Prisoners

MUCH MORE THAN A ‘LURKING DOUBT’

 

RAYMOND GILBERT’S 29 YEARS IN PRISON.

A Submission to the Criminal Cases Review Commission made by Bruce Kent on behalf of Raymond Gilbert with his permission.

Shortly after he retired as Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2008, Professor Graham Zellick said that where there is a ‘lurking doubt’   a claim of wrongful conviction should be referred to the Court of Appeal. Very few cases are actually referred by the CCRC to that Court. According to one report  only 27 out of 1087 such cases were so referred last year.

In the case of Raymond Gilbert , convicted in 1981 of murder, a brutal stabbing of an innocent young man, a bookmaker ,  there are a whole series of doubts. They are not lurking. They are obvious and there for anyone who has studied the case to see.

I list some of them.

To start with, why would man given a 15 year tariff, who could have been released from prison years ago had he been a model prisoner, taken the necessary anger management  courses, and  admitted his guilt, nevertheless go on claiming that he did not commit the crime? He has now done almost more than twice his tariff and even if all goes well with parole hearings it will still be several years  before he gets out.

If that is a general doubt there are more specific ones.

His co- defendant in 1981, John Kamara had his case quashed in 2000 by the Court of Appeal.

One strong reason was that the prosecution failed to give the defence a number of witness statements which did not support the prosecution case and even contradicted witness statements which were used. This failure applies as much to Gilbert’s case as to Kamara’s.

Since Kamara’s conviction was quashed another question arises at once. Kamara was only involved because Gilbert falsely identified him from a photo shown to him by the police. If Kamara was not involved then who else was? The murder had to be a two person crime. It involved forcible entry, tying up and then stabbing a young  Bookmaker in his betting shop. The police say they are not looking for anyone else. Why not?

The most likely suspects were the two men who had a row with the Bookmaker the day before and who threatened to return and sort him out. Their alibis were never subjected to the same scrutiny as were Gilbert’s and Kamara’s .So serious were their threats, that the Bookmaker told his father how upset he was, and  that he had decided to give up his job. He returned on the fatal morning of 13th Feb ’81 to meet a representative of Coral, who owned the shop, and to hand over the keys. However the Coral’s representative was  late.

Why was Gilbert arrested? I imagine because he, a mixed race young man with little education, was a local petty criminal, known for robbery and gang fights, and might be worth questioning.

He was actually reporting daily to the same police station to which he was taken on Monday16th.At no time, then or now, has there ever been ANY evidence- witness recognition, bloodstains, fingerprints, or a knife etc to connect Gilbert with what was a very bloody crime.

NONE WHATEVER AT ANY TIME!

Indeed he had at first an alibi. He says he was in bed with his girlfriend, June Bannan, on the morning of Friday  the 13th and only went out briefly to a local shop to buy cigarettes.

At first Bannan supported this claim .But she was threatened with  prosecution for obstructing the course of justice. We know that she was actually at some stage in the same prison van as Kamara. She changed her story and said that Gilbert had gone out for some hours on the morning of the murder

Interestingly the Judge when the trial began in December ‘81 did not seem to notice a contradiction in Bannan’s statements made after Gilbert had been removed from the court. She was produced as a witness when the court was hearing the case against Kamara. She was questioned about a row she had with Gilbert over allegations of having had sex with Kamara. She said that the row took place at about 11.30 am when both were still in bed. However she could not remember the exact day but went on to say it   ‘ may have been on the Friday morning at 11.30 am’.

That was Friday 13th the morning of the murder. In other words she was reinstating Gilbert’s  alibi, apparently inadvertently, when she was being questioned. The Judge did not notice this contradiction . Another major doubt. Why was Bannan pressured to withdraw her alibi and why did the Judge not notice her later contradiction?

If there was no evidence, why a prosecution?  Because during the 48 hours during which Gilbert was held he was questioned at different hours of the day and night by two policemen and was told that Bannan had withdrawn her alibi. No lawyer was present and no taped record was kept .During these 48 hours Gilbert, certainly very scared, crumbled when he was told that Bannan had changed her story and started to make a confession which in its final form he signed.

So that is that?

Not at all. He repudiated the confession when he had  access to a lawyer who said that Gilbert was ‘ disorientated’ when he first saw him after the questioning.

The  written confession show clear  signs of manipulation, omission and contradiction.

For instance the times when things were supposed to have happened were adjusted to fit in with the times that various witnesses said that they saw a struggle outside the betting shop.  At first Gilbert  said that the time when the attack started was ten minutes past ten am. He could give gave the exact time, he said, because he looked at Kamara’s watch. But this did not fit in with witness evidence and in the signed version it becomes just after 9am.

Gilbert at first said he threw the murder weapon down a drain near the shop. No knife was ever found  in the drain  In the version which he signed he changed the story to say that he took the knife back to someone’s house. There was a kitchen type knife there, as there would be in most households, but nothing whatever to connect it to the murder.

In an early answer to a question he said that the door to the bookmaker’s was open and the two of them walked in and then attacked the bookmaker. In the signed version  (fitting in with one witness statement,) the two of them attacked the bookmaker outside and, after a struggle involving a  knife, got him to open the door.

Another doubt arises over the milk bottle and paper which the bookmaker collected from a local shop as usual .The crime scene photograph show both these items on a bench or table, intact, inside the shop. But the signed confession describes a violent struggle outside the shop. It is impossible to imagine how the Bookmaker would be able to keep holding the milk bottle while being violently attacked. It would have been dropped . It seems much more likely that the Bookmaker entered his shop in the usual way, put down his bottle and paper and was then overpowered by people, perhaps already waiting in the inner room. But that is not the story in the signed confession and it is not what one passer by said she saw.

The bottle would certainly have smashed  on the outside steps of the shop if the confession story is true. A juror raised this point with the Judge at the trial and all the  judge  could say was the he did not see how it mattered. But by then he was summing up on the Kamara case and had probably forgotten the details of Gilbert’s ‘confession’ statement. In fact he may not have even got the story accurately in the first place. At an earlier stage in his summing up he referred to the bookmaker’s collection of his  ‘paper and mail’ from a local shop, not his paper and milk bottle.

Another difference between the signed statement and the admissions preceding it is that there is no mention of the story first told, about the disposal of the stolen money. Gilbert first said he gave some of it to Bannan which she used to buy some items of furniture. But she rejected this version of events and explained to the police  where she legitimately  got them. Perhaps she could prove this. Anyway in the signed statement there is no reference to Bannan getting any money and it is not clear what Gilbert is supposed to have done with it.

The CCRC also suggested, in a previous report, that Gilbert knew facts about the murder scene that only someone who had been there might have known. They dismissed the idea that the police might have ‘fed’ him some information. Why? The murder took place a few months before the Toxteth riots and the trial a few months afterwards. The racist atmosphere in the Liverpool police force at that time is now a matter of record.

The Chair of the Merseyside Black Police Association has recently  reported ‘ make no mistake about it, the Police were abusing black people then ( in 1981)’. Gilbert was of mixed race. Anyway if they thought they had their man it might even be understandable.

Nevertheless the murder was a major item of Liverpool concern that weekend. Gilbert was going to the police station every day to report and there would have been gossip. A range of people apart from the police would have seen the murder site. The event was prominent news in local papers. Gilbert knew the layout of the betting shop since he had been there infrequently as a customer in the past.

Another significant sign, and perhaps the most important , of the unreliability of the signed confession is that it fails to mention( neither did any of the previous verbal admissions ) that inside the main money safe there was an inner section with a time lock. The Bookmaker could not have unlocked it even had he wished to do so. He did open the main safe with its small amount of petty cash but he could not open the inner section. This is probably what caused his death.

The real robbers, knowing that he had already opened the main door to the safe, which also had a combination lock, probably thought that he was refusing to open the inner section of the safe  and stabbed him in revenge.

There is no mention in the signed confession of any inner section to the safe yet this would have been a critical factor in the crime. Why was it not mentioned? Perhaps Gilbert did not know about it simply because he was not there? Perhaps the police who were doing the questioning did not know about it either and therefore did not help to introduce it into the signed confession?

Another doubt in a different direction now arises. The Bookmaker’s father was urged not to attend the trial but Coral the Bookmaking firm were present with their lawyer. The time locked safe section had a statement on it to indicate that it could not be opened, according to the bookmaker’s  cashier  This would have been prudent for the protection of Coral’s employees, if not a legal requirement .Was the notice actually adequate? For failing to clearly mark the safe the firm might have been legally negligent. Was there some arrangement with the police by which  this inner safe was not even mentioned  in court?

So much for the ‘ confession’. Plenty of very obvious doubts. Nor must it be forgotten that a confession obtained under such circumstances of incessant questioning without anyone else present  would never have led to a prosecution today.

Why did the jury not ask any questions about this confession?

Because they never had  a chance to hear these doubts raised by the defence. No jury has ever heard Gilbert’s defence. Why? Because in court, Gilbert made the biggest mistake in his life.

There were two attempts to get the trial moving when finally it came to court in December 1981. Twice Gilbert and Kamara pleaded not guilty in front of juries which were then dismissed for legal reasons. Again they pleaded not guilty in front of a third jury which had been sworn in. The trial then started. Yet after the prosecution had made its case and Gilbert was put in the witness box he suddenly sent a message to the Judge and said words to the effect that ‘I am guilty.’

He was at once removed from the court and took no further part in the trial. What efforts his lawyers made to get him to change his mind I do not know. They do not seem to have stretched themselves on his behalf. Granted the lack of any evidence, he had a good chance of getting a not guilty verdict.

Gilbert gives several reasons for this sudden switch of plea.

The first-- that he was being  physically threatened by Kamara and Kamara’s friends, who were also in the same prison. It was made clear to him that if he did not get Kamara off he would be injured.  Actually by this change of plea he ,unwittingly,  made things worse for Kamara.

The second --that he thought he was done for anyway having heard the prosecution case .

The third-- that he was fed up with all the procedures , new juries etc and just wanted to get it all  over with.

No defence on his behalf was ever presented. The inconsistencies in the confession were never pointed out. Only at the very end of the Kamara summing up did one juror ask about the miracle of the surviving milk bottle to be told by the Judge that he did not see how it mattered.

Does the guilty plea mean the end of the story? Not at all. The fact that false admissions are made is now a well known legal phenomenon. Within a few months, when Gilbert  was put into a prison without Kamara and friends, he again claimed innocence as he has since done consistently for nearly thirty years.

This whole story has much more than a ‘ lurking doubt’ attached to it. I believe, as do many others, that, at the very least, the Court of Appeal ought to have the right to decide on Gilbert’s case.  The CCRC ought to refer his case there. This is the wish of the murdered man’s father, an astonishingly just and compassionate man, who very much wants the issue to be decided in a court of law.

At the moment efforts are being made to find out if any physical evidence remains which might carry DNA on it. This should have been sought from the moment that the significance of  DNA became known. If Gilbert’s DNA is not present then it would be almost certain that he was not there. If there is other DNA ,apart from that of the murdered man, then that might even now lead to the identification of the real killers.

The CCRC  ,granted all the doubts listed, should surely accept that this is a case which ought, at once , go to the Court of Appeal.

The CCRC should also to make sure that none of their staff who were involved in previous rejections of Gilberts appeals should take part in the consideration of this appeal. Nor should the Commissioner who, before he  became one, made a TV film about Kamara’s innocence in which the guilt of Gilbert was assumed.

I am sure that CCRC staff and the Commissioner mentioned are entirely honourable people who may well have changed their minds, granted new information. Nevertheless it would be prudent for them not to take part in this new process.

13th March 09

 


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