‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’

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

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

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

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

Justice campaign is formed

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

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

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

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

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

Work in progress

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

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

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

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

The list of questions:

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

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

– Was her maiden name Kiefer or Kieffer?

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

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

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

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

– Did Robin and Diana habitually sleep together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Was he (the robber) wearing gloves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– How many witness statements did Robin make in total?

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

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

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

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

  *      *       *        *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An open book policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organised smear campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unseen hand?

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

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

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

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

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

A hazard of the vocation

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Robin has always told the truth’ fallacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Worse than the gutter press’

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

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

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

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

The innocence fraud phenomenon

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

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

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

United Against Injustice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens next with the Garbutt campaign?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Thursday 28th May, 2020 at 0925 hours

Photo Credits: ITV

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The Melsonby post office murder – Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

~ “Fourth time lucky?’ (read here)

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

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

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

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

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

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Allerton Castle, scene of the wedding of Robin and Diana Garbutt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robin and Dianne Garbutt in happier times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jane Metcalfe – justice campaigner for Robin Garbutt

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits: Allerton Castle.

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘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.

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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 Corona virus 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. 

Nevertheless, neither application can have 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. 

 

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The 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 £10,000 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 gate 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. 

Operations Rome and Hyson (one flowed into the other) feature extensively on this website as one of the biggest investigation failings 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: Saturday 11th April, 2020 at 1835 hours

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

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‘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 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. 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, 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 the 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 £1200 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 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 on 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 given to 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 as 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, as he is now styled, 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: Saturday 11th April, 2020 at 1825 hours

Photo Credits: Press Association, North Yorkshire Police.

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