The Melsonby post office murder – Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

~ “Fourth time lucky?’ (read here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009: First reported robbery took place on 17th March at the post office. Around £11,000 was said to have been stolen from the safe by two masked, armed robbers. There were no witnesses and the police investigation was short-lived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017: Second application to CCRC. No grounds or reasons for rejection are known. Again these details are not revealed by the campaigners or alluded to in any way.

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

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

2018: Described in the local press as ‘a long-term friend’, Jane Metcalfe appears to join the Robin Garbutt justice campaign towards the end of the year and emerges as its principal spokesperson and presenter. Previously, the campaign was fronted by Robin’s sister, Sallie Wood and his brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn. Sallie is quoted in a press statement as saying she ‘will stop at nothing’ to clear her brother’s name.

2019: Third CCRC application submitted on 5th December. This time the campaigners have gone public with their grounds. Although there is no unequivocal statement from the campaigners, they can just about be pieced together from studying an ‘exclusive’ article in The Metro, a free London-based newspaper; and two other media platforms: The Justice Gap and Private Eye, the iconic satirical magazine.

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

The Garbutt campaigners are hoping that their determined media campaign will pressure the CCRC into triaging their case as urgent. Some reviews by the criminal justice watchdog have been taking up to 7 years to finalise. The suspicion is that the Garbutt case will take much less time to determine. A decision on whether the CCRC will launch an investigation into the matters raised by the new application is expected to be communicated to his lawyers at the end of 2020 or early in 2021.

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

Page last updated: Sunday 27th September, 2020 at 1425 hours

Photo Credits: Allerton Castle.

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

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

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

‘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.

Screenshot 2020-04-13 at 11.51.48

(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.

‘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.