We investigated ourselves and found nothing wrong

During this course of this week, details have emerged of three more sub-optimal North Yorkshire Police investigations. These add to a shocking catalogue over the past 10 years or so (read more here).

Not burglaries or car break-ins, but deaths in two different rivers in the county, 12 years apart. Denying closure for bereaved families over periods far longer than necessary.

This followed hot on the heels of the shocking news that NYP had misled the tame local and regional media by asserting that a promised review into the depressingly poor investigation of the murder of Diana Garbutt, in 2010, never took place (read more here).

In April 2007, John David Clarke died in the River Foss near Towthorpe, by a strange coincidence a village with which convicted murderer Robin Garbutt, former husband of Diana, has strong connections. No murder investigation appeared to take place at the time.

Pathology suggested that the circumstances were consistent with drowning and found that Mr Clarke had been heavily intoxicated at the time of death.

At the inquest, also in 2007, the coroner ruled that he had died by drowning, with alcohol intoxication a contributing factor. The deceased had an alcohol addiction and was being treated for depression. On open verdict was recorded.

But the police, led by senior investigating officer Lewis Raw, failed to consider the likelihood of a man in such a condition walking well over four miles from York to Haxby – probably taking around two hours to do so – before accidentally, or deliberately, drowning in the river.

Other clues that this was not an accidental death did not appear to be investigated with the necessary rigour:

Messages recovered from Mr Clarke’s mobile phone card SIM card confirmed that the man now convicted of his murder, ex-Tesco worker, David Roustoby, was the last person to see him alive.

His partner, Sharron Houlden, had reported her car stolen to the police two days after the murder, and it was found burned out a short distance away.

According to police reports, Mr Clarke had made a complaint in November 2006, saying Roustoby had allegedly discharged a firearm and threatened to kill him. The latter was arrested, but never charged.

In the end, it took a confession, filmed at a friend’s house in August 2019, for Roustoby to be finally arrested, interviewed, charged and face trial. He thought he had, literally, got away with murder after drugging and then strangling David Clarke with a tie because he thought ‘he was a nonce’.

Police, during an renewed investigation codenamed Operation Jet, found no evidence to suggest that the deceased had such character frailties and prosecutor, Richard Wright QC, told the jury: “Claiming David Clarke was a sex offender was a wicked self-justification of the terrible thing [Roustoby] had done”.

“David Clarke had no convictions of sex offences and no allegations of any type had been made.”

Mr Wright also told them that it was possible Roustoby had not “entirely killed” Mr Clarke when strangling him and the victim was, possibly, still breathing when he was thrown in the river.

When confronted with his video confession, Roustoby claimed that he was trying to impress his friends; that it was all fantasy. He was jailed for life, with a minimum term of 19 years to be served.

Miss Houlden was handed a sentence of two years and eight months imprisonment (less time already spent in custody) after pleading guilty to assisting an offender at an earlier hearing in September, 2020. 

Another curiosity is that Supt Raw was also the senior investigating in the disastrous Garbutt murder probe codenamed Operation Nardoo (read more here). A recent freedom of information request revealed that a promised review of that ‘comedy of errors’ never took place. Moreover, in recent correspondence with the chief constable, it is clear that the force is still refusing to re-open the case and very uncomfortable over the renewed scrutiny.

19 year old Sonny Ferry, brought up in Rutland but working as a building labourer in the city, also died in the River Foss in York in April, 2019. He had been on a night out with friends but became separated from the group in a local nightclub. It later emerged his bank card had been used several times on the day he was found and police knew it was missing when the body was recovered.

Inspector Lee Partridge said, at the time, it was not known whether the teenager’s wallet had been lost or stolen before he fell in the river or was fished out by person(s) unknown.

There were attempts to use Sonny’s bank card at a Tesco supermarket, two petrol stations and two McDonald’s outlets in the city between 04:22 and 06:10 BST on 14 April, although some transactions were declined.

The police did not tell Sonny’s family about the missing wallet until two months later but, by that time it was too late to check relevant CCTV footage in the areas where he had been.

A 45-year-old homeless man was arrested on suspicion of theft, in relation to the missing velcro-strapped wallet, but was released without charge.

His parents, Stephen and Kate Ferry, submitted a formal complaint to NYP after the initial investigation was closed just one day after Sonny’s death.

The perennially disgraced Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was asked to investigate the circumstances leading up to his death.

However, the ‘police watchdog’ said evidence did not suggest the officers breached standards of professional behaviour. A decision that may not sustain before a coroner’s or civil court.

An inquest will now take place on a date yet to be determined.

A third victim of what appears to be sub-optimal NYP contact died in the River Ouse in York city centre less than a week later. Sharon Scott, the mother of the dead man said her 29 year old son Steven O’Neill, who was from The Wirral area of Merseyside, was on a night out with his brother, a soldier based at Imphal Barracks, when the tragedy occurred.

Ms Scott said she failed to understand how her son ended up in the river because he could not swim. She was dissatisfied with the explanations of the police and made a formal complaint to the IOPC.

North Yorkshire Police said, at the time, they were alerted by CCTV operators to suspicious activity on Kings Staith in the early hours of a Saturday morning. Upon arrival, a man ran off and a short time later entered the water. A rescue operation was mounted but he was dead when his body was recovered from the river. All deaths where there has been police contact are required to be mandatorily referred to the IOPC for what is described as an ‘independent investigation’.

An IOPC investigator subsequently wrote to Ms Scott, to say that the evidence gathered does not suggest officers breached the police service’s Standards of Professional Behaviour. It is unclear as to who gathered what evidence.

He finalised his assessment of the status of officers involved in the incident preceding Steven’s death, after ‘carefully’ examining ‘all evidence’ including bodycam and CCTV footage, radio transmission recordings and witness statements (much more likely to be informal witness accounts than formal statements). Three visits to the scene and an inspection of life saving equipment were also made by the IOPC, they say, although it is not made clear who made these visits and for what specific purpose.

He said: “My assessment of all the evidence gathered to date in the investigation does not suggest the officers involved with Mr Scott may have breached the Police Standards of Professional Behaviour or acted in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings.”

Ms Scott said she was “appalled” by the investigator’s conclusions, and was planning to take civil action against North Yorkshire Police if the decision was upheld.

She said she did not believe sufficient care was taken for her son’s safety when he ran along the riverside – or sufficient action was taken by officers to save his life after he had entered the water.

The IOPC claim that CCTV, footage from body worn cameras, witness statements and police radio transmissions were all analysed, suggests that none was seized by the watchdog in the ‘golden hours’ after the death of Steven. They would have viewed, presumably, what the police wanted them to see. Over the years, their record on such analyses, in a number of other similar death following police contact cases, does not, regrettably, bear a great deal of scrutiny.

Neither does the record of the genuinely appalling record, over a long period of time, of the Professional Standards Department of North Yorkshire Police in covering up wrongdoing by their colleagues. Very strongly aided by a complete lack of oversight, or appropriately rigorous scrutiny, by any or all of the disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, about whom much is written elesewhere on this website; the aforementioned IPCC/IOPC and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary.

In the month following the deaths of Steven and Sonny, NYP was forced to apologise to both families for alarm and distress caused when a CCTV operator posted an “inappropriate, insensitive” comment on the York Press Facebook page about drunks putting themselves in danger close to the rivers in York.

The force says it “wholeheartedly acknowledges” that the comments were made without any regards for families grieving the loss of a loved one.

“The member of staff who made the comments will be dealt with appropriately,” the force said, via their press office. “We apologise for the alarm and distress caused”.

The CCTV operator wrote: “Well, I normally keep my opinions on police matters to myself but I work in the police control room and sit in front of the CCTV screens.

“What doesn’t get reported are the number of drunks that put themselves in these dangers.

“Thursday night shift we responded to four persons too close, dangling legs, trying to climb river ladders or walk across the wall across Ouse bridge.

“One idiot jumped in and managed to climb out. That’s four individuals in danger in just one shift. It’s the person’s (drunken and misguided) choices, not the river’s fault.”

Sharon Scott said the comments were posted after The Press had reported on the death in the Ouse of her son. The link being, of course, that he drowned after running away from police officers, who had been alerted by CCTV operators to suspicious activity in the area of King’s Staith.

Ms Scott said that specific role of CCTV operators in the chain of events which led to Steven’s death had made the comments by one of those operators particularly concerning.

She added that the comment had sparked a series of other derogatory, speculative and prejudiced comments about her son from other people on Facebook, suggesting for example that he was clearly a drug dealer as he came from Merseyside.

“This has been incredibly upsetting and distressing not just for me but also for the wider family who are grieving for Steven, and also for the families of other people who have drowned in York’s rivers,”

The operator’s comment was deleted after a complaint to the police, but the comments by other people which it had prompted had remained.

“I personally would like to see the operator sacked,” said Ms Scott.

Ms Scott has previously made clear that Steven was a hard-working man with no criminal record and she had no inkling of what suspicious activity was referred to by police.

Kate Ferry told the same newspaper: “Speaking with the full support of my immediate family, we feel that had the operator previously had the honour of meeting the two members of the York Rescue Boat, as did myself and my husband, and of witnessing the raw grief on the faces of the unpaid volunteers whilst they told us of their first-hand experiences with individuals of all ages who have sometimes drunk a little too much alcohol, in some cases have drunk far too much alcohol and in further cases have drunk no alcohol at all but have nevertheless perished in the rivers of York, they would never have made those comments.

“Ultimately we feel that what is needed at this time is empathy, respect, courage and honesty. We feel we all need to be honest with ourselves. Haven’t we all said something naively and then wished we hadn’t?”

There is no indication on the NYP website that the CCTV operator faced any misconduct proceedings and it is, therefore, unclear what sanctions, if any, were imposed.

Page last updated at 2045hrs on Saturday 28th November, 2020.

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Photo credit: Yorkshire Live

Page last updated at 0610hrs on Saturday 28th November, 2020.

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© 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 comedy of errors’

North Yorkshire Police has finally admitted that no review of their calamitous murder investigation into the brutal death of Diana Garbutt ever took place (read more here). She was bludgeoned to death in the upstairs living quarters of Melsonby Post Office in March, 2010.

Her husband, Robin Garbutt, was convicted of the murder in April, 2011 after a Teesside Crown Court trial lasting four weeks. The jury didn’t believe his story that armed robbers had killed his wife, before robbing the shop at gunpoint. Neither did three law lords at the Court of Appeal. He continues to protest his innocence (read more here).

In a long-delayed response to a Freedom of Information request made in March, 2020 (read here), the force claim that a one day ‘de-brief’ took place in May, 2011, undertaken by the same officer that led the enquiry, Superintendent Lewis Raw (pictured). His report, it is alleged by NYP, was not published until eight months later.

Exactly a week after the murder, Supt Raw told the assembled press: ‘The investigation is very complex and it will take some time to complete all avenues of investigation’Yet the de-brief, NYP say, took less than a day.

The response to the FOI request was only provided by the police after intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

At the time of the trial and its aftermath, NYP was wracked with scandal and, indeed, in that same month their chief constable, Grahame Maxwell, narrowly avoided being the second officer of that rank to be sacked after a misconduct finding. Stanley Parr of Lancashire Constabulary being the first in 1977. Cleveland’s Sean Price became the second in 2012.

The force had made a statement to the media after the sentencing of Garbutt to 20 years in prison, promising a full review into an investigation that the defence barrister, James Hill QC, had described as ‘comedy of errors’. The trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, showed rather more restraint in his summing up, pointing out to the jury that NYP’s management of the crime scene, Supt Raw’s primary responsibility, showed ‘a regrettable lack of professionalism’.

A remark that should also be ascribed to the NYP Command Team who, apparently, allowed this sham to take place. If, indeed, a de-brief ever took place at all. A matter that forms part of the internal review request. Supt Raw

Section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act gives an applicant the chance to challenge a public authority’s finalisation of their discloure request.

NYP are refusing to publish, as requested, the executive summary of the Raw report. Whether one actually exists forms part of that same challenge.

Lewis Raw is a former head of North Yorkshire Police’s notoriously poor Professional Standards Department. A role he was in which he was engaged until shortly before taking on the Garbutt murder enquiry. He has, more latterly, been criticised over a cold case review into the infamous ‘Nude in the Nettles’ murder, in which many mistakes were made by NYP detectives over the years since 1981 (read more here).

An update will follow once that internal review is published by NYP. It is expected that this is another disclosure issue that will, ultimately, end up before an information rights tribunal. A repeat of a lengthy battle over disclosure relating to Operation Rome, the biggest and most disastrous investigation ever undertaken by the force (read more here). An eight year farce, costing over £1 million, did not lead to a single arrest.

As can be seen from the link to the What Do They Know website in para 3 above, Caroline Williams, a long-serving NYP disclosure officer is handling the present information request. She was responsible, in part at least, for an amazing NYP ‘U-turn’ on a request she finalised in connection with Operation Rome. Ms Williams said there was a post-case review into the investigation, a finalisation that was overturned four weeks when her line manager, Ashley Turkington (Malone as she was then), said there wasn’t.

It will be more than interesting to see whether history repeats itself with Operation Nardoo.

Page last updated: Thursday 8th October, 2020 at 1550 hours

Photo credits: Northern Echo

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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘A grubby little police force’

This catchphrase, now widely shared on social media and indelibly associated with Durham Constabulary, was first coined in November 2016 as part of communication between journalist, Neil Wilby, and the force, concerning a concise, plainly expressed freedom of information request (read in full here).

The disposal of that request quickly turned very ugly after Durham made, very arguably, the worst and most offensive response in the history of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. It was an unwarranted, unvarnished, libellous attack by a police force, against an enquiring reporter, that also contained a series of deliberate and inexcusable untruths. There had never been any communication or interaction between them prior to that request, which made a response of that deeply offensive nature all the more inexplicable and inexcusable.

Those police officers responsible, both civilian and warranted, should, on any independent view, have faced a criminal investigation or, at the very least, a disciplinary hearing. A clearer case of misconduct in public office or, in police regulations parlance, disreputable conduct, would be hard to find.

Interestingly, the senior officer with portfolio holder responsibility for information rights at that time was Deputy Chief Constable Jo Farrell, since promoted to the top rank following the sudden, inexplicable ‘retirement’ of her predecessor, the vastly overblown Mike Barton.

Their motivation, it seems, was to frustrate a journalistic investigation into yet another shoddy operation, in a lengthy cataloge in that era, by North Yorkshire Police. Durham’s part in that probe is that they had, allegedly, taken over a fraud investigation from NYP as it involved a very prominent, and influential, former police authority Chair in North Yorkshire, Jane Kenyon. Over the years, a regular object of derision in the satirical magazine, Private Eye, regarding her dubious business dealings (read more here).

The criminal ‘investigation’ also featured Thomas William Miller, a Scarborough councillor better known as Bill, who is now married to Kenyon. The victims of the alleged fraud were one Miller’s sons, Jeremy, and his daughter in law, Karen. All four had been involved in a company called Dales Timber Ltd.

In the event, disclosure was refused by Durham after a series of ludicrous, childish, unlawful posts on the What Do They Know website, upon which the request was first posted. They relied on Section 14 of the Act, saying the request was ‘vexatious’, without actually explaining why.

Following a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the Durham decision was overturned. During the watchdog’s investigation the police force continued their smearing campaign against the journalist. Given weight to the argument that this was not about an information request but much more about pursuing a vendetta.

They eventually, and reluctantly, made partial disclosure from which it could readily be deduced that the fraud ‘investigation’ on behalf of NYP was a sham. There was simply no intention to gather probative evidence, take statements from key witnesses and/or suspects, seize evidence or apply the necessary rigour to what, on any independent view, was a very serious matter involving a high profile public figure with a history of dodgy dealing. Efforts since, via the Police and Crime Commissioner, the disgraced Julia Mulligan, a close Conservative Party associate of Jane Kenyon, to have the flawed fraud investigation re-opened, were vigorously rebuffed.

The outfall from that venomous attack by Durham is still the subject of civil proceedings that were first brought in November, 2017 against Durham, who have done everything they can to frustrate that process. A resumed hearing is listed for November 2020. The first, in December, 2019, was adjourned due to the court not allocating sufficient time for the hearing to be completed. [The court service’s over- listing of multiple back-to-back hearings, with no provision for urgent or emergency matters to be dealt with by district judges, will be the subject of a future article].

The claim has been brought by way of section 13(2) the Data Protection Act, 1998 (since superceded) following the sub-optimal disposal of a data subject access request; Durham’s Information Rights Manager, Leigh Davison, has admitted the breach and apologised in her witness statement but, at the same time, their counsel, Daniel Penman, pleads that there is ‘no cause of action’ and advises Durham to refuse to pay the nominal damages sought.

Penman, an oppressive, excessively bullish and sometimes foolish individual is, in those terms, ideally suited to this particular client. One of his bizarre claims, made during informal discussions with the district judge at the conclusion of the last hearing, designed only to humiliate his opponent, was that Mark Gosnell, a senior civil judge based in Leeds, is known as ‘Mr Justice Gosnell’. He was not then and is still not now a ‘red judge’; notwithstanding the very fine and highly regarded arbiter that His Honour undoubtedly is.

He did not welcome the advice from a seasoned journalist/court reporter that, without a change in approach towards other parties to litigation, or journalists, he may well not make the advance in his career his undoubted promise as an advocate might warrant. An approach also in evidence at Bradford Law Courts during a hotly contested civil claim at which both journalist and barrister were present (read here) when he and his leader, the similarly bullish Olivia Checa-Dover, tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent Neil Wilby reporting on the case. Anyone reading that trial summary will understand precisely why those instructing counsel, led by Alison Walker of West Yorkshire Police no less, would have preferred the highly controversial matters aired in the resolution of that £5 million claim, including lurid details of the activities of a “bad apple” officer (read more here), to remain concealed.

A second civil claim is to be issued shortly against Durham concerning the same data subject access request: The force, via Ms Davison, maintains that all materials to which the applicant was entitled were disclosed, when it is patently obvious that such an assertion has no basis in either the facts or evidence. There is also a peripheral issue of the torn packaging in which the subject access materials were sent. Taken at its face, a minor matter of course, but one that created significant distress and alarm at the prospect that sensitive personal data, sent out by a police force, was accessible to anyone within the postal service.

At the time, Durham didn’t even have the courtesy or professionalism to respond to the email and attached photographs, evidencing the flimsy, careless and, in fact, unlawful manner in which the data was transported. But for “a grubby little police force” that type of treatment comes as standard. They utterly resent any form of scrutiny or challenge.

Ms Davison is the subject of robust criticism, over both disclosure failings and her lack of professionalism and the seeming lack of integrity of her department, from other service users such as Huddersfield businessman Stephen Bradbury who has also succeeded at the ICO in his complaint against Durham and has been forced to issue civil proceedings, grounded in Section 168 of the Data Protection Act, 2018 and Article 82 of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), over a grotesque breach of his privacy and misuse of personal data. Despite the ICO finding, the police have ignored all attempts to settle the claim without resort to legal action.

The case of local man Mel Dawson has reached the national newspapers (read here). Durham Constabulary has been responsible for a quite remarkable sequence of ‘disappearances’ of important data. Not least of which is all materials related to a search warrant that Mr Dawson asserts was unlawfully obtained.

Another more startling critic of the Information Rights Department, Ms Davison, the force’s Legal Services Department and Chief Constable Farrell is one of their former colleagues, Michael Trodden, who complains bitterly over disclosure failings relating to a criminal trial at which the detective was cleared by a jury (read here) and in misconduct proceedings that followed.

A third Yorkshire man, Darren Longthorne, together with his wife, Tracey, are also fiercely critical of Ms Davison, and others, following the death of the latter’s father and a botched investigation by Durham that followed. The inevitable disclosure failings by the police are at the heart of their complaints.

This is an emerging picture of sustained abuse of the Freedom of Information Act, the Data Protection Act and the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act by a law enforcement agency. A national disgrace and one upon which the statutory regulator should be taking much more robust action than the occasional slap on the wrist.

It is a near certainty folowing publication of this article that other complainants will come forward and add further weight to the “grubby little police force” strapline.

More recently, yet another decision made by the ICO has gone against Durham following a further Neil Wilby information request (read in full here). The genesis of the request was the media storm over another grotesquely failed ‘outside force’ investigation. This time concerned the alleged theft of sensitive documents relating to the review of the police actions following the Loughinisland massacre in 1994.

Durham Constabulary and the two officers who led the investigation, at the invitation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the aforementioned Barton and the civilian investigator, Darren Ellis, about whom much has been written elsewhere on this website (read more here), were absolutely slaughtered both in the High Court and the national press over their conduct – and particularly over warrants obtained unlawfully against two hugely respected Irish journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. The latter two are presently involved in mediation over settlement of their claims for unlawful arrest, trespass and detention. Neither Barton nor Ellis have faced any investigation or proceedings over their ghastly conduct.

In their response to the information request, again very precisely drafted, Durham claimed that they held no information and that under the Police Act, 1996 the request should be transferred to Durham. It was a response so ludicrous that it might have been written by a 12 year old – and was nothing more than a peurile, vacuous ruse to avoid disclosing more damaging material, particularly internal and external emails, to journalist they dislike intensely. If Ms Davison didn’t write it herself (the response was sent anonymously in breach of Code of Ethics and Authorised Professional Practice), then it went out under her departmental direction and control.

The force even refused to fulfil their obligations under FOIA and, more particularly, the College of Police’s Authorised Professional Practice, regarding the request made for an internal review of the decision not to disclose anything.

Durham has also now revealed that four other requests were received on similar subject matter and they got away without making any disclosure to those applicants.

It took the ICO seven months to reach their decision but, for them, they were scathing in their criticism of Durham and directed that the request did have to be dealt with by them and all materials prior to the investigation commencing should fall for disclosure. Some, but not all, of the disclosure has now been made and, as expected, almost the entire artifice was designed to protect one man: the thoroughly disgraced Darren Ellis.

PSNI do not escape censure either as they repeatedly, and unlawfully, intervened in the request, apparently on behalf of Durham, attempting to take it over and then refusing disclosure by way of a section 31 exemption. One is entitled to muse over the calibre, and integrity, of employees of that force engaged in their disclosure unit and, of course, the unseen hands directing them from above.

The battle over the Loughinisland disclosure continues, however, as once again, it is clear that not all the materials known to be in existence at Durham have been disclosed. A matter that is, once again, destined for both the ICO and the civil courts.

In the meantime, the public are entitled to seriously question the hundreds of thousand of pounds, and countless officer hours, squandered by Durham Constabulary (and, in two of the cases, NYP and PSNI) to simply conceal materials that will further damage their reputation as “a grubby little police force”. It is a matter so serious that it should warrant a mandatory referral of the conduct of those officers involved, from the past and present chief constables downwards, to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

The immediate past chief constable, Mike Barton, now faces an uncomfortable few weeks as the real reason for his hasty exit from the top job has been exposed by an insider. A follow-up to this article will be published during w/c 28th September, 2020, wherein those revelations will be expanded upon.

It is not a pretty picture for either Barton or his boss, the late Ron Hogg, whom, it seems, concocted the ‘spend more time in my greenhouse’ story that the local and regional media swallowed whole. Within days a national newspaper had revealed that Barton had taken on a lucrative role with a Canadian IT company (read more here). This, in addition, to continuing to pick up the pieces from his force’s failed enterprise in Northern Ireland. Both a long way from his garden in Blackpool.

Barton received a CBE on the day he required. In all truth, one is entitled to ask how he had the brass neck to accept it.

The police force press offices at Durham and PSNI, the interim Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham have all been approached for a statement.

Page last updated: Thursday 3rd September, 2020 at 1300 hours

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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 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 2017 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 December, 2019.

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 (which was struck off the Companies House register late last year over financial irregularities), 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 5,714 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 naiveity 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 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 (the private investigator version), 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 Facebook. 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 31st May, 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 much 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 and no support expressed publicly by either MP.

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”.

A8502F6E-2786-47ED-81AF-220EDDB7DC44

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: Monday 17th August, 2020 at 01325 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.

 

‘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.

Determined  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 eventually received a response from North Yorkshire Police after a seven month delay. No such review did take place, despite a promise as such being med to regional and national media at the conclusion of the trial. The only semblance of any form of evaluation was a ‘de-brief’, conducted and chaired by Raw himself, that took less than a day (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, by a metropolitan police force (for example neighbouring West Yorkshire or Northumbria Police), 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 six 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.

The fifth looks at the appalling conduct of the campaigners behind this innocence claim, here.

The sixth is an in-depth analysis of an interview by Dr Sandra Lean of the lead campaigner, Jane Metcalfe, 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, the aforementioned 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 supper 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 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 60 postmasters and postmistresses who applied to the CCRC, regarding criminal prosecutions brought against them following thefts alleged by the Post Office, it is said that 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 entrance to 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 20 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 CCRC 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.

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 and the description of the weapon.

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 over 40,000 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 repeatedly ducked.

After spending well over 400 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: Thurssday 2nd July, 2020 at 0810 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, THIIS.

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‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’

No-one, over the past six years, has come close to writing more words challenging the conduct of North Yorkshire Police than the author of this piece. On this website alone there are 32 articles, on social media there are thousands of posts. I have taken them, and their disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, both to county court and information rights tribunal and defeated them at each venue.

A highly attritional relationship

The relationship between investigative journalist and a police force that utterly resents any form of scrutiny is, at all times, highly attritional.  It is in no way an exaggeration to say that I played a not inconsiderable role in the professional demise of NYP’s previous chief constable, the hugely over-rated Dave Jones and the soon to depart, disgraced, and deeply unpleasant PCC, Julia Mulligan.Screenshot 2020-04-04 at 12.50.00

The latter is benefiting from an ill-deserved reprieve, as a result of police and crime commissioner elections being deferred, by a full year, whilst the country deals with the Coronavirus epidemic. She was de-selected as a candidate by her own political party last year and should, in all decency, have resigned there and then. ‘In post, but not in power’ as one of her political opponents succinctly puts it.

Time and again, the reputations of both were trashed as I uncovered, within this police force, and the police commissioner’s office, a trail of mind-boggling incompetence, discredited major criminal investigations, dishonesty, leadership failings, cronyism, profligacy, and persistent, mendacious law breaking – and an unsavoury tendency to use precious police resources and public funds to smear, bully, vex, annoy and harass critics.

The propensity to cover up, rather than address and rectify, the force’s many failings is constant and, at times, seriously shocking. Another very senior NYP officer, Tim Madgwick, was in the vanguard of a significant number of the force’s catastrophes and, most regrettably, it took Jones far too long to work this out. His deputy left the force after 30 years service without any of the fanfare one might usually expect – and no valediction from his boss, or any other senior colleague.

For his last three months at NYP, Madgwick had been removed from operational duties and given a project to occupy his time.

When Madgwick was, quite amazingly, awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) in 2016, at the height of the scandals and exposés, Jones made one of the most ludicrous assertions in recent policing history: ‘Tim has led teams through some of the most serious incidents North Yorkshire Police has dealt with, in recent years, in an exemplary way‘ (read more here).

In 2012, when Mrs Mulligan was elected as the county’s first ever PCC, Madgwick was acting as chief constable after the departure of the discredited Grahame Maxwell, whose best known line during his tenure as top man in NYP was: “I’m a chief constable, I can do what I want“. This was during an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation in which he was ultimately found guilty of gross misconduct.

PCC Mulligan, understandably, decided that she wanted a new chief, not steeped in the rotten culture that pervaded within NYP, and, in April 2013, appointed an assistant chief constable from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whom she described as ‘a tough man for a tough job’. Jones had served with Greater Manchester Police for the first 22 years of his career. Whose record in producing sub-optimal chief constables in other police forces should have sounded loud alarm bells in the ears of the PCC.

Madgwick, having tasted life at the top table, was pushed back down the ranks. Given the opportunity to fight his corner in a court witness box, under cross-examination from me, he chickened out. Aided by a supine tribunal judge who refused my application to serve a witness summons, on the single ground that he had retired from NYP earlier that year, nearly two years after the information rights case in which Madgwick was absolutely central (as Gold Commander) had been launched. It is fair to say he would have faced a struggle extricating himself from the web of deceit that had been woven around the case by the force and two of its lawyers.

Screenshot 2020-04-04 at 12.53.15

Dave Jones was awarded the QPM himself, exactly a year later, but was under a constant barrage of well aimed, and highly justified, criticism from this quarter and, ultimately, the pressure told. At the end of March, 2018 he broke his contract with more than two years to run, did a ‘moonlight flit’ and has never been sighted publicly, since. He claimed that his ‘retirement’ was ‘to spend more time with his family’. The ‘tough man’ had gone soft. Julia Mulligan was spurned, in the end, by the man she both idolised and resolutely defended through some mind-boggling scandals.

Amid this turbulence, it might not be so surprising, therefore, that a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, with NYP at its heart, slipped the net.  In October, 2019 I attended, as an observer, a conference in Liverpool, organised by United Against Injustice. I have known the leading lights in UAI for some years, but this was my first conference visit to their annual gathering. The fact that three representatives from the Criminal Case Review Commission were due to give a presentation, and be available to answer questions afterwards, was at least one compelling reason to justify the journey.

The Melsonby post office murder

One of the cases on the conference agenda was the murder of Diana Garbutt, by her husband, Robin Joseph Garbutt, at the village store and post office they ran in Melsonby, North Yorkshire. He was found guilty after a four week trial at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The miscarriage of justice campaign was launched soon after. 

Fully committed elsewhere, it was not possible to engage with the Garbutt case at that time. But the publicly accessible documents, which always form the starting point in any investigation I undertake, have since been obtained: The summing up and sentencing remarks at trial; and the Court of Appeal judgment. They provide a shortcut to the best arguments of both sides; the police and Crown Prosecution Service on the one hand and the defendant (appellant) and his legal team on the other. It also gives an experienced reviewer a firm handle on how high the bar is set in order to overturn a conviction.

Most crucially, if the necessary ‘new evidence’, as strictly defined in section 23 (2) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1995 [read here], is likely to be available. To an extent that it would persuade the law lords that the conviction is ‘unsafe’, and quash it, under powers vested by way of section 2(1)(a) of the same Act.

Following the trial in 2011, the murder conviction was challenged by Robin Garbutt at the Court of Appeal, in May 2012. The appeal was dismissed. Even though new evidence, that the judges agreed had not been available to the defence team at the trial, was before the appellate court. This was in the form of Post Office HQ records between 2004 and 2009. The three law lords ruled that, whilst conceding that Garbutt may have suffered some prejudice at trial, in the event, the irregularities in the drawing of cash from HQ, asserted by a Post Office fraud investigator who gave evidence, could not, on its own, prove theft. It only became important to the police, and later the prosecutors, once it was known that the safe was empty and Garbutt’s explanation was the armed robbery.

The core of the defence submission was that the alleged theft was advanced by the Crown, at trial, as the motive for murder – and that the jury took that route to their guilty verdict. The three senior judges, presided over by Lord Justice Hughes, were satisfied that the jury had rejected the possibility of the robbery having taken place at all, independently of the financial evidence. For that reason they say the conviction is safe. That sets the bar very high in terms of any future appeal that may reach the same court: The task facing Garbutt and his lawyers is now, effectively, to persuade a reviewing body, to the criminal standard, that the alleged armed post office robbery did take place, in order to disturb the Court of Appeal stance. That is one of the inherent iniquities of the modern criminal justice system in England and Wales. As is the perennial reluctance to go against jury findings in the lower court.

The original powers of the Criminal Court of Appeal, under the 1907 Act, gave it an unrestricted power to quash convictions: ‘….if they think that the verdict of the jury should be set aside on the ground that it is unreasonable or cannot be supported having regard to the evidence, or that the judgment of the court before whom the appellant was convicted should be set aside on the ground of a wrong decision of any question of law, or that on any grounds there was a miscarriage of justice’ (section 4(1)).

The 1907 Act had no restrictions on the admission of new evidence. Those disappeared after the 1968 revision. A catastrophic sea change for those fighting against wrongful convictions.

The three Garbutt appeals to CCRC

In the Garbutt case, two subsequent rejections of appeals to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC), a product of the 1995 reforms of the Act, did not appear to have received very much publicity at the time. It has not been possible to gain access to the submissions made by the Robin Garbutt team and the consequent decisions by the ‘watchdog’.The CCRC Statement of Reasons are not published, as one might expect, on the Garbutt campaign website (see here). Indeed, the submission of the first appeal, in March 2015, is mentioned, but there is no reference at all to the second. Either the date of its submission or when the decision was subsequently communicated to Robin Garbutt’s legal team, headed by Martin Rackstraw at Bindmans.

The CCRC press office has disclosed that the first appeal was closed in June, 2016 and the sceond appeal, submitted in February, 2017 was closed in July, 2017.

Nevertheless, neither application met the ‘real possibility test’ of overturning the conviction, in the opinion of the Commissioner(s) reviewing the applications, and making the final decisions. As set out on their own website (see here), it is not the function of the CCRC to facilitate a replay of a criminal trial on the basis that the defence evidence was not accepted by the jury and the prosecution evidence was. A point the Robin Garbutt campaigners appear, at all times, slow to accept.

More recently, a third application has been submitted to the CCRC and this has attracted a welter of publicity, both in the press and on regional television in the Yorkshire and Tyne Tees area. This time, it seems, the Garbutt campaign team are much less reticent about the grounds for the appeal. They will be covered in detail in a fourth article in a series of four to be published shortly on this website. The first was published earlier this week (read here). This is the second in the series. The third is a deeper dive into the police failings in the Garbutt investigation.

Briefly, they appear to be another challenge to the time of death; proven flaws in the Post Office computerised accounting system (Horizon); cross contamination of evidence; and ITV news film from the day after murder that shows the murder weapon was not in the place where the police say they found it one day later. 

An independent investigation – a search for the truth

These four articles are viewed through an almost entirely different lens to those appearing elsewhere. These are not of the news item genre, or a cheerleading boost to the justice campaigners. They are an extensive, informed, well-grounded, independent, open-minded search for the truth. Aided in this case by an exceptional knowledge of the police force, and a number of the dramatis personae, involved in the murder and armed robbery investigations.

For reasons that are unclear to me, at least, the Robin Garbutt campaigners have taken exception to this investigation. A curiosity when one considers their frequent, almost monotonous, war cry of ‘Robin has always told the truth‘. If that were the case – and it very plainly isn’t, given what was heard in court – then there should be nothing to hide from a search for the same truth, by a journalist who is adjacent to the criminal justice system every single day:

Who killed Mrs Garbutt and, if there is a killer still on the loose, then press the authorities very hard for the case to be re-opened as a matter of urgency.  Screenshot 2020-03-23 at 16.42.02The murder of 40 year old Diana Garbutt took place on 23rd March 2010. The scene was the living quarters above the post office in Melsonby, in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. The village, with its remarkably low crime rate, lies 1.2 miles to the west of the A1 trunk road and 1.2 miles north of the A66 route towards Penrith in Cumbria.

The well known, and very busy, Scotch Corner interchange is just over 3 miles away.

Diana, brought up in Eggborough near Selby, was struck by three heavy blows from a blunt instrument, a rusty iron bar, according to the evidence heard at the criminal trial the following year. The assailant attacked her to the top of the head and once on each side.

One of the blows was fatal and she was found, wearing only a camisole, some time after the murder, by her husband, with her head in a pool of blood, face down on top of the duvet cover in the spare bedroom. Moments after an alleged armed robbery had taken place in the post office area of the village store.

This is a tape recording of the 999 call made to the police:

That robbery would have been the second, almost identical attack, within 12 months. On 18th March, 2009, just before 8.30am it is said that two hooded young men, aged between 20 and 25 years old, wearing dark clothing, one of them armed with a handgun, threatened Robin Garbutt with the weapon, before making off with more than £10,000 in cash and an A4 book of postage stamps. Garbutt, who made no comment to the local press at any time after the first attack, was said by police to be ‘shocked, but unharmed’.

Detective Inspector Heather Pearson, who led that investigation and features elsewhere in this piece, in the section covering the disastrous Operations Rome and Hyson, said at the time of the robbery: “The area [around the post office] was busy with people driving to work or taking their children to school”.

“We are still appealing to passers-by who possibly noticed suspicious individuals or vehicles in the vicinity of the post office to come forward as a matter of urgency.”

There was no description of the getaway vehicle, or its direction of travel, given by Garbutt in the aftermath of the incident. No sightings of any persons matching the descriptions given by the shopkeeper. He told police that the robbers had entered the post office through the front door of the shop and made their exit the same way, one a short time before the other, after the safe containing an A4 Post Office book of stamps and around £11,000 in cash was emptied. It was said Mrs Garbutt was upstairs at the time and heard nothing. She rarely rose from her bed before 8.30am.

The police made no public appeal regarding the handgun allegedly pointed at Robin Garbutt in the course of that robbery. Or, it seems, gave any warnings not to approach the men if they were suspected of involvement in the Melsonby robbery. An imitation firearm was recovered during what, police said, were extensive enquiries, but not linked to this crime. No one was ever identified as a suspect, or arrested, in connection with the robbery and the incident is still logged by police as an unsolved crime.

Following a general police appeal for information, two days later, it appeared that the trail had gone completely cold and nothing, it seems, was subsequently reported upon, in the local press, until Diana Garbutt’s murder. 

At the murder trial, the issue of whether the 2009 raid actually occurred was not pursued by prosecuting counsel, David Hatton QC, in cross-examination, but, in his closing speech to the jury, he briefly oulined that it may have given Garbutt the idea for the alibi for his wife’s murder, almost exactly a year later. Both on a Tuesday morning, at the same time, at 8.35am just after the school bus had left the village. Two young(ish) robbers, similar physical descriptions, dark clothing, one armed with a handgun. No details of the getaway in either instance. The robbers vanishing into thin air.

A prosecution witness at the murder trial, fraud investigator Andrew Keighley, also gave evidence concerning another similarity: In the months leading up to both reported robberies, Post Office Limited recorded an increase in requests from the Melsonby branch for extra money to be delivered.It may never be known if the requests in 2009 were needed to replace misapproprated cash, as police believe happened in the time leading up to Diana Garbutt’s murder. One of the foundation stones of the investigation that the justice campaigners feel they have since undermined.

‘A comedy of errors’

The court heard of a number of North Yorkshire Police blunders, some of which were described by defence counsel, James Hill QC, as a ‘comedy of errors’ but. of course, not at all funny to the man in the dock. The trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw said, in turn, that the stewardship of the crime scene demonstrated ‘a regrettable lack of professionalism’.

Briefly, these were or are:

(i) Police claimed a bloodstained pair of boxer shorts found in a rubbish bin was Garbutt’s. They belonged to a neighbour. This ‘evidence’ enabled the police to persuade a Magistrates’ Court to refuse bail and have Garbutt held on remand at Holme Hall prison.

(ii) An iron bar – said to be the murder weapon – has caused consternation 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. The fact that a police officer’s DNA showed up on the bar was, at first, concealed from Robin Garbutt’s lawyers.

(iii) Strands of hair found on the pillow near an outstretched hand of Diana were said to be ‘lost’ by the police. They never made it to the forensic science labs after being captured on scenes of crime photographs. As a consequence, they were never available for DNA testing. Providing, of course, the follicles were still present.

(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 . (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.

(vi) A bedside mirror and carpet beside the bed were not tested for blood spatter. 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. 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. 

(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 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 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 who claim that pictures were displaced and bedside lamps were knocked over. They say that Diana with her armed forces background would have fought an attacker.

(xii) A balaclava and ball-bearing handgun 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.

(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.

(xiv) Neighbour Pauline Dye was allowed to wash her bloodstained hands in the Garbutts’ bathroom sink after handling the body of Mrs Garbutt. This is, on any view, a truly shocking catalogue of serious investigative failures and is much more extensively reviewed in a seperate analyis on this website (read in full here).

Confirmation bias

In this light, Robin Garbutt can safely say that he suffered prejudice at the criminal trial as a result. In that sense, there is merit in the argument of his campaign team that there has been, potentially, a miscarriage of justice. But not an unsafe conviction.Without the armed robbery story, Garbutt would, very likely, NOT have been convicted of the murder. Indeed, the police and prosecutors, absent of a confession, may well have struggled to get even a charge against him, let alone a trial. There was simply no evidence linking him to it, forensic or otherwise.

A well known retired senior police officer and commended detective, who spent his entire career with a large metropolitan police force, told me that the smaller county forces didn’t have the well-oiled machinery and the know-how of their big city cousins to roll out an effective, efficient investigation in the ‘golden hours’ just after a serious crime had been committed. They often didn’t have the required personnel, either. The cream of the crop tended to be skimmed off by the larger forces. Another friend, of even higher rank, was actually brought up in Melsonby village. He is also scathing of the abilities, of what was his local police force, to conduct major investigations.

Defence barrister, James Hill QC, put it this way to the jury in his closing speech: “You can’t just cherry-pick the evidence. You can’t just ignore the parts of the evidence that you don’t like, in order to put forward a theory. I’m going to suggest that the prosecution case is nothing more than that – a theory. Ever since, they’ve been trying to make that evidence fit that theory.”

North Yorkshire Police had 30 officers assigned to the murder investigation, closed off the village, and set up a mobile facility in Moor Road, adjacent to the ginnel at the rear of the village shop premises. But, almost from the moment the first officer arriving on the scene, Traffic Constable Chris Graham-Marlow, had spoken to the paramedic, Michael Whitaker, the husband was the main suspect and it seems, particularly to the Garbutt campaign team, that police activity only concerned their man – and focused on evidence that supported their hypothesis and ignored anything that went against it. A well-discussed policing phenomenon of confirmation bias.

That bias, and the narrow, rigid mindset and weak organisational culture that accompanies it, is a recurring feature of almost every high profile NYP investigation – and has led to some tragic failures, most notably during Operation Cabin, the first, bungled, investigation into the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence.

Nevertheless, after having heard ample evidence of the poor police investigation, the rubbishing of it by the defence barrister and the more restrained, but damning, criticism  from the trial judge, the jury found Robin Garbutt guilty of the murder of his wife.

In a piece published earlier this week (read in full here) it sets out in considerable detail the two crucial decisions that the twelve members of the panel had to decide. Namely the time of death and whether, in fact, there was truth in the assertion, by Robin Garbutt, that an armed robbery had taken place moments before he had discovered the bloodied body of his wife. The article, in which is embedded a police film of Garbutt’s first account of the robbery, is said to be a compelling read.

More neutrally, if the earlier 2009 robbery was also a fake, it raises the probability that, had North Yorkshire Police uncovered this at the time, a murder could have been prevented. That is the view of Diana’s mother, 70 year old Agnes Gaylor, who sat through every hearing day of the trial at Teesside Crown Court, and is convinced of Robin Garbutt’s guilt.

Nevertheless, as a matter of legal correctness, the presumption of his innocence must prevail over the 2009 incident. In fairness to the police, and in the absence of CCTV nearby, proving the robbery didn’t take place would be next to impossible. Nevertheless, in policing circles, it would have been surprising if Robin Garbutt’s ‘card hadn’t been marked’ as the local saying goes: The failure to activate the silent alarm and the complete absence of any sightings of robbers or getaway vehicle, in the busiest part of the day in this village, would, doubtless, have troubled them.

Mrs Gaylor was interviewed, very briefly, by the media, after the Garbutt sentencing and alongside Detective Constable John Bosomworth (watch short video clip here). Based with Northallerton CID, DC Bosomworth read from a statement prepared on behalf of the family in which the murder investigation was warmly praised, particularly for its ‘care and compassion’.

This is a recurring NYP trait. The rest of the country knows that this was a quite appalling investigation from beginning to end, and still with huge question marks against it, and their first, and persistently irritating, instinct is self-praise.

More recently and, perhaps, less surprisingly Agnes told ITV News: “I attended every day of the trial and after listening to every word said and with great effort to put myself mentally in the jury box, with an open mind, I am beyond confident that Mr Garbutt is in the right place. I understand why his family and friends would love to see him freed, but all I hear is – he’s such a nice man he couldn’t possibly have done such a thing. But nice men, sadly, do”.

But this wasn’t the only police investigation in which DC Bosomworth was centrally involved around that time and his underperforming NYP colleagues were later the subject of fierce, and highly justified, criticism by those pursued by them. As in the Garbutt case (criticised by the trial judge), in this case the force was criticised by a senior officer from another constabulary, appointed by the police watchdog, to assess an appeal into a quite disgraceful internal investigation by NYP (read press report in full here).

That case involved a mother being falsely, and, on the evidence, perversely and irrationally accused of the attempted murder of her own disabled young daughter. None of the officers concerned in this case was properly held to account.

As far as Operation Nardoo is concerned, the police codename for the calamitous Garbutt investigation, a review into the failings of North Yorkshire Police handling of the murder probe was promised in a statement to the local press, shortly after the trial concluded. There is no trace of such an inquiry ever taking place and, as a consequence, the force has been tasked with providing details, by way of a freedom of information request (read here). The Gold Commander for Nardoo was ACC Tim Madgwick, whose command team portfolio at the time included criminal investigations. A bitter and protracted battle is expected with the police force to extract that information and place it in the public domain.

Madgwick was also Gold on Operation Cabin, later reviewed internally by NYP in an operation codenamed Essence, which highlighted some of the failings of the original investigation into the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence after leaving her York home to travel to work at the city’s university. No arrests were made during this investigation. An inaccurate photograph of Claudia was issued by the police at the outset. Failure to establish basic facts such as distances and timings. Failure to preserve Claudia’s home as a crime scene. Failure to eliminate a suspect vehicle by using even the most rudimentary investigative techniques. Obsession with a theory based around Claudia’s love life. Bull in a china shop approach to locals in the area where Claudia lived. Disaffecting members of Claudia’s family. 

The 2009 reported armed robbery at Melsonby post office took place on the last day that Claudia was seen alive. The pre-occupation with her disappearance, reported by her father, Peter, on 20th March, 2009 may well have resulted in the investigation into the alleged robbery fizzling out quickly.

Operations Rome and Hyson (one flowed into the other) feature extensively on this website as one of the biggest investigation failures in police service history. Yet again, Madgwick was at its very heart as Gold Commander of Rome, upon which almost £1 million of public money was squandered in a farcical, meandering, highly partial investigation into what they resolutely maintain concerned ‘alleged harassment’, that lasted 7 years and resulted in not one single arrest. He remained as the controlling mind, and chief ‘cover-upper’ of Hyson, even though his subordinate, ACC Paul Kennedy, was nominally Gold. Heather Pearson played a signifant part in that investigation, as Senior Investigating Officer, at least for part of the time that the investigation ran, exceeding her powers and exhibiting an alarmingly closed mind when ordering the arrest of a citizen journalist, Timothy Hicks, over his criticism of the force. Tim is a professional man, a chartered accountant and certified fraud examiner, of exemplary character. His detention at a York police station, followed by pointless and utterly irrelevant questioning, had an Orwellian look to it.

Rome ran from 2008 until 2014, Hyson 2014 until 2016. Lord Maginnis of Drumglass was refused a meeting with Theresa May, Home Secretary at the time, to raise grave concerns over Operation Rome and the way North Yorkshire Police was running it. She refused, so he raised the matter in Parliament. He told those assembled on the red benches: ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’. That startling submission was on 15th May 2012, less than a month after Robin Garbutt was sent to prison. It is a quote, entirely factual, that police force and its senior leaders came to resent and detest.

The Private Eye magazine eventually featured the scandal in August, 2016 with a near full page article headlined ‘North Yorkshire Boors‘. It signalled, thankfully, the beginning of the end for Tim Madgwick. Who, curiously, has lived around the Easingwold area (the names of two of the villages are known, but it simply would not be right to publish them) since he moved north to join NYP from his Hampshire origins; the same area of York in which Robin Garbutt grew up and lived in, Tholthorpe and Huby respectively, before he and Diana bought the post office in Melsonby. 

This is far from an exhaustive list of NYP failures; in my time spent scrutising the force they run well into double figures. Including serious allegations, supported by employment tribunal findings, of being a racist and sexist organisaion. But it gives the reader a flavour of just how low the ethical and professional bar is set in this police force.

Add to that a breathtaking level of incompetence, layered over with ingrained, overbearing arrogance and superiority, that seeps into almost every business area, and the scale of the problems within this organisation begins to crystallise. It is almost certain that justice campaigners such as the Garbutt team, and their legal team, will recognise these unpleasant, and wholly unacceptable traits, as they have battled to uncover the truth behind a grotesquely failed Operation Nardoo investigation.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package

Obtaining disclosure of relevant materials will also be a constant thorn in the side of the campaigners, led by Jane Metcalfe (on the left in above pic), his sister Sallie Wood and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn, as it is for anyone who deals with the force on a professional level, such as lawyers and journalists.

Best exemplified by this case, wherein the Lord Chief Justice was blistering in his condemnation of, amongst others, the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police. Sir John Thomas described the force’s conduct as ‘reprehensible’. At one point, Dave Jones was summoned to appear before the law lords in London. The full handed down judgment can be read here. The only officer ever held to account was an inexperienced detective constable, recently posted in a department that was widely known for its failings and, of course, in true NYP style, the decision makers and top brass escaped any censure, whatsoever.

So, we come to the key questions: 

~ Did Robin Garbutt get a fair trial in April, 2011 at Teesside Crown Court?Emphatically not, in my submission. A police investigation so inept it borders on the criminally negligent; a senior leadership and detective mindset mired in confirmation bias: a threadbare prosecution absent of anything other than circumstantial evidence and accompanied by the almost standard disclosure failings that, seemingly, weave through every operation conducted by North Yorkshire Police.

~ Did the jury come to the right verdict?

It should first be said that I am not an advocate of majority verdicts. Until 1967, a jury had to reach a unanimous finding, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Now a 10-2 or 9-1 verdict, where the jury is ‘sure’ of the defendant(s) guilt is within the law (Juries Act, 1974). On the evidence heard in the Garbutt trial, summed up by an experienced, senior judge and properly directed on the law, it was not surprising to the neutral observer that they concluded Garbutt was guilty of the murder of his wife. Such a conclusion must have embraced at least one of the two main planks of the prosecution case: (i) The robbery at the post office did not take place (ii) The time of the murder was before Robin Garbutt served his first customer in the shop at around 5.15am that morning (according to the till roll).

~ Was the Court of Appeal wrong to dismiss Robin Garbutt’s claims of a miscarriage of justice at the hearing in May 2012?

For my own part, every judgment that this court delivers is read, as part of learning how to understand and assess other cases. I have also been in the press seats at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear an appeal in which I was assisting the person convicted of murder, and his family, and, in fact, made a successful oral application to Lord Justice Davies, from the press seats, to live tweet those proceedings. From that informed perspective, the refusal to quash the Garbutt conviction was routine, given what was before the court. The defence team, still led by James Hill QC and praised by the law lords for their skilful submissions, had a mistaken grasp of the very probable route to verdict taken by the jury. Their majority decision says the robbery didn’t take place and, on the only alternative put to them by the prosecution, Robin was found to have killed Diana. That is the legal position and, as I say to every single person who seeks out my view, the appellate courts are almost always where law is decided, not justice. That has been the position, for better or worse, since 1968. 

~ Will the Criminal Case Review Commission refer the case back to the Court of Appeal after the third application by Robin Garbutt?

The conclusion reached on that discussion is reserved for the fourth article in this series, in which I set out the grounds, as I know them, and my reasoned views as to if, and why, they do, or not have merit. It would take just one compelling ground for a referral out of the four believed have been advanced by his legal team for the CCRC to make the prized referral.

Timeline 

An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can be viewed here.

The Robin Garbutt justice campaigners were contacted for comment. They did not respond. 

Page last updated: Thursday 11th June, 2020 at 2035 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, Press Association, North Yorkshire Police, North Yorks Enquirer

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© 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.  

‘Don’t do anything stupid. We’ve got your wife’

As one who frequently sits in court press seats, directly opposite jury boxes, it might be said that I am moderately qualified to pass comment on the vagaries of a system that sees the fate of defendants, accused of serious crimes, decided by twelve of their community peers.

The prosecution present the case as to why the Crown (or State) believe the accused is guilty, then the defence barrister will answer the allegations. Each will usually bring witnesses to speak either for, or against, the defendant(s) and there are often exhibits in the form of documents, records, clothing, photographs, and sometimes, weapons. Experts, of varying qualification and authority, can be deployed to give evidence for either side.

It is what is known as an adversarial system. Where the most refined arguments on the applicable law and the more compelling evidence of fact succeed, in theory at least. Compared to, for example, an inquest, or courts in some other European countries, where the process is inquisitorial. A search for the truth.

At the end of the evidential stage of a trial, counsel (barristers, or Queen’s Counsel where the charges are serious) for both the prosecution and defence will each make a closing speech, addressed directly to the jury, which comprises the best of their arguments and highlights the evidence that they believe falls in favour of either the Crown or the defendant. Often, and for very good reason, they are highly emotive – and regarded by many as the key components in a trial.

Immediately following the speeches, the trial judge ‘sums up’ the arguments and evidence. Stressing all the time, that he, or quite often she, these days, is the arbiter on law only; decisions on facts are for the jury alone. What a judge may consider important points the jury may not, and vice versa.

Having given the jury directions on the law – and how it applies in the particular case being tried – a jury bailiff is sworn in and the twelve men and women, from all walks of life, are sent to the jury room to deliberate. Under strict instructions not to discusss the case, except when they are all together in that room. They are also warned about researching any details about the case on the internet, or discussing it at home or with friends. Their verdict is reached only on the evidence they have heard  in court – and the judge will remind them that it for the Crown to prove guilt, not for the defendant to prove his innocence.

The judge will also urge them to reach a unanimous verdict when they are sure the defendant is either guilty or not guilty. If the jury is ‘hung’, that is to say not all of them agree on a verdict, the judge will take soundings from both prosecuting and defending counsel as to how long must pass before the court should allow a verdict based on the majority of jurors. Either 10-2, or 11-1, if all 12 jurors are still sitting.

If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge hears from both counsel again – and then passes sentence: The prosecution will present the views of the victim, often in the form of an impact statement, and advocate for what is believed to be an appropriate sentence, within the guidelines. Defence counsel mitigate, as best they can, on behalf of their client. In the case of a not guilty verdict, the defendant is released from the court dock soon after the verdict and free to go about his (or her) daily business, no doubt chastened by the experience. The guilty take the slow walk down the dock steps to custody.

Nothing about the deliberations of the jury can be made public, either during or after the trial. But the judge, using his experience and knowledge of the case, will apply their fact finding when passing sentence and making his accompanying remarks. In the higher profile criminal cases, the ‘Sentencing Remarks’ are made public and widely distributed.

Following a four week trial in Teesside Crown Court, during March and April, 2011, a 45 year old man, Robin Joseph Garbutt, was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Diana, at the village store and post office they ran at Melsonby, in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. The jury were split 10-2, a majority verdict. They had deliberated for over thirteen hours, but took only a very short time after the judge released them from their obligation to return a unanimous verdict.

The heinous crime was committed just over a year earlier, on 23rd March, 2010, and attracted a large amount of press attention; not least because it was said that an armed robbery had taken place, in which a large amount of cash was stolen. The widely held assumption, at that time, was that Mrs Garbutt had been killed by those same robbers during the raid. The local police force were under enormous pressure to ‘get a result’.

At first, it appeared that the police had accepted Robin Garbutt’s account of the robbery, and the circumstances in which Diana had died. But three weeks later, the innocuous, well-liked and respected local man was arrested by North Yorkshire Police in an early morning swoop, held in custody and questioned for 3 days. After which, he was charged with his wife’s murder.

Garbutt, it later emerged, had been suspected of a false narrative, by the police, within a short time of them arriving in the picture postcard village: PC Mark Reed, the second officer to arrive, said that his account was ‘jumbled, all over the place’. TC Chris Graham-Marlow, the first officer on the scene, was concerned that he continually questioned the opinion of the paramedic attending the body of Diana who had told him that rigor mortis had set in and there were also clear signs of hypostasis (blood pooling in tissue where her heart had stopped), indicators that death had occurred at least an hour earlier and, more likely, several hours previously. There appeared to be no good reason, when, apparently, almost hysterical over the death of his wife, why he would do so. The nett effect was to invite closer attention to the armed robbery narrative.

PC Reed says that when he and another officer drove him to Northallerton police station, at lunchtime on the day of the murder, Garbutt again returned to the subject of the time of death and the state of the body.

At the time of his arrest, the police said that there were inconsistencies in his account of what had taken place on the fateful day, and the background to it. Exactly a week after the murder, Detective Superintendent Lewis Raw said “The investigation is very complex and it will take some time to complete all avenues of investigation”. The first sign, publicly, that the police were not treating this as an armed robbery gone wrong.

At trial, it emerged that Garbutt had further aroused police suspicions by painting a rosy picture of the marriage and the village store business. But, in reality, the prosecution presented the jury with a very different picture: A woman sexually unfulfilled and with a constantly roving eye – and the couple had rising debts which, at the time of the murder, amounted, jointly, to over £44,000, plus a £60,000 mortgage on the property for which they had paid £105,000. They had seven credit cards between them, all running at or near the credit limit.

Diana, it was heard in court, ‘had lost interest in the business’ and it had been on the market for around 5 years, with little or no buyer activity. Robin admitted that he was heard, at least once, to tell her to ‘get off her fat arse and do something’.

She had told one of her male dalliances, in an email message, that her marriage was ‘doomed’. She told another that the marriage was going through ‘a rough patch’. The court also heard that the Garbutts had seen a Relate counsellor, regarding their sexual incompatibility, and discussed splitting up, with Diana renting a room elsewhere in Melsonby village. At trial, Robin dismissed this as being ‘long in the past’ even though it was just over a year ago. His wife had visited a dating website several times on the day before the murder, including just a few hours before she was bludgeoned to death.

Comprehensive and highly forensic analysis of the personal finances of the couple, the village shop and the post office was put before the jury and they heard live evidence from Teresa Bentley, a specialist economic crime investigator who had full access to all the couple’s personal and business bank accounts and credit card accounts. She was, also, assisted by a Post Office fraud investigator, Andrew Keighley. The jury heard from the latter that there were ‘irregularities’ over the Post Office record keeping and unusual requests for cash from HQ. Mrs Bentley told the court that there were regular, substantial cash sums sent to his own bank, via special delivery. Her reports, included in the jury bundle, tended to show that it was these cash deposits, about which there was scant explanation from Robin Garbutt, that were keeping their business and personal finances afloat.

In 2009, the couple, who married six years earlier, had eight holidays, including weekends in Amsterdam, paying two visits to the Hard Rock Cafe, and trips to York, Paris and Northumberland. Two of their other weekend trips to Bolton Abbey cost £1,200 and £800 respectively. Diana went with a friend on a trip to the Glastonbury Festival. A week or so after the murder they were due to fly to the United States for a three-week holiday at a cost of £3,000 (Diana’s father was American and she had dual nationality. The plan was to visit her sister Victoria in California, before travelling to see her 94-year-old grandmother, Rose, in Virginia). When the prosecution advanced the view, in cross-examination, that the Garbutts were living well beyond their visible means, Robin denied that. He told the court that not all the business takings went through the till [which, of course, means that VAT and income tax returns were, demonstrably, false]. Diana’s Post Office salary was £14,500 and the shop was, at best, showing a very small profit. In the months leading up to the murder the shop was losing a significant amount of money, according to the police analysis, although defence counsel, James Hill QC, did question the actual amount that was put before the jury (around £14,000).

There was no countervailing expert, or forensic, analysis of the accounts, or cash transactions, put forward by the defence. They relied, almost exclusively, on cross-examination of Ms Bentley and Mr Keighley.

The trial, and the verdict reached by the jury, appeared to turn on just two key findings: The time at which the murder occurred and whether, or not, the alleged armed robbery took place. The judge, in his summing up, had made it clear that the Crown did not have to prove motive, only the charge on the indictment. That is the law as it stands.

Much of the witness evidence heard at trial, on behalf of the prosecution, was to dispel the widely held myth in the village that all was perfect in the Garbutt marriage – and their business enterprise was flourishing. The court also heard many glowing personal testimonies about the couple, and Robin; and the judge, of course, drew equal attention to those.

He also explained that, in the circumstances of this particular case, a verdict of manslaughter was not available to the jury.  Robin Garbutt was either guilty, or not guilty, of the murder of his wife, Diana. If he didn’t commit the crime, then the jury verdict would point to the armed robber(s). That was how the police and prosecutor had, some might say very cleverly, constructed the case. Their strategy, for example, excluded the possibility that there was a third party involved in a conspiracy to murder, who may well have struck the fatal blows whilst Garbutt was serving in the shop downstairs.

David Hatton QC, prosecuting, said propitiously: “One of the questions you will have to consider, if you accept this evidence [of a robbery taking place], is the likelihood of a robber, or robbers, being prepared to violently kill a female sleeping in her own bed, at all; but then, having done so, to wait for [four to six hours]* before going downstairs to rob the post office.

“And then, it has to be said, having been prepared to bludgeon the lady to death upstairs and wait for that length of time, to leave the defendant himself unharmed and unrestrained to raise the alarm.”

The timing* of the murder has, before, during and after the trial, created huge controversy. The prosecution say it happened between 2.30am and 4.30am, the defence assert that it was after 6.45am. Those competing arguments, along with the other matters around which the Garbutt miscarriage of justice campaign is focused, is the subject of analysis in a separate article in which I conclude from, it must be strongly emphasised, a non-scientific standpoint, but after weighing all the evidence heard in court and the counterclaims regarding the food digestion analysis since the trial, that the attack occured between 5.40 and 7.10am.

The first paramedic on the scene, Michael Whitaker, gave evidence to the effect that, upon arrival at the scene of the murder, there was no electrical activity in Diana’s heart and her arm was solid with rigor mortis. The court heard: “I assumed that the lady had been deceased for quite some time.” Under cross-examination, Mr Whitaker told Mr Hill that he could not say for certain how long she had been dead for.

The issue of whether the robbery took place, or not, is more compact, does not involve complex science, and amounts, quite simply, to whether the account of Robin Garbutt can withstand scrutiny. So, readers of the present article are invited to put themselves in that jury box, test the evidence and reach their own verdict.

The narrative account of the robbery given to the police on the day of the murder was repeated, more or less, in the witness box at trial. With the apparent exception that, on the morning of the murder, Garbutt told the police that the armed robber had entered the shop from the upstairs living quarters.

It boils down to what took place between and 08.35.54 and 08.37.13 on Tuesday 23rd March, 2010. A total of 79 seconds.

During that time, from when the opening of the safe became possible, recorded both within the deposit box itself and centrally at Post Office HQ, and the 999 call being answered, this is what is said to have happened:

~ Garbutt was in the post office booth, within the shop, having just opened the safe, when he heard a noise from behind the shop door that connected to the staircase leading up to the living quarters.

~ After opening the safe, but before he was disturbed, he had removed the A4 book containing postage stamps. He had also removed the compartmentalised tray containing the coins that fitted in the post ofice till.

~ He left the booth and moved towards the door thinking he would be greeted by his wife. Instead he was met by a masked man, in dark clothing, holding a gun down by his side.

~ The robber told Garbutt: “Don’t do anything stupid, we’ve got your wife upstairs”.

~ He was then instructed to turn off the lights in the shop and lock the front door. In court, it was heard that he slid across the top bolt on that door.

~ He then returned to the booth and filled a black holdall with over £16,000 in denominations of £20, £10 and £5 notes. They were in bundles on a shelf in the safe.

~ Emerging from the booth, he then went around to the back of the shop counter and emptied the contents of the till (about £150) into the holdall, on the instructions of the robber.

~ At this point the armed robber left the shop, via the connecting door and through the back door to the premises, which Garbutt says he had left unlocked when offloading stock for the shop, from his car, earlier that morning between 4.30am and 6.00am.

~ Garbutt was warned by the armed robber not to move.

~ The back door, apparently, had not been locked by the robber(s) after they gained entry.

All of the above actions, mostly by a man seemingly paralysed by fear, and with one eye on the gun in the robber’s hand, had taken just 20 seconds, says Garbutt. Emphatically.

This is a picture of the interior of the shop which may aid readers’ understanding and assessment:

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 14.16.53

The silent alarms, which connected to the police control room via a central monitoring station, had not been activated. One was in the booth near the safe, another was next to the shop till and a third was by the connecting door. Garbutt explained this to the police, and later in court, by saying, firstly, that ‘he was caught in the agony of the moment’ and, secondly, he did not know the alarms were silent, despite the court hearing evidence that he had been instructed at least three times in their use by two different Post Office technicians. It also emerged in court that he had taught one of his shop assistants, Linda Sharp, some months earlier on how to use the alarms and explained their effect (the court heard that she was also told in strong terms to make sure she always kept the back door to the premises locked).

~ After the robber had left, and without having sight or sound of any other robber whom, according to the thief in the shop, was holding Diana captive, Garbutt says he raced upstairs, passing the silent alarm button near the connecting door.

~ He arrived in doorway of the spare bedroom to see his wife face down in the bed, her head in a pool of blood that had spread out on the pillow beneath her.

~ The husband of the wife he told the court he adored, did not offer any first aid, or even check whether she was dead or alive.

~ From there he went to the living room on the first floor and dialled 999 to report the robbery and injuries to his wife. He did not tell the emergency operator whether she was dead, or not.

~ Garbutt told the emergency services operator that the robber(s) had made good their escape, although he had no knowledge of that. He did not check the direction in which they were headed or whether they were, in fact, lying low on or around his property. No other person in the village, or elsewhere, had sight of them at any time on that morning. His next door neighbour, Pauline Dye, was in and out of her house, hanging out the washing in the back courtyard, at around the time the robbery took place. She saw or heard nothing.

There is no account of Garbutt searching for, or calling out to, the other robber(s) said by the gunman to be holding Diana captive. Or arming himself to confront or defend himself from an attack from the second robber that he must have believed was present, and armed, with his wife, thus ensuring compliance with the instructions from the robber who appeared in the shop. Garbutt told the police, when later interviewed as a suspect, that the robber did not have the iron bar in his hand. Also, he could not explain how the robber had, apparently, no blood on his clothing.

This is a short film of the account Robin Garbutt gave of the alleged robbery. It was taken by police a few hours after the discovery of his dead wife.

The defence, at trial, relied on the report of another almost identical robbery at the same village shop, exactly 53 weeks earlier, on 17th March, 2009. The court heard Garbutt’s account of how, at about 8.30am, he had been confronted by two hooded men, with their faces covered, one pointing a gun at him, as he opened the post office safe. They escaped with around £11,000 in cash and a valuable A4 book of stamps. Garbutt did not activate the silent alarms on that occasion, either. Diana, the court heard, was upstairs in the living quarters and heard nothing. No-one in the village saw or heard anything, either. It remains an unsolved case. The prosecution elected not to take a view on whether the robbery described by Garbutt took place, or not. It was left for the jury to decide as part of their fact-finding matrix.

Unknown to the jury, Mr Justice Openshaw took the unusual step of remanding Garbutt in custody after hearing his evidence. Prosecutor David Hatton QC said that it “bordered on the absurd”.

Robin Garbutt has always vehemently denied murdering a woman he says he loved so very dearly. His soulmate, whom the jury heard was ‘as close as close could be’. He has also consistently maintained that both armed robberies DID take place and one of the robbers in the second raid (or later distilled at trial to a single robber) killed Diana as she lay in her bed. 10 of the 12 jurors did not believe him. They had the benefit of hearing evidence from 68 prosecution witnesses and 18 defence witnesses, plus the testimony of Garbutt himself across two hearing days.

Neither does Diana’s mother, Agnes Gaylor, who sat through the entire criminal trial. The village of Melsonby is still split over the verdict.

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Openshaw pulled no punches. He said the defendant had shown no remorse over the death of his wife, adding: ‘He has always accompanied his lies with sanctimonious lies of his love for her’.

‘By their verdict, the jury have exposed this as pure humbug.’

‘This was a brutal, planned, cold-blooded murder of his wife as she lay sleeping in bed.’

‘There was no struggle, she never awoke. He struck three savage blows, smashing her skull and causing her immediate death as clearly he intended’.

The story of the armed robber he said was ‘ludicrous from beginning to end’.

The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve at least 20 years. Sir Peter Openshaw DL is a judge with whom I am particularly familiar, in terms of style, tone, compendious knowledge of the law and procedural rules. Having been in his court for very many days of the hearings of the first Hillsborough trials across a period of over two years.

There has never been any criticism of his handling of the Garbutt trial, or the way it was summed up, except that he was keen to keep it on track in terms of length of trial. That also featured in all the hearings at Preston Crown Court, and so it does in every other Crown Court on my beat. It is what judges do: Effective listing and timetabling are significant parts of their oversight role. Openshaw ran his courts with almost military precision, matching that familiar stiff gait to and from his seat on the bench.

Xanthe Tait, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire and Humberside, said after the trial: ‘Diana Garbutt’s life was cut brutally and tragically short. Her family is left to forever mourn her loss.

‘She was violently bludgeoned to death. A callous crime motivated by the basest of human characteristics.

‘Robin Garbutt went to great lengths in creating a cover story involving a robber with a gun: a story he maintained throughout the trial – lying about his finances, lying about his relationship with his wife and lying about the robbery – to conceal his appalling crimes.

‘We have worked closely with the police to build a robust prosecution case and secure justice for Diana. Our thoughts are with her family and we hope that today’s conviction will bring them some measure of comfort and peace.’

Ms Tait, for the past several years, has led a three-force collaboration group which aims to bring the legal services departments of Cleveland, Durham and North Yorkshire Police together in a project codenamed ‘Evolve’. She was a high-achieving prosecutor, widely respected by her peers.

Since his incarceration, a highly visible campaign group has formed around Robin Garbutt. They are energetically, and passionately, led by Jane Metcalfe, a friend from the time when he lived in York, together with Garbutt’s sister, Sallie Wood, and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn. Jane and Robin are in constant touch by phone.

In the past few months, regional and national newspaper coverage, an article in Private Eye, and packages on the two local TV news programmes, ITV Calendar and Look North, has kept the miscarriage of justice claim very much in the public eye. A third application to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) is the trigger for the publicity. An appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal was dismissed in May, 2012. Two subsequent applications to the CCRC were also dismissed.

A website set up and maintained by the campaigners can be viewed here. Whereas the presentation is rudimentary, the message is very strong: Robin has always told the truth and he could not possibly have committed the crime. It promises so much, but delivers surprisingly little by way of references to substantive evidential material.

The ever-present assertion of unwavering truthfulness of Robin Garbutt has little or no basis in fact. Whilst those same campaigners, and the convicted murderer, have refused me access to his witness statements to the police, the merest examination of his witness box testimony reveals gaping holes and alarming contradictions in his story.

Why deny a journalist, approaching the case as one who has very good, and well evidenced, reason to doubt just about anything that North Yorkshire Police do or say, over a very lengthy period, access to any of the case materials? Unless there is something to hide from an independent investigator?

Another journalist, the late Bob Woffinden, also contributed significantly to the campaign in 2016, before his sad passing in May 2018, and his article (read in full here starting on page 14) certainly raised its profile and credibility at the time. However, to locate his work on the internet requires a little persistence. There is no link to it from the campaign website. It is, with all due respect to Bob, a very popular and capable journalist, a partial piece that adopts the cause of the convicted murderer.

A petition protesting Robin Garbutt’s innocence, propagated from the website, has gathered just 54 signatures. William Hague (now Baron Hague of Richmond), who retired in 2015, is listed as Robin Garbutt’s MP. In fact, his representative now is the very high profile Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP.

The past and present MP’s have both have been contacted for comment on the campaign and to establish whether they have added support in any way. A response is awaited and will, very understandably, be delayed in the case of Mr Sunak.

The Garbutt campaigners declined to provide a statement for this article, despite being prolific elsewhere. A request for answers to a series of straightforward questions about the background to the events of 22nd/23rd March 2010 was also declined. It has taken a considerable amount of additional time and effort to dig them out, but almost all of those answers have now been obtained from other sources. Several of them now cast further doubt on the Garbutt narrative, particularly in relation to the weapon that the armed robber held in his right hand as he entered the shop.

Dr Michael Naughton, an academic whom, it is claimed, supports the campaign, did not acknowledge or reply to an email asking for details of his analysis of the case, or the grounds upon which he has based his support by way of a relatively new venture, Empowering the Innocent. Dr Naughton does, of course, have at least one blemish on his miscarriage of justice record; the case of Simon Hall for whom he was the leading advocate for five years. The convicted murderer actually confessed to the crime in 2013 (read BBC report here). The parallels with the Garbutt case are, on any independent view, stark. The discomfort when this is drawn to the attention of his campaigners is palpable. Naughton claims he has never seen the signed confession and is reported to continue to cast doubt on its existence. A search to find a case to which he has been attached professionally, and has succeeded at the Court of Appeal, has drawn a blank.

By way of a carefully framed, plainly expressed freedom of information request, North Yorkshire Police were asked on 30th January, 2020 to provide basic details of the murder probe, the usual foundation stones of a properly grounded journalistic investigation. Over two months later, they are yet to respond to the request, or an application for internal review (read in full here). Those that check out the details will see that NYP are prepared, arguably, to commit a criminal offence to avoid disclosure. That, it might be said, is a measure of the habitual fear they have of the type of relentless scrutiny they face from this quarter. The lurking presence of Xanthe Tait, as the ultimate arbiter of that disclosure decision, and particularly with her colours now firmly nailed to the NYP mast, cannot be overlooked.

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 19.25.53
Xanthe Tait, formerly Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor and, more latterly, deeply embedded in North Yorkshire Police.

As it happens, most of the requested details have been obtained from independent sources about Operation Nardoo, the police codename for the calamitous Garbutt investigation, which form the basis of the third article, in a series of at least three, covering the Garbutt case. The product of almost 200 hours, over the past two months, invested in this most puzzling case and one in which the judge expressed serious, and well justified, concerns about the police management of the crime scene: ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’.

It is safe to to say, supported by a lengthy and highly attritional history (for example, I have taken them to court twice and defeated them), that NYP will not enjoy the intensity of the spotlight that I routinely turn onto them.

The police press office was not contacted, as it is some years since they responded to any enquiry from this quarter, despite my press accreditation by the National Police Chiefs Council and, of course, their lawful obligation to do so by way of section 39A of the Police Act, 1996.

This, as the reader may have gleaned already is a story with some way to run.

UPDATE: The second article in this four part series can now be read here. The third article here and the fourth article here.

Timeline: An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can also be viewed here.

Page last updated: Thursday 2nd July, 2020 at 0625 hours

Photo Credits: Press Association, North Yorkshire Police.

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.

More sex abuse failings uncovered in ‘House of Secrets’

Two weeks ago, the first of a series of five articles was published on this website that will shed more light on the unethical, unprofessional – and in some cases unlawful – conduct of Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, and her growing team of extravagantly rewarded senior officers, headquartered in what has previously been dubbed ‘The House of Secrets‘.

This second article re-opens the running sore of extracting disclosure from the PCC’s office and, in doing so, also re-visits two other long held concerns: Failing to hold the chief constable to account and Mrs Mulligan’s apparent distaste in addressing alleged senior police officer failings over child sexual exploitation.

A more recent concern, since he was appointed in 2017, is the ineffectiveness, duplicity and sleight of hand of her deputy, Will Naylor. That was explored in some detail in the first article in this series (read here).

On 24th January, 2019 a simple enquiry was sent by email to Naylor. It concerned matters already well ventilated in the public domain. The catalyst for the request was Mrs Mulligan’s extraordinary, and belated, claim that she had been raped as a 15 year old, together with inside information passed to me about her former chief constable. To the effect that he had, allegedly, not co-operated with the Greater Manchester Mayor’s inquiry into police failings around the Rochdale and Manchester ‘Curry Mile’ child sex abuse scandal.

That, of course, is his inalienable right. It was not a judicial, or even a Departmental inquiry, to which witnesses could be summonsed. Except that the State is funding his gold-plated pension, worth around £70,000 per annum. The reasonable expectation is, therefore, that he should have given evidence. Cleared the air. The corollary being that adverse inference may be drawn if he has not.

The request for information from the Deputy PCC was expressed in the following terms:

“You may recall that, at the last PCP meeting I attended, at Selby Civic Centre in January 2018, it was brought into public knowledge, by Cllr Peter Dew, that a complaint had been raised against the then chief constable [Dave Jones]. At the time, and my notebook records this, Julia told the Panel that there would be a robust, thorough investigation. The PCP minutes (see attached) do not reflect that, but I am sure that the tape recording of the meeting will.

“I am told, by a policing source, that there was a disapplication and no investigation by the PCC took place into Mr Jones’ alleged knowledge of child sex abuse and the shutting down of police investigation(s) by senior officers within GMP. No further mention of the matter is recorded in subsequent PCP minutes. Cllr Dew, of course, left the Panel last year over Julia’s unpleasant behaviour towards him, which further obscures the issue.

“In summary, and please forgive the convoluted route, can you please tell me [1] on what date a recording decision was made regarding the complaint raised by Cllr Dew in the PCP meeting against Mr Jones, and [2] the outcome?

“It is not possible to distil such knowledge from the scant information provided on NYPCC website.

https://www.northyorkshire-pfcc.gov.uk/how-can-we-help/complaints/complain-chief-constable/

The reply from Naylor, after the standard delaying tactics, was short and to the point:

“In response to your questions about the response to a Chief Constable complaint (sic), I am unable to share that information with you. We publish the overall number of complaints against the Chief Constable (current and past), and actions taken thereafter. We do not, and do not intend to, go into the detail of each of those with about (sic) individuals who were not part of that complaint.”

This email was sent by way of reply:

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 09.21.19

As of 22nd February, 2019 that email had been ignored by all the recipients. Not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement. A polite reminder, sent to Jane Wintermeyer, on 15th February, 2019 urging her to deal with the matter, at her earliest convenience has also remained unanswered.

In the meantime, other enquiries had revealed a troubling chain of events. It was discovered that the complaint against ex-chief constable, Dave Jones, had been made on 8th December, 2017 by Anthony Nixon, a retired solicitor and North Yorkshire resident. It followed the refusal by Jones to respond to a letter sent to him, by Mr Nixon, following the airing of the seminal BBC documentary series, Three Girls. 

Mr Nixon holds the view, shared by a number of others, including some very high profile Greater Manchester Police whistleblowers, that Jones, Head of the Criminal Investigation Division of GMP at the material time, may know more about the shutting down of complaints of child rape, within his operational area, than he is prepared to admit. Put shortly, the allegation is that either Jones (and others) was complicit, or he was incompetent and negligent in his duties with the most awful consequences for hundreds of victims in Rochdale and on the Manchester ‘Curry Mile’.

On 29th March, 2018, Dave Jones, less than three months after the complaint against him was aired at the Police and Crime Panel meeting by Cllr Dew, did what is described in Yorkshire as a ‘moonlight flit’. He was not seen again on duty after that date. He had booked annual leave until 9th April, 2018, then gave notice of his retirement on that day. In the same moment, he went on sick leave until the end of his notice period, 9th July, 2018. He collected over £40,000 from the taxpayer during that short time. Not a word has been heard of him since.

PCC Mulligan has never explained why she, at first, gave two misleading accounts over her chief constable’s shock exit and has not, since, pursued Jones over breach of the service contract he signed, that should have kept him in post at NYP HQ until 2020. A freedom of information request I made to her office confirms that no legal action was taken against him.

The reason she has given for Jones’ disappearance is that ‘he wants to spend more time with his family’. Giving up at least £350,000 in salary and benefits to do so. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion as to the plausibility of that arrangement.

An underperforming chief constable, who failed miserably in the running of almost every single operational area of his police force, in the five years he was in post; had little regard for the law or other regulatory strictures; overspent his budget by over £1,000,000 in each of his last three years in post; scarcely faced a single word of criticism from the elected official, whose primary functions include setting the budget for the police force and holding the chief constable to account: PCC Julia Mulligan.

Conversely, and perversely, she made excuse after excuse after excuse, each more implausible than the last, to explain away a lengthy series of catastrophic failings. The only recorded criticism that can be traced is over the rating of North Yorkshire Police as ‘inadequate’ over the recording of crime. This finding was made by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary in March, 2018. 

Whether the complaint against Jones, by Mr Nixon, was a factor in the unexpected departure of Jones is still a matter of speculation, but the likelihood of that is diminished by the discovery that, on 26th January, 2018, a letter from the PCC’s office was received by Mr Nixon. It was signed off by Fraser Sampson, the chief executive, and set out the reason why the complaint against Jones would not proceed: Essentially, claims Mr Sampson, the complaint was a repeat of another made in 2015, over much the same matters. It ignores completely the issues raised by the complainant that could only have come to light since 2015.

There is another troubling feature, insofar as the four year investigation, relied on by Sampson (Operation Span), to dismiss the second of Mr Nixon’s complaints, did not cover either the relevant period, or the GMP senior management, of which Jones was, of course, a key player. An even more concerning aspect is that Span was a joint enterprise between the disgraced Independent Police Complaints Commission and GMP’s notorious Professional Standards Branch, the latter charged with investigating their own officers. Unsurprisingly, in spite of 1,000’s of preventable criminal and very serious offences of child rape, trafficking and exploitation, not one single GMP officer faced misconduct proceedings.

It has transpired that Mr Nixon was completely unaware, until I told him very recently, that his complaint had been raised in the PCP meeting by Cllr Dew, a retired North Yorkshire Police officer who served for 30 years, from 1971 onwards. Mrs Mulligan, Fraser Sampson and Will Naylor were all present in that meeting, but neglected to keep Mr Nixon informed. Indeed, there was no communication at all between him and the PCC’s office betwen his complaint being made on 8th December, 2018 and the Sampson decision letter seven weeks later. A recording decision should have been provided to Mr Nixon within 10 working days to comply with the applicable statutory framework.

In fact, on 15th January, 2019, as he was perfectly entitled to do, Mr Nixon made a complaint against Mrs Mulligan over her failure to respond to his complaint against Jones. He did, however, make that complaint to the IPCC, who by then had attempted to disguise their dreadful reputation with a name change to Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), rather than to the Police and Crime Panel, who are the ‘Appropriate Authority’, in terms of the legislation, for dealing with such matters.

Nevertheless, the IOPC forwarded the complaint to the PCP for them to deal with. The fate of that complaint, and the troubling manner in which it was dealt with, is the subject of a further article, yet to be published. Put shortly, the PCP did not even record the complaint against Mrs Mulligan, even though she has been criticised by Panel members, on a number of occasions, over her office’s handling of correspondence and dealing with complaints.

Mr Nixon maintains, and it is a strong argument, that without them being made aware, by the IOPC and then, in turn, the PCP, of the consequent complaint against Mrs Mulligan, his issues concerning Dave Jones would have been ignored altogether by both the PCC and Mr Sampson.  With, or without, the intervention of Peter Dew.

The Nixon hypothesis is supported strongly by the fact that no report to the PCP, over the fate of the complaint against Jones, was made at the meeting in February, 2018. Or, at any subsequent meeting. Cllr Dew has, helpfully, confirmed that he was not informed, either. He was aware that a matter raised by Mr Nixon had been referred to the IPCC (IOPC) at the time, but was, quite understandably, not clear as to either the substance, or its outcome. Particularly, as he resigned from the PCP in July 2018 before Mr Nixon’s IPCC/IOPC/PCP matter was settled.

It is fair to say that the failure to record Mr Nixon’s complaint, which taken at its face, and after filtering out the hyperbole, appears to have merit, was brushed under the carpet by PCC Mulligan. She plainly hoped that the matter would be forgotten about. As it very nearly was.

The allegations, in any event, decayed when Jones left North Yorkshire Police. The sex abuse victims in Rochdale and Manchester, and the police whistleblower who first brought the matter to light, Maggie Oliver, incensed at the outcome of Operation Span, were undoubtedly let down once again. This time by a police commissioner who portrays herself, quite wrongly in my own personal, and professional experience, as a victims’ champion.

This was not the first time child sex abuse victims were let down by senior officers within North Yorkshire Police and Julia Mulligan. The antics of both, as a large number victims of such abuse at the hands of former BBC celebrity, Jimmy Savile and ‘Mr Scarborough’, Peter Jaconelli, was painstakingly uncovered by two citizen journalists, Nigel Ward and Tim Hicks, contributing to the North Yorkshire Enquirer website, simply beggared belief.

The two journalists were subject to a £1 million pursuit by the police, enthusiastically funded by Mrs Mulligan, in order to silence the Enquirer’s stinging criticism of the force and the PCC whom, between them, had found not a single Jaconelli or Savile victim. The police, and its commissioner, went to extraordinary lengths to deflect rebuke, despite the fact that the two infamous perverts had offended, unchecked, for decades in North Yorkshire. There appears to be little, or no, trace of support for those victims and a reluctant, mealy-mouthed apology was eventually squeezed out of the now retired assistant chief constable, Paul Kennedy.

Dave Jones, chief constable at the time, remained silent on the topic, apart from leading the disgraceful criminal, then civil, action against the journalists (read more here). Others notably involved as claimants in that private civil action, fully paid from the public purse, were Jones’ deputy, Tim Madgwick, who is now, incredibly, Chair of York Safeguarding Board and, even more incredibly, the present NYP chief constable, Lisa Winward.

The Jaconelli and Savile ‘cover-up’, by the force and its beleagured PCC, repeatedly alleged by the Enquirer, is serious enough of itself. Many thousands of words have been written about the scandal by Messrs Hicks, Ward and other media outlets. Viewed in the light of what now may also be a second alleged ‘cover-up’ involving child sex abuse and North Yorkshire Police, or, at least its most recent ex-chief, and the PCC, and the well-publicised and catastrophic failings of the force’s Protecting Vulnerable Persons Unit (PVPU), also glossed over by Mrs Mulligan at the time (read more here), a deeply troubling pattern emerges.

On any view, it does not sit well with her own positioning as a victims’ champion. Nor does it chime with her recent ‘stage-managed’ claim to have been raped, as a 15 year old, and relating it to the desperate fate of the child sex abuse victims in Rotherham and the ‘Me Too‘ campaign. Absurd, given that all those victims have, very bravely, named their attackers and supported prosecutions, where appropriate.

A story, according to a very reliable source, that was published by the Yorkshire Post as a quid pro quo for that newspaper burying reports over Julia Mulligan’s association with convicted kidnapper, Mujeeb ur Rehman Bhutto. She is alleged to have asked a member of her PCC staff to trawl through her personal Facebook account and delete all references to Bhutto. A Conservative campaigner, and donor, that Mrs Mulligan now claims was just one of three hundred people working on her campaign to become an MP in 2010.

This Bhutto/Mulligan exclusive was published by the Northern Echo (read full story here), two days before the Post’s public relations exercise, and produced what is described by an insider as a ‘nuclear reaction‘ from the short-fused police chief. She had previously told a select group of journalists (which, of course, excluded myself) that she had been sexually assaulted in her earlier life, but asked them not to publish any details.

The police commissioner’s rape claim – and her insistence that it is not investigated and the alleged rapist not brought to book – is the subject of another searching article that will be published on this website in the very near future.

Julia Mulligan, Fraser Sampson, Jane Wintermeyer and Will Naylor have all been offered right of reply. As has the Police and Crime Panel.

Only Mrs Wintermeyer has responded: “No comment, thanks”

Page last updated on Wednesday 27th February, 2019 at 1030hrs

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 2015-2019. 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.

Drowning in deceit

On this website rests a significant number of articles that robustly challenge the integrity, ethics and transparency of Julia Mulligan, the Conservative politician who has twice been elected as Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for North Yorkshire and the City of York. She has been offered right to reply to all of them. In almost every case the request for comment was ignored. They stand unchallenged.

There are also two exoriating articles written about the appointment of her deputy, Will Naylor, and the deceit and subterfuge surrounding the recruitment process.

Will’s credentials, and career history, regrettably, did not withstand scrutiny at that time – and still don’t. Described to me only last week, by an insider, as ‘chaotic‘, the PCC’s office perenially staggers from crisis to crisis. Neither does the Naylor record on providing a straight answer to a straight question. Those articles, and their imputations of dishonesty, also stand unchallenged (read here and here). He declined to comment on either of them, when approached.

He has, very recently, reverted to type: Deliberately ‘running down the clock’ then providing what, taken at its face, is a calculatingly fallacious response to two straightforward, but important, questions asked by a member of the public: In this particular case, the enquiry came from another experienced freedom of information requester, Edward Williams, whom, like myself, has tasted relatively rare success at the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights).

A second recent instance, involving Naylor, concerns the refusal to disclose very basic information held by the PCC’s office, in connection with complaints against ex-chief constable, Dave Jones. This is to be the subject of a separate article, which will follow shortly after the publication of this one.

On 26th October, 2018, Mr Williams made a simple, plainly expressed request to the PCC’s office via the What Do They Know website:

He referenced the PCC’s response to a report that had been published two days earlier by the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel. Its findings were that a complaint of bullying, made by one of Julia Mulligan’s staff, and supported by three others, had been been upheld. A significant public interest story that was, quite understandably, widely published and broadcast on TV and radio locally, regionally and nationally.

It is trite, therefore, to say that the PCC must know all about the bullying issues raised by four of her own staff. Any pretence to good standing as an elected policing representative, such as remained after exposure of a lengthy series of other failings, had been well and truly trashed by the adverse publicity.

The information request was promptly, and cheerily, acknowledged, by a junior member of the PCC’s staff, three days later.

Alex’s turn of phrase was notably impressive, but rather unfortunate as events unfolded. There was no ‘prompt’ response (as required by section 10 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act), and a coach and horses was driven through the statutory limits (a backstop of 20 working days). At the very latest, disclosure should have been made before 23rd November, 2018.

Indeed, there was a stony silence until Mr Williams prompted the PCC’s office on 10th January, 2019 by requesting an internal review of his unfulfilled information request. This elicited a reply from Holly Earnshaw, the PCC’s complaints caseworker and an officer whom, in my own experience, is always pleasant and helpful, if not a little exasperated at what goes on around her.

Holly does not say whom the ‘relevant person’ is. Or explain why this request, as are all others to North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, was not being dealt with by the specialist disclosure officers in the Civil Disclosure Unit (CDU), headed up by a police lawyer. It can be plainly inferred that the CDU had not been involved up to this point.

Supported by the fact that at least one freedom of information request, submitted well after the one from Mr Williams, had been finalised on 4th January, 2019. That originated from another journalist, Nigel Ward, very well known to Julia Mulligan (she spent £450,000 on legal fees trying to silence him, and a colleague, Tim Hicks). The Ward request, controversial on any view, was partially successful and dealt with by Liz Fryar in the Civil Disclosure Unit, albeit outside the statutory time limit by a couple of weeks, or so (read here).

There followed a further two weeks of unexplained silence from the PCC’s office. In spite of understandable frustration, Mr Williams cheerily wrote to Harrogate HQ on 25th January, 2019 and gave them five more days to disclose a minimal amount of readily retrievable information he had first requested three months ago. Failing that, he intimated, a report to the Information Commissioner’s Office would be made.

It was Holly Earnshaw who responded again, on the same day. Saying much the same thing as two weeks previously, but still not identifying whom the relevant person, or department, might be that was causing the delay. She did add, however, albeit belatedly, that she appreciated ‘this is a matter that needs to be prioritised‘. 

Ten days later, on 4th February, 2019, Mr Williams finally received his response. It was accompanied by an apologetic note from Will Naylor. There is no explanation offered as to the either the cause of the delay, or why Naylor has finalised a request when he has no apparent knowledge of freedom of information law:

This is the essential contents of the accompanying letter. Which is, strangely, unattributed. If it had been determined by a disclosure officer within the CDU they, invariably, put their name to such finalisation letters, with an invitation to contact them to discuss the decision:

Decision 
I have today decided to disclose the located information to you. 

1) The Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (OPFCC) hold record of 1 complaint made against the PFCC, by staff, since 2014. 

2) The OPFCC has no record of any compensation being paid to any complainants, and should there ever be compensation paid, that information will appear in the end of year accounts. 

In spite of its brevity, and having taken 101 days to compile, the disclosure contains several grotesque errors:

The reply to Question 1 beggars belief given the information already in the public domain.

Question 2 should have contained an ‘information not held’ Refusal Notice in order to comply with Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act which, again, supports the proposition that this request was dealt with by a person with very limited knowledge of the relevant statutory framework. As does the superfluous reference to annual accounts which has little, or no, bearing, on disclosure requested by way of the Act.

With regard to Question 1, the BBC, no less, has reported: 

(i) That four members of her staff have complained about PCC Julia Mulligan and their collective complaints of bullying were upheld by an independent panel. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-yo…

(ii) That, since the first round of bullying complaints were upheld, two others have surfaced. The panel’s finding on those is expected shortly. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-yo…

That makes six complaints, in total, that are already in the public domain. It is impossible to reconcile that number with the proposition that there are records of only one in the PCC’s office, according to Will Naylor. 

This is an extract from the complaint report published by the Police and Crime Panel: “The Panel received a complaint lodged by an individual who, in the interests of ensuring confidentiality, shall be referred to as “AB” for the purposes of this report. AB’s complaint alleged that in the course of their employment with the PCC, AB had been subjected to bullying behaviour by the PCC, which had impacted considerably on AB’s confidence, health and wellbeing. AB also provided supporting statements from three other individuals who similarly alleged that they had been subjected to bullying behaviour by the PCC“.

All the materials comprising the core complaint from AB, and three other members of the PCC staff who also made complaints of bullying by the PCC, in their statements supporting AB, were supplied to Julia Mulligan as part of the assessment undertaken by the Panel. It is inconceivable, to a right thinking person, that data relating to those complaints is not held in her office and properly characterised as complaints.

The Sub-Committee considers that the multiple accounts of staff perceiving themselves to being subjected to frequently irascible and intimidating behaviour by the PCC is sufficient to demonstrate a misuse of power or position and an overbearing approach to supervision of staff.

There is also the issue of the second wave of bullying complaints submitted to the Police and Crime Panel in early November, 2018. Details of Mrs Mulligan’s questionable association with a convicted kidnapper and gangster, and the alleged use of a member of her staff to erase records on Julia’s personal Facebook account, have also surfaced. Is the position of the PCC that she is unaware of those?

It has been suggested to Mr Williams that, in respect of any internal review of the information request that he may contemplate, he puts Will Naylor to proof over the data searches he has undertaken (when, where, how), and to also ask for disclosure of the internal emails within the PCC’s office where his information request is either the subject, or part of, the body text. 

The outcome of such an internal review would, if conducted appropriately by an experienced disclosure officer, or information rights lawyer, be highly revelatory. Developments are keenly awaited in that regard. Particularly, as Julia Mulligan recently made a statement to the same Panel that she was not sighted in freedom of information requests made to her office and played no part in their finalisation. I, for one, find that very hard to believe.

Mrs Mulligan retains her position as Ethics and Integrity Lead at the Association of Police Commissioners and continues to sit on its Board of Directors.

She robustly denies having bullied any of her staff and blames a politically motivated vendetta by those complaining about her. What cannot be denied, however, is that she told a public meeting, in December 2017, that she would “squeeze the pips of the civil disclosure officers harder”. This was in response to stinging criticism of the PCC’s abject performance, ever since she took office, regarding responses to information requests. I was sat less than a metre away from Julia Mulligan when she uttered those words. They were reported to the CDU the following day:

IMG_0262

Surprisingly, none of this collateral evidence found its way into the Police and Crime Panel’s bullying report, despite them being made aware of my email and the prima facie disclosure of that class of conduct . 

Both the PCC, and her Deputy, have been offered right of reply to the entirety of this article. Mrs Mulligan has previously declined to respond to questions regarding the email set out above.

A statement has also been requested from the Head of the Civil Disclosure Unit regarding their apparent exclusion from this freedom of information process.

The requests for comment and a statement did not even receive acknowledgement from Julia Mulligan or Jane Wintermeyer, Head of Legal Services, whose responsibilities include line management of the Civil Disclosure Unit. Will Naylor did respond but has not taken issue with any of the points raised in the article.

Holly Earnshaw was also invited to name the colleague, within the PCC’s office, to whom she passed on the communications from Mr Williams. No acknowledgement has been received to the email sent to her on 12th February, 2018. Indeed, this must have caused considerable discomfort to Will Naylor as access to Holly’s email address has now been blocked.

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 16.43.39

All in the interest of ethics and transparency, of course.

 

 

Page last updated on Friday 22nd February, 2019 at 0030hrs

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 2015-2019. 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.