‘A comedy of errors’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credits: Northern Echo

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