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Why will the CCRC not investigate Ray Gilbert’s claim of innocence for the murder of John Suffield?

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

Ray Gilbert with his results when he passed an eye lie detector test

This article considers the five applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) by or on behalf of Ray Gilbert, convicted of the 1981 murder of John Suffield. It argues that when the various submissions are evaluated it becomes apparent that as far as the CCRC are concerned Mr Gilbert seemingly fails the ‘L’Oréal’ test; he is considered “just not worth it”. As we see below, a significant range of issues about his conviction have been raised on his behalf and all have been dismissed for various reasons.

What should be of concern to the CCRC is that Ray Gilbert’s imprisonment is based upon a confession that he now says was made under great duress. It is as if the modern-day CCRC staff have forgotten that the reason for the CCRC being established was in large part due to the false confessions of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Judith Ward, Keith Twitchell, Liam Holden, Thomas Campbell, Stefan Kiszko and numerous others.

The CCRC should also be mindful that according to the Innocence Project (USA), of the 258 DNA exonerations they have handled to date, 25% have involved a false confession. If 10% of the two million men and women imprisoned in the United States are innocent, as is estimated by the US Department of Justice, then we can extrapolate that as many as 50,000 of their convictions involved false confessions.[1] The UK would not, as if by magic, be exempt from a similar proportion of false confession cases.

As far as the CCRC is concerned, though, the bottom line seems to be that Ray Gilbert pleaded guilty to murder forty years ago, which justifies their position to refuse to investigate whether his confessions are valid. In all of their Statements of Reasons (SORs) the CCRC keep repeating that he can’t come back now and say he didn’t do it because the Court of Appeal (CoA) simply won’t accept an appeal on that basis. But that is not how the CCRC is supposed to work.

The whole point of the CCRC was originally that anyone who believed that they were a victim of a miscarriage of justice could ask the CCRC to investigate their case and, hopefully, find evidence to support the applicant. Without doubt, it would be time-consuming and perhaps costly to investigate these issues, and many are possibly incapable of being resolved with the passing of time, but that is not supposed to deter the CCRC. One might ask in this context why the CoA is seemingly perfectly happy to hear multiple appeal cases from victims of the Post Office Horizon debacle even when the applicants have pleaded guilty, as in a recent referral to the CoA on behalf of Nalini Joshi,[2] but won’t consider whether Ray Gilbert’s circumstances to have any merit?

Ray Gilbert was 23 at the time of the alleged offence. Statistically, he is quite likely to have confessed falsely under duress. He says he was threatened with being killed.

Facts and Figures

  • Police-induced false confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

  • Police-induced false confessions appear to occur primarily in the more serious cases, especially homicides.

  • False confessions make for the leading cause of wrongful convictions in homicide cases.

  • In about 30% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.

  • 63% of false confessors were under the age of 25.[3]

Ray Gilbert is not asking the CCRC to exonerate him, all he requests is the chance of an appeal or a retrial, but the CCRC will not even take initial steps to investigate his plea of innocence. The CCRC’s refusal is primarily because Mr Gilbert pleaded guilty, but for a very long time he has said that he was coerced into pleading guilty in fear for his life. As far as the CCRC and CoA are concerned, being threatened with death is insufficient ‘duress’ and is quoted in SOR’s as an inadequate factor in the making of a false confession.

Ray Gilbert spent 36 years in prison, a lengthy period beyond his tariff because he refused to accept that he was guilty, which should perhaps be regarded as a significant indication of innocence. Anyone who studies the case hoping to find definitive evidence of Ray Gilbert’s alleged innocence will be left feeling puzzled. On the evidence we have available it is impossible to tell whether he is innocent or guilty; there is much evidence to indicate guilt, but Ray Gilbert alleges that much of it is erroneous. In an effort to clarify matters, the CCRC could arrange for Mr Gilbert to be seen by a psychologist to establish more accurately the form of his psychological condition. His alibi witness could be re-interviewed so as to clarify points in his defence. Forensic tests, including DNA tests could be undertaken. But the CCRC refuses to do any of these things.

At the core of Ray Gilbert’s explanation for his guilty plea is fear for his life should co-defendant Kamara be found guilty. In a failed attempt to get John Kamara found not guilty, Ray Gilbert told the Court that he had carried out the murder. The strategy failed and John Kamara was convicted along with Ray Gilbert. Throughout the CCRC’s five Statements of Reason (SORs) over a period of nearly 25 years, they express deference to the historical reluctance of the CoA to listen to pleas of ‘duress’.

In the UK, the accepted argument of duress is very narrowly defined and lagging behind research into the psychological aspects of false confession. The CCRC should be pushing out the boundaries of understanding false confession, not hiding behind outdated thinking. The CCRC should be prepared to use the Ray Gilbert case to present to the CoA an expert opinion based on contemporary psychological expertise. Instead, it makes reference to historical cases. Therefore, no progress is made in understanding the complexity of false confessions.

In 2008, the CCRC acknowledged that all it considered in rejecting his fourth application was that: “The Commission…has considered whether any subsequent developments in the law might give rise to a real possibility that the Court of Appeal would quash Mr Gilbert’s conviction” (emphasis added). How is the law going to ‘develop’ if the CCRC is not prepared to put forward cases that challenge the legal status quo?

The murder

In brief, the murder of John Suffield took place at about 9.30 am on Friday 13 March 1981. Mr Suffield, who managed a Coral's betting shop was opening up for the day when he was waylaid. The 23-year-old was tied up and stabbed 19 times in what appeared to have been a horrifically bungled robbery. A mere £176.00 was stolen from the safe; evidently the murderers must have expected to acquire far more. Mr Suffield had been tied up and it is assumed that after failing to give the safe combination quickly enough because of a speech impediment, he was stabbed 19 times. The prosecution case was that Ray Gilbert did the stabbing, while John Kamara was present and assisting.

Murder victim, John Suffield

Mr Gilbert was detained on Monday 16 March and then spent two days and nights in police custody. In detaining Ray Gilbert, the police could then only have been acting on general suspicion. No fingerprint, footprint, forensic, bloodstain or witness evidence has ever connected Gilbert with the crime.

Ray Gilbert was arrested on the basis of an “identikit” picture. He was first interviewed at 1430hrs, when he denied the offence and gave details of an alibi: that he was with his girlfriend of the time, June Bannan, in bed at her home. He was further interviewed throughout the day while enquiries were conducted with Ms. Bannan. Police officers robustly challenged him on this alibi leading, at 0035hrs on the 17th March 1981, to him writing, in his own hand, a statement “under caution” admitting the offence and naming Mr. Kamara as his accomplice. At 0215hrs Mr Gilbert was again seen by the police during which time the questions and answers were recorded contemporaneously and signed by Ray Gilbert as being true. Between 0325hrs and 0350hrs Gilbert was seen by Dr Clarke, a police surgeon, who noted no complaint, nor indeed any injuries apart from a minor cut to Ray Gilbert’s hand. At 1910hrs Ray Gilbert was again seen by the police and again this interview was recorded contemporaneously. Ray Gilbert signed the notes as being a true account of the interview. On the 18th of March 1981 between 1632hrs and 1637 hrs. Mr Gilbert was again seen by Dr Clarke. There has never been an explanation as to why Dr. Clarke examined Gilbert twice. Despite seemingly admitting the offence and making a confession freely in his own handwriting, two months later, on 15th May 1981, Ray Gilbert made a further statement in prison to police officers in which he denied his own involvement but suggested that two men named Roy Forrester and Neville Smith had committed the offences.

John Kamara and Raymond Gilbert were charged and convicted of the murder. Both Gilbert and Kamara pleaded not guilty. Soon after starting his evidence in chief, Ray Gilbert unexpectedly changed his plea to guilty, handing a note to the judge admitting he carried out the murder and, crucially, that all of the stabbings of the victim were done by Gilbert. He said that his co-defendant Kamara played no part in the assault. The fact that Mr Gilbert entered a guilty plea dominates the CCRC stance on his applications and is referred to throughout the five Statements of Reasons (SOR) as a very strong reason why the Court of Appeal (CoA) would not overturn the original verdict.

Ray Gilbert told the Liverpool Echo newspaper:[4] "I was basically told by well-known hardened criminals in the Toxteth area that if I didn't admit it I would get it. My thought at the time was by admitting it I would get John off. I don't know if I was functioning properly as a person at the time, that is for a psychiatrist to determine. But there were traumatic things in my life, and I don't know how it affected me. I tended to just go along with what other people wanted”.

What Mr Gilbert and Mr Kamara, their lawyers, or the jury did not know at the time of the trial was the contents of 201 witness statements which the prosecution had failed to disclose to the defence.

John Kamara had his conviction quashed in 2000 by the Court of Appeal, largely for technical reasons. One powerful reason was that the prosecution failed to give the defence a large number of witness statements, which did not support the prosecution case and even contradicted witness statements. This failure applies as much to Ray Gilbert's case as to John Kamara's. Ray Gilbert was not even picked out on an identification parade even though Kamara was.

Since Kamara's conviction was quashed, another question arises immediately. If Kamara was not involved, then who else was? The murder had to be a two-person crime. It involved probably forcible entry, tying up and then stabbing a young bookmaker in his betting shop. But following Kamara’s successful appeal the police say they are not looking for anyone else.

The most likely alternative suspects were two men who had a row with the bookmaker the day before and who threatened to return and sort him out. Their alibis were never subjected to the same scrutiny as were Ray Gilbert's and John Kamara’s. So serious were their threats that John Suffield told his father how upset he was, and that he had decided to give up his job. He returned early on the fatal morning of 13th Feb '81 to meet a representative of Coral, who owned the shop, and to hand over the keys. However, the Coral's representative was, disastrously for Suffield, late.

First application to the CCRC in 1997

Little has changed between Ray Gilbert’s first application to the CCRC in 1997 and his most recent application in 2021. Indeed, the CCRC rather tetchily makes the point in the SOR issued after the most recent application that no ‘new’ evidence has been proffered by Mr Gilbert since 1997.

The CCRC says that he has reiterated the same points in all five applications, which is broadly correct, and clearly problematical for the CCRC. However, the repeated points cover some very pertinent issues and if the CCRC won’t address them seriously then Ray Gilbert is bound to repeat them.

Mr. Gilbert’s original defence file was ‘lost’ by a prison a long time ago. However, it was suggested to the CCRC by Mr. Gilbert that his defence would have run as follows:

On the day in question, he had been in his flat all day, and was in bed with his girlfriend June Bannan, at the material time. He made admissions to the police because he had been threatened by them physically and emotionally, and therefore told them what they wanted to hear. The information he gave to the police had been read in the papers, or he had guessed, or had been given to him by the police. He had not discussed the case with anyone whilst on remand and had not told anyone that he was involved with the murder. The remand witnesses who said that he had confessed to the murder were lying and making statements at the behest of his co-defendant or the police. (Four remand prisoners testified that Gilbert confessed to the murder).

In repeatedly dismissing Ray Gilbert’s submissions, the CCRC seems to be in error over a fundamental issue. The CCRC states that at the time of the murder in 1981 there was no requirement for the police to offer a suspect access to legal advice. The CCRC said: “Mr Gilbert’s case pre-dates the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 1984). The CCRC took this into consideration during its review of Mr Gilbert’s first application.

During that review, the CCRC noted that under the provisions of the ‘Judge’s Rules’ of 1964, which provided guidance on the conduct of police interviews at that time, there was no positive duty on the police to inform a suspect that he could have legal advice and representation. Indeed, prior to being charged, Mr Gilbert was not offered any legal advice.

The CCRC is wrong on this important point. The 1964 Judge’s Rules supersede those made in 1912 and 1918, but do not affect the following principle (as set forth in the Introduction to the Rules):

“That every person at any stage of an investigation should be able to communicate and consult privately with a solicitor. This is so even if he is in custody, provided that in such a case no unreasonable delay or hindrance is caused to the processes of investigation or the administration of justice by his doing so”.[5]

Further evidence of the right to consult a solicitor can be found in Moriarty’s Police Law, a book that was studied by every police officer recruit at the time of Ray Gilbert’s arrest. On page 71 of the Nineteenth Edition it states that the Judges Rules do not affect the principle that:

“Every person at every stage of an investigation should be able to communicate and to consult privately with a solicitor. This is so even if he is in custody”.

There is no excuse for the police officers who interrogated Mr Gilbert not to have offered him the chance to consult a solicitor and perhaps given access to legal advice he would not have made the series of confessions and retractions, who knows?

The CCRC continued: “From the documentation, which was available to the CCRC, neither was there anything to suggest that Mr Gilbert requested a solicitor during his time in custody or during his police interviews. On 18th March 1981, however, once the interviews were concluded and the confession statements had been signed, a legal representative, Mr John O’Leary, was present when Mr Gilbert was charged with murder and robbery. The CCRC concluded that the interviews had been conducted under conditions which were considered fair by the standards of the day”. However, they were not. The standards of the day required the police at the outset of the interviews to offer Mr. Gilbert the services of a solicitor – they failed to do this.

The CCRC has stated: “Moreover, after taking account of all the evidence (including Ms Tunstall’s psychological report and a psychiatric report prepared by Dr W K Lawson) the CCRC concluded that there was no evidence that Mr Gilbert had been prejudiced by the absence of legal advice”.

It follows that there is no real possibility that the Court of Appeal would now conclude that Mr Gilbert’s confession was recorded in circumstances which might have rendered it inadmissible had there been a trial and, as such, no real possibility that his conviction following a guilty plea might now be thought unsafe.

So, Ray Gilbert made various conflicting statements and confessed to murder before retracting the confession, but the CCRC found that there was: “no evidence that Mr Gilbert had been prejudiced by the absence of legal advice”. However, the CCRC did not speak to Ray Gilbert to ask his opinion as to whether being provided with legal advice would have changed his outlook.

Summary of issues raised at appeal

  • Mr. Gilbert stated that he was confused and bewildered and changed his plea not knowing what he was doing as he had not been on trial before.

  • Mr. Gilbert stated that he could prove he was innocent.

  • His alibi witness and other witnesses perjured themselves.

  • There was no identification of him by the three main witnesses on the identification parade.

  • No blood was found on any of his clothes or possessions.

  • He had no facial hair, but the man that the witness Mr. Kris Guido saw, did have facial hair.

  • 2 juries were removed, and the third jury was prejudiced by a newspaper article that said the defendants were arrested inside the betting shop.

  • Certain matters were not mentioned in court, e.g. the fact that he gave his trainers to his cousin a week before.

There has been a great deal of correspondence issued by the CCRC over the past 25 years giving reasons why they will not refer Mr Gilbert’s case to the CoA. It is primarily about the CCRC second-guessing how the CoA would react to the points being made below in submissions made by Bruce Kent and Stephensons Solicitors. The CCRC considers that the submissions made can be grouped into the following areas:

  • Matters relating to the CCRC’s approach to the case (drafting issues and critique of the “real possibility” test).

  • Matters relating to the fairness of the initial investigation.

  • Matters relating to the reliability of Mr Gilbert’s confession.

  • Matters relating to the alibi evidence of Ms Bannan.

  • Matters relating to scientific re-examination of exhibits.

Matters relating to the CCRC approach to the case

  • The CCRC has failed, when commenting on the background to the case, to have proper regard to the weight of Mr. Gilbert’s continued denial of the offence in view of the effect that such denials have had on his prospects for release.

CCRC: The CCRC has had regard to Mr Gilbert’s ongoing denial of the offence to which he pleaded guilty, and the adverse effect that such denials have had on his prospects for release, but it is not evidence upon which a referral may be made in isolation. The CCRC may only refer a case where new evidence or argument gives rise to a real possibility of the conviction being quashed. Where a conviction is founded upon a guilty plea, that hurdle is considerable, and the probative weight of an entirely self-serving statement is not significant.

  • The CCRC’s comment that Mr. Gilbert has “apparently maintained his innocence” for a long period is unfair, Mr. Gilbert has in fact maintained his innocence.

CCRC: The CCRC does not accept that the use of the word ‘apparently’ here discloses any factual inaccuracy, the CCRC simply cannot know that Mr Gilbert has maintained his innocence without equivocation having not been privy to every conversation to which Mr Gilbert has been party since the offence. Neither does the CCRC accept that the inclusion of this word operates to the detriment of Mr Gilbert since it was used in the context of acknowledging that Mr Gilbert does not appear to have admitted the offence again since 1982.

  • The CCRC’s comment that there is no evidence to rebut the evidence of Mr. Gilbert’s presence at the scene is misguided since the only evidence of his presence was his confession, which is now undermined.

CCRC: The CCRC was considering the effect of the unused statements which were discovered in an earlier CCRC review, and which formed the basis of the reference of Mr Kamara’s conviction. The CCRC concluded that the effect of the material in question was to provide a basis on which to challenge the identification evidence of Mrs Edmonds (in respect of Mr Kamara only), the material could only have been relevant to Mr Gilbert’s conviction if it disclosed a basis for stating that the plea must have been equivocal (such as evidence refuting his presence). Since the material in question did not so do the CCRC does not consider that this matter gives rise to a real possibility of the Court of Appeal setting Mr Gilbert’s guilty plea aside, given the analysis above of the threshold for such a decision.

  • The CCRC should not apply the standards of the day, throughout history barbarous and unjust acts have been considered fair.

CCRC: The CCRC would not dispute that acts have been committed throughout history that, through the lens of contemporary standards, seem unconscionable but which, at the time were normal and considered fair. The CCRC, although noting Mr Kent’s assertion that it should do otherwise, was established by Parliament to refer those cases where there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will quash the conviction. It is therefore unable to disregard authoritative decisions of the Court of Appeal in previous cases concerning the practices of those detained by police prior to the enactment of PACE 1984.

  • The CCRC should interpret the “Real Possibility” test widely as one cannot predict how any particular judge might decide a case.

The CCRC then launched into its standard rebuttal of criticism of the ‘real possibility’ test:

CCRC: The CCRC has previously been required to defend judicial review proceedings on its application of the “Real Possibility” test. The Administrative Court have, consequently, offered the following guidance on how the test should be approached in R. v. CCRC ex parte Pearson (1999) 3 All ER 498:

“The CCRC had, bearing in mind the statutory threshold, to try to predict the response of the Court of Appeal if the case were referred and application to adduce the evidence were made. It could only make that prediction by paying attention to what the Court of Appeal had said and done in similar cases on earlier occasions. It could not rationally predict the response of the Court of Appeal without making its own assessment, with specific reference to the materials in this case, of the considerations to which the Court of Appeal would be obliged to have regard and of how it would be likely to exercise its discretion. If one wants to predict what a reasonable person, on given facts and subject to a measure of guidance, would decide, there is no rational way to approach that task otherwise than by considering what, on the same facts and subject to the same guidance, one would decide oneself. That is not to usurp the decision of that other person but to set about predicting his decision in a rational way.” Lord Bingham CJ

In respect of whether the CCRC interpreted “real possibility” correctly the Lord Bingham CJ commented that:

“The ‘real possibility’ test prescribed in section 13(1)(a) of the 1995 Act as the threshold which the CCRC must judge to be crossed before a conviction may be referred to the Court of Appeal is imprecise but plainly denotes a contingency which, in the CCRC's judgment, is more than an outside chance or a bare possibility but which may be less than a probability or a likelihood or a racing certainty. The CCRC must judge that there is at least a reasonable prospect of a conviction, if referred, not being upheld. The threshold test is carefully chosen: if the CCRC were almost automatically to refer all but the most obviously threadbare cases, its function would be mechanical rather than judgmental and the Court of Appeal would be burdened with a mass of hopeless appeals; if, on the other hand, the CCRC were not to refer any case unless it judged the applicant's prospect of success on appeal to be assured, the cases of some deserving applicants would not be referred to the Court and the beneficial object which the CCRC was established to achieve would be to that extent defeated. The CCRC is entrusted with the power and the duty to judge which cases cross the threshold and which do not.”

This issue was the subject of further comment in R (on the application of Gary Mills and Anthony Poole) v CCRC [2001] EWHC Admin 1153, in which Lord Woolf CJ stated that:

“… we would strongly discourage the CCRC from lowering the threshold they set for a referral. It would be all too easy for the CCRC to adopt the soft option and very readily refer, to the disadvantage of the other work waiting to be heard in the Court of Appeal. We congratulate the CCRC for not falling into that temptation.”

The CCRC considers, therefore, that it is wholly appropriate that decisions whether or not to refer a case are taken based upon a rigorous application of the test set out in the Act having regard to previous decisions of the Court of Appeal.

Matters relating to the fairness of the initial investigation

  • The CCRC failed to recognise that the police investigation of the men who threatened Mr Suffield on the day prior to the murder was cursory and finalised with undue speed. The CCRC failed to determine why these men came to be ruled out as suspects.

CCRC: The CCRC set out that the two men who were involved in the dispute with Mr Suffield on the 12th March 1981 were identified as suspects, questioned and their alibis investigated prior to Mr Gilbert becoming a suspect. The CCRC set out that the alibis of these individuals were investigated, and statements obtained from persons corroborating them. The CCRC notes that Mr Gilbert only became a suspect as a consequence of the evidence offered by Mrs Edmonds on 14th March 1981. That the police, having investigated one line of enquiry to its conclusion, and uncovered another, pursued the latter does not cause the CCRC to believe that the investigation was unfair to such an extent that Mr Gilbert’s confessions are undermined, and his guilty plea rendered equivocal.

Matters relating to the reliability of the confessions of Mr Gilbert

  • The CCRC failed to recognise that the “cell confession” type evidence to which it refers has been undermined by the Court of Appeal’s quashing of Mr. Kamara’s conviction.

CCRC: The CCRC included the “cell confession” evidence referred to within its summary of the case since it formed part of the case against Mr Gilbert. The CCRC does not accept the fact that Mr Kamara’s conviction was quashed necessarily negates the evidence within the “cell confessions”. The confessions in question were a great deal less relevant to Mr Kamara than they appeared to be to Mr Gilbert. The CCRC furthermore notes that Otton LJ made specific reference to the evidence in question in the judgment on Mr Kamara’s appeal and appeared to conclude that, far from being undermined, the Court were persuaded that it was properly obtained and admitted. The CCRC cannot therefore accept the view of Mr Gilbert’s representatives that developments in this case have undermined the “cell confession” evidence.

  • The CCRC failed to consider Mr. Gilbert’s confession against known facts and common sense. The description of the offence offered by Mr. Gilbert was improbable and considered alongside the lack of any evidence linking him to the crime scene is such that the confession should be treated with some scepticism.

CCRC: It is asserted by Mr Kent that the account which Mr Gilbert gave in confessing, of waking up early despite having been out drinking into the early hours, leaving Ms Bannan’s house without waking her, taking a knife and the cord used to restrain Mr Suffield, and walking to Lodge Lane defies common sense. The CCRC considers that such submissions are entirely speculative and give rise to no real possibility that the conviction, based as it is on his guilty plea, would be considered unsafe.

  • The CCRC failed to recognise the significance of certain information being absent from Mr. Gilbert’s confession, notably the information pertaining to the inner safe, which only became a feature of Mr. Gilbert’s confessions after that evidence emerged.

CCRC: The CCRC has already addressed this submission above. The CCRC concluded, and remains of the view, that the omission from Mr Gilbert’s confessions to police following his arrest did not overcome the hurdle created by his guilty plea.

  • The CCRC should have regard to the manner in which Mr. Gilbert’s confession changed to reflect witness evidence as it came to light.

CCRC: The CCRC notes that the majority of the evidence against Mr Gilbert was either known prior to his arrest and interview or came into existence following his remand to custody once his confession was a matter of record. While there is some truth in the suggestion that Mr Gilbert’s accounts evolved and changed during the interview process this appears to be as a consequence of Mr Gilbert offering differing accounts for some reason rather than being tailored to fit the available evidence. Comparison of the confessions and the key evidence does not support the inference that Mr Gilbert tailored his confessions to fit with evidence as it emerged. The CCRC does not consider that, set against his guilty plea and the approach of the Court of Appeal to such pleas, such matters can give rise to a real possibility of the guilty plea being set aside.

  • It is inaccurate to state that Mr. Gilbert had given two very different confessions, and wrong for the CCRC to place reliance on Dr Cumming’s assessment that he had frequently changed his account. The fact that the Court of Appeal quashed Mr. Kamara’s conviction renders Mr. Gilbert’s confession (upon which that conviction was based) unreliable.

CCRC: The CCRC notes Mr Gilbert to have initially confessed to committing the offence with Mr Kamara, then, the following day, claimed that Mr Kamara was not involved but declined to name his accomplice. Following the trial Mr Gilbert gave a statement naming another individual as his accomplice. It is therefore wholly accurate to state that Mr Gilbert had given two very different confessions. Dr Cumming’s report was therefore based upon a correct assessment of the case. It is therefore perfectly proper to place reliance on Dr Cumming’s assessment of Mr Gilbert’s levels of suggestibility and compliance. As the CCRC has observed above the fact that Mr Kamara’s conviction was quashed on appeal does not automatically lead to the conclusion that the conviction of Mr Gilbert is unsafe simply because he had, in confessing, named Mr Kamara as his accomplice.

  • The CCRC should consider instructing a forensic linguist to analyse the transcripts of Mr. Gilbert’s interview and his confession as this would highlight that the confession was based upon question and answers and that information which one might have expected to form part of the confession, if genuine, was not included. This would support the proposition that the confession was in fact false.

CCRC: The CCRC has considered the extent to which a forensic linguistic report could assist Mr Gilbert. The CCRC acknowledges that forensic linguists are able, in some cases, to offer an opinion on whether a written statement appears to have been written in the manner claimed by reference, amongst other things, to the sentence structure and language used. It appears to the CCRC that the confession statement of Mr Gilbert (that written at 0035hrs on 17th March 1981), since it purported to have been written wholly by Mr Gilbert, without prompting or interruption by police, and was all his own wording, could in theory be suitable for consideration by such an expert.

The CCRC has considered the extent to which a report by a forensic linguist might give rise to a real possibility of the conviction being considered unsafe. The best potential outcome which might be expected should such an expert view be obtained is that the confession statement referred to would be thought to have probably been written in circumstances other than was previously understood. In a case where a defendant, having apparently confessed, contested the trial (and particularly where the provenance of the confession was disputed), but the jury nevertheless convicted, then any evidence capable of undermining the reliability of a confession is, having regard to the jury impact test set out in R.v. Pendleton [2002] 1 All ER 524 (HoL), quite significant.

This is not the situation faced by Mr Gilbert. He has not asserted, so far as the CCRC is aware, anything inconsistent with the statement in question being his own work. Furthermore he pleaded guilty, and thus his statement was not used in evidence against him, and there is no question of considering its impact on a jury. The CCRC accordingly considers that any opinion of an expert on this subject would fall to be considered against the tests from Kelly and Connelly. The CCRC notes that, even if wholly favourable to Mr Gilbert, an expert report cannot provide any further information than that which Mr Gilbert knew at the point when he decided to plead guilty, i.e. the circumstances of the confession statement coming into existence. The CCRC does not consider therefore that an expert report on such a matter gives rise to any basis for setting a plea aside as being equivocal.

  • The CCRC should consider obtaining further reports in respect of the work undertaken by Professor Gudjonsson in respect of “suggestibility scales.”

The CCRC, as it noted above, has had regard to the reports of Dr Tunstall and Dr Cummings submitted by Mr Gilbert’s representatives. It has previously been concluded that Mr Gilbert shows no evidence following testing of being either abnormally suggestible or compliant. It does not therefore appear to the CCRC that there is any possible merit in further testing to consider the same issue.

Matters relating to the alibi evidence of Ms Bannan

  • The police investigation of Mr. Gilbert’s alibi, specifically their treatment of Ms Bannan, renders Mr. Gilbert’s confession, which was made once he was told that Ms Bannan had not supported his alibi, unreliable.

CCRC: While the CCRC recognises that the treatment of Ms Bannan might be considered severe it was clearly set out within her statements which were available prior to Mr Gilbert entering a plea and cannot therefore form the basis of a referral now.

  • The CCRC should make enquiries with Ms Bannan as it is submitted that she withdrew her support for Mr. Gilbert’s alibi upon being told that she risked being arrested for the offence of perverting the course of justice.

CCRC: The CCRC notes that Ms Bannan was in fact charged and put before the court for her actions in providing Mr Gilbert with an alibi. The CCRC also notes that, according to the chronology set out in the statements of the investigating officers (particularly those of Detective Constables Prentice and Wright), Mr Gilbert confessed prior to Ms Bannan retracting the alibi account she had given. At the time that Mr Gilbert confessed the officers in question had simply indicated their disbelief of the account she had given. Ms Bannan was however charged on Wednesday 18th March 1981 after Mr. Gilbert had confessed to the offence. It follows therefore that Mr Gilbert’s confession was made, not upon being told that he did not have an alibi but, on his own doubts as to whether Ms Bannan would confirm his account under scrutiny. This matter was clearly recorded in her statement dated 1st June 1981 and the information as to the circumstances in which Ms Bannan withdrew her alibi was therefore apparent at the time when Mr Gilbert entered his guilty plea. It does not therefore appear to the CCRC that this is new evidence or argument upon which Mr Gilbert’s plea might be set aside.

The CCRC would also observe that, since she was charged and remanded into custody (on 18th March 1981) notwithstanding the withdrawal of her support of Mr Gilbert’s alibi (on 17th March 1981), Ms Bannan did not appear to have benefited greatly in the short term from compliance with police demands, if any such demands were made. Neither does it appear to be the case that that the police offered her favourable treatment for her compliance since they proceeded with prosecuting her, albeit the charge was later discontinued.

Matters relating to scientific re-examination of exhibits

  • The CCRC failed to identify outcomes of scientific testing which would be of benefit to Mr. Gilbert. Where no biological material from Mr. Gilbert was recovered from the crime scene, but material originating from others was then it is more likely that they, and not him, were the murderers.

CCRC: The CCRC has previously considered the possible outcomes of the testing which would now be possible having regard to the physical evidence which is available and has concluded that there is no testing which might yield a result which is sufficient to set aside Mr Gilbert’s guilty plea. The only remaining physical evidence which was not directly linked with either Mr Gilbert, or Mr Kamara, are the three scrapings of blood which are presumed to have come from the cord, the CCRC concluded that, in the circumstances, even the discovery of a profile which was not that of Mr Gilbert, or Mr Suffield, would not be sufficient to overcome the hurdle of Mr Gilbert’s guilty plea.

  • The loss, by the authorities, of the cord used to bind Mr. Suffield is hugely detrimental to Mr. Gilbert as it could have been used to exonerate him. It is unfair that Mr. Gilbert should suffer as a consequence of this negligence.

CCRC: The loss of the cord in question, while unfortunate, is not, in the CCRC’s view, indicative of any negligence on anyone’s part given Mr Gilbert’s acknowledgement of guilt during the trial. Furthermore, the CCRC does not concur with the view that negligence (if that description was considered valid) in this connection gives rise to an argument that Mr Gilbert is prejudiced as a result of the loss or that such prejudice should be remedied by the conviction being overturned. As the CCRC has set out, the CCRC does not consider that, given the nature of the offence, evidence of any particular biological deposit on the cord in question could ever be sufficiently determinative to exonerate Mr Gilbert.

  • Since the case against Mr. Gilbert was one of joint enterprise then there may be benefit to Mr. Gilbert in conducting testing in respect of those exhibits linked to Mr. Kamara.

CCRC: The CCRC has already set out its reasons for concluding that testing of those exhibits linked to Mr Kamara would not provide any benefit to Mr Gilbert.

  • Testing of those exhibits linked to Mr. Gilbert might show the falsity of Mr. Gilbert’s confessions.

CCRC: The CCRC has, similarly, already set out its reasons for its conclusion that no testing of the remaining physical evidence could be of assistance to Mr Gilbert. The CCRC remains of this view.

  • Since Mr. Gilbert’s confession was that he had tied and stabbed Mr. Suffield, testing of the blood scrapings could lead to support that the confession was false.

CCRC: The CCRC has already concluded that the conduct to which Mr Gilbert confessed would not be certain to involve the transfer of genetic material to the cord, and the circumstances of the sampling, storage and retention of the blood scrapings would not wholly exclude contamination. The CCRC does not therefore consider that testing could yield any result sufficiently probative to cause Mr Gilbert’s guilty plea to be considered equivocal.

The issue of “guilty knowledge” is critical to the CCRC rejection and is outlined below. As part of their reviews, the CCRC considered the details of the information Mr. Gilbert is recorded as having given to the police in the police statements. Mr. Gilbert alleges that the information he gave to the police about the murder, recorded in the statements, was either made up, read in the newspapers, or given to him by the police.

It is suggested by Ms. Tunstall (psychiatrist) in her report that some of the details Mr. Gilbert gave to the police of what happened at the scene of the murder were ‘completely incompatible’ with each other. Thus, it is claimed that this may have been an attempt by Mr. Gilbert to make his ‘story’ sound convincing. However, Mr. Gilbert confirmed to the Commission during interview in November of 1998, that he believed the statements of the two police officers to be an accurate account of what was said during the interviews.

As part of its investigation, the Commission has examined the information given in the press about the murder from the ‘Liverpool Echo’, ‘The Daily Post’, ‘The Mirror’ and the ‘Daily Mail’ on the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th March 1981 (copied and collated in the prosecution file). Mr. Gilbert was arrested at 1.30pm on Monday 16th March 1981. The Commission has deduced from its study of these cuttings, that the following highlighted information given to the police by Mr. Gilbert, could not have been obtained from newspaper reports, and therefore some other explanation must exist to explain how Mr. Gilbert knew the following highlighted details:

‘I asked him where he had stabbed the man and Gilbert pointed to his chest and stomach and said: “In the chest and stomach”’ (page 16).

“While I had him round the throat, I jabbed him in the back with the knife” (page 24).

“I was really mad now and I just kept stabbing and stabbing him and slashed him across the face” (page 25).

The postmortem photographs of Mr. Suffield’s body confirm that Mr. Suffield was not only stabbed in the chest several times, but was also stabbed twice in the stomach, three times in the back and had two stab wounds to the face. The newspaper reports say only that Mr. Suffield was stabbed repeatedly in the chest.

‘Detective Sergeant Prentice asked him (Mr. Gilbert) if he had tied the man up and he replied: “Yes, on an old-fashioned swivel chair”’ (page 16).

‘I asked him was he lying on his back or was he lying face down. Gilbert replied: “He was lying on his back holding his stomach where I’d stabbed him”’ (page 17).

Detective Sergeant Prentice asked him how he was lying, and he replied: “On his back with his hands on his stomach. The wire was still round his wrists” (page 19).

Detective Sergeant Prentice asked him how the money was made up and he replied: “Most of it was in tenners and fivers and some in silver in plastic bags” (page 20).

“I shoved him onto a chair and told him to sit still. I had wire with me, and I tied his hands behind his back, but I couldn’t tie it tight because the chair kept moving with it being a swivel chair…” (page 24).

Gilbert replied: “No, and it wasn’t wire anyway, it was like a whitecord, like what you hang curtains up with”’ (page 30).

‘Detective Sergeant Prentice said to him: “Did you have to cut it off a long length?” He replied: “No, it was raveled up and I just took the whole lot”’ (page 30).

“Photographs of the scene of the murder show Mr. Suffield lying on his back, with his hands on his stomach. His hands still have a white plastic cord tied around them, which resembles the type of cord used for washing lines, or for hanging up curtains. It is a very long piece of cord because some of it is not used to tie the hands, and lies to the side of the body, tangled up. The cord was not tied tightly enough to keep the two hands together, because it is wrapped around one hand, and then stretches underneath the body around Mr. Suffield’s back and up to the other hand which it is also wrapped around. This is consistent with Mr. Suffield having had his hands tied behind his back initially, but because of the looseness of the knots, he was able to stretch his hands apart and hold his stomach when he fell to the floor. Next to the body, at the head end, is a swivel chair. From the photographs of the scene, it is clear that this was the only swivel chair in the betting shop and could not have been seen by any of the customers in the shop if it was kept in the storeroom at the back of the shop where the body was found. It is not a modern type of chair made of plastic with cushioning, it is made entirely of a dark stained wood, with a large black metal contraption underneath the seat, on which the chair would swivel. It appears to date from the 1950’s. Also next to the body, at the feet end, is a pile of plastic money bags, with coins in them. Some of these coins are also loose on the floor. The newspaper cuttings at the time, reported only that money was found strewn on the floor at the scene, and that there was a blood covered body and a pool of blood around the body. There was no mention of the fact that the money was in plastic bags, of the swivel chair, or of the fact that Mr. Suffield had been tied up, nor of the position the body was found in at the scene.”

The CCRC concluded: “It appears to the Commission that there are certain details which Mr. Gilbert gave to the police that he could only have known either because he was present at the murder scene, had guessed, or had been given by the police. The Commission does not find credible the submission that Mr. Gilbert guessed these details. The Commission is of the opinion that it was unlikely that the police gave Mr. Gilbert these details. This is especially in view of the fact that the police statements make it clear that the officers interviewing Mr. Gilbert were not given the details of the murder scene before midnight at the end of the first day of questioning (page 21), when it is recorded that they went out to examine the photographs of the scene. There is no new evidence to support the allegation that the police gave Mr. Gilbert the details of the murder scene, and that therefore the statements of DS Prentice and DC Wright were incomplete or untrue. Furthermore, Mr. Gilbert has told the Commission that the police accounts of the interviews are accurate in their content. Thus the Commission concludes that there is no information or evidence, to rebut the inference that Mr. Gilbert was able to provide these details by reason of the fact that he was present at the scene of the murder.”

The CCRC concluded after the first submission that it did not believe that Ray Gilbert was beaten up by the police. Furthermore, they concluded that there is no new evidence to show that if the alleged duress occurred, it affected Mr. Gilbert to the extent that he was acting under immediate and unavoidable pressure so that his will was neutralised when he pleaded guilty. The psychological evidence does not place Mr. Gilbert in a category of medically diagnosed mentally disordered people particularly vulnerable to duress, and Mr. Gilbert was psychiatrically assessed at the time of trial and was not considered to be suffering from any mental disorder, nor was he deemed unfit to plead in court.

The CCRC also concluded, as we saw above, that Ray Gilbert knew considerable details about the murder that he could only have gained by being involved in the killing. The CCRC rejected the notion that he gained knowledge via newspaper reports or from police officers. However, as we know from other ‘confession’ cases of the same era, various tricks were employed by the police at the time in order to give the impression that statements had been made by a defendant when the statement had actually been made by police officers. There was nothing to prevent paperwork being post-dated and nothing to prevent extra confessional information being inserted into statements after interviews were concluded.

The police practice in the 1980’s, prior to tape recording of interviews, was to write out statements in long-hand and hand them in for typing. There was also the laborious task of writing out the entire interview in a pocketbook; it was all very time consuming. It could be illuminating to have the handwritten documents analysed, if they still exist, to discover who wrote them. An additional check that could be made is whether Mr Gilbert signed every page or just the last page. If he did not check and sign every page, then the police could have substituted pages of documentation. Additionally, police officers were required to get the accused to initial every amendment to the statement, whether a spelling error or other minor adjustment. It would be useful to know if Mr Gilbert did so. Only an investigation of the original documents, rather than assumption that the police would never do such a thing, could clarify the question.

Second application to the CCRC

The CCRC received Mr Gilbert’s second application for review of his conviction on 15th June 2000, in which he raised the following issue:

· That the failure of the prosecution to disclose 201 unused witness statements to the defence, had prejudiced his trial. He argued that the release of his co-defendant, Mr. Kamara, on the basis of the failure to disclose the statements cast doubt on the safety of his own conviction.

The CCRC said: “Having examined the Court of Appeal judgement in Mr. Kamara’s case the Commission can see no grounds to change its view. As the prosecution did not rely in your case on witnesses who might have placed you at or near the scene of the crime, the non-disclosure of the statements of Florence McCoy. James Harding and the Fendick brothers is not material to your case and cannot affect the safety of your conviction. As part of its review in respect of your original application, the Commission considered whether your defence at the trial would have been assisted by the disclosure of the statements. It concluded that the disclosure would not have provided any assistance to your case. Having re- examined this question in the light of the Court of Appeal’s judgement in Mr Kamara’s case, the Commission remains of the same view”.

It went on: “The Commission has considered the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the case of Mr. Kamara. The judgement refers only to the case of Mr. Kamara and the Commission does not consider that it gives any assistance to your case. On page 13 of the judgement, the court stated that:

“ … we have examined the statements to decide whether ‘ at the end of the day’ they can be said to be ‘of no real significance’. In doing so it seems to us that we are now entitled to take into account one undisputed fact – namely that Gilbert stabbed Mr. Suffield to death during a robbery of the betting shop.”

In concluding the review of Mr Gilbert’s second application the CCRC stated: “The Commission considers that the decision of the Court of Appeal to quash Mr. Kamara’s conviction does not have any bearing on the safety of your conviction. For the reasons set out above, the view of the Commission is that there is no real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld if we were to make a reference to the Court of Appeal. We are, therefore, not minded to refer your case unless you are able to present further information which may persuade us otherwise.”

Third application to the CCRC

The CCRC received Mr. Gilbert’s third application for review of his conviction on 8th January 2001. The argument raised in his application relied exclusively upon alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The CCRC’s conclusion to Mr Gilbert’s third application argued: “The Commission considered that if the Court of Appeal were to consider the case afresh, specifically addressing the question of fairness, there is no evidence capable of raising a real possibility that it would conclude that the trial was unfair (and therefore unsafe). Accordingly, the CCRC did not consider that there is a real possibility that the applicant’s conviction would not be upheld on this basis.”

Fourth application to the CCRC

On 1 August 2008, the CCRC received a fourth application on Mr Gilbert’s behalf, from his legal representatives, Stephensons Solicitors. During the course of its review, the CCRC also received numerous letters and submissions in support of Mr Gilbert from Bruce Kent, a prominent campaigner for prisoner’s rights. In summary, the issues raised on Mr Gilbert’s behalf, were:

“There was new evidence which cast doubt on the safety of Mr Gilbert’s conviction.


The Inner safe: The prosecution failed to disclose the existence of an inner safe which was protected by a combination of key and time lock and could not have been accessed however co-operative Mr Suffield might have been. Although this would have been known to the attacker, Mr. Gilbert did not mention it in his confession statement. [Why would this necessarily be known to the attacker? It seems more likely that it was not known by the attacker].

Threats: The prosecution failed to disclose that on the day before his murder, Mr Suffield had received threats on his life from customers at the betting shop. Mr Suffield’s father believes that his son’s employers were anxious to keep information about the inner safe and threats quiet.

Developments in forensic analysis: Advances in DNA techniques might reveal evidence from the scene-of-crime exhibits which might assist Mr Gilbert’s application”.

The CCRC said that it felt it appropriate to preface its analysis with an observation that:

“Although Mr Gilbert has apparently maintained his innocence for many years, the case has been characterised by Mr Gilbert’s changes in account. Mr Gilbert has offered a succession of accounts both exculpating and inculpating himself and a number of other individuals and has acknowledged, for the most part, that records kept by others of these accounts have been accurate.”

The CCRC said that it is: “driven to conclude that, as a consequence of the conflicting accounts he has offered, the Court of Appeal is likely to treat any further accounts in connection with either the crime itself or with the subsequent actions of any party to the investigation with considerable scepticism, unless independent corroboration for his claims can be found”.

This is a seemingly insurmountable problem for Ray Gilbert. The CCRC considered Mr Gilbert’s submissions against this background and reached the following conclusions.

The guilty plea

The CCRC said that:” The Court of Appeal has made it clear repeatedly, that only in very unusual circumstances will it be persuaded to quash a conviction following a guilty plea.”

The CCRC gave detailed consideration to Mr Gilbert’s submissions about the circumstances in which he pleaded guilty during its review of his first application. In light of the principles established in the then leading case of R v Forde [1923] 2 KB 400, the CCRC had particular regard to the issues of coercion and duress. The CCRC reviewed the case law and took account of medical and social inquiry reports (including the psychological report by Olive Tunstall dated April 1999) before concluding that there was no real possibility that the Court of Appeal would find that Mr Gilbert’s plea was made under duress or coercion, such as to render the proceedings a nullity.

The CCRC quoted Wilford Hughes LJ who commented that:

“Although it is well accepted that this court has unrestricted jurisdiction under section 2 (1) of the Criminal Appeals Act 1968 to entertain an appeal even against a conviction based on an appellant's plea of guilty (see R v Lee (1984) 79 Cr App R 108), cases where such appeals are brought and succeed are extremely rare. The court is, rightly and for obvious reasons, very reluctant to allow a defendant to go back on a plea of guilty. The decision whether to plead guilty is often a very difficult one. It has to be taken in circumstances of considerable stress and with all the pressures that are inherent in the situation. It is not uncommon for defendants subsequently to have second thoughts about whether they have done the right thing. But that by itself does not entitle them to revisit the decision. In all ordinary circumstances the decision - a solemn one, made in circumstances which emphasize the importance of finality - will be binding and cannot be revisited however much later developments may cause the defendant to regret it.”

The CCRC said that it “recognises that the Court of Appeal have shown itself willing to receive expert evidence demonstrating that an appellant who has confessed may have done so falsely as a consequence of being abnormally suggestible or compliant. Furthermore it is recognised that the Court has in the past quashed convictions in such circumstances. The CCRC therefore considered whether the reports submitted by those representing Mr Gilbert give rise to a real possibility of the Court quashing the conviction, or whether they require further reports to the same end. Mr Gilbert has not, to the CCRC’s knowledge, ever sought to claim that any of his confessions were made under the belief that they were the truth. The CCRC considers therefore that it is a matter of compliance, and not suggestibility, with which it must be concerned.”

The CCRC went on that: “evidence relating to the personality traits of Mr Gilbert falls to be considered, the CCRC would anticipate, against a sterner test tantamount to a two stage consideration:

1. Can the plea properly be described as equivocal (in this case, as a consequence of duress caused by Mr Gilbert’s susceptibility to threats of violence and compliant personality)?

2. Might the medical evidence relied upon be sufficient to cause the Court of Appeal to doubt that the confession and plea were genuine, and might the medical evidence have been likely to have affected the view of a jury of those confessions?”

The CCRC took the view that the following factors, considered during its review of Mr Gilbert’s first application, remain significant:

  • “The first record of Mr Gilbert alleging that he suffered physical abuse during his police interviews was not until October 1982, some nineteen months after the interviews took place and nearly a year after he pleaded guilty.

  • Mr Gilbert was examined twice by Dr Myles Clarke, on 17th March 1981 at the police station. Dr Clarke noted no marks of recent injury or other evidence of ill treatment. Neither did Dr Clarke’s report refer to Mr Gilbert making any complaint of physical abuse.

  • The psychiatric report dated 17th September 1981, prepared by Dr W K Lawson, concluded that Mr Gilbert had “no overt mental disorder” and that he remained “fully in touch with reality” pre-trial.

  • The conclusions reached by Ms Tunstall in her report of April 1999, which noted that, although he was “of a worrying disposition prone to develop high levels of anxiety”, particularly in respect of anticipated assaults (as a consequence of the treatment he received as a child from his mother), psychological testing “provided no evidence that [Mr Gilbert] is abnormally suggestible… no evidence that [he] is abnormally compliant and no evidence that [he] is abnormally prone to give acquiescent responses”. Ms Tunstall did conclude however that the confessions which he had made to police were “typical” of confessions of a “coerced- compliant false confession” which she observed did not necessarily require the maker to be abnormally suggestible but was rather concerned with the short term gain of bringing the interrogation to a halt.

  • The CCRC has also taken account of the more recent medical reports of Consultant Psychologist Ms Tunstall dated 11th December 2006, and Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Cumming dated 12th August 2007.

  • Mr Gilbert’s account of the events was cogent and often persuasive.

  • As a child Mr Gilbert experienced considerable dysfunction and emotional neglect and it would be reasonable to postulate that he had a conduct disorder at that time.

  • At the time of the offence, Mr Gilbert was 23 years of age and if a personality disorder had been present it would have been manifest at that time – it was not the case that he would have developed a personality disorder while in prison.

  • Although Mr Gilbert’s frequent changes of account were hugely suggestive of a significant level of compliance and acquiescence, this was not borne out by later testing performed by Ms Tunstall.

  • The CCRC considers that, as to the question of whether the Court might consider Mr Gilbert’s plea to be a nullity because it was entered through duress, there is not a real possibility of such a view being taken. While it could be possible to demonstrate that the threats in question might have existed (in the light of evidence within Mr Gilbert’s prison records of well documented antipathy on the part of Mr Kamara and his associates towards Mr Gilbert) and that Mr Gilbert was susceptible to threats of violence as a consequence of his violent upbringing, individual vulnerability is disregarded in relation to the defence of duress (R. v. Bowen [1996] 4 All ER 837). It is, in the CCRC’s view, far from certain that the Court would take account of Mr Gilbert’s individual vulnerability. More significantly the threats to which Mr Gilbert has variously claimed to have been subjected originated largely from Mr Kamara, and Mr Forrester, both of whom Mr Gilbert had, by his own admission, previously been involved with jointly in criminal enterprises involving a degree of violence. Following R.v. Sharp [1987] 3 All ER 103, pressure originating from those with whom an accused has willingly engaged in criminal acts, particularly those involving violence, cannot be considered to be duress for the purposes of a defence to criminal charges. The CCRC considers that the Court would be likely to take the nature of Mr Gilbert’s association with those individuals into account. Set against the gravity with which guilty pleas are treated by the Court, exemplified by the judgment in Wilford referred to above, the CCRC does not consider there to be a real possibility that the Court would treat Mr Gilbert’s plea as a nullity.

  • The CCRC considered the extent to which the foregoing submissions might have a cumulative effect on the safety of Mr Gilbert’s conviction. Since the CCRC’s view is that there is not a real possibility of his plea being treated as a nullity then the question of the prejudice he suffered in meeting the prosecution case, including his confession, as a consequence of the non-disclosure does not arise.”

The Inner safe

  • “The CCRC observes that in his summing up to the jury McGowan J referred both to the evidence of Ms Harrison and photograph E and said “Inside the safe you can see in photograph E a smaller safe. That safe had not been opened by the robbers.”

  • Furthermore, in his evidence, Mr Michael Reardon, recalled a conversation with Mr Gilbert in which he (Mr Gilbert) described two “peters” (safes) inside the betting shop – one with a key lock and the other with a combination lock.

  • The CCRC has also noted a statement dated 6th January 1982, which Mr Gilbert gave to Mr Kamara’s solicitor, in which he stated: “I kept asking Suffield if there was another safe. He had his mouth open and wasn’t speaking. I punched him twice in the face. I then produced a knife and said: ‘If I have to resort to use this to get the answer about where the bread is, I will, but I don’t want to.’ We took him into the back room and pushed him on to a chair… I tied his hands behind his back and Roy was looking at the safe we had found in the back room. Roy turned to me and said it was a combo safe. I asked Suffield what the numbers were to open the safe… After Suffield had been cut twice, I told our Roy to ask him the numbers to open the safe. Roy put his head near to Suffield’s mouth to hear what he was saying. Suffield mumbled something to Roy, who was able to open the first part of the safe… I asked if there was anything else in the safe and Roy said that there were only papers, but that there was another part to the safe. He also said that he couldn’t open the other part… I asked Suffield how to get open the other part of the safe. He was trying to mumble but I couldn’t hear what he was saying… I was angry and lost my temper …”

  • It is not the case, therefore, that the existence of the inner safe was not a feature of the case. Notwithstanding Mr Gilbert’s failure to mention it in his initial police interviews, it was a feature of the prosecution case and there is evidence to suggest, albeit after he had heard that evidence, that Mr Gilbert appreciated the significance of the insert.”

Fifth application to the CCRC

Ray Gilbert made another application to the CCRC in 2021. Once again, it was rejected.

The CCRC said: “Your new application to us has been rejected because what you say in your application has already been considered by the CCRC previously and in relation to the lie detector test, is not admissible evidence and therefore would not be received by the Court of Appeal. The CCRC has considered all the submissions and material you have sent. Your submissions helpfully set out why you believe your conviction is unsafe”.

Ray Gilbert’s fifth application to the CCRC covered the following subjects. The CCRC said that: “apart from the lie detector test all of the areas had been considered previously by the CCRC:

  • The Lie Detector Test

  • The Confession

  • Change of Plea

  • Your mental health and its relation to your confession and guilty plea

  • Investigation into other suspects

  • Forensic Evidence

  • Identification

  • Unreliable prisoner statements

  • Alibi

  • Non-Disclosure”

The CCRC concluded: “We have thought about whether there is anything else that we could investigate, but we have decided that there is nothing that we could investigate that would make a difference to your case or to the decision(s) that we have already made. This means we do not think that further investigations by the CCRC will make any difference to the decision(s) that we have already made in your case. Your case is therefore closed” (original text underlining by CCRC.


Looking at the CCRC rejections of Ray Gilbert’s applications with an objective and open mind it seems clear that they have made up their mind to say no and to not investigate his applications and then go to great lengths to justify why they are saying no.

Indeed, the clear and underlined message to Ray Gilbert at the end of the fifth rejection letter, “Your case is therefore closed” can be read as: “Now *^#! off and leave us alone”. Is that fair?

In the sense that the CCRC has been presented with a lot of material that cannot be corroborated, perhaps it is a logical conclusion given that the applications take up time that could be allocated to a newer submission. However, the CCRC relies heavily on circular arguments based upon second-guessing the CoA. For example, because the CoA very rarely, if ever, accepts that a guilty plea could be made under duress, then the CCRC assumes that Ray Gilbert’s guilty plea, even if made under duress and fearing for his life, would not be acceptable as grounds for appeal.

The reality is that it requires new evidence in abundance for the CCRC to consider referring a conviction for murder back to the CoA, and that new evidence has to counteract everything that the CCRC has considered previously. New evidence has to meet the ‘real possibility’ test, and as the CCRC currently operates, that is a high bar to hurdle. Applicants like Ray Gilbert cannot meet that requirement and, consequently, have no chance of achieving a referral under the existing terms of the CCRC.

But this is not what the CCRC was set up to do. CCRC Watch exists to highlight such cases. It seeks to expose how, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the CCRC fails applicants such as Ray Gilbert when it refuses to undertake an investigation into his claim of innocence to get to the truth or whether he did or did not murder Mr Suffield.

In so doing, the CCRC also fails the general public more broadly because if Mr Gilbert is innocent as he claims, then the real murder(s) are still at liberty with the potential to commit further serious crimes.

The reality is that Ray Gilbert’s conviction will continue to concern the public so long as there are doubts about his conviction, as recent articles in the Mail Online[6] and the Liverpool Echo[7] show. The public needs to know whether they (we) should have sympathy for a man who spent over 36 years in prison for a murder that he says he didn’t commit or contempt for a man who will not admit and come to terms with committing a most heinous crime.

It is in this sense that the CCRC rejections of Ray Gilbert’s five applications (so far!) brings into clear focus the case for it to be reformed or replaced altogether with a body that takes seriously the need to use the resources and extensive powers at its disposal to settle claims of innocence one way or the other, both in the interests of justice and, just as crucially, public protection and safety.


[1] False Confessions Happen | False Confessions. [2] Nalini Joshi, a former sub-postmistress, appeared at Fenland Magistrates’ Court on 13 November 2001 and pleaded guilty to four counts of false accounting…. Joshi applied to the CCRC in June 2021 after the Court of Appeal quashed 39 Post Office convictions in April 2021. Ms Joshi could not appeal to the Crown Court in the usual way because she pleaded guilty in the magistrates’ court. The only way she could challenge her conviction was via the CCRC”. So, despite everything that the CCRC says about applicants who plead guilty, the Post Office cases are referred regularly. [3] Fact Sheet | False Confessions. [4] [5] Judges' Rules and Police Interrogation in England Today. T. E. St. Johnston Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. [6] [7]

Bill Robertson has researched alleged miscarriages of justice for around 20 years and advised on several cases, including the most recent application to the CCRC by Jeremy Bamber.

Please let us know if you think that there is a mistake in this article, explaining what you think is wrong and why. We will correct any errors as soon as possible.

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