A group of law students have called for the Court of Appeal to look again at the conviction for murder of Melsonby postmaster Robin Garbutt.
Law students at York St John University have looked at Garbutt’s conviction for the murder of wife Diana, 40, above the post office and shop they ran together in March 2010.
The students worked under the supervision of solicitors from York St John Law Clinic, an organisation run by the university to help people with legal issues.
In a letter to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC), which assesses whether cases should be referred to the Court of Appeal, solicitor Chris Smith, director of professional practice in law at York St John University, who oversees the law clinic, said it was “difficult to think of a weaker case for murder that has resulted a conviction”.
The CCRC has the power to refer a case back to the appeal courts if it believes there is sufficient new evidence.
Garbutt has already has had several applications to the CCRC turned town.
The convicted killer has appealed once against the conviction and lost.
The letter states that lawyers acting for Garbutt have made new submissions to the CCRC relating to faults with the Horizon accounting software system used by the Post Office.
The letter states: “They will not be repeated here, other than to say we consider that Messrs Russell Cooke (Garbutt’s solicitors) have made strong and compelling submissions that this evidence would have weighed heavily on the jury given its prevalence in the trial judge’s summing up and that it was central to the prosecution’s case as to motive.”
The letter adds that there are “several significant issues” regarding evidence on when the victim had her last meal before her death.
The prosecution alleged that Diana died in the early hours of the morning before Robin Garbutt started work.
This was supported by a forensic expert, Dr Miller, who examined the contents of the victim’s stomach after her death.
She concluded that the fish and chips that Diana had eaten at around 8.30pm on the night before her death had stopped being digested between six and eight hours later, meaning she was killed between 2.30pm and 4.30pm.
But the letter adds: “The exact timing and size of Diana’s last meal cannot be precisely known. Moreover, Dr Miller failed to take proper account of the great many variables that determine the speed of the digestion process.
“Professor Bernard Knight, to whose work Dr Miller referred in her evidence, argues that these include, but are not limited to, whether a person is in fear, suffering an injury or whether they have consumed alcohol.
“There are innumerable factors that lead to a great variation as to the time in which a stomach digests its contents.”
It continues: “Dr Miller’s evidence is not a safe basis on which to draw firm conclusions as to time of death.
“There is a real risk, given the emphasis placed on Dr Miller’s evidence at trial, that the jury will have placed more weight on it than it ought reasonably to bear.”
“Dr Miller’s evidence is not a safe basis on which to draw firm conclusions as to time of death. There is a real risk, given the emphasis placed on Dr Miller’s evidence at trial, that the jury will have placed more weight on it than it ought reasonably to bear.”
At the trial, the jury heard that Diana’s body was already exhibiting signs of rigor mortis and hypostasis when it was discovered at around 8.30am.
The prosecution said this supported their theory that Diana had died in the early hours of the morning.
But the students point out that an expert said in a 2013 report produced by Garbutt’s solicitors that the presence of rigor mortis was the “best known but most uncertain and unreliable indicator of time of death”.
The letter concludes: “Were Robin’s trial to take place today, with a jury able to consider all that is now known about the Post Office records and systems and the wealth of evidence that calls into question the safety of Dr Miller’ conclusions and other evidence relating to time of death, it is inconceivable that any jury could be satisfied so that they were sure of Robin’s guilt.
“It must be emphasised at this point that even taking account of the evidence which we have sought to discredit, the entire case against Robin Garbutt is circumstantial.
“There is no direct witness or forensic evidence which corroborates that Mr Garbutt killed his wife.”
Mrs Garbutt was found beaten to death in an upstairs bedroom at the property after her husband dialled 999 and said armed robbers had burst in and attacked his wife.
Police and paramedics initially responded to a report of an armed robbery and detectives appealed for help to catch a man wearing a balaclava who was brandishing a gun.
However, they arrested Garbutt on suspicion of murdering his wife three weeks later, and established that he had beaten her with a 30cm iron bar as she slept in the flat above the shop.
After the conviction, Diana’s mother, Agnes Gaylor bought the Village Shop and Post Office in Melsonby from relatives of her former son in law.
Mrs Gaylor, who is thought to have paid around £130,000 for the end-of-terrace building, said in 2014 that she intended to finish off work on the kitchen that was started by her daughter before her death.
Richmondshire Today has contact the Criminal Cases Review Commission for comment.