‘A grubby little police force’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’

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

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

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

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

Justice campaign is formed

Shortly after the trial ended a campaign was formed protesting his innocence. The two founders were Sallie Wood, Robin Garbutt’s sister and Mark Stilborn, his brother-in-law. They have a very rudimentary website, absent of any substantive material and rarely updated (click here). A failed appeal at the Court of Appeal in London against Garbutt’s conviction was then followed by two unsuccessful applications to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC). Those events occurred in 2012, 2015 and 2017 respectively.

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

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

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

The catalyst for the articles was a third application to the CCRC submitted by Garbutt’s legal team in December, 2019.

Work in progress

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

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

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

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

The list of questions:

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

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

– Was her maiden name Kiefer or Kieffer?

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

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

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

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

– Did Robin and Diana habitually sleep together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Was he (the robber) wearing gloves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– How many witness statements did Robin make in total?

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

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

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

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

  *      *       *        *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An open book policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organised smear campaign

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

The others appear close to her: Michelle Diskin Bates, whose brother Barry George was ultimately cleared of the murder of BBC presenter Jill Dando, having been convicted in 2001 (read more here). This is one of her peurile social media posts about the case, entirely devoid of fact: “Robin Garbutt had this [Horizon Post Office software] used against him in a murder trial, he was a postmaster. He’s Innocent. The evidence was ‘bad character’ based on the supposed theft! Since there was nothing to link him to the murder, and Horzon (sic)  was to blame, case should be reviewed”.

Horizon wasn’t used against Garbutt at trial: He said the contents of the safe matched the post office accounts; he wasn’t a postmaster; the judge gave a standard ‘good character’ direction to jury; there was a welter of circumstantial evidence that led the jury to convict him.

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

William Beck, an uncouth, sweary, know-it-all Glaswegian, and convicted armed robber (read more here), is plainly aligned to the knockers. He also offers, in the style of the other campaigners, another fact-free assertion: ‘You have criticised NYP many times yet you appear to accept everything they say about Garbutt as gospel. Please make up your mind’.

The truth is: Facts rehearsed in the article, regarding NYP, are what was heard either in Crown Court or at the Court of Appeal. Or what Garbutt himself, or the campaigners, have said. My scathing view on that police force’s lamentable investigative capabilities, in major crime incidents, remains unchanged by what I have learned about the Garbutt case.

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

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

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

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

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

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The other Twitter account, in the name of his business (which was struck off the Companies House register late last year over financial irregularities), the enigmatically styled ‘Lewis Legal‘, has just 46 followers, set against his own boast that he is very popular and has many friends. By contrast, the @Neil_Wilby Twitter account has 5,714 followers, many of them highly influential; fellow journalists, senior police officers, judges, QC’s and other lawyers, senior politicians, academics, with a potential combined audience reach in the millions, at the latest count, and notifications running into the hundreds every day.

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

Unseen hand?

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

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

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

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

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

A hazard of the vocation

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Robin has always told the truth’ fallacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Worse than the gutter press’

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

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

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

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

The innocence fraud phenomenon

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

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

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

United Against Injustice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens next with the Garbutt campaign?

The CCRC was due to give a decision on or about 31st May, 2020 as to whether Robin Garbutt’s third application to them, submitted at the end of January, 2020 actually merits investigation. The watchdog has been approached to ascertain whether that decision has been communicated to him. Or, if not, an estimate as to when it is likely to be sent. An enquiry has also been made as to whether either of the previous two applications were investigated, or simply rejected on their face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page last updated: Monday 17th August, 2020 at 01325 hours

Photo Credits: ITV

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

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

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

 

‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits: ITV News, PA, Daily Mail.

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

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

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

Fourth time lucky?

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

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

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

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

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

The sixth is an in-depth analysis of an interview by Dr Sandra Lean of the lead campaigner, Jane Metcalfe, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(iii) Horizon Software scandal:

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 20.08.22

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

Nevertheless, the CCRC will have to anxiously consider these two competing arguments within their overall assessment of the application: (a) Campaigners rightly point to the flawed prosecution hypothesis regarding the murder weapon, in that Robin Garbutt had placed the iron bar on top of the wall after bludgeoning Diana, together with an oblique suggestion that he had scraped his knuckles, that morning, scaling the eight foot high wall. Those factors advance both the arguments that the case against him wasn’t entirely well grounded – and that he suffered further prejudice. (b) On the other hand, conversely and perversely, the absence of the iron bar, for two days after the murder, further undermines the claim, by Garbutt, that the murder was committed by an armed robber. It would be far-fetched in the extreme to expect a criminal of that class to, firstly, hold on to a weapon, with the victim’s DNA upon it (and possibly his own), then, secondly, stealthily return it to a position around 20 metres from the scene of the murder, two days later. Even without the latest evidence, the jury found that Garbutt had lied about the armed robbery and before that, the trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, was so concerned about his evidence in the witness box that he revoked his bail and had him remanded in custody for the remainder of the trial. There is, then, the matter of positioning this ‘new evidence’ in the matrix of (c) the overall police conduct of the investigation, which is covered in great detail in two earlier articles on this website: Is police impropriety a factor in the belated discovery of the iron bar so close to the murder scene? No doubt the North Yorkshire force will have plenty to say to the CCRC on that topic, with the considerable benefit of their submissions being made well away from public scrutiny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oversight of North Yorkshire Police and the Robin Garbutt investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

When will Robin Garbutt be released from prison

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

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

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

Timeline

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

Footnote

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

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

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

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

This series of articles, of over 40,000 words, are the fruits of an open-minded, independent investigation. They have been almost entirely grounded in the summing up of the trial, running to 106 pages; the Court of Appeal judgment; and piecing together what key witnesses said, verbatim, from contemporaneous newspapers reports during the trial. The entry point was my unique knowledge of the shortcomings of the police force that investigated this shocking crime. The miscarriage of justice campaign seemed credible enough in the beginning, but that confidence soon ebbed away as straight answers to straight questions were repeatedly ducked.

After spending well over 400 hours on the case since January 2020, my conclusion is that Garbutt did not tell the truth about a number of key issues, the central one being the armed robbery. I cannot be quite so emphatic about whether he actually struck the fatal blows to his wife’s head. But if he didn’t, then he knows who did. Otherwise why invent the robbery story?

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

Page last updated: Thurssday 2nd July, 2020 at 0810 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, THIIS.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comprehensive and highly forensic analysis of the personal finances of the couple, the village shop and the post office was put before the jury and they heard live evidence from Teresa Bentley, a specialist economic crime investigator who had full access to all the couple’s personal and business bank accounts, 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 in the bed, her head in a pool of blood that had spread out on the pillow beneath her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve at least 20 years. Sir Peter Openshaw DL is a judge with whom I am particularly familiar, in terms of style, tone, compendious knowledge of the law and procedural rules. Having been in his court for very many days of the hearings of the first Hillsborough trials across a period of over two years.  There has never been any criticism of his handling of the Garbutt trial, or the way it was summed up, except that he was keen to keep it on track in terms of length of trial. That also featured in all the hearings at Preston Crown Court, and so it does in every other Crown Court on my beat. It is what judges do: Effective listing and timetabling are significant parts of their oversight role. Openshaw ran his courts with almost military precision, matching that familiar stiff gait to and from his seat on the bench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits: Press Association, North Yorkshire Police.

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

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

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

Bailey can’t bridge the credibility gap

In July 2019, after serving for over 27 years with a backwater county police force, Nicholas Bailey took the short, but well worn path, from Cheshire Constabulary to its metropolitan neighbour, Greater Manchester Police, the fourth largest force in the country.

He followed in the footsteps of past chief constable Peter Fahy; the present incumbent Ian Hopkins; and a former assistant chief constable, Garry Shewan, to name but three, who had all passed through the same revolving door.

At the time of the appointment, GMP’s beleaguered chief constable said in his standard hyperbolic style: “We are delighted to welcome Nick to our GMP family. He is an extremely experienced officer with a wealth of knowledge and skills from a vast policing career, spanning over three decades [emphasis added by author for reasons which should become clear as this piece unfolds].

“His extensive background in policing will help us continue to protect the people of Greater Manchester and his work around local policing will help us continue keeping our communities safe.”

Rather clumsy, one might observe, in the wake of the Manchester Arena Bombing and the Grainger Inquiry, at which the force was thoroughly disgraced, and described by leading QC, Leslie Thomas, as “rotten to its core“.

For his part in the usual mutual backscratching that, inevitably, accompanies these appointments, Bailey said: “I’m thrilled to join GMP as it gives me the opportunity to give back to the city [whilst drawing a salary of around £110,000 per year plus substantial benefits] and surrounding areas where I have lived and spent most of my life. My father was a GMP officer and to follow in his footsteps is a great honour, as well as being a challenge in such a high profile force, with so much ambition.

“When I started my role as a police officer I found my vocation and understanding of how I could help the public. Since then I’ve had many memorable moments and found there was no better feeling than locking up an offender and making a difference to victims of crime or vulnerable people [Bailey has been asked to recall the last time he locked up an offender].

“Unfortunately, a sad reality of the job is the tragic and traumatic incidents that stick in your mind and remain with you forever. I was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the [IRA] Warrington bombing in 1993 [Bailey presumably refers to the second bombing on Bridge Street in which two children died and 56 other people were injured] and was the senior officer on duty at Cheshire Police on the night of the Manchester Arena bomb. Both these events ended in a huge loss of life, which only further increases my motivation to be a police officer and do all I can to help. [‘Huge’ equals 2 at Warrington and 22 at Manchester Arena. Tragedies both, but not on the scale to which Bailey carelessly alludes. Which might give rise to doubts about his ability to objectively assess evidence and give straight answers].

“I look forward to the challenges ahead and being involved with a force that has the ambition to have such a positive impact on the communities, particularly through placed (sic) based partnerships.” For the unitiated, including the author, read more here.

What neither Hopkins nor Bailey alluded to was the swathe of deep scandal in which GMP was mired, or the trail of Command Team officers that had left the force in disgrace over the past few years. Or indeed, the perennial scandal surrounding Hopkins’ most recent recruit at that rank, Assistant Chief Constable Maboob Hussain. Now known irreverently as ‘Mabel’, the former West Yorkshire officer apparently prefers ‘Mabs’.

Or, indeed, the even bigger scandals surrounding the senior officer that Bailey replaced: the despicable Steven Heywood. Very fortunate to escape prosecution over his antics at the Grainger Inquiry, amongst a lengthy tariff of other alleged misdemeanours, he still faces a much-delayed public gross misconduct hearing at which neither his former force, nor himself, will likely emerge with any credit.

Add in Terry Sweeney of Shipman body parts and Domenyk Noonan notoriety, Rebekah Sutcliffe’s ‘Titgate’ outrage and Garry Shewan scuttling off, once it became apparent how disastrously his much-vaunted IT Transformation Project, including the now infamous ‘iOPS’ installation, was turning out to be, and the question that simply begs to be asked is: Why would any self-respecting, law-abiding officer want to be involved or associated with persons of such questionable character? That is another question that has been put to GMP’s newest and, for the present, shiniest ‘top brass’.

Bailey, for his sins, appears to have recently taken over the iOPS poisoned chalice from the hapless Chris Sykes, another recent assistant chief constable appointment, commenting for the force on social media, and in the local newspaper, as another catastrophic failure beset the ill-fated project in early February, 2020. One day after this article was published, more whistleblowers came forward to highlight another round of problems. This time, it is reported, connected to Crown Prosecution Service interface, access to crimes and reports, and, most crucially, huge backlog of child protection cases.

It has also emerged that, whilst an iOPS inspection report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary is constantly delayed, the force are trying to implement as many of the HMIC recommendations as possible, before publication, in order to mimimise reputational damage and hoodwink the public.

Another GMP Command Team member, the seemingly gutless Debbie Ford, accepted a rare neutral transfer back to her previous force, Northumbria Police, rather than confront the wrongdoing of the senior leadership miscreants amongst whom she sat every morning and, she said, were making her feel ‘uncomfortable’.

But the most persistent, and obvious, Command Team ‘villain’ within GMP is, very arguably, the chief constable himself.  The persistent failings of this belligerent and self-adoring individual are well documented elsewhere on this website (read more here). The most recent scandal post-dated the publication of that widely read, and shared, article when the outcome of the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Assurance Review of Operation Augusta (an abandoned investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rochdale in 2004) was pubished on 14th January, 2020. Hopkins had planned to abdicate responsibility for appearing at a press conference, offering up arch-sycophant ACC Hussain instead.

But the assembled media was having none of that and, eventually, Hopkins was coaxed down from the 4th floor at GMP’s plush HQ. But, only to read out a prepared statement after which he departed in high dudgeon, refusing to answer any questions. A shameful performance, by any measure, and one for which he has been quite rightly and robustly criticised in the press, on television and on social media.

The full Augusta report, which some readers may find distressing, can be read here.

Hopkins deleted his Twitter account later the same day, or early the following morning. He had disgraced himself previously on the social media platform, appearing to abuse his position of authority – and an official ‘blue-ticked’ Greater Manchester Police account – to attack fellow users (read more here). The GMP press office, unusually for them, refused to even acknowledge the request for a statement from Hopkins over his sudden and unexplained disappearance from Twitter. Remarkably, the story didn’t make the mainstream media, particularly the Manchester Evening News whom, conversely and perversely, draw a significant amount of their output from daily social media trawls and, in particular, police force users.

Apart from Grainger, iOPS and Operation Augusta, commentary on another disgraceful GMP scandal now appears very frequently on social media. This concerns the tragic death of 17 year old Yousef Makki, a Manchester Grammar School pupil stabbed to death in a leafy street in the millionaire village of Hale Barns.

Yousef’s family, close friends and supporters have, through their grief, moulded themselves into a formidable and well-informed campaigning group against the apparently woeful police investigation led by DCI Colin Larkin (unsurprisingly nicknamed “Pop”) and, it seems, half-hearted prosecution. The senior police officer with overall responsibility for the investigation is the aforementioned Maboob Hussain. He has emerged as the force’s spokesman on the scandal and ‘Mabel’ has met the Makki family, where his focus appeared to be attempting to discredit former Head of the Major Incident Team at GMP, Peter Jackson, who has been assisting Jade Akoum, Yousef’s exceptionally resourceful and articulate sister and Debbie Makki, his distraught mother. The popular and widely respected Jackson is now well known, nationwide, as the country’s most vocal and effective police whistleblower and, as such, a persistent thorn in the side of GMP and Mabel, it seems.

Jackson has brought Employment Tribunal proceedings against Greater Manchester Police, listed to commence on 20th April, 2020, over the highly questionable treatment he received from fellow senior officers after he blew the whistle on a lengthy, and truly shocking, list of failings by them (read in full here). The Tribunal is expected to sit for 12 weeks as some very dirty GMP washing will get a public airing from a lengthy list of police witnesses.

But Hussain has not been able to shake off the controversy surrounding his own appointment to his senior position in GMP and the serious doubts about his own integrity that flowed from it. It is covered in forensic detail elsewhere on this website (read in full here) and, devastating though it is, stands completely unchallenged. The Hussain/GMP/West Yorkshire Police strategy of stonewalling and attempting to silence critics has not worked – and in the modern era of instant and connected communication was never likely to, either.  Especially as local, regional and national politicians, and policing figures, are now seized of the matter due to the significant adverse publicity being generated, and the consequent damage to public confidence in the police service more widely, and GMP in particular.

On any independent (or political or regulatory) view, Hussain should not be near any evidence chain until the doubts over his own trustworthiness, and those of a large number of other senior officers alleged to be involved in the ‘cover-up’, are resolved one way or another. Those include the deputy chief constable at GMP, Ian Pilling. A man with whom the author of this article has had extensive and mostly unsatisfactory dealings. Those interchanges may, very arguably, persuade anyone reviewing them that Pilling’s conduct, generally, and his approach to the indisputable misconduct of others, is highly questionable. To the extent that his seat as deputy chief constable is untenable at least until those doubts are satisfactorily, and independently, resolved.

After choosing to intervene in a Twitter thread concerning the Makki killing, Nick Bailey has been asked twice, on that social media platform to confirm if he believes that, on the basis of what is set out in the ‘When The Cover Up Becomes The Story‘ article, and the evidence behind it, three of his GMP Command Team colleagues, Hopkins, Pilling and Hussain are officers of unimpeachable integrity.

This is not a trick question, but one of the highest public interest and should, one might expect, have produced an immediate, and unequivocal, response in the affirmative. Especially, with Bailey having eulogised so profusely about the force, and those running it, when he joined Greater Manchester Police a short time ago.

It is also relevant to point out that he is highly qualified to make judgements on the integrity of policing colleagues, having spent a significant period of his Cheshire Constabulary as Head of their Professional Standards Department.

But the problem for Assistant Chief Constable Bailey is that he cannot endorse the integrity of any of those three senior colleagues, having read the Hussain article, without compromising his own.

So what will he do about it? An educated guess is NOTHING. Zero. Zilch. He will, presumably and having ignored the invitation on social media, be prepared to breach the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics requiring him to challenge inappropriate conduct and, of course, his first duty to those precept payers funding his huge salary by keeping them safe from other senior police officers whom, seemingly, cannot be trusted to do their job with unimpeachable integrity, without fear or favour and in accordance with the Oath of a Constable (read in full here). In the case of the Hussain ‘transfer’ from West Yorkshire to GMP there were, demonstrably, a fair few favours called in. It hangs over both police forces like the stench of fish, rotting from the head down.

Why is this situation allowed to pertain? Because that is how the top echelons of policing work. Almost every NPCC-rank officer will cover for another. Omertà is the operational code. We have seen another high profile example of that, very recently, in GMP, with the revelations and naming of the involvement of very senior officers in the premature closing down of Operation Augusta – and all that has happened since to stifle accountability and to silence another nationally-known, high octane whistleblower, Maggie Oliver. Where, undoubtedly, selective memory and refusal to co-operate with the enquiry were some of the most troubling revelations. Two ex-GMP officers who went on to become chief constables elsewhere head that list: Dave Jones, who suddenly quit North Yorkshire Police in mysterious circumstances in April, 2018 and Dave Thompson, still serving at West Midlands Police and known by former colleagues for his remarkable recall, across decades, on matters unconnected to the child sexual exploitation in Rochdale.

It is not clear what Bailey actually does to earn his six figure salary at GMP, apart from publicly support menopause campaigns on social media. His biography on the force website appears completely absent of detail as to what his portfolio responsibilities might be (read here).

He is, however, National Police Chiefs Council lead for information rights, covering the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act: On this basis alone, Bailey should resign from GMP as they are, in the extensive experience of the author of this article, persistent and mendacious law-breakers of both Acts. The cavalier and unacceptable approach by GMP to disclosure in civil claims is also the subject of repeated and vitriolic criticism by claimants and their lawyers.

If he has national responsibility for information rights, as appears to be the case, then the reader can add, for certain, the disgraceful antics of such as the three Yorkshire police forces, Humberside and Durham to the list of law-breakers. It should also be noted that the situation is getting worse since Bailey was appointed, not better.

In conclusion, it appears that Greater Manchester Police has landed itself with another dud, out of depth assistant chief constable to add to a depressingly long list of previous failures. If he finds this article an uncomfortable read then he should begin today and start to put matters right. Make his family and the beleagured junior ranks in GMP proud of him: Challenge those around him that are, at present, deemed untrustworthy; forget mealy-mouthed excuses and come clean about iOPS; robustly sort out the information rights catastrophe across the police service, starting urgently with GMP; spend less time fretting about menopause; and then another article can be written, and published, enthusiastically lauding those achievements.

Over to you, Nicholas Bailey and please use your right of reply.

At present, over three days after publication of this article, the email sent to ACC Bailey requesting comment has not been acknowledged. GMP’s press officer were copied in to that communication.

That failure to respond is, of itself, a breach of the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics under the headings of Respect and Courtesy; Duties and Responsibilities. But as this article sets out, in the main, if you are a senior police officer engaged by Greater Manchester Police you regard yourself as above the law.

It would, after all, take just a few seconds to type: “Thanks, but no comment“.

 

Page last updated on Monday 2nd March, 2020 at 1445hrs

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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

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

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