Postmaster serving life for killing his wife launches fresh bid for freedom

News

A widower languishing behind bars for nearly ten years over a murder he claims he did not commit has made a new attempt to clear his name.

Diana Garbutt, 40, was killed by three heavy blows to the head with a rusty iron bar on March 23, 2010.

Postmaster husband Robin, 54, phoned 999 after apparently discovering her bloodied body in the living quarters upstairs at the post office he and his wife ran together in the North Yorkshire village of Melsonby. He claims the balaclava-clad intruder who held him up and forced him to hand over £16,000 from the safe was responsible.

But Garbutt was convicted by a jury majority of 10 to two a year later at Teesside Crown Court and jailed for life despite no physical evidence linking him to the scene.

As part of a third application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to have the investigation reopened, his legal team raise serious questions surrounding the DNA evidence.

When the murder weapon was swabbed, it was found to contain a full DNA profile belonging to an unknown male and another which later matched one of the police officers present when it was discovered.

They also suggest the same constable’s sample could potentially be among a mixed profile of at least three unknown males which was recovered from a rust mark on a pillowcase in the bedroom where she was killed – despite him not being on duty when the scene was examined, suggesting key evidence may have been contaminated.

Campaigners fighting for Garbutt’s release claim the unknown profile may hold the key to identifying the real killer, while all the other evidence pointing to his guilt has now been disproved.

A key part of the prosecution case was the time of death but the expert who gave evidence at trial has since been contradicted by a Home Office pathologist.

Jurors were told Diana died between 2.30am and 4.30am – long before the post office’s central locking system allowed the safe to be opened, at 8.30am. The assertion seemingly blew a huge hole in Garbutt’s claims of a robbery gone wrong.

But the expert instructed by his legal team subsequently concluded the time of death may have been much later than 4.30am – possibly even after 6.45am.

The revelation indicates it would have been almost impossible for Garbutt to have carried out the murder because the till roll shows a stream of customers from 5.15am through to around 8.30am that morning. Many of those gave evidence at the trial and all recalled Garbutt seeming his normal self.

The motive was said to have been that he was stealing cash from the post office, staged the robbery to cover up the shortfall and killed her, either in the process of it, or perhaps because she found out.

At around the same time, similar allegations of theft had been levelled at a dozens of other postmasters up and down the country after the computerised accounts showed money apparently going missing from the branches.

But it has since emerged that there was a massive glitch in the Horizon IT system which culminated in the Post Office recently settling a mammoth High Court case brought by 550 wrongly accused former postmasters for £58 million.

Although not one of the 56 who now look set to launch Britain’s largest ever miscarriage of justice case, Garbutt’s supporters hope the added weight of the scandal will help force the CCRC into action.

A long-time friend of his is leading the campaign for his release. Jane Metcalfe said: ‘Had the system worked properly, there is every chance that Robin’s case never would have got to trial because it would have proved he wasn’t stealing money and that plank of the prosecution case never would have arisen.’

Yet the CCRC has twice refused to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal because there is no new or fresh evidence to fulfil the body’s ‘real possibility test’ – in other words, a good chance an appeal court would quash the conviction. A spokesman said a ‘detailed analysis’ setting out the reasons accompanied each refusal and confirmed the latest application would be considered with an open mind.

Despite the brutality of the murder, there is no forensic evidence tying Garbutt to the crime scene. There was no blood spatter on his clothes and none of his DNA on either the pillowcase or the iron bar which was found on top of a wall across the road two days later.

Inexplicably, the most vital piece of evidence in the entire case was lost before the trial even started.

Crime scene photographs show a clump of hair on one of the pillows. It does not appear to belong to Diana or her husband, so had she ripped it from her attacker’s head during a struggle it would surely have held the killer’s DNA profile.

Solicitor Glyn Maddocks – who has been made an honorary QC for his work on miscarriages of justice – called the blunder ‘shocking’.

He said: ‘The way in which the forensic work has been handled and dealt with is disgraceful. It’s absolutely disgraceful and no-one could possibly argue otherwise.

‘It’s just such a shocking case. If it was you or your relative, you’d be absolutely horrified.’

North Yorkshire Police declined to comment.

With the key planks of the original prosecution case having seemingly disintegrated, Mr Maddocks is not even sure they would pursue a retrial.

Ms Metcalfe says there was only ever ‘circumstantial evidence. And that’s gone now.’

She added: ‘The people who killed Di have gotten away with it for 10 years and are still free. It’s dreadful, utterly heartbreaking.’

Leading academic expert on miscarriages of justice Dr Michael Naughton, who founded Empowering the Innocent and has chosen a select number of cases to work on, explained that the CCRC was set up to investigate possible miscarriages of justice which failed on appeal.

He said: ‘The public deserve to know: should we have sympathy for this poor fella in prison when he’s innocent – as is claimed in the Robin Garbutt case – or actually know that this evil person murdered somebody and is showing absolutely no remorse?

‘When innocent people are in prison, the guilty are at unlawful liberty and they are committing more crime.’

Dr Naughton said he considers it ‘plausible’ that Garbutt is one of those people in prison for a crime they did not commit.

He said: ‘I think that in this particular case, because of the unknown male’s DNA on the murder weapon, we could establish who actually killed Diana.’