‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’

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

A highly attritional relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amid this turbulence, it might not be so surprising, therefore, that a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, with NYP at its heart, slipped the net.  

In October, 2019 I attended, as an observer, a conference in Liverpool, organised by United Against Injustice. I have known the leading lights in UAI for some years, but this was my first conference visit to their annual gathering. The fact that three representatives from the Criminal Case Review Commission were due to give a presentation, and be available to answer questions afterwards, was at least one compelling reason to justify the journey.

The Melsonby post office murder

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

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

It also gives an experienced reviewer a firm handle on how high the bar is set in order to overturn a conviction. Most crucially, if the necessary ‘new evidence’, as strictly defined in section 23 (2) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1995 [read here], is likely to be available. To an extent that it would persuade the law lords that the conviction is ‘unsafe’, and quash it, under powers vested by way of section 2(1)(a) of the same Act.

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

The core of the defence submission was that the alleged theft was advanced by the Crown, at trial, as the motive for murder – and that the jury took that route to their guilty verdict. 

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

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

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

The three Garbutt appeals to CCRC

In the Garbutt case, two subsequent rejections of appeals to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC), a product of the 1995 reforms of the Act, did not appear to have received very much publicity at the time. It has not been possible to gain access to the submissions made by the Robin Garbutt team and the consequent decisions by the ‘watchdog’.

The CCRC Statement of Reasons are not published, as one might expect, on the Garbutt campaign website (see here). Indeed, the submission of the first appeal, in March 2015, is mentioned, but there is no reference at all to the second. Either the date of its submission or when the decision was subsequently communicated to Robin Garbutt’s legal team, headed by Martin Rackstraw at Bindmans. The CCRC press office has disclosed that the first appeal was closed in June, 2016 and the sceond appeal, submitted in February, 2017 was closed in July, 2017.

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

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

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

An independent investigation – a search for the truth

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

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

 

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The murder of 40 year old Diana Garbutt took place on 23rd March 2010. The scene was the living quarters above the post office in Melsonby, in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. The village, with its remarkably low crime rate, lies 1.2 miles to the west of the A1 trunk road and 1.2 miles north of the A66 route towards Penrith in Cumbria. The well known, and very busy, Scotch Corner interchange is just over 3 miles away.

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

One of the blows was fatal and she was found, wearing only a camisole, some time after the murder, by her husband, with her head in a pool of blood, face down on top of the duvet cover in the spare bedroom. Moments after an alleged armed robbery had taken place in the post office area of the village store. This is a tape recording of the 999 call made to the police:

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

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

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

There was no description of the getaway vehicle, or its direction of travel, given by Garbutt in the aftermath of the incident. No sightings of any persons matching the descriptions given by the shopkeeper. He told police that the robbers had entered the post office through the front door of the shop and made their exit the same way, one a short time before the other, after the safe containing an A4 Post Office book of stamps and around £10,000 in cash was emptied. It was said Mrs Garbutt was upstairs at the time and heard nothing. She rarely rose from her bed before 8.30am.

The police made no public appeal regarding the handgun allegedly pointed at Robin Garbutt in the course of that robbery. Or, it seems, gave any warnings not to approach the men if they were suspected of involvement in the Melsonby robbery. An imitation firearm was recovered during what, police said, were extensive enquiries, but not linked to this crime. No one was ever identified as a suspect, or arrested, in connection with the robbery and the incident is still logged by police as an unsolved crime. Following a general police appeal for information, two days later, it appeared that the trail had gone completely cold and nothing, it seems, was subsequently reported upon, in the local press, until Diana Garbutt’s murder. 

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

A prosecution witness at the murder trial, fraud investigator Andrew Keighley, also gave evidence concerning another similarity: In the months leading up to both reported robberies, Post Office Limited recorded an increase in requests from the Melsonby branch for extra money to be delivered.

It may never be known if the requests in 2009 were needed to replace misapproprated cash, as police believe happened in the time leading up to Diana Garbutt’s murder. One of the foundation stones of the investigation that the justice campaigners feel they have since undermined.

‘A comedy of errors’

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

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

(ii) An iron bar – said to be the murder weapon – has caused consternation both regarding the circumstances of its alleged discovery, two days after the murder, and the results of DNA tests taken from it four months after its discovery. The fact that a police officer’s DNA showed up on the bar was, at first, concealed from Robin Garbutt’s lawyers.

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

(iv) DNA tests taken from the pillow are now the subject of further challenge by the Garbutt campaign team over potential cross-contamination with biometric samples taken from the murder weapon . 

(v) Two bedside lamps were removed by the police from their position within the crime scene, and placed in a cupboard. There were signs of blood spots on at least one of them.

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

(vii) The defence team assert that the fish and chip wrappers, containing the remnants of the couple’s supper on the evening before the murder, were the wrong ones. This casts doubt on the analysis of the food decomposition in Diana’s stomach by the police’s chosen expert.

(viii) Questions for Melsonby villagers, interviewed during post-incident house to house enquiries, included confirmation of their hair and eye colour, whether they wore body piercings, or a watch. Householders were also asked ‘intrusive’ questions about neighbours. 

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

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

(xi) Police and prosecutors claim that no struggle between Diana and the killer took place before the murder. That is disputed by the Garbutt campaigners who claim that pictures were displaced and bedside lamps were knocked over. They say that Diana with her armed forces background would have fought an attacker.

(xii) A balaclava and ball-bearing handgun were found by Cleveland Police in Thornaby, 19 miles from Melsonby, on 24th March, 2010. The campaigners say there was no attempt to link them forensically to the Garbutt murder.

(xiii) At first, the police accepted the time of death of Diana Garbutt was 6am at the earliest. This stance was changed at trial, which started a year later, based on expert evidence from a forensic archeologist.

(xiv) Neighbour Pauline Dye was allowed to wash her bloodstained hands in the Garbutts’ bathroom sink after handling the body of Mrs Garbutt.

This is, on any view, a truly shocking catalogue of serious investigative failures and is much more extensively reviewed in a seperate analyis on this website (read in full here).

Confirmation bias

In this light, Robin Garbutt can safely say that he suffered prejudice at the criminal trial as a result. In that sense, there is merit in the argument of his campaign team that there has been, potentially, a miscarriage of justice. But not an unsafe conviction.

Without the armed robbery story, Garbutt would, very likely, NOT have been convicted of the murder. Indeed, the police and prosecutors, absent of a confession, may well have struggled to get even a charge against him, let alone a trial. There was simply no evidence linking him to it, forensic or otherwise.

A well known retired senior police officer and commended detective, who spent his entire career with a large metropolitan police force, told me that the smaller county forces didn’t have the well-oiled machinery and the know-how of their big city cousins to roll out an effective, efficient investigation in the ‘golden hours’ just after a serious crime had been committed. They often didn’t have the required personnel, either. The cream of the crop tended to be skimmed off by the larger forces. 

Another friend, of even higher rank, was actually brought up in Melsonby village. He is also scathing of the abilities, of what was his local police force, to conduct major investigations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs Gaylor was interviewed, very briefly, by the media, after the Garbutt sentencing and alongside Detective Constable John Bosomworth (watch short video clip here). Based with Northallerton CID, DC Bosomworth read from a statement prepared on behalf of the family in which the murder investigation was warmly praised, particularly for its ‘care and compassion’. This is a recurring NYP trait. The rest of the country knows that this was a quite appalling investigation from beginning to end, and still with huge question marks against it, and their first, and persistently irritating, instinct is self-praise.

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

But this wasn’t the only police investigation in which DC Bosomworth was centrally involved around that time and his underperforming NYP colleagues were later the subject of fierce, and highly justified, criticism by those pursued by them. As in the Garbutt case (criticised by the trial judge), in this case the force was criticised by a senior officer from another constabulary, appointed by the police watchdog, to assess an appeal into a quite disgraceful internal investigation by NYP (read press report in full here). That case involved a mother being falsely, and, on the evidence, perversely and irrationally accused of the attempted murder of her own disabled young daughter. None of the officers concerned in this case was properly held to account.

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

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

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

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

Rome ran from 2008 until 2014, Hyson 2014 until 2016. Lord Maginnis of Drumglass was refused a meeting with Theresa May, Home Secretary at the time, to raise grave concerns over Operation Rome and the way North Yorkshire Police was running it. She refused, so he raised the matter in Parliament. He told those assembled on the red benches: ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’. 

That startling submission was on 15th May 2012, less than a month after Robin Garbutt was sent to prison. It is a quote, entirely factual, that police force and its senior leaders came to resent and detest.

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

This is far from an exhaustive list of NYP failures; in my time spent scrutising the force they run well into double figures. Including serious allegations, supported by employment tribunal findings, of being a racist and sexist organisaion. But it gives the reader a flavour of just how low the ethical and professional bar is set in this police force. Add to that a breathtaking level of incompetence, layered over with ingrained, overbearing arrogance and superiority, that seeps into almost every business area, and the scale of the problems within this organisation begins to crystallise. It is almost certain that justice campaigners such as the Garbutt team, and their legal team, will recognise these unpleasant, and wholly unacceptable traits, as they have battled to uncover the truth behind a grotesquely failed Operation Nardoo investigation.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package

Obtaining disclosure of relevant materials will also be a constant thorn in the side of the campaigners, led by Jane Metcalfe (on the left in above pic), his sister Sallie Wood and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn, as it is for anyone who deals with the force on a professional level, such as lawyers and journalists. Best exemplified by this case, wherein the Lord Chief Justice was blistering in his condemnation of, amongst others, the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police. Sir John Thomas described the force’s conduct as ‘reprehensible’. At one point, Dave Jones was summoned to appear before the law lords in London. The full handed down judgment can be read here. The only officer ever held to account was an inexperienced detective constable, recently posted in a department that was widely known for its failings and, of course, in true NYP style, the decision makers and top brass escaped any censure, whatsoever.

So, we come to the key questions:

 ~ Did Robin Garbutt get a fair trial in April, 2011 at Teesside Crown Court?

Emphatically not, in my submission. A police investigation so inept it borders on the criminally negligent; a senior leadership and detective mindset mired in confirmation bias: a threadbare prosecution absent of anything other than circumstantial evidence and accompanied by the almost standard disclosure failings that, seemingly, weave through every operation conducted by North Yorkshire Police.

~ Did the jury come to the right verdict?

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline 

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

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

 

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

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

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.

 

 

‘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.

Mackrell caught in Hillsborough net

On Wednesday 4th April, 2019, at shortly after 12.15pm, a jury of six men and six women trooped into Court 1 in Preston Crown Court for their final time.

They had been deliberating in the trial of Graham Mackrell and David Duckenfield for 29 hours and 6 mins. Aked for their verdicts, the jury foreman said his peers had failed to reach a verdict on count 1, gross negligence manslaughter, against Mr Duckenfield. For count 3, a health and safety breach by Mr Mackrell, a finding of guilty, by a majority verdict of 10 – 2. For count 2, another safety breach by Mr Mackrell, they had been directed by the judge, Sir Peter Openshaw DL, to return a verdict of not guilty. That formality was completed, before they were thanked ‘on behalf of the community‘ by the judge for their public service, and discharged.

The charges related to the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster which happened almost 30 years ago, when 96 Liverpool football supporters went to a football match and did not return. Mr Mackrell is the first person to be found guilty of any disciplinary, regulatory or criminal offence in the decades since that tragic day. He was the Sheffield Wednesday club secretary and, more crucially, their safety officer at the material time.

He will be sentenced by the judge on 9th May, 2019, after consideration of written submissions from both his own counsel, Jason Beer QC, and the Crown Prosecution Service’s leader, Richard Matthews QC.

The CPS has already indicated that they will seek a re-trial of Mr Duckenfield. Counsel for the defendant, Benjamin Myers QC, told the judge, at a short hearing which followed discharge of the jury, that he will apply to have such proceedings stayed as an abuse of process. A further hearing, to determine that stay application, is listed for 24th June, 2019, with a time estimate of 2 to 3 days.

Strict reporting restrictions remain in place in respect of the Duckenfield trial and its aftermath. This also impacts on the reporting of the Mackrell trial. Nothing can be said that prejudices any future trial of Mr Duckenfield, or another Hillsborough trial that involves three other defendants, Donald Denton, Alan Foster and Peter Metcalf, and is listed to begin in September, 2019. The first two named are retired South Yorkshire Police officers and Mr Metcalf was retained by the police as their civil litigation lawyer.

The proceedings against Graham Mackrell, still a leading light in football administration, after a glittering post-disaster career, began in Warrington Magistrates Court in July 2017. The first appearance at Preston Crown Court was in September, 2017 when he sat in the dock, along with five other men charged with a variety of offences arising from the disaster. Sir Norman Bettison was, subsequently, found to have no case to answer after the prosecution withdrew.

The substantive trial began on 14th January, 2019 in Preston. Mr Mackrell was allowed, by the judge, to sit in the well of the court, amongst his lawyers, throughout those proceedings. 

Mackrell, who did not give evidence during the trial, gave a no comment interview to Operation Resolve, a police led investigation, whose officers interviewed him in April 2017. He was charged two months later.

Shortly before he began summing up the trial, the judge had directed the jury not to draw adverse inference from the fact that Mackrell had chosen not to give evidence. It was found that none of the questions given to his lawyers, in an interview pre-brief, had made their way on to the indictment, as it then stood, nine weeks into the trial. One count had fallen away, and part of the second had decayed at that point.

No defence witnesses were called to give live evidence on Mackrell’s behalf. The court did hear read evidence from eight witnesses, of high standing in football and political spheres, who attested that the club secretary, a chartered accountant, was diligent and co-operative in that, and other footballing roles. No mention was made, by any, of how he carried out his job of safety officer. A point that would not have been lost on the jury.

The jury found him guilty of failing to take reasonable care of the safety of 10,100 spectators on the West Terrace of the Sheffield Wednesday stadium. A regular FA Cup semi-final venue, in spite of repeated incidents and complaints of crushing in that area. Most notably, in 1981 and 1987. Mackrell joined Sheffield Wednesday in December, 1986.

Only seven turnstiles were allocated to admit those spectators in that area in 1989 and, inevitably, a dangerous crush built up in the approach to the Leppings Lane entrance.

Eleven turnstiles had been in use for the same terraces in the 1988 semi-final match between the same two teams, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Nothing heard in evidence came close to explaining why Mr Mackrell did not challenge, in his role as the football club’s safety officer, the catastrophic change in turnstile arrangements. Instead, he relied on the more general proposition that he left such matters to the police to deal with in their operational order.

In that era, and the jury were directed to discount either the benefit of hindsight, or consideration of modern stadia and the policing of them, segretation of fans was a primary consideration to prevent hooliganism. The jury heard that led to the closing of turnstiles on the Penistone Road side of the stand to Liverpool fans in 1989. Access to the North Stand was funnelled through the Lepping Lane entrance, adding to the build up of Liverpool fans.

Throughout the trial, the jury did not see, or hear corroborated evidence of, one single incident of hooliganism, disorder or excessive drinking at that end of the ground.

The jury did see, however, graphic images and film of the developing crisis as the crowd built up from around 2.10pm. What is clear is that the jury rejected the submission of Mr Beer that the crowd arriving late was a more material factor than the number of turnstiles allocated. All the evidence heard, and the film and photographs viewed, concerning the charges against Mr Mackrell, pointed to the opposite: Fans arriving at the ground early – long before the invitation on the rear of their ticket stated – was a contributory factor in the disaster. He was directly responsible for the printing of those match day tickets. They stated on the rear that fans should be in the ground by 2.45pm. Fiteen minutes before kick off.  

Graham Henry Mackrell, by then a convicted criminal, was allowed to slip out of the back door of Preston Crown Court. An affront to open justice, the media who had waited for days at the front of the court, the public who were denied the opportunity of hearing what he had to say and, most crucially, the bereaved families and survivors who did not hear him offer contrition, or an apology.

Steve Kelly, who lost his brother Michael, told me that, in calmer waters than immediately after the verdicts, “I will support every bereaved family member, and survivor, who wants to see a re-trial go ahead – and in the meantime, continue to respect due process and try to ensure that nothing is done to prejudice any future Hillsborough trial”.

Jenni Hicks, who lost her teenaged daughters Sarah and Victoria, said, “We have been chasing rainbows for thirty years. But, of course, we cannot express fully how we feel until all the trials are over”.

Barry Devonside, who lost his 18 year old son Christopher, added, “As a magistrate for 20 years, I know how important it is for the integrity of the trial process to be preserved. But 96 people were found, unanimously, by an inquest jury, to be unlawfully killed and it is right that those responsible are held to account”.

Richie Greaves, who has campaigned tirelessly for almost 30 years on behalf of the survivors from pen 3 and 4, and the bereaved families, concluded, “The conviction of Mackrell is a step in the right direction, and I support the prosecution team, the families, and my fellow survivors, in aiming for a re-trial. Once all the trials are concluded, the Government is urged to fulfil their promises on the Hillsborough Law”.

The re-trial of David Duckenfield is listed for hearing on 7th October, 2019 and is expected to last for approximately eight weeks. It will again be heard in Court 1 at Preston Crown Court.

Page last updated on Sunday 4th August. 2019 at 0925hrs

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Picture credit:  Crown Prosecution Service

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