Campaigning for the release of Jeremy Bamber: Why has it been so difficult to free an innocent man?
Updated: Jul 7
In this article, Bill Robertson reflects critically on his experiences of working with Jeremy Bamber's campaign team. He concludes that the inherent caution and secrecy of the campaign has not only failed to pressure the CCRC to refer his conviction back to the court of Appeal but, also, that it may have contributed to him spending longer in prison than needed.
I am writing this article not because I feel that I have been a particularly effective supporter of Jeremy Bamber. Considerably more people have contributed to a greater extent than I have. Yet, I feel that there is some value in me describing my experience of trying to assist the Jeremy Bamber Innocent Campaign Team (CT) and maybe some lessons to be learned for the benefit of other victims of miscarriages of justice.
We need to recognize that the CT are not employees; everyone gives their labours freely and a number of people spend vast amounts of time on the case. A common motive is a belief that Jeremy Bamber’s conviction for five murders is outrageous given the lack of credible evidence that he carried out the crimes. Because everyone involved is a volunteer it may seem churlish to criticize individuals involved in the CT. My motive is not to level personal criticism for the sake of it; it is to identify how the Campaign could have been more effective than it has been in achieving the release of Jeremy Bamber from custody.
Ironically, given that the CT have for many years vilified Essex Police for non-disclosure of documentation, the culture of the CT is non-disclosure. The overriding principle of the JBI CT is SECRECY and CONTROL. This is seemingly driven by an oft repeated objective of “not upsetting the CCRC”. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) apparently has imposed restrictions on what the CT can reveal about the new evidence uncovered forming the basis of the ongoing submission to the CCRC. It is significant that the Campaign Team fear upsetting the CCRC given that the CCRC is supposed to represent the last hope for innocent people to clear their name. Being controlled by the CCRC is clearly part of the ‘contract’ when making a submission to the CCRC. This is why recent CCRC Watch articles have produced a hostile response from the JBI Campaign Team, or to be more accurate, from Yvonne Hartley who appears to be the spokesperson now for all matters pertaining to the campaign. The articles are: Is the CCRC implicated in 36 years of deception in the case of Jeremy Bamber?; and, Jeremy Bamber and the CCRC's deference to the flawed pathology evidence of Dr Peter Vanezis.
Of course, it would be naïve to think that the CT can release information without impacting on the decision-making process at the CCRC. However convincing the submission documentation may be, the decision on whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal for a second time will be made by three CCRC Commissioners who may feel that they do not want the general public to be informed of what evidence they have considered, especially if they decide not to refer the case. When Bamber’s previous CCRC submission failed in 2012, the CCRC Statement of Reasons was not disclosed by the CT and remains ‘secret’. Having read the 112-page rejection document I am baffled as to why the CT consider it to be confidential, but nevertheless it remains undisclosed.
By seemingly agreeing to not release information while the current submission is being considered the CT have in effect agreed to be ‘muzzled’. The submission was made in March 2021 and apart from a vague outline of the eight grounds covered by the submission no further information has been forthcoming despite a promise by the CT that more detail would be released. There has been talk of new forensic reports being made available, but nothing has been seen to date. The muzzling of the CT has the effect of allowing the CCRC to get away with outrageous practices, such as the Case Review Manager Andrew Timney, who was allocated to review the submissions and is leaving the CCRC, to not make any substantive progress in reviewing the submissions since October 2021. i.e., eight months of inactivity on the submission without any obvious CCRC management objection.
Like many people in Essex, I took an interest in the five deaths that occurred at White House Farm on 7 August 1985. Jeremy Bamber was accused of killing his family, but I felt that there was virtually no evidence that he had done so. Nevertheless, he was convicted in October 1986. Like most people I then forgot about the case until he started to appeal his conviction, still insisting that he was innocent. Information suggesting that he was innocent continued to feature in news articles sporadically. However, his 2002 appeal failed and then it was 2005, twenty years after the killings and Jeremy continued to plead his innocence. I thought that was unusual; most killers give in and confess before that kind of time elapses. 2010 came and still he claimed doggedly that he was innocent. I decided to start researching the case.
The internet had spawned a couple of websites that contained some witness statements. I read the witness statement of Police Sergeant Christopher Bews, one of three officers who attended from Witham police station, first to arrive at the farmhouse. I was baffled by what he said. I read his two colleagues witness statements and became even more puzzled. It didn’t make any sense; they were supposed to be attending a domestic dispute at a farmhouse but parked the police car 300 yards distant and failed to approach close enough to see whether the argument that had been reported had been resolved. They behaved like they were frightened, but they supposedly had no reason to be because they had no idea what was happening inside the farmhouse. I read more witness statements by police officers but none of them made any sense in the context of what was supposedly happening at White House Farm.
Before the police arrived at the farmhouse they seemed to be preparing for a siege, but they purportedly had no information that a gun had been fired, or that there was a hostage situation. I then discovered that before PS Bews had made a situation report from WHF, a police unit had been told to collect firearms in preparation for a ‘siege’. The issuing of firearms in those days was rare and required far more evidence of danger to life than what the police appeared to have. The fact was that by 04:04 that morning, armed police were being organized to attend WHF, before any police officers had even knocked on the door or looked through a window. It seemed to me that the police had not disclosed the full story and were evasive in what they had disclosed. By 2011 my research convinced me that there was something remiss about the police reporting of the case; they were covering something up – in my view, that someone from inside the farm had told the police what was happening, but according to the police everyone was dead.
In 1995 a court case, Taylor v Anderton resulted in an important decision that was to greatly assist Jeremy 10 years later. The ruling was to ensure that one party does not enjoy an unfair advantage or suffer an unfair disadvantage in litigation because of a document not being produced for inspection. This meant that in 2005 Jeremy’s lawyers were able to secure the release of case documentation previously not disclosed, though Essex Police took a further six years to release the documentation. In 2011 it was possible to start analysing around 375,000 pages of evidence previously not available, providing I could gain access to the materials.
After becoming frustrated by the lack of evidence accessible on the internet, about ten years ago I volunteered to undertake some research on the case after contacting Jeremy’s Campaign. I had noticed some police documentation that had been forged and I reported this to Jeremy’s Campaign Team. I was contacted by Sarah Hanover who told me that my discoveries about the forged police documentation would be included in Jeremy’s next CCRC submission. I sent some further research analysis to Sarah Hanover regarding the timing of police responses, and the phone calls made by Nevill and Jeremy Bamber.
One of his then Campaign Team, Yvonne Hartley commented to me around 2013 that she was confident that Jeremy would be released “very soon”. Here we are nearly ten years later, and he is still in prison, almost 40 years of unjustifiable loss of liberty with no imminent end in sight. I came to realise over the years that excessive optimism and perhaps exaggerated belief in good things happening was part of the campaigning ethos.
My first investigation for the Campaign was on the forged message log police documentation that was submitted during the 1998 City of London Police enquiry. I had discovered that records had been forged, presumably so as to make it impossible to undertake ESDA testing of the original police records during the City of London police probe in 1998. This further convinced me that the police had been manipulating evidence about the timing of telephone calls. Why else would records be forged?
After a while I was asked by Sarah Hanover if I would be interested in writing a book about the case. She referred to it as being a ‘Bamber Bible’, with the intention of setting the record straight on every aspect of evidence. It was made clear that there would be no fee, no royalties and all proceeds would go towards supporting the Campaign. I responded positively and we started to map out how a book could be constructed. I wrote some of the introductory material circa 2013. Sarah then introduced me to Yvonne Hartley and suggested that to speed up the production of the book we could work together on it. As a result, various chapters were allocated to each of us, and we started to collaborate. The collaboration went well, and we soon had several draft chapters. My records indicate that the draft chapters were written between 2014 and 2016.
During 2016 while working on a chapter about the events of the morning when the bodies were discovered I was informed by the Campaign Team that they had a set of high-definition crime scene photographs, but I would need Jeremy’s permission to view them. Apparently, having obtained the photos, nobody at the JBI CT was willing to examine them as they showed in graphic detail the dead bodies. I offered to analyse the pictures, as I was convinced that they would be revealing. Permission was not swift in coming. Jeremy is very wary about who can view photographs of his dead family. However, after about a six-month delay while negotiations took place,
I was given three pictures of Sheila Caffell as taken by DC David Bird on the morning the tragedy was discovered. I was later given three harrowing photographs of June Bamber and a further postmortem autopsy picture of Sheila.
I purchased some photo enhancement software for around £50 and started to examine the pictures. I was aware that the pathologist, Dr Peter Vanezis, had said that Sheila had suffered no injuries other than the two bullet wounds to her neck, but I was intrigued by what appeared to be wounds on the back of her right hand. After magnifying the images and applying various filters to clean up the pictures I saw a definite wound at the base of her index (trigger) finger. Further image enhancement revealed that there were in fact two straight edges at the corner of the wound, what appeared to be a cut from a mechanical object. I wondered if this might be part of the rifle mechanism and indeed it was. Also revealed was an obvious fingernail shaped gouge below the index finger, with blue bruising along the periphery of the wound and several scrapes and scratches nearby. It became apparent that someone had grasped Sheila’s right hand and inflicted wounds as they presumably tried to prise her fingers off the trigger mechanism.
I then looked at the four blobs on Sheila’s lower right arm where there were trails of blood. What I discovered was astonishing; there were cuts adjacent to the four blobs. These were not trails of blood from her neck wound as Vanezis had stated, but separate cuts. Four in total – presumably inflicted by four fingernails. I continued looking and initially counted 28 wounds to Sheila not described by Vanezis. The evidence was inescapable, someone with sharp fingernails had fought with Sheila. Jeremy had blunt fingernails, but June Bamber did have fingernails capable of inflicting damage, especially in a life and death struggle.
I examined the picture of June Bamber and immediately saw a large cut on her chin. I searched Vanezis’ witness statement and his court testimony but found no mention of it. I then saw four streams of blood on June’s neck and deduced that Sheila had grasped June by the neck with her left hand, inflicting the cut to the chin with her thumbnail and the other four grazes with her four fingernails. Lower down on the neck I discovered another series of gouged injuries that look exactly like someone grasped June’s neck with long fingernails.
The back of June’s left hand was covered in cuts and grazes also. There had clearly been a desperate fight between the two women, ended when Sheila shot June multiple times. I was stunned; I examined an image of Nevill’s arm, there was another fingernail gouge and further cuts. There were at least 70 wounds to the three adults. But why did Vanezis make no mention of any of these wounds? I wrote and asked him but received no reply. The CT decided quite sensibly that independent forensic expertise was required to confirm the existence of the wounds to the adults. In response to the campaign asking for donations, I donated a total of around £3k over a period of time to assist.
Thus, my journey into the labyrinth of the case began. It was 2016 when these crime scene images were analysed. I find it hard to believe that in 2022 the shocking evidence of the 70 wounds to the adults has still not been revealed and Jeremy Bamber remains in prison. This is entirely due to the CT policy of non-disclosure and secrecy. There is no reason why the discovery of the wounds to the adults and the fundamental differences that makes to the case against Jeremy Bamber could not have been referred immediately to the CCRC. It is hard to see what benefit has been derived from waiting five years before confronting the CCRC with such a powerful rebuttal of the prosecution case.
We jointly discovered a large number of significant items of evidence while writing the book. Among some of the things discovered, I found the references to a suicide note left by Sheila Caffell which had been discussed by DS Stan Jones of Essex Police. I also discovered the extensive wounds to the three adults not disclosed by Dr. Peter Vanezis. I discovered one of Sheila’s earrings snagged on her nightdress which had never been listed as an exhibit. We both found the evidence related to the forensic processing of more than one silencer, and Yvonne found references to the blood from David or Pamela Boutflour discovered inside a silencer. Yvonne found evidence of a 999-call made from inside the farmhouse at 06:09, hours after everyone was supposedly dead. Yvonne discovered conclusive evidence of the telephone call at 03:36 by Jeremy Bamber, which effectively proved his alibi. The discoveries just kept emerging during the book writing process. None of these discoveries were disclosed at the time they were found, and some have only emerged this year, five years after they were first identified. As I said earlier, the culture of non-disclosure and secrecy was powerful.
My experience throughout the book-writing project was that I was being denied access to information. I had been engaged to write a book and I had spent thousands of hours in research and writing over the four years or so that Yvonne and I worked on the book, but I was constantly having to ask for access to documentation. Yvonne had all of the documentation but decided what she would allow me to see, and I clearly wasn’t being shown everything. It became normal for me to discover that information that would assist me in my research was being withheld. It felt like Yvonne wanted to control everything and there was an air of secrecy about much that was going on. I assumed that we all shared the same objective – to see Jeremy Bamber released from prison, but now I realise that I was probably not on the same wavelength as the Campaign Team. I started to wonder if some people were campaigning for the sake of campaigning and some of their publicity-seeking stunts during the Trudy Benjamin era struck me as embarrassing, however, I just kept to the research.
The book revisions were completed circa 2018. By then Sarah Hanover had disappeared from the Campaign Team and my only contact with the CT was Yvonne Hartley. I was fully expecting a book to be released and that the contents would result in Jeremy Bamber being freed from prison, such was the impact of the revelations to be outlined. But nothing tangible happened. By that time, it was being mooted that Jeremy would submit a further submission to the CCRC, having been rebuffed in 2012. I started to hear from Yvonne that lawyers were suggesting keeping everything that we had discovered confidential. I was very frustrated because I did not think that secrecy was going to result in Jeremy being released. I tried to persuade Yvonne that we had to release a book, even if it made no money for Jeremy and was just available on the internet, my view was that the evidence of his innocence had to become public knowledge. When the book was finished, I argued strongly for publication, with no success. It is my view that only journalism will free Jeremy, in the same way that without consistent pressure from the media, the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and many others would never have gained their freedom. It was journalists who brought about the public pressure for the release of the Irish prisoners. There is no public clamour for the release of Jeremy Bamber because the overwhelming majority have been brainwashed by crappy books full of factual errors and risible TV dramatisations into thinking he is guilty.
Over time I formed the view that Yvonne is a very caring person and has been extremely dedicated to the Bamber campaign, but I think is misguided in trusting that the ‘secrecy’ approach will work. For example, about seven years ago, she said to me that a successful submission to the CCRC was “imminent”, but it wasn’t made until 2021. There does seem to be a culture of caution and concealment around everything involving JBI CT. It feels to me that Yvonne and others on the campaign have morphed into becoming ‘professional’ campaigners and lost sight of the objective of gaining Jeremy’s freedom. They now follow the instructions of lawyers to the letter and campaign because it is what they do with their lives – and unfortunately it has been pretty much totally ineffective. To me, that is a harsh but inescapable conclusion of what I have seen and experienced over the past ten years.
By 2017, there was no outright declaration that there would be no book at all. I then felt for years that I was being fobbed off. There would always be a new excuse for not proceeding immediately and numerous requests for patience. I was then told that a publisher had been found and the book would be in two volumes; later I was told it would be three volumes. Then about two years ago I was told there wouldn’t be a book, but there would be a Netflix documentary (where is it?). Since then, the CT have released many podcasts that have slowly revealed most of the information that I was told was too confidential to release as a book, including the numerous wounds not mentioned by Vanezis.
Eventually, I realised that our well-researched book on the case was never going to be published. I felt demoralized and informed Yvonne that I was no longer going to be involved in the Campaign. We parted on good terms, with Yvonne promising to keep me informed with progress. Unfortunately, this has not happened! I didn’t stop trying to get Jeremy’s freedom. During 2017, I wrote to the Chief Constable of Essex Police and enclosed copies of my discoveries regarding the undisclosed wounds to the adult victims. Over a period of months, I corresponded with DCI Stuart Smith of Essex Police, Alison Saunders at the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies and the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Essex. Zoë Billingham at HMIC did not respond at all, no acknowledgement whatsoever. After a delay of almost three months the Essex PCC eventually responded on 9 June 2017:
“The PCC is unable to become involved in operational policing matters and so is unable to assist you in relation to the matters you have raised”.
The Chief Constable of Essex Police, Stephen Kavanagh, did not reply either. However, he passed my bundle of documentation to Detective Chief Inspector 621 Stuart Smith of Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate. Smith turned out to be a bizarre character who didn’t even know that the White House Farm incident occurred in 1985, not 1984, or that Jeremy Bamber had only had one Court of Appeal hearing, not two. Smith also told me that he could not see any wound in the image below.
In the picture below a large cut to June Bamber’s chin is shown. This cut, about 1.5cm long was most likely caused by the left thumbnail of Sheila Caffell as she pushed June away while June, who had already been shot several times, was bravely trying to disarm her. Sheila inflicted four other wounds to June’s throat, wrongly dismissed as just smears of blood by Vanezis.
DCI Smith has said that he cannot see any cuts, gouges, scratches or any other kind of wound in photographs provided to him:
“The images that you include are of very low quality... There is absolutely no way that any person could reasonably say that the marks and blood trails that you depict are injuries”.
Is your eyesight better than DCI Smith’s? Can you see the cut to the chin (on left, approximate to actual size)?
My ad-hoc individual efforts to get someone in authority to take notice of the new evidence failed. Over a period of months, I discovered how well-practiced organisations were in passing the buck and fobbing off the public! None more so than Essex Police, who can’t afford to pay for DCI Smith to go to Specsavers.
My experience has been that the CT were happy to take money from me to pay for various projects, such as forensic reports of the wounds that had been uncovered. They were happy for me to spend thousands of hours researching and writing and kept stringing me along with promises that never materialised.
Since 2020 I have tried to get Yvonne to engage in discussion about what information should be released to the public. Invariably, she doesn’t reply to emails. I emailed her to say that I had found further wounds to Sheila Caffell, bringing the total to 35 but she didn’t reply. On 11 June this year I emailed her, “Hi Yvonne, given the latest delay by CCRC, I wondered if releasing the report on Vanezis might help to create pressure for the CCRC to prioritize JB’s case. If the public was aware of the wounds, it would surely generate media demands for the case to be referred immediately? I did not receive a reply.
The CT submitted a submission to the CCRC in March 2021, some six years after I was first told that a submission was “imminent”. Fifteen months later, it appears to be making no progress. I took the view after the latest revelation from Yvonne that the allocated CCRC Case Review Manager was leaving and had in effect done no analysis work on the submission for the past 8 months as an indication that the CCRC were not taking the submission seriously. Thus, I felt that the only way that there would be pressure on the CCRC to resolve the submission favourably to Jeremy was to reveal the misrepresentations told by Vanezis. Thus, I wrote a short article for CCRC Watch, which infuriated Yvonne. I was careful to only use photographs that are already in the public domain. Because Yvonne shuns all of the Bamber internet discussion forums, she is ignorant of what information is already in the public domain on forums that discuss the case.
Much of what Yvonne regards as ‘confidential’ has been known about for many years due to a ‘security breach’. In 2011, solicitors who had been acting for Jeremy were contacted by Lorna Lake, one of Jeremy’s campaigners and he told her that a campaigner friend of Jeremy’s named Lee (not associated with the Official Campaign) had turned up in a van and taken all the case documents at some time around 2008 or 2009. The solicitor said that there had been rows and rows and rows of A4 lever arch files all down the walls of his offices – all were gone. Ewen Smith's records for the 12 years he worked as Jeremy's solicitor were ‘acquired’ by Michael Teskowitz. Teskowitz then refused to send any of it to Jeremy and unscrupulously put police crime scene photographs of the dead family on the Internet, despite Jeremy's protestations. Thus, a great deal of what the JBI CT regard as confidential information has been in the public domain for a long time.
It is my view that the CT tactics of ‘secrecy’ have failed. If we had published the ‘Bamber Bible’ book there would have been no scope for the two highly misleading TV series that were broadcast to Jeremy’s detriment in 2020 and 2021. There would probably have been no thoroughly inaccurate book by the journalist Carol Ann Lee, which one of the TV series was based upon. The past three years have seen very damaging and highly misleading information being given to the public and the CT have just kept banging on about ‘disclosure’ without saying exactly what it is they want disclosed.
The CT keep presenting abstract legalistic concepts to the public and expect them to clamour for justice for Jeremy. It is not working. The CT seem to have developed a podcast craze, now endlessly releasing podcasts that feature Yvonne saying “we know Jeremy is innocent” without ever saying why or revealing any evidence, and only a few people are listening to the podcasts. Many people interested in the case ridicule Yvonne for this, and it is very annoying for her to keep saying “we know” but refusing to divulge what is known. With the JBI CT it is always a case of “wait” and people well-disposed to Jeremy have lost patience with waiting.
It is significant that despite a great volume of evidence that Jeremy is innocent, not a single MP is fighting his cause, and that is because there has been to date no evidence in the public domain for an MP to highlight. An MP would need something tangible to debate in parliament, such as the wounds not mentioned by Vanezis. All they have at present is complaints about non-disclosure by Essex Police which, it appears, nobody is interested in.
Thus, my hopes for the release of Jeremy Bamber which were so strong in 2015 have been unrealised to date. In my view, had we published the book, Jeremy would have been freed by 2017. I am no longer confident that he will be released if the CT adhere to their current strategy. I hope that I am wrong on that and that the CCRC surprise everyone and refer the case to the Court of Appeal. And, a final thought. If Jeremy Bamber is released nobody will have done more to bring that about than Yvonne Hartley who is an amazing researcher and tenacious advocate for Jeremy. I just wish that she had published what was, and still is, an exceptionally good book on the case.
As a final thought, it is known that the CCRC regard all applicants as guilty (see https://empowerinnocent.wixsite.com/ccrcwatch/post/your-application-to-the-commission-begins-with-a-presumption-of-guilt-not-innocence), which only further strengthens the need to promote any and all evidence that obliterates the notion that Jeremy Bamber is guilty with the utmost vigour via every available avenue and every possible media. The JBI CT have, in reality, done the opposite of this with their insistence on secrecy. I believe that they must go public with everything they have that demonstrates Jeremy Bamber’s innocence without further delay.
References  Jeremy Bamber Campaign Official Web Site (jeremy-bamber.co.uk) Latest news.  ESDA (electro-static document analysis) testing process.
Bill Robertson has researched alleged miscarriages of justice for around 20 years and advised on several cases, including contributing 7 years investigative research in support of the most recent application to the CCRC by Jeremy Bamber. He serves as Deputy Editor of CCRC Watch.
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