Has Horizon claim disappeared into the sunset?

In the week that marked the tenth anniversary of the conviction of Robin Garbutt, there have been three noteworthy developments, with a fourth to follow on shortly with the handing down of a Court of Appeal judgment, in a connected matter, on Friday 23rd April, 2021 at the Royal Courts of Justice: The Post Office Horizon software scandal that has led to a large number of former postmasters and postmistresses having convictions quashed.

I was present at all four days of the hearing of those appeals in March, 2021 writes Neil Wilby. Principally to observe what effect, if any, the outcome would have on the murderer’s long standing claim of innocence.

Garbutt was convicted on 19th April, 2021, at Teesside Crown Court, of murdering his postmistress wife, Diana. She was bludgeoned to death as she lay, apparently, sleeping in her bed in the living quarters above Melsonby Village Shop and Post Office in North Yorkshire (read more here).

A depressingly poor investigation by North Yorkshire Police had followed the murder (read more here) but there was still enough probative evidence presented for a jury to return a 10-2 majority verdict.

A miscarriage of justice campaign was formed soon afterwards by two relatives of Garbutt’s, his sister Sallie Wood and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn, and an unsuccessful appeal was made to the Court of Appeal. Three law lords were emphatic that the conviction was safe.

Three applications have subsequently made to the Criminal Case Review Commission by Garbutt’s legal team. The ones made in 2015 and 2017 were unsuccessful. A third was made in December, 2019 amid a blaze of publicity (read more here). Much of it due to the efforts a later addition to the campaign team, Jane Metcalfe, a close friend of one of Garbutt’s life partners before he met, and later married, Diana.

Regrettably, Jane has been exposed regularly for what might be charitably termed as ‘decorating the truth’, her enthusiasm for winning Robin’s freedom blinding her, seemingly, to the stark reasons why the village shopkeeper remains a guest on the Category A wing of HMP Frankland (read more here).

Earlier this week, the press office at the CCRC confirmed that the third Garbutt application remains ‘under review’ and no decision, provisional or otherwise, has been communicated to the legal team representing Garbutt. They are solicitor, Martin Rackstraw, and Jim Sturman QC. Responsible for all three CCRC applications.

The reason for that enquiry was a post on the ‘Robin Garbutt Official’ website dated 8th April, 2021. It appeared to indicate that there has been some movement in terms of the CCRC making findings on that third application.

The post is attributed to Mark Stilborn, but easily recognised, in any event, by its muddled style and familiar syntax errors.

As is the the apparent failure to take on board the size and nature of both the evidential and legal hurdles that a CCRC applicant faces by way of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1995. A comment that could also safely be applied to Jane Metcalfe and Sallie Wood.

None of them have grasped that, for Garbutt’s conviction to be deemed unsafe, there has to be a reversal of the jury’s verdict, amplified forcefully by the trial judge; the ruling of the Court of Appeal; and the two previous decisions by the CCRC. All of whom found that the story of an armed robber (or robbers) who murdered Diana with a rusty iron bar, some hours before venturing downstairs armed with a gun (but not the piece of rusty metal), emptying the safe and till in the shop, leaving Robin unharmed and immediately free to raise the alarm, beyond belief.

Much of the publicity that accompanied the third CCRC application featured a new ground of appeal upon which the Garbutt campaign team pinned great hope: The aforementioned Horizon software was to blame for cash shortfalls identified during the murder trial by two expert forensic accounting witnesses. It undermines the prosecution case fatally, they say.

Now it doesn’t even rate a mention in the most recent case update, posted by the same campaign leaders who were so vociferous upon the subject just a year ago. To those adjacent to this case, including the author of this piece, that comes as no surprise at all: If robbers emptied the safe of £16,310, a sum that Garbutt told the jury tallied with the shop and post office accounts, it seems inconceivable that he now claims a software glitch has a bearing on his guilt.

The third development comes via a response to a recent freedom of information request. It is reproduced in full here:

“I am writing in response to your email received by Post Office Limited on 23 March, which I am dealing with under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”).  
 
In your email you have requested the following information: 
 
Please disclose the following information by way of the Freedom of 
Information Act, 2000. 
 
1. The number of written complaints made by the Sub-Postmistress of 

Melsonby Post Office, and received by POL, where the terms ‘software faults’ 
or ‘Horizon’ or ‘shortfall’ formed part of the text of such complaints.  
 
2. Alternatively, the number of telephone complaints, where POL’s record of 

those complaints includes those same terms mentioned in para 1. above. 
 
3. The relevant period is 1st January, 2009 until 22nd March, 2010. 

 
4. A copy of the ‘Known Error Log’, in issue by Post Office Limited at 31st 

March, 2010. This document, which recorded faults in Fujitsu’s Horizon 
software, has been referred to repeatedly in proceedings at the Court of 
Appeal Criminal this week (commencing 22nd March, 2021). 
 
The difficulties in respect of passage of time, and the consequent possibility 
of data weeding, are recognised. It is hoped that, by keeping the request as 
compact as possible, this may assist the location of the information or in 
establishing that none existed. 
 
Whilst FOIA requests are, generally, to be regarded as applicant and motive 

blind, POL is aware of my journalistic interest in this particular sub-post 
office and its history. I am, of course, grateful to POL for past assistance and 
hope that this request can be fulfilled as efficiently and with the same co-
operation. 
 
Response

Post Office does not differential between complaints, general enquiries or notifications made in writing and those made by telephone by Postmasters.  We confirm that we do have a log covering the period you have identified, however none of the entries match the criteria you have provided. 

Regarding the additional request for a copy of the “Known Error Log” that you sent to us, following our acknowledgement letter, we will respond to this by 26th April.

Information Rights Manager 
Post Office Limited  – Information Rights Team 
20 Finsbury Street 
London EC2Y 9AQ ”

The obvious conclusion drawn from such disclosure is that Melsonby Post Office raised no complaints about cash shortfalls or Horizon software faults. No such faults were raised by Garbutt’s defence team at trial, or at the Court of Appeal, or in their previous two CCRC applications.

That may well be why this ‘new’ ground of application has disappeared into the sunset. Robin’s campaign team has been asked to provide clarification on this point. They have never taken up right of reply, previously. Preferring news outlets with a less searching and more accommodating approach to their claims.

Page last updated: Thursday 22nd April, 2021 at 1655 hours

Photo Credit: York Press

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 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Post Office robberies claim was a sham, say police.

At around this time last year (March 2020) I was in regular contact with Jane Metcalfe, a relative newcomer to the innocence claim of convicted murderer, Robin Garbutt (read more here), writes Neil Wilby.

She was, however, widely recognised as the campaign leader at that point and had done remarkably well in raising the profile of the case: Appearing at miscarriage of justice conferences and lectures; networking effectively; and persuading a large number of press and broadcast outlets to publicise the latest challenge to the conviction, via the Criminal Case Review Commission (read more here).

A third application to the criminal justice watchdog was submitted by Garbutt’s legal team on 5th December, 2019. The previous two applications had been rejected after review, but without investigation. A helpful ‘How it Works’ guide is published on the CCRC website (read here).

The contact with Jane ended after a series of pertinent questions, regarding the presentation of facts by the campaigners, were raised and went unanswered. It would be true to say that she panicked when realising, belatedly, that the investigation into the merits of the claims by Robin Garbutt, concerning the brutal slaying of his wife, Diana, was neutral and a search for the truth.

There was also considerable concern from this quarter that ‘Poor Robin’ was being painted as the victim, not Diana and her close family. For whom the campaigners appear to have little regard.

Robin Garbutt speaks frequently to Jane Metcalfe from HMP Frankland. She is also very close to his mother, Joyce Brook, whom she accompanies on prison visits.

Following the publication of the first article on this website, which covered the lead-up to, and the aftermath of, the killing in the living quarters of Melsonby Post Office, in 2010, the response was surprising, to say the least. Led by the same Jane Metcalfe, who had been so gushing in her praise of this journalist, a smear campaign was organised and executed by a number of figures prominent in the miscarriage of justice community. It sought not to question the facts and evidence, so carefully researched and presented in the first and subsequent articles, but amounted to nothing more than an ad hominem attack (read more here).

The campaigners pointed to articles on The Justice Gap website and in the Private Eye magazine saying they were were serious publications and their journalists were credible. The clear, and intended, inference being that Neil Wilby didn’t meet either threshold.

In the event, the error-riddled pieces by The Gap and The Eye were both publicly slaughtered – and led to the publication of one of the most widely shared and read articles on this website, ‘Blind in one Eye‘ (read here).

In June, 2020, Jane teamed up with criminologist, Dr Sandra Lean, to launch an ill-fated, and short-lived, podcast series with the unfortunate title of ‘Truthseekers‘. Metcalfe had already been proved to have lied on more than one occasion, previously. Not least with her ludicrous, and oft-repeated claim, that ‘Robin Garbutt had only ever told the truth’.

It was established at his murder trial in 2011, beyond any doubt, that he had lied to the police and then lied to the court. Most crucially, about an alleged armed robbery that had taken place at the time of the murder. Garbutt blamed the robbers. The jury didn’t believe him. Neither did the trial judge (he described the robbery story as ‘ludicrous’), or three court of appeal judges in 2012. Nor did the CCRC in 2015 or 2017.

The podcast was not just a car crash, it was a motorway pile-up. A transcript was commissioned and an article subsequently published on this website (see here). It was a devastating take down of the woeful interviewing by Dr Lean, lacking one single interrogative feature, and the glib, tailored narrative of Jane Metcalfe.

One of a number of claims made that did not appear adjacent to the facts of the Garbutt conviction included a startling new one, never previously aired on social media, in the press or as part of TV interviews. It was said that, prior to Robin and Diana Garbutt taking over the post office and village shop in 2003, there had been two previous armed robberies at the premises.

A number of enquiries were made locally regarding this revelation, including a retired senior police officer who was brought up in the village and whom, in fact, bought his first car from Nixon’s garage on the opposite side of the road to the post office. He was baffled by the claim and was sure he would know if such events had occurred.

A number of other locals were spoken to, they had no recollection of such dramatic events, either.

Enquiries with the local press also drew a blank. No such robberies had resulted in any newspaper stories.

For absolute certainty, two freedom of information requests followed: One to Post Office Ltd (read in full here) and a second to North Yorkshire Police (read in full here). Both have now confirmed that they have no records of the robberies alleged by Jane Metcalfe.

The only possible conclusion is that the truth has been decorated, yet again, by Team Garbutt. The motive for which is unclear, beyond the bolstering of public support for what appears, taken at its face, to be yet another futile CCRC application.

Since the murder trial, there has been considerable doubt about a claimed robbery at the shop in Melsonby in March, 2009, almost exactly a year before the murder. Garbutt says two armed men entered the shop and stole over £13,000 in cash and stock.

Post Office Ltd say in their freedom of information disclosure that no restitution was made by them. North Yorkshire Police gave up their investigation into the alleged 2009 robbery after only a few days. The Garbutt campaigners have stated publicly that there was scepticism amongst NYP officers, about the alleged robbery in 2010, almost from the moment they arrived on the murder scene.

An innocence claim grounded in lies is a most unfortunate juxtaposition and one that may cause even more battening down of hatches amongst their wider supporters, including, of course, Private Eye and The Justice Gap.

Another podcast featuring the Garbutt case, and with Jane Metcalfe at its centre, presented and produced by Nick Wallis of Post Office trials fame, may now have to be shelved. Nick did not respond when asked to confirm the present status of the project. He was also asked about the likely impact of the defects in the Post Office’s Horizon software, about which he has written so much, on the Garbutt innocence claim.

The campaigning members of the Garbutt family, sister Sallie Wood and brother-in-law Mark Stilborn, were contacted for comment, particularly in relation to the present composition and leadership of their campaign team. As have their lawyers, Martin Rackstraw of Russell-Cooke Solicitors and Jim Sturman QC.

The Garbutt campaign is also heavily backed by another well known QC, Glyn Maddocks. He is a friend of Jane Metcalfe and has steadfastly refused to comment previously on concerns regarding her integrity.

Another friend of Jane, and strong supporter of the innocence claim, is Kevin McMahon, co-founder of the well known campaigning group, United Against Injustice. He has also refused to reply to previous articles, in which both he and UAI are name-checked. Metcalfe was a speaker at their annual conference in 2019. Kevin also refuses to respond to those same concerns.

When last contacted, on 19th March 2021, a CCRC spokesperson said: “I can confirm that the [Garbutt application] is with a Case Review Manager and is under active review. No decision has yet been reached on the case”. No likely date was given as to when a decision whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal will be made.

Page last updated on Friday 19th March, 2021 at 1305hrs

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

Photo credits: Northern Echo

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 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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).

1993: Diana marries Robert Hunter. She was a serving Army officer at the time. The ceremony took place in Surrey.

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

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

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

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

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. There were no witnesses and the police investigation was short-lived.

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 had also made a trip to Glastonbury music festival to see Bruce Springsteen perform.

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

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

Work starts on new kitchen in the living quarters adjacent to 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.

2017: 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.

Neither of the first two applications reached the threshold to merit an investigation by the CCRC.

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

2018: Described in the local press as ‘a long-term friend’, Jane Metcalfe appears to join the Robin Garbutt justice campaign towards the end of the year 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.

2019: Third CCRC application submitted on 5th December. 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.

2020: In July, the Garbutt legal team of solicitor Martin Rackstraw and barrister Jim Sturman QC submit what is described as an Addendum to the third CCRC application. It is said to comprise materials relating to the Post Office Horizon scandal.

The Garbutt campaigners are hoping that their determined media campaign will pressure the CCRC into triaging their case as urgent. Some reviews by the criminal justice watchdog 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 2020 or early in 2021.

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

Page last updated: Sunday 27th September, 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.