Tag Archive for England

Released, But Not Free

Most people who spend 12 years in prison are overjoyed when they are paroled, but for Briton Susan May, her release from behind bars in the spring of 2005 did not bring the freedom she had so eagerly sought.
May’s case demonstrates the Catch-22 that convicts, in particular those in British jails, who are adamant about their innocence find themselves in when up for parole. Because if had she admitted murdering her blind, elderly aunt, May — sentenced to life imprisonment — might have been out of jail years ago.
“I was told on numerous occasions by prison staff, probation and psychology, that because of my refusal to accept offending behavior courses and progress through the system by admitting guilt, I would never get out of prison,” she told members of the British press when she was paroled.
Despite being freed, she vowed to fight to prove she did not commit murder and said she left Askham Grange Open Prison “with a heavy heart” because she wanted to be able to leave as an innocent woman.
“Until I have cleared my name, be it in or out of prison, I will remain locked up,” she said.
One of the key components — although not a requirement — of attaining parole in the United Kingdom is acknowledgment of guilt. The British Prison Service says that “denial of offending is a good indicator of continuing risk,” but that a lack of an admission of guilt itself cannot bar a prisoner’s release. In other words, they cannot deny parole when the prisoner refuses to take responsibility, but if the prisoner does not admit guilt, HMP administration may deny parole because that stance, along with other concerns, indicate the prisoner is still dangerous.
Conversely, a convict who admits guilt before a parole board simply to get out of prison effectively ends any argument about innocence in return for just a chance to go free. For persons convicted of a crime, particularly one as serious as murder, taking back any admission of guilt regardless of purpose is nearly impossible.
During her years behind bars, May became something of a cause celebre because of the weakness of the evidence that lead to her conviction. Nearly 100 members of Parliament had called for her release over the years, despite reviews by country’s Criminal Cases Review Commission and a pair of unsuccessful appeals in the court system. The Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up in 1997 to look into alleged miscarriages of justice.
In March 1992, May was a hairdresser and mother of three children in the small Lancashire village of Royton. She was involved with a younger married man — the always ebullient British tabloids dubbed him her “toyboy” — and was caring for her invalid aunt, Hilda Marchbank, whom she claimed was “as dear to her as her mother.”
Depending on who one asks, May, who had left her employment to care for her aunt and mother, was either financially independent or “had no income of her own, and depended on both her mother and her aunt for financial support.” (Criminal Cases Review Commission Report)
May visited her aunt three times a day, every day, and according to trial evidence, received numerous phone calls from her, as well.
On the morning of March 12, 1992, May was somewhat concerned that she hadn’t heard from her aunt that morning. She did not vary her routine, however, and when she arrived at her aunt’s home, she entered through an unlocked back door only to find her aunt murdered.
“When she entered her aunt’s bedroom she found her aunt lying on the bed with the bedclothes up around her waist and what appeared to be blood over her face,” is how the CCRC Report summarized the discovery. “The room showed signs of a disturbance with cupboards and drawers being emptied and items of clothing, and jewellery, strewn across the floor. Other rooms in the house also showed similar signs of disturbance, and the initial conclusion was that Mrs. Marchbank had been the victim of a burglary that had gone wrong, although there were no obvious signs of a forced entry, and nothing had apparently been taken from the house. However there had been other similar burglaries in the area involving elderly people living alone.”
The medical examiner determined that Aunt Hilda had been strangled, beaten and finally smothered with her pillow. The cause of death was listed as asphyxia, the manner, homicide. “There were facial bruises, probably caused by slapping or punching, and three facial scratches, probably caused by fingernails but which could not have been self-inflicted because the nails of the deceased were bitten short,” according to the CCRC.
On the wall next to the corpse was a large stain, believed at the time to be blood, that appeared to contain fingerprints. However, six first-year forensic science students at the University of Paisley, who have been backed by several professionals, found years later that there is no definitive proof that a substance in which May’s fingerprint was found was her aunt’s blood.
“On 20th March 1992, one finger and one palm print contained in the first of the three marks, the one nearest the end of the wall next to the bed, were identified as being that of Susan May’s right hand,” the CCRC report states. “She was arrested on 30th March and following a number of interviews, during which she denied having anything to do with the murder, she was formally charged with the murder of Hilda Marchbank.”
The prosecution’s case against May was based on the age-old argument of lust and greed.
“Susan May committed the murder because the funds in her aunt’s accounts were depleted and she needed access to further funds in order to continue her relationship with…a married man sixteen years her junior,” is how the CCRC summarized the Crown’s case against May.
She had previously given her friend a motorcycle and the prosecutors believed that May needed more money to keep him from leaving her. May had depleted her aunt’s accounts and beyond selling some of her aunt’s jewelry, could only come into more money through inheritance.
“Then we have got the fingerprint on the wall,” said Mr. Justice Hutchinson in summing up the case for the jury. “I think that Mr. Carus was right when he described this as the central plank of the prosecution case, was he not, because the prosecution say there was a bloody fingerprint on the wall near where the dead body which had bled lay and there is no other sensible explanation for its being there.”
At one point, after an interrogation by police, May asked (she denies this conversation ever took place) if the scratches on her aunt’s face could be linked to material under a person’s fingernails.
No details about scratches had yet been released, and May had previously told authorities that she had not gotten close to her aunt’s body before running for help. That claim came back to haunt her, because a forensic expert testified that the material on the walls would have been dry when she discovered the body, and thus her fingerprints would have had to have been left there when the stains were made.
Although it was assumed by the Crown that all three marks were in blood, only one of them, the third in the sequence has been scientifically proven to be human blood. That mark was a smear, containing no fingerprint ridges, near to the light switch. The first two marks reacted positively to a presumptive test for blood “and reacted in such a way to chemical fingerprint enhancement tests, to lead another forensic scientist…to believe that they had been made in blood. Although he said, and continues to say, that this was not proof positive that it was blood, and it is accepted that presumptive tests can sometimes give false positives,” the CCRC Report states.
On her appeal, May argued that there was a possibility that the first two marks had been made at some other time and that they could even have been made in her own blood. To address this question, DNA tests were carried out in Germany.
“They were specific only as to the blood in the smear nearest the light-switch; but all have accepted that the two hand prints must have been of the same blood. The test showed that it was not the blood of Susan May,” the appeals court found. “Thus far the case for Mrs May was worse than it had been before. It could no longer be suggested that the blood was transferred from her to the wall in the screwdriver episode, two weeks before the death.”
May also had opportunity, the Crown claimed, admitting that she had been in her aunt’s home within the time of death estimate established by the coroner.
The prosecution also pointed to the fact that although the flat was in disarray, nothing was taken — a common indicator of crime scene staging to misdirect authorities.
May hired a solicitor who had never tried a murder case before. At the trial, the prosecution called more than 60 witnesses to the defense’s two.
May claims that Aunt Hilda was slain by a local burglar, who has since been murdered. She points out several pieces of evidence and erroneous rulings that caused her conviction:

  • A witness saw a red car outside her house for 15 minutes at midnight on the night of the murder. A red car matching this description and belonging to the sister of a known burglar was sold hours later and discovered by police two weeks after May’s arrest. They carried out no forensic tests on it and never disclosed its discovery to the defense.

  • Unidentified fingerprints were found in the house, in addition to footprints in both the porch and a closet.

  • Fibers not matching anything owned by Susan or her aunt were found on the dead woman’s hand.

  • Finally, jurors were not told of the “undignified state of Hilda’s body, clearly relevant to her killer’s character.”

Also pointing to May’s innocence is the since-recanted evidence of the sister of another suspect who reportedly told her before the news of the murder broke, that an old woman had been killed. The sister later claimed that her timing of the conversation was off.

“Warped and Evil Beyond Belief”

One of Britain’s most notorious murderers, Jeremy Bamber, has maintained his innocence since he was first charged with the murder of his adoptive father and mother, his sister, and her two children in 1985.
His conviction for the five murders and his life sentence with a minimum term of 25 years has been upheld on appeal twice before, but he announced in August 2005 that a photograph of his sister that was not shown to his jury would have resulted in a different verdict.
“The picture of Sheila clearly shows there is blood running down her neck. That can’t have happened if she had been dead for five or six hours,” Bamber told British media. “I feel this is my best chance but I am a cynic after 20 years in jail fighting away. However, it appears that the truth is finally emerging after all of this time.”
The Court of Appeal has ruled this is “fresh evidence” and should be considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
After a high profile trial in 1986, Bamber was convicted of the shooting of June and Nevill Bamber, Sheila Caffell and her six-year-old twins. Bamber has always protested his innocence claiming that Sheila was responsible for their deaths before committing suicide.
At his sentencing, the judge called Bamber “warped and evil beyond belief.”
During 1983 Sheila was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and subsequently was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. In March 1985 she was re-admitted to hospital before being discharged a little under four weeks later. By August 1985, she was dead.
There were two conflicting theories of the crime at the time Bamber went to trial. The first, put forward by the prosecution, was that Bamber, who lived apart from his family, committed the crimes in order to inherit the £500,000 estate of his parents.
For his part, Bamber theorized that his sister killed her family in a psychotic episode then turned the .22 caliber rifle on herself.
The problem with Bamber’s argument was that it didn’t fit the facts.
At 3: 26 a.m. on August 7, 1985, Bamber called the police in Essex and said, “You’ve got to help me. My father has rang me and said ‘Please come over. Your sister has gone crazy and has got the gun.’ Then the line went dead.”
Bamber told the police — he did not call the emergency line — that his sister had a history of mental illness and that guns were available at the house. He was asked to meet authorities at the farm.
Officers entered the farm at 7:45 a.m. after waiting to see if there was a hostage situation and found all 5 occupants dead from gunshot wounds. Nevill Bamber lay dead in the kitchen, his wife, June, was dead on the floor in her bedroom, the boys were dead in their bed and Sheila Caffell was lying on the floor of the same room as her mother. Across her chest and pointing up at her neck, was the rifle used to shoot all five members of the family. Beside her body lay a Bible.
The .22 rifle missing a silencer and scope was on Caffell’s body with her right hand resting lightly upon it and with the muzzle of the weapon just below wounds to her neck.
Each of the family members had been shot multiple times, with a total of 25 shells recovered at the scene. Based on the weapon, the killer would have had to have loaded at least 18 cartridges into the murder weapon.
“The scene certainly gave the appearance that Sheila Caffell had shot herself, and the likelihood that this was the case was reinforced by information given to the police by the appellant,” the appeals court wrote in its lengthy summary of the case in 2002.
Those who saw Jeremy Bamber at the scene at that time described him as remarkably calm. At some stage during their conversations that morning Police Constable Myall and Bamber spoke about motor cars. Bamber said that a local car dealer, “would be able to stand him a Porsche” at some point during the year.
Sheila Caffell had received two contact or near contact bullet wounds to her throat. The higher of the two wounds would have killed her almost instantaneously, the pathologist ruled. The lower of the two would have been a fatal injury but not one where death would have occurred immediately and a person having suffered such an injury may have been able to stand up and walk around for a little time. The lack of heavy blood staining to Caffell’s nightdress suggested, however, that she had been shot where she fell.
The ballistics experts who saw her body noted that her feet and hands were “perfectly clean”. Her fingernails were well manicured and not broken and there were no marks or indentations on any of her fingers. All her fingertips were clean and free from any blood, dirt or powder and there appeared to be no trace of any lead dust, oil or coating which is usual when handling .22 ammunition.
During her autopsy, Sheila Caffell’s hands and forehead were swabbed. Extremely low traces of lead were detected when the swabs were examined. These results were compared to hand swabs taken from volunteers at the laboratory who were loaded the magazine twice with a total of eighteen rounds of ammunition. Significantly higher traces of lead were found than those recorded on her hands.
A week after the killing, other family members and the executor of Nevill Bamber’s estate found the missing silencer and scope for the murder weapon at the back of the gun closet in a downstairs office. It was well known by the family that the rifle was always used for rabbit hunting with the silencer and scope, which made their absence on the night of the murder a curious development.
When forensic scientists examined the silencer, they found traces of blood in the form of smears in three places on the outside of the silencer: on the flat surface at the muzzle end, in the knurled end and in the ridge at the gun end of the device. The blood on the outside of the silencer was confirmed to be of human origin but there were insufficient quantities to permit grouping analysis.
Inside the silencer, on the four or five baffles nearest to the end from which the bullet would exit, there was a considerable amount of blood. At one point blood had pooled to form a flake when it dried, and this flake was subjected to group testing.
The forensic scientist said that they showed that the blood could have come from Sheila Caffell but not from any of the other individuals involved.
In his testimony, he added that he would be very surprised to find blood from a person, who had not been shot with a contact or very close contact shot inside the muzzle of the silencer.
“He concluded that since (a) the blood inside the moderator belonged to the same group as Sheila Caffell and (b) there was no blood within the barrel of the rifle of the gun, that she had been shot whilst the moderator was fitted to the rifle,” the appeals court found.
The ballistics expert also expressed the opinion to the jury that the silencer had been fitted to the gun when Sheila Caffell had been shot. He attributed the presence of blood within the device to the phenomenon of “backspatter,” which occurs when the expansion of gases created by a bullet being discharged creates back pressure which in turn propels blood from the wound back towards the weapon. This effect is only seen when the muzzle of the weapon is in contact with, or very close contact to, the victim.
Most importantly, exercises and tests conducted at the laboratory established that it would have been physically impossible for a woman of Sheila Caffell’s height and reach to have operated the trigger and shot herself with the silencer attached to the weapon. She simply could not have reached it. Thus she could only have committed suicide if the sound moderator had been removed from the rifle.
Finally, in Sheila’s defense, there had never been manifestations of violence either when her illness was being managed or when in a highly disturbed state in hospital.
“In the context of what was alleged to have occurred, (her psychiatrist) found it possible to conceive of Sheila Caffell wanting to harm her mother or herself but ‘difficult to conceptualise her harming her children or her father’,” the court found. “He had always felt Sheila loved and cared for her children and saw her father as a very secure, caring and strong support in her life.”
In terms of evidence against Jeremy Bamber, his ex-girlfriend was a key witness against him. She said that after she met him, it quickly became obvious to her that he disliked his family.
Between July and October 1984, he said that his parents were getting him down and he said that he wished “he could get rid of them all”. She testified that he had said this included his sister and children because “if he was going to get rid of them it would have to be all of them.”
At about 9:50 p.m. on Tuesday, 6 August Bamber phoned his girlfriend. During their conversation that evening he said he was “pissed off” and had been thinking about the crime all day and that it was going to be “tonight or never.”
This coincides with the testimony of the farm secretary who called the farmhouse at 9:30 p.m. and spoke to Nevill Bamber. He was not cheerful and the secretary thought she had interrupted an argument. In evidence she described Nevill as abrupt, very impatient and very short.
The following morning Bamber’s girlfriend was awoken by a telephone call where he said to her, “Everything is going well. Something is wrong at the farm. I haven’t had any sleep all night … bye honey and I love you lots.”
After a few weeks to think it over, the girlfriend visited police and gave a lengthy statement. Following that visit to the police, Bamber was arrested on September 8, 1985 and interviewed during the course of the following three days.
Throughout the interviews he maintained his innocence and the account that he had given in his witness statements. He denied any form of confession or any talk of planning to kill his family. He said his girlfriend was lying because he had jilted her.
After a trial, Bamber was convicted of the five murders and sentenced to life with the 25-year-minimum.
In 2005, his appellate attorneys announced that photographs of Sheila Caffell taken at about 9 a.m. on the morning after the murders “proved” that Jeremy Bamber couldn’t have fired the fatal shots.
Apparently fresh blood seen on Caffell’s body means she can only have died a maximum of two hours before the pictures were taken, they assert. Furthermore, a log of police activity also records that blood was seen flowing from her at about 7:30 a.m., when authorities first entered the farmhouse.
Police records show that Bamber had been with police since about 3 a.m.
In addition to the new photograph, the police logs indicate that officers were in contact with somebody in the farmhouse around 5:30 a.m. Another log states a “female body” was found downstairs when police stormed the house at 7:37 a.m. Yet photos from the scene show both Sheila and her mother were upstairs. The “female body” turned out to be that of Nevill Bamber.