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An Open Letter to Helen Pitcher, Chair, CCRC, about the rejection of Robin’s Garbutt’s application

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Helen Pitcher

Posted by registered post to Helen Pitcher, 17 May 2022.

An Open Letter to Helen Pitcher, Chair, Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), about the rejection of Robin’s Garbutt’s application to have his wrongful conviction referred back to the Court of Appeal

Helen Pitcher OBE


23 Stephenson Street


B2 4BH

Jane Metcalfe


Dear Helen,

This is my desperate plea to you, Helen Pitcher OBE, Chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), for you to intervene and refer Robin Garbutt’s wrongful conviction back to the Court of Appeal.

Helen, however much I admire the loyalty and support you have of your fellow workers at the CCRC, I implore you to listen to this story about how the CCRC are, right now, today, and without doubt, failing innocent people.

The statistics don’t lie, and if the recent Post Office cases are not included, the CCRC has rejected as many as 98-99% of all applications over the last five years. Are we really to believe and accept that a mere one or two percent of the applicants to the CCRC are innocent and the rest are telling lies?

Masses has been written about the failings of the CCRC by seriously credible people, who genuinely have no other aim than to help innocent people who have, through no fault of their own, got caught up in the disaster zone that is our Criminal Justice System and following on, the further disaster zone known as the Criminal Case Review Commission (a public body, funded by us the tax payer!). Yet, despite all of that research, it feels like no one is really, truly listening.

I have read and researched so much of what highly acclaimed academics have written over the last 20 odd years and I can sit here now and tell you from first-hand experience, what they are saying is, sadly too true: the CCRC are not just letting the innocent down, they all too often completely break them and kill all hope of them ever getting back to the appeal court and justice!

It`s actually worse than anyone could imagine, it really, really is. I know from looking into your career that you have been, and still are, at the very top of your game in business and that in your work you strive for excellence and transparency and truly encourage others in your mentoring to be the best they can be.

Most importantly, what comes across for me is that you passionately care about what you do and how you influence others to be the best that they can be. In your talks you remind us that although some have a great deal of knowledge, they cannot be the fountain of all knowledge, so I hope that you will welcome this humble contribution into the human impact on the innocent who rely so heavily on the CCRC as it stands today.

My friend Robin Garbutt was wrongfully convicted of brutally murdering his beloved wife, Diana, in 2011. He was convicted on purely circumstantial evidence: there was never any blood, fingerprints or any forensic evidence whatsoever linking Robin to this terrible event.

Robin and Diana Garbutt

Readers must be made aware that the truth is an armed intruder came into their post office that morning and it was those people, (during what can only be described as a bungled robbery), who murdered poor Diana.

The jury were told by the Prosecution that Robin had invented the intruder and it was he who had fabricated the robbery, stolen the money and `in the dead of night` murdered Diana and crept out before he opened the shop and hid the murder weapon on a wall over 8.3 feet high across the road.

The thing is, Robin didn’t do any of those terrible things. There is not enough money in the whole of the universe that could have made him harm anyone, never mind his beloved wife, Diana. And more to the point, there is no actual hard evidence or motive to say that he did do those terrible things.

As part of the Police investigation they gathered over 500 statements, going back to his junior school, and not ONE of them said anything other that lovely things about this kind hearted, gentle and generous, hardworking man.

I know Robin from many years ago when he was the long term boyfriend of a close friend of mine. Everyone who knows Robin supports him fully as all who know him know it was not possible that this gentle man was capable of harming anyone or anything. Nobody actually thought this case would get into a courtroom, never mind a conviction. And, no one would ever have believed this poor innocent man would still be fighting for justice 12 years on.

I became good friends with Robin`s mum, Joyce, after the trial and, honestly, seeing the pain she and her family were forced to suffer was, and is, truly heart wrenching Helen. Joyce and Diana were really close and spoke on the phone almost every day, so the shock of losing Diana in such horrendous circumstances and, then, for her lovely son to be wrongfully arrested, charged and convicted for her murder has been almost too much to bear for this amazing Mum.

Joyce and I both share a strong faith and she says it's by God’s grace and all of the prayers that we all say every day, that gets her through each day, but it is so very, very hard for all of them, in particular its hardest for Robins dear, dear Mum.

Robin is more concerned for his lovely Mum than for himself in all of this and all he wants is justice for his beloved Diana. The gentleness, strength, deep love for one another and the grace with which Robin and his family have conducted themselves right throughout this ordeal astounds me.

Just like the other innocent people who find themselves in this awful place, all of them felt sure this wrong would be put right. They had faith in the system and felt sure the truth would set Robin free.

Diana and Robin Garbutt

But, their faith in our justice system has been completely shattered because at every step, despite having done the right thing, not made a big noise, done as they are told, always been so polite, always so patient, it has gotten them nowhere!

And, more importantly, they have uncovered unsurmountable evidence that confirms again and again what we all know: Robin is an innocent man. Yet this massive, powerful machine is STILL failing them all so badly.

Helen, I am writing this letter to beg you to personally step in, and make use all of your power. Please rescue this lovely, gentle family and their wonderful son and brother from this dark and scary place, that through no fault of their own, they cannot get out of.

Robin and his lovely family have become the victims of a perfect storm, one that has created this truly shocking and heart breaking miscarriage of justice.

The CCRC tells us they visit prisoners like Robin, but that clearly is not true as throughout all of this past 7 years of wrestling with the CCRC, not one person from the CCRC has ever been anywhere near Robin or would agree to meet the family or legal team!

In all of our research, and of all the people we now know who find themselves in the same pain, we have not come across anyone who ever has had a visit from the CCRC.

Helen, please won`t you show your humanity by visiting Robin and allow me or a member of the legal team to come to you? You have nothing to lose, Robin has everything to lose.

At one of the presentations given by the CCRC at a conference we spoke at, the CCRC presented a list of `exceptional circumstances` where the CCRC would be sure to refer cases:

  1. Scientific advances;

  2. Non-disclosure;

  3. Discredited experts;

  4. Police misconduct;

  5. Witness handling;

  6. Poor defence; and,

  7. Sentencing calculations.

The CCRC speaker at the event even talked about how the `time of death` cannot be calculated down to within a couple of hours!

This is exactly what the discredited stomach expert in Robin`s case did!

Here we see Robin ticks at least 5 of the 7 CCRC `exceptional circumstances’:

  1. Science of the stomach contents expert is wrong and has been proven to be wrong. Plus further DNA has been uncovered post-trial, i.e. Police Officer`s DNA at crime scene AND a mixture of 3 males who are not Robin;

  2. Vital evidence for the defence (clump of hair) lost by Police;

  3. Audit that should have been available exonerating Robin of alleged theft `not available` at trial;

  4. Main prosecution witness on time of death now discredited;

  5. DNA contaminated by the police and cherry-picking evidence such as hiding lamps in a wardrobe at the crime scene; and,

  6. Dreadful original defence solicitor. You only realise how bad they are after conviction.

That blows my mind Helen. Why would people making such life changing decisions for Robin not want to sit with him, look him squarely in the eyes, listen to what he has to say and see what kind of man he really is?

I was reminded recently of a verse from Proverbs 3: ‘Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.

You are the most powerful person in this situation, you hold all the cards, so I`m begging you to give your precious time to this. I feel sure you will be shocked and horrified by what you see.

If or when you do, you will see for yourself that they are truly deserving of your precious and yearned for help. That crucial excellence you have always strived for in your thriving career, needs flooding into this CCRC, because I know you`ll discover what we know already, they are failing Robin and too many others.

I honestly do not, and cannot, believe if you knew this case you would allow the way the CCRC have dealt with it to continue. I am not pointing the finger at you, personally, Helen, for these problems within the CCRC existed long before your involvement. But, as sure as eggs is eggs, the CCRC are absolutely not doing what it says on their tin.

I`m repeating myself, forgive me, but I cannot stress enough that Robin has been fighting with the CJS for TWELVE years and SEVEN of those have been wrestling with the CCRC, this the mechanism put in place in 1997, born out of the tragedy of too many tragically painful miscarriages of justice.

At the birth of the CCRC many campaign groups and journalists fell away feeling sure the CCRC would be the caretakers of the innocent wrongfully convicted. I can say hand on heart, this is not happening.

All the power the CCRC were given could be used for good: they could sit with the factually innocent and give them their time, their love. But, that God given power, given to help those who suffer in the way the Robins of this world suffer, is not being used in the way it was meant by the CCRC.

Poor Robin is now having to cope with utter contempt by some at the CCRC who are completely undermining all of the evidence that clearly shows he is innocent. If that IS a bridge too far for the CCRC (although for the life of me I cannot see why not), this strong evidence at the very least demonstrates time and time again there is huge doubt over the safety of this conviction.

Robins application is full of incredibly strong and new evidence, yet the responses from the CCRC in its SoRs have been so deeply troubling and distressing. It has felt that way in all of his SoR`s, but Robin gave them the benefit of the doubt. However, his most recent SoR just confirms what we all dreaded, because anyone reading them could be forgiven for thinking that neither CRM nor the Commissioner has fully understood the case, not read it properly, or both.

Further, the latest SoR not to refer blatantly favours the prosecution arguments, often fails to even refer to evidence favouring Robin`s evidence, and in parts is factually incorrect.

The burning issue is why, after uncovering staggering amounts of evidence that is new and fresh, much of which could not have been available at trial and that couldn't fail to pass anyone`s `real possibility test`, shining a massive light over the safety of his conviction, is the CCRC still blocking Robin Garbutt`s route to the appeal court?!

Trying to condense this feels impossible, but I pray there`s more than enough here to make you more than sit up and think. I pray you will be compelled into action and turn this tragedy into an example of `powers that be`, who does truly yearn to be the absolute best they can be, doing the right and just thing.

There were just two planks of the case against Robin Garbutt.

First is the `time of death` (TOD) plank, relating to the jury being told by the Prosecution that Diana was already dead before Robin opened the shop at 0430, which was heavily influenced by a prosecution stomach contents expert who gave evidence against Robin regarding time of Diana`s death. This TOD of 0430 was at odds with the Defence and Robin having left Diana sleeping in bed and hearing her call to him at 0645. And, hugely important to this, was the evidence of an independent reliable witness who, in addition, heard Diana call out to Robin at 0645.

The second plank of the case being alleged theft, which formed part of what went before the Court of Appeal. The alleged theft motive came from evidence given by the Post Office, who opined that behaviours in the book keeping was suspicious and that it demonstrated Robin had been stealing from his own Post Office. This formed the Prosecution narrative that Robin fabricated the robbery to cover up his theft and murdered his Diana (who was the Sub Post Master (SPM)), so she would not find out that he had been stealing!

Stomach Contents Expert: Since the trial the stomach contents expert`s evidence has also been discredited! Not only has it been discredited, following her giving contradictory evidence at a murder trial after Robin`s trial (Tabak trial, October 2011, same year as Robin`s trial), but several powerful and damning reports from leading pathologists confirmed not only are her scientific calculations completely wrong. It transpires that it`s virtually impossible and hugely misleading to attempt to be give such a small window of 2 hours (230-430) on any TOD, especially on someone who has died in such traumatic circumstances. What’s more, they confirm it`s possible Diana could have died shortly before her body was discovered by Robin, just after 0830, all of this making it impossible for him to have murdered Diana as he has a solid alibi from 0430!

It cannot be stressed enough that the testimony from this now discredited expert, who was the only witness who was ADAMANT on the TOD being 0230-0430, was the main pillar of one of the two main planks of the case against Robin, and alone caused irreparable damage to him.

The Defence case was always that Diana was still alive when Robin woke and left her sleeping in bed to then go on to open the shop at 0430, where he then had a constant flow of deliveries and served way more than 70 customers, ALL of whom said he was his usual jovial self.

Robin said he heard Diana call from the back of the shop at 0645 and this was corroborated/confirmed by the reliable witness (previously mentioned) who gave evidence that he also he had heard Diana call Robin at 0645.

The jury heard this discredited expert tell them, 10-2 jury, so already there is doubt, that Diana had died between 0230-0430. Her evidence was pitched against the witness who had heard Diana call out at 0645, but were cautioned by the Prosecution: `We are not saying the witness is lying, but that he must be mistaken as the EXPERT says Diana was already dead by that time.`

The CCRC SoR, though, completely sweeps over this. It says the CCRC find no weight in it, and then cling on to the Prosecution pathologist: `...the TOD evidence was important to the Court's findings, the evidence of the pathologists was (also) a significant part of this.’

The CCRC SoR concluded that unless there was fresh evidence which disproved that of the pathologists that Mrs. Garbutt had been dead for at least an hour when her body was found, there was no real possibility. It goes on: `Thus, the CCRC does not agree that this (Prosecution expert being removed) amounts to fresh evidence which is capable of leading to a conclusion that the jury would now be more likely to reject the TOD evidence entirely and thus accept the evidence of Mr XXXX (witness for the defence who heard Diana`s voice at 0645).

Yes, the Prosecution pathologist (who did not see Diana until 6 hours after she had been discovered) does say that Diana could have been dead an hour before (which would take the TOD to 0730 when Robin has an alibi from 0430!), but at the same time he also observes:

  1. `TOD could have been between 0430-0830, or earlier.`

  2. `Therefore, if the paramedics were right the TOD could then be between 11 pm and 0300.` (new evidence suggests the paramedics evidence could very well have been unintentionally misleading).

  3. `...likely TOD was 0530 with a range of between 0230 to 0830.`

The Prosecution pathologist `accepted it was a reasonable possibility Mrs. Garbutt had died AFTER 0645.` By removing the stomach contents experts evidence, does it not become new evidence? In that it was not available at trial? And, could it not now be seen as proof that Diana could absolutely have been killed after the shop had opened at 0430?, thus making it impossible for Robin to have harmed her?!

Surely, by removing that now discredited evidence, it fulfils what the CCRC in their SoR say they require `...unless there was fresh evidence which disproved that of the pathologists`?

WHY, after the jury were told by the Prosecution to dismiss the evidence of the witness in favour of the expert, are the CCRC not turning back to that vitally important witness for the defence? This witness spoke to the Police on the SAME DAY of the murder to tell them he had HEARD Diana (as had Robin), call out to Robin from behind the shop at 0645!

To any sane person, the CCRC`s decision, in thinking that this discredited expert’s evidence now in ruin, does NOT now shed doubt on the conviction looks and feels perverse.

But there`s even more. The Post Office fraud/theft experts post trial documents, that the Post Office did not disclose at trial, came to light post trial. They demonstrated that there was no evidence of theft and that, in fact, it showed that the business was thriving and demonstrated there was no suspicious activity in their bookkeeping after all.

The world and his wife know about the shocking scandal of the Post Office cases and the miscarriages of justice now uncovered, so bearing that in mind, we need to remember the Post Office did not disclose evidence and had it been disclosed at trial, rather than after trial, it would have painted a very different picture for Robin.

Strange as it seems the Post Office could never give any specific times or dates of this apparent wrongdoing by Robin. And, perversely a Post Office fraud investigator tells how he has his own concerns and suspicions regarding the integrity of the entries made at Melsonby and goes on: ‘The pattern one that I have seen replicated across many Post Office Limited cases in the past...`

How can anything the Post Office said after all of the miscarriages of their own SPM`s, now hold any merit whatsoever!

There`s more because on top of all of the above, the list of NEW evidence supporting Robin`s innocence is a long one, but look at a few examples:

  • TV footage from the 24th of March (the day after the murder) showing the murder weapon is not on the wall. The only link with Robin and the murder weapon is when the Prosecution Barrister says he placed it there `in the dead of night after the murder on the 23rd of March.

  • Photographic evidence demonstrates a man exactly the same height as Robin could not reach up to place the murder weapon on top of the 8ft 3 inch wall where Police say they found it two days after the murder.

And, just to ram this home, there was already further examples of strong evidence that had already shone doubt on to the conviction at the time such as:

  • Hair at the crime scene that was lost by NY Police.

  • NO forensic evidence connecting Robin with the murder weapon or the crime scene.

  • Police officer DNA being on the murder weapon AND at the crime scene, despite him never entering the building where Diana had been killed.

  • Unknown DNA of at least THREE males at the crime scene.

  • CCTV from the night before the murder, shows the same car is seen following Robin on his journey to and from the cash and carry.

  • Evidence of 3 known criminals in the village on the morning of the murder.

  • A Crimestoppers report was received within a day or two of the murder from someone giving the name of the person who had committed the murder and robbery. Police responded by saying they had said suspect under surveillance so it couldn't have been him. Despite constant requests from the defence, evidence of this surveillance has never been supplied.

  • A BB gun (fake gun) and balaclava were discovered a few hours after the robbery about 10 miles away behind a Working Men's Club. Cleveland Police logged it and passed it to NYP. Despite requests from the Defence, they have never been tested for DNA and as far as we know, are still in a storeroom at NY Police.

And would you believe there is even MORE. On page 17 of the CCRC’s SoR, it gives what can only be described as a WEAK and almost offensive list of why they believe they have a strong circumstantial case against Robin and hence why his application has failed:

  • `It was known that Mr and Mrs Garbut had marital issues…` This was the Prosecution case, but in reality the Judge said at trial: `The witnesses without exception spoke of Robin and Diana as being a happy and loving couple.`

  • `Both Mr and Mrs Garbutt were in a large amount of debt.` All of their debt was managed and in total came to £108k, this included their mortgage of just over £62k on their property that was valued at £450k. The shop takings were over £200k per year plus Diana`s wages as the SPM.

  • ‘Large amounts of cash were found on Mr Garbutt after he called the Police.’ Robin had £450 in his pocket from the previous days takings! Hardly a large amount?

  • ‘Mr Garbutt had lied about the use of using temporary Post Masters.` Robin and Diana tried to avoid bringing in a temp SPMs and made excuses to avoid getting one in to save money, NOT to avoid an audit and this was reflected in the summing up. For example, temp SPM charged £100 for just 3 hours for a Saturday, further they had booked a temp SPM for the holiday they were about to go at £400 per week. And, this would be organised by Diana not Robin.

  • `Despite being a previous robbery…no alarm…` The truth was that Robin didn’t give a second thought about activating an alarm. His first thought was for Diana when the intruder said: `Don`t do anything stupid, we`ve got your wife`. Had he been the murderer and as part of his cover, surely he would have activated it?

  • CCRC say the intruder didn’t exist and back that theory up with `... no one saw him.` On ONS and in many newspaper articles it is reported that 95% of all robberies go unsolved and part of the reason is: `There are no witnesses/no one sees the robbers`!

  • The CCRC say in their further reasoning for not referring is because: `Mr Garbutt`s account relied upon the implausible scenario that a robber broke in, murdered Mrs Garbutt and lay in wait behind a door (where her body was found) for hours, when he apparently knew what time the automatic safe opened`. The prosecution`s difficulty/dilemma was that the Post Office was robbed at 0830, but Diana, according to them had been murdered hours before, so why would the murderer lay in wait all that time? But there is very strong evidence (stomach contents expert discredited/Re intro of the witness who heard Diana at 0645), to suggest that Diana was killed not long before the robbery at 0830, meaning the intruder/murderer who was upstairs (metal fragments from the murder weapon were found behind the door, meaning one of the intruders HAD been hiding behind the door), would NOT have had `lay in wait for hours`, but possibly a very short time. It is also common knowledge that ALL PO safes are on a timer for an 0830 opening, so any serious criminals who had done their homework would be well aware of that fact.

It is because of all of this that I implore you, Helen, to use your power and have Robin’s case properly investigated to try to find the truth of who killed Diana, because it definitely wasn’t Robin and there is no reliable evidence to suggest that it was.

I don’t know if you are a Mother or if you have any brothers or sisters, but please try to put yourself in Robin’s Mum’s and sister’s shoes and ask yourself what you would think if the last resort for overturning miscarriages of justice was dismissing your loved ones’ case in the way that the CCRC are dismissing Robin’s.

They are heartbroken, Helen, as I am sure that you would be, too, if you were going through what they are going through. It really is a living hell, which could end if you were able to get the CCRC to do what it was set up to do – help innocent victims of miscarriages of justice to have their convictions overturned.

What jumps out at me the most, regarding an opinion of a DNA expert in a university, is that Robin is nowhere in this, not on the murder weapon, not at the crime scene, and if he was involved he WOULD be there. It`s impossible to wipe away your own DNA without wiping it all away. Robin is not there.

It is also telling that Robin`s fight for justice is supported by every professional who has looked into it. This includes highly acclaimed academics specialising in miscarriages of justice, criminologists, three Barristers, including the original Barrister at Robin’s trial who fully supports him in his quest for justice.

On top of this, there are solicitors, professional investigative journalists, several scientists, World renowned DNA experts, private Investigators and university law students.

If it wasn`t for them there would be no hope at all, no fight left. The above professional people, the majority outside of the CJS, have given us hope, validation, they`ve cared about all of this and for Robin and given a much needed platform from which to shout out about Robin. Nothing exists for us, or for anyone in Robin`s shoes outside of these good people! Without them, we would have nowhere to go!

I cannot understand why these good people full of passion for those in need, are not brought into the fold of the CCRC? Why are the CCRC not taking full advantage of their fountain of knowledge? They don`t do what they do out of financial gain, far from it, they do what they do because they genuinely care for those locked away, punished, through no fault of their own.

Why are the CCRC not embracing the people directly affected by these terrible miscarriages? How can your staff ever truly understand the gravity of a situation if they have no first-hand experience of them. The people who have helped us and families suffering who have gone before should be part of who you are!

Helen, I don`t want anything I have said to be hurtful to you or the CCRC, but I just want the system, invented to help our Robin, to actually HELP our Robin.

No one could foresee the tragedy of Diana`s murder that day. Robin has not even really begun to grieve her. He didn`t even go to her funeral and since then he has lost everything, his business, all his money and he and his Mum has spent many thousands of pounds fighting to find justice ever since. All to no avail.

When we got the latest heart-breaking knock back from the CCRC again, despite all of the above, it honestly felt like you had put Robin on death row.

Helen, we know that we can’t turn the clock back and none of what has happened can be changed, but all of the above doesn’t just show that there is doubt over this conviction. It shouts that Robin’s is a case of factual, actual innocence. I can`t help wondering what that 10-2 jury would now say if all of this was put to them.

So, the burning question is: how come the end of the line decision makers, the gatekeepers of the only route back to the Court of Appeal, don`t see what we all see and what all the experts see?!

Please, please help Robin, Helen, as his life and the lives of his Mum, Joyce, sister, Sallie, are literally in your hands.

May God bless you, Helen.

Jane Metcalfe

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