further disappointment. One that is completely at odds with the bullish statement of solicitor, and honorary QC, Glyn Maddocks: ‘The way in which the forensic work has been handled and dealt with is disgraceful. It’s absolutely disgraceful and no-one could possibly argue otherwise’. He adds, ‘It’s just such a shocking case. If it was you, or your relative, you’d be absolutely horrified.’ With the key planks of the original prosecution case having seemingly disintegrated, Mr Maddocks says he is not even sure the Court of Appeal would pursue a retrial if the case is referred back to them.

One thing is abundantly clear; either lawyer, Glyn Maddocks, or journalist, Neil Wilby, will have egg on their face when the CCRC make their decision. The reader can take their pick. But, either way, the public deserve to know, and understand fully, what went wrong with this investigation and why.

Oversight of North Yorkshire Police and the Robin Garbutt investigation

Two of the principal reasons that North Yorkshire Police staggers from crisis to crisis, and from one bungled major investigation to another is a complete lack of oversight from those either elected to provide it, or paid from public funds to do the job.

North Yorkshire’s Julia Mulligan is amongst the four worst police and crime commissioners in the country (two of her friends and policing area neighbours, Barry Coppinger and Mark-Burns-Williamson, also feature in the list) providing almost ZERO oversight. Since she was elected in 2012, in almost every serious situation requiring the holding of the chief constable to account, she has failed miserably. It is a startling dereliction of her statutory duty and one of the reasons that grandees in the Conservative Party decided to unceremoniously dump her as their candidate for the next election.

The top brass in NYP just do as they like, knowing that she has neither the basic knowledge of policing (she was a car salesperson and a media strategist before entering full-time politics) or, more crucially, the will to take strong action.

The so-called police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), is already widely regarded as even worse than its failed and disgraced predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). There has always appeared to be a special relationship between the regional office of the IOPC/IPCC at Wakefield and North Yorkshire Police, whereby even the worst cases of misconduct, or even criminality, are whitewashed away.

Completely divorced from the latest CCRC application, and in order to maintain public confidence in the police, this murder investigation, codenamed Operation Nardoo, really ought to be referred, urgently, to the IOPC by the police commissioner, who should in turn request Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to recommend an external metropolitan police force, such as Northumbria or West Yorkshire, to thoroughly review the case from start to finish – and re-open it at any time if that is where the evidence takes them.

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 11.38.36
Interior view of HMP Frankland

When will Robin Garbutt be released from prison

In April 2011, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve not less than 20 years. He will receive credit for the time he spent on remand at HMP Holme Hall between the committal hearing at Northallerton Magistrates Court and the pre-trial review at Teesside Crown Court. There will also be a credit allowed for the time he spent on remand, during the latter stages of the murder trial, after the judge dramatically revoked his bail.

Garbutt would be eligible for parole, therefore, near the end of 2030, under normal circumstances, and provided he had undertaken the necessary rehabilitation programme. The difficulty he faces is that, if he continues to protest his innocence, the parole option falls away and he faces the rest of his life in jail. He would also be denied the opportunity for his detention to be re-classified from the high security Frankland jail to a less rigid regime and, ultimately, an open prison in preparation for a phased release back into society. That prison holds some of the most dangerous offenders in the country.

After a failed criminal court appeal, and three subsequent applications to the CCRC, it is difficult to see how the campaign can sustain if the latest incarnation is also refused. As seems more than likely for all the reasons rehearsed in this article.

Timeline

An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can be viewed here. It is the fifth of five articles published so far.

Footnote

The Robin Garbutt Justice Campaign has been exposed, in the course of this investigation, as more white noise than substance. Jane Metcalfe, in particular, whose true attachment to Robin Garbutt she has yet to reveal, is very active on social media and her output is almost entirely confined, in terms, to ‘There is nothing left of the prosecution case’ (without, it seems, understanding what, precisely, it was); ‘Robin is such a nice man he couldn’t possibly have killed Di’ (every single person at trial spoke well of him so there is some substance to that) and, absurdly, ‘Robin Garbutt has always told the truth‘. The latter is, as Sir Peter Openshaw DL (as he is now styled) and senior Crown Prosecutor, Xanthe Tait, observed from their privileged vantage points, a grotesque misrepresentation: He lied to the police; he lied on oath in court and his evidence before the court was, in other aspects, repeatedly unimpressive. Particularly, the belated embellishment in court of accounts he had had given to the police, previously, over many hours of interviews, regarding Diana calling out to him through a closed door.

Those characteristics chime with the campaigners‘ modus operandus of ignoring and/or denigrating anything, or anybody, that doesn’t conform to the Garbutt innocence narrative. Including the author of this piece and the CCRC. This behaviour concerns me, having never encountered anything like it before (read more here). The unpleasantness and ready resort to personal abuse by such as Michael Naughton, a private investigator who describes Robin Garbutt as his client, simply adds an even bigger question mark to their activities. If a group is campaigning against a miscarriage of justice then a foundation stone has to be an open book policy, nothing to hide. There is only one version of the truth.

On another troubling tack, Mark Stilborn publicly claims that the Garbutt case is the worst miscarriage of justice he has ever seen. Which begs the question of how many has he actually studied, with the appropriate rigour and objectivity, and how is he is qualified to judge, in any event? On this website there is a very widely read and shared piece concerning a genuine miscarriage of justice that appears to have passed Mark by; the utterly tragic case of Stefan Kiszko (read in full here). A case that, for many years, has been recognised as one of the worst in criminal justice history. On any independent view, Robin Garbutt’s case comes nowhere close. He is, largely, the author of his own misfortune.

The adverse impact on Diana’s family caused by this style of campaigning, headed of course by her mother, Agnes Gaylor, is incalculable. They thought they had closure at the trial; Agnes is is no doubt, whatsoever, about the verdict that marked her son-in-law as the perpetrator of the murder of her daughter. She said recently that she attended every day at the trial and tried to put herself in the place of a juror with an open, independent mind considering only the evidence she had heard in court. The conclusion was inescapable.

This series of articles, of almost 20,000 words, are the fruits of an open-minded, independent investigation. They have been almost entirely grounded in the summing up of the trial, running to 106 pages; the Court of Appeal judgment; and piecing together what key witnesses said, verbatim, from contemporaneous newspapers reports during the trial. The entry point was my unique knowledge of the shortcomings of the police force that investigated this shocking crime. The miscarriage of justice campaign seemed credible enough in the beginning, but that confidence soon ebbed away as straight answers to straight questions were ducked.

After spending well over 300 hours on the case since January 2020, my conclusion is that Garbutt did not tell the truth about a number of key issues, the central one being the armed robbery. I cannot be quite so emphatic about whether he actually struck the fatal blows to his wife’s head. But if he didn’t, then he knows who did. Otherwise why invent the robbery story?

Finally, the justice campaigners, and those that blindly support them without being adjacent to the facts, would do well to better understand that Robin Garbutt is not the victim in this case. That mantle, very tragically, falls to Diana and her close family. Nobody twisted an arm to invent the story of the robbery, without which he would probably not have been convicted of the murder of his wife.

Page last updated: Wednesday 20th May, 2020 at 0820 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, THIIS.

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