Post-master convicted of murdering wife accused of exploiting Horizon scandal to get out of prison

Robin Garbutt was convicted of murdering his wife Diana in a bedroom at Melsonby village shop and post office.

The mother of Melsonby murder victim Diana Garbutt has accused her daughter’s husband of exploiting the Horizon scandal in his latest bid to get out of prison.

Agnes Gaylor has spoken out after Robin Garbutt claimed evidence from the discredited Post Office system was used to secure his conviction for the killing.

Garbutt was convicted of murdering his wife above the post office and shop they ran together in the village between Richmond and Darlington in March 2010.

Garbutt was given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 20 years and will not be able to apply for parole until 2030.

He has continued to protest his innocence but lost an appeal against his sentence on 2012 and the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which can refer cases back to the appeal court, has rejected his applications on three occasions.

Now, Garbutt hopes the Government’s decision to quash convictions for fraud and theft of sub-postmasters based on Horizon evidence will mean he can make a fresh appeal.

Garbutt, who is currently serving his sentence at HMP Wealstun, a low-security jail in West Yorkshire, claimed he found the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office “deeply upsetting”.

He added: “I felt for every person affected.

“The way the Post Office dealt with me was the same way that they dealt with the other people.”

Garbutt claims Horizon “was used in court to make me look bad”.

In court at Garbutt’s trial for his wife’s murder, the prosecuted suggested Garbutt had been stealing money from the Post Office to pay for extravagant breaks to keep his wife happy.

The prosecution claimed Garbutt concealed his theft via a series of false declarations about the amount of money in the Post Office safe.

An audit was due to be carried out the day after the murder took place and the prosecution claimed it was then that the theft would have been discovered.

But Garbutt claims he and Diana “had a lot of problems with the system going down, not working.”

He added: “All the [financial] evidence used against me at trial, we have no means of checking whether it was accurate.”

However, Ms Gaylor, 73, has this week accused Garbutt of exploiting the move to overturn the conviction of 700 postmasters who were wrongly accused.

She said: “He uses any opportunity to keep pleading his innocence and now he’s trying to use the Horizon scandal to his advantage.

“The appeal court has already ruled that Horizon played no part in Diana’s murder but he’s prepared to try anything to keep this thing going.

“I try not to think about him if I possibly can and on some days I manage that but it’s difficult when he’s done everything he can to stay in the spotlight since the trial.”

Ms Gaylor added that Garbutt’s protestations about his innocence was preventing her from getting back Diana’s belongings back from the police.

“He has nothing new to offer, no new evidence and this campaign of his is going nowhere.

“The fact he’s trying to use the Horizon case to go back to the CCRC shows how desperate he’s become.”

Diana was found beaten to death in an upstairs bedroom at the property after her husband dialled 999 and said armed robbers had attacked his wife before leaving committing the robbery.

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.

Garbutt was convicted after the prosecution provided evidence which showed a number of holes in his account.

Diana and Garbutt had eaten a fish and chip supper about 8.30pm on the night before the murder.

An expert witness told the trial that tests on the contents of Diana’s stomach suggested she was killed between 2.30am and 4.30am, before her husband opened up the shop.

Paramedics also told police that the body was in the first stages of rigor mortis when they arrived and that she must have died in the early hours.

This did not fit with Garbutt’s claim that his wife must have been killed shortly before the robbery which he said took place at 8.35am when the post office safe was automatically unlocked.

The jury also heard that with the 999 call being made at 8.37am, it would have given Garbutt just 120 seconds to have been confronted by the robber, ordered to lock the shop door, empty the safe of £10,000 into a bag, empty the till, watch the robber leave out the back door, run upstairs to find his wife’s body and then alert the emergency services.

The trial was told how in 2009 the couple, who married in 2003, had eight holidays, including weekends in Amsterdam paying two visits to the Hard Rock Cafe, a trip to York, Paris and Northumberland.

A week after the murder they were due to fly to America for a three-week holiday at a cost of £3,000.

Garbutt had six credit cards, all with large and increasing balances.

The prosecution suggested he had been taking money from the post office account to pay for their expensive lifestyle and to keep his wife happy, as she became disinterested in the marriage and the lifestyle, and began to look for a new man by joining a dating website.

The last time the CCRC rejected Garbutt’s application to go to the Court of Appeal they ruled that figures from the Horizon system were not essential to his conviction for murder.

Mr Justice Openshaw, who sentenced Garbutt to life in prison, said Garbutt’s account was a “ludicrous story from beginning to end”.

He added: “There was no struggle, she never awoke. He struck three savage blows, smashing her skull and causing her immediate death as clearly he intended.

“He feigned cheerfulness as he served customers, as he attempted to deceive them that all was well. He has always accompanied his lies with sanctimonious lies of his love for her. 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.”