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Susan Hilda MAY

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: For her money in order to keep her lover, on whom she had lavished gifts
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 11, 1992
Date of arrest: 18 days later
Date of birth: 1945
Victim profile: Hilda Marchbank, 89 (her aunt)
Method of murder: Suffocation
Location: Royton, Greater Manchester, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment on May 5, 1993. Released on April 26, 2005
 
 
 
 
 
 
photo gallery
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reasons to doubt
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hilda Marchbank (89 yrs old) was beaten around the face and killed by suffocation in her house at 24 Tandle Hill Road, Royton, Oldham during the night of 11th March 1992 between 9.00 pm and midnight.

The body was discovered by Mrs Marchbank's niece, Mrs Susan May at about 9.30 am on 12th March. Although death was by suffocation, there was also a considerable amount of bleeding by the victim in the bed where she lay, because it was evident that she had also been slapped or punched about the face.

Susan May was the principal carer for her aunt. She was tried for the murder of Mrs Marchbank at Manchester Crown Court before Justice Hutchison and a jury and was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on 5th May 1993.

 
 

The murder of Hilda Marchbank: clues that could clear niece Susan May

Police failed to follow up evidence linking a red car seen at the crime scene to a heroin addict who burgled old people's houses

By Eric Allison and Helen Pidd - Guardian.co.uk

May 7, 2012

It is almost seven years since Susan May walked out of Askham Grange prison in North Yorkshire after serving 12 years for a murder she insists she did not commit. Despite all those years of incarceration, there was a part of her that wasn't ready to walk free. "I came out with a heavy heart because I always thought I would only get out of prison with my conviction overturned," she said.

Ever since her release, May has devoted herself to proving her innocence. Now the Guardian has discovered evidence suggesting police ignored vital clues supporting May's case that she did not suffocate her 89-year-old aunt, Hilda Marchbank, in 1992, in Royton, Oldham, Greater Manchester.

The Guardian has discovered that Greater Manchester police failed to follow up evidence pointing to a man whom police said was a "good suspect", whose name was given to detectives in an anonymous phone call shortly after the murder. Michael Rawlinson, a heroin addict, had convictions for burgling the homes of elderly people. In 2001, six years after Marchbank's death, he was killed in a drug-related dispute.

The Guardian has also uncovered claims that police tried to persuade a witness to lie, apparently to eliminate other leads from the inquiry and concentrate on building a case against May. The witness, George Cragg, has been tracked down by the Guardian 20 years after the killing.

Campaigners for May say police seem to have instinctively believed she committed the crime despite a lack of motive and a dearth of evidence to prove she beat her aunt around the face and suffocated her with her own pillow.

May was convicted on the flimsiest of evidence, the campaigners say, comprising mainly three marks, said to be her fingerprints, that allegedly contained her aunt's blood. Fresh doubts have emerged in recent years about the testing method, about whether the marks are May's fingerprints and even whether they contained human blood.

'Good suspect'

For the detectives investigating the murder of Hilda Marchbank, it ought to have been a significant breakthrough: a near neighbour of the victim had seen a red Ford Fiesta outside the victim's house at midnight on the night she was killed in March 1992. Although the car was unoccupied, its engine was running for 15 minutes.

Another neighbour had seen the car drive away soon after and gave a good description of three men in the vehicle. Marchbank was found next morning by May, her niece and carer, who was then 48.

The Guardian has learned of a further link to the red car: two days after the murder, an anonymous caller gave police the names of two men, alleging they were the killers. Another anonymous caller, who rang six days before the murder, reported both men robbing an elderly woman in the area two weeks earlier.

It transpired such a robbery had been committed and the details matched those given in the call. Rawlinson, one of the men named, had access to a red Fiesta, owned by his sister. The car was sold three days after the murder.

Detectives knew Rawlinson and the car were suspicious: in police files, he was described as a "good suspect". But Rawlinson was never treated as a serious suspect, according to May, who found herself accused of murdering the aunt she says she have loved and looked after. She claims police quickly made up their minds that she was responsible for the murder.

Their reasoning? May had been in a clandestine affair with a local man but, when questioned by police, denied the relationship. "It was none of their business and nothing to do with Auntie's death," is how she explains the lie that she believes led to her serving 12 years of a life sentence for murder.

The prosecution had tried bring up the "lavishing of presents" on the man she was having an affair with, using Marchbank's money. The judge told the jury to forget that claim, saying there was no evidence. May had power of attorney over her aunt's finances.

The police, far from following up the lead on Rawlinson and his possible accomplices, seem to have concentrated on eliminating him from their inquiries.

They traced the owners of red Ford Fiestas in the Oldham and Rochdale areas. Their investigation led them to an Oldham man, Craig Turner. Coincidentally, Turner and two friends, George Cragg and Robin Walker, had been in the vicinity of the murder scene on the evening of the killing, 11 March.

Two weeks after the murder, the three men were interviewed at Oldham police station. When tracked down by the Guardian recently, Cragg now a Blackpool hotelier said he and his friends were told from the start they were not suspects. Instead, they were asked about their movements on the night of 11 March.

They said they had gone in Cragg's white Ford Granada to a house near Marchbank's home to see a plumber who owed Cragg money. It wasn't the answer the police wanted, it seems. Cragg says police told him they needed to "eliminate the red Fiesta, we know who's done it, she's done it". He now believes police were referring to May.

Cragg says two weeks later, two detectives came to his house and asked him again what car he had been driving when he visited the plumber. He repeated that he had been driving his white Granada. One officer, he says, then said: "Can you not say you were driving a red Fiesta?" Asked why they would want him to say this, one officer is alleged to have replied: "We have her bang to rights and we want to eliminate the red Fiesta."

Cragg's wife, Julie, was present throughout this visit and says her husband's account is accurate. She says police "propositioned" her husband to lie, though he refused.

The couple's statements have been passed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which has invited May to resubmit her application for the case to be referred back to the appeal court.

Six weeks after the murder and a fortnight after May had been charged, police traced the red Fiesta belonging to Rawlinson's sister. Forensic samples were taken from the vehicle but never sent for laboratory testing. Years later, when the CCRC asked why May's lawyers were not told this car had been found, they were told the file had been placed in the wrong folder.

Rawlinson was questioned about his movements on the date of the murder. He said he and his girlfriend had been drinking at the house of a male friend from noon on 11 March until noon the following day. He said they had not left the house, watched TV or listened to the radio. His girlfriend and the man backed his alibi and the matter was left there.

Six years later, Rawlinson was murdered. In 2001, Campbell Malone, then May's solicitor, paid a prison visit to Gary Brierley, the man convicted of killing Rawlinson. According to Malone, Brierley said when he was arrested, police in Rochdale told him he "deserved a medal" because Rawlinson had "killed an old lady".

May's trial lawyers knew nothing of the sighting of the red car and its link to Rawlinson, nor of the anonymous phone call naming him as the killer. The trial jury, at Manchester crown court in 1993, was left equally in the dark. It found her guilty.

In all her 12 years inside, May never wavered in her protestations of innocence. She refused to comply with offending behaviour programmes and other measures that lifers must normally follow in order to apply for parole.

But in 2005, May was released, a week before finishing the minimum tariff of 12 years ordered by the judge, becoming the first prisoner to gain release "on time" while still denying the offence.

The former deputy head of Hampshire CID, Des Thomas, has written three critical reviews between 2009 and last year of the police investigation into the death of Marchbank. He said: "The evidence discovered by the Guardian may point to a pattern of behaviour which raises a reasonable suspicion that the investigation was prejudicial, if not overtly corrupt.

"My own review, based on disclosed documents, revealed a number of apparent anomalies in the case. Combined with evidence located by the Guardian, these anomalies may point to an investigation, the principal purpose of which was to prove, by the selective use and non-disclosure of evidence, the hypothesis that Susan May was guilty of murdering her aunt. The original investigation report records [that] the red car and its occupants were never traced. This appears to be in direct contradiction to the evidence recovered by the Guardian."

In his 2009 report Thomas said a "disinterested observer may conclude that some evidence had been manipulated to construct a case against Susan May". He added that a "number of police witnesses may have adjusted their evidence to fit a desired rather than valid outcome."

A spokesman for Greater Manchester police said the force would not be putting any of the officers who investigated the murder of Marchbank forward to comment. He said the case was tried at crown court and had been the subject of judicial appeals, which upheld the conviction. "The criminal justice system has been successively satisfied of her May's guilt and there is nothing further to say on the matter," he added.

Flawed evidence

May will also be asking the CCRC to consider new forensic evidence relating to marks on the wall of her aunt's home. Arie Zeelenberg, the former head of the fingerprint service at the Dutch national police agency, believes forensic evidence that helped convict May was flawed and is conducting a review on her behalf.

In 2007, Zeelenberg advised the inquiry into the Scottish Criminal Records Office's fingerprint bureau, following the case of former policewoman Shirley McKie, who, in 2006, was awarded 750,000 from the Scottish Executive after being wrongly accused of leaving her fingerprint at a murder scene and lying about it. Professor Allan Jamieson, director of the Forensic Institute, has also lent his name to the challenge to the evidence that helped convict May.

Now 67, May survives on a small state pension and is in remission from breast cancer she feels was exacerbated by her incarceration. When she was released, she was unable to get work "my conviction came up on every Criminal Records Bureau check" and instead devoted her life to clearing her name.

She is extremely thankful to the Craggs for speaking out. She said: "Despite 20 years passing since Auntie was murdered, I still firmly believe there are individuals who know something which could help clear my name and bring long awaited justice for my auntie. I may be free from prison, but remain locked up in this wrongful conviction and will never stop fighting to clear my name."

May's case has twice been rejected by the court of appeal, most recently in 2001. Last year, the CCRC refused to refer her for a third time. Now, with the evidence supplied by the Guardian about Cragg's claims about the meeting and other new material, the commissioners have invited her to resubmit her claim.

May's mother Hilda Marchbank's sister died about a year after the conviction. With other relatives, she supported her daughter wholeheartedly.

Michael Mansfield QC, who represented May during her second appeal in 2001, has written to the CCRC underscoring his "firm belief" in her innocence and asking the commission not to close its door on her.

"I loved my auntie," May told the Guardian. "The worst thing has been the idea people believed I could have hurt her."

Additional research by Mischa Wilmers

 
 

Susan May: 'Nothing ever displaces the nightmare'

Susan May, who has served 12 years in prison for the murder of her aunt, continues her campaign to clear her name and seek justice 'for auntie and for me'

By Erik Allison - Guardian.co.uk

May 27, 2009

Susan May has breast cancer, and the chemotherapy and treatment has taken its toll.

We meet, just after a member of her close-knit family has visited, in the house where she was born 64 years ago.

You might imagine that her illness and family would be her main concerns just now, but she says nothing ever displaces the "nightmare" from the "top rung of my mind".

That nightmare began in Royton, a small town on the edge of the Lancashire moors, when May made her usual first daily call on her aunt, 89-year-old Hilda Marchbank, on a March morning in 1992.

Hilda was almost blind and relied on her niece for virtually everything. The relationship was strong, with May describing Marchbank as "dear to me as my mother".

At 9.40am, May opened the door to the lounge, where Marchbank slept, and was met by a scene of horror.

Marchbank was in bed, her face bloodstained and her clothes gathered up around her waist. The lounge had been ransacked, drawers and cupboards emptied and personal items scattered around.

A murder inquiry began, with detectives initially believing the death was the result of a botched burglary.

Then police learned that May was having an affair with Chris Ross, a married man. May denied the liaison, and the police began to suspect her of the killing.

Combing through her bank accounts, they found evidence suggesting she had passed money and gifts to Ross and that the cash had come from Marchbank's bank account.

The evidence that finally convinced police of May's guilt came in the form of three small marks on the wall of the lounge near to the aunt's bed.

The marks were lifted from the wall and sent for forensic analysis, and were to be the main plank of the prosecution case at the trial.

An expert told police they contained blood, including that of the victim. May's fingerprint was found on another mark and the crown's case was that the murderer had "felt his, or her, way along the wall" suggesting the crime had been committed in the dark.

The prosecution did not call its first expert after he admitted not keeping records of the tests he had carried out.

The jury did hear from another expert, who specialised in fingerprint detection and enhancement. He told the jurors he was "certain" that the marks contained blood.

Common forensic thinking now dictates that this method, Tetra Aminobipheny (TAB) is not specific for blood and is capable of yielding a high percentage of inaccurate positive results.

Allan Jamieson, a leading forensic scientist, has compiled a report for the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) stating that the TAB tests were not capable of backing the opinion the expert gave.

To this day, the marks have never been scientifically shown to contain human blood, yet the jurors retired to consider their verdict in the belief that they did.

The marks were not discovered by either the police photographer or the chief forensic officer who arrived at the scene.

They were spotted by Detective Superintendent Bill Kerr, who said he arrived at the house alone, drew back the curtains and noticed the stains on the wall of the lounge.

Another plank in the crown's case was a remark, allegedly made by May to DS Janet Rimmer, who told the jury that May spoke of the scratches on her aunt's face and asked if "stuff from down the fingernails" could be traced.

The prosecution insisted that, because of the way the body was positioned, May could not have seen the scratches and must therefore have caused them.

May denies making the remark, and the notebook in which the police say the words were logged has gone missing.

The remark, a crucial piece of evidence, was not recorded in the murder log, the appeal court hearing was told.

At trial, the judge dismissed the notion that May had killed Marchbank for her money. He pointed out that she had power of attorney over her aunt and could have taken money out at any time. May also had power over her mother's finances, giving her access to more funds.

But May was found guilty, given a life sentence and told she would serve at least 12 years.

Why did the police discount evidence of a botched burglary? According to May, they became obsessed by the notion that she needed money to support her lover.

Her theory has strong support. A former deputy head of Hampshire CID, Des Thomas, has studied May's conviction at length and produced a critique of the police investigation that led to her being charged.

He says that, although a possible wrongful conviction is always a serious matter, his principal concern in this case is the possibility that it "may have left a dangerous offender at large and free to kill again."

In 2005, May was released, a week before her 12-year tariff date, becoming the first prisoner to gain release 'on time' while still denying the offence.

Throughout her sentence, she had refused to comply with offending behaviour programmes and other measures associated with parole.

The parole board who freed her operate on the basis that prisoners have been rightfully convicted and their spokesman said the board must have decided that May did not represent a significant risk to the public.

Her case has twice been referred back to the court of appeal and, on both occasions, her appeal has been rejected.

After the last rejection, in 2001, May's barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, severely criticised the hearing.

May says that, although out of prison, she will "never be free" and she says she seeks justice "for auntie and for me".

 
 

A death in the family

When Susan May was arrested for the murder of her aunt, Hilda Marchbank, shock waves went through the small town of Royton. Nine years on, the case still divides the local community. Rachel Cooke asks if dramatic new evidence could finally prove May's innocence

By Rachel Cooke - Guardian.co.uk

June 9, 2002

Royton is a small, sooty town between Oldham and Rochdale, right on the edge of the swirling green sea that is Saddleworth Moor. It isn't famous for anything much, and in this, the golden age of retail, it is Manchester that has the local monopoly on civic pride. The town's cotton mills, ghostly and forbidding, are a long way from becoming shimmering warehouse apartments, and its Victorian town hall is now a social security office. If you want to buy a sausage roll or have your hair set in purple curls, Royton's the place. But if you want bright lights and bottled lagers, well, you'll just have to get in your car and drive.

In 1993, however, Royton suddenly found itself on the front pages of the Oldham Chronicle and the Rochdale Observer ; it even had a starring role in the nationals. In early March, an 89-year-old widow called Hilda Marchbank was murdered. Mrs Marchbank, who was almost blind, had been smothered and battered. Because her house was in a state of some disarray, it was at first assumed that she had been the victim of a bungled burglary, though nothing had actually been taken. But, 18 days later, her 48-year-old niece, Susan May, was arrested. And, that September, May was found guilty of the murder by a jury at Manchester Crown Court. She was given a life sentence.

The verdict split Royton in two. Those who knew May insisted that she was devoted to her frail, bird-like aunt, visiting her more than once every day; it was inconceivable that she could be responsible for such an attack. Others, believing what they read in the papers, agreed with the police: May was a nasty, scheming woman who had murdered Hilda Marchbank in cold blood so that she could inherit her estate and continue to lavish her younger lover, a local man called Christopher Ross, with expensive gifts and flash holidays. She had got exactly what she deserved. Nine years on, both camps are still going strong. In Royton, Susan May is very far from being forgotten.

But May has always stuck to her claim that she is the victim of a monstrous miscarriage of justice, irrespective of the effect this has on her prospects for parole (prisoners who refuse to address their crimes are regarded as 'In Denial of Murder' by the Home Office and are unlikely to be released). There have been two appeals against her conviction. The second of these, which was heard last October, was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the independent body established in 1997 to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice. The CCRC's report into May's case is considered one of the strongest it has ever written.

The Commission had concerns relating to the integrity of the forensic evidence at May's original trial; it found that the police had failed to disclose information relevant to disputed evidence of a remark made by May to one of the investigating officers; and it found that there had been serious breaches of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984. But the appeal court judges, led by Lord Justice Kennedy, were not convinced. To cries of 'shame' from May's supporters, they dismissed the case. Huddled in the front row of the public benches, May's 30-year-old daughter Katy began to cry. It sounded to me as though she might never stop crying.

Susan May was born in Dogford Road, Royton, in the same stout, red-brick house in which she was living on the fateful day of her arrest, more than four decades later. She came from a well-to-do family; her father owned several properties in the town and, as a girl, she'd collect the rents with him. Her mother Dorothy had grown up in the pub trade but now looked after her daughters, Susan and Ann, full time. The centre of Dorothy's universe, however, was her older sister, Hilda, who was married (to Tom Marchbank, owner of Royton's first launderette) but had never had children. The two women were so close they could finish one another's sentences.

When she left school, Susan's parents set her up in her own hairdressing business and, at first, she lived above the shop with her husband, Terry, and her eldest son, Adam. But when she gave birth to twins Toby and Katy, the flat was too tight a squeeze. Her parents moved into one of the family's smaller properties, and she and Terry moved back to Dogford Road. In 1978, her father died from leukaemia. 'Mum coped quite well at first,' she remembers, when I meet her at New Hall Prison, in Wakefield. 'But then she had to have both her hips replaced. I asked her to move in. She was always at my house, anyway, so it was a natural progression. I was happy for it to happen. I loved it, and the children loved it.'

In the mid-80s, Terry and Susan were divorced (with help from her mother, Susan gave him his share of the value of the house). By this time, Hilda was living up the hill, in Tandle Hill Road, one of Royton's nicest streets. Though she had been widowed and was not very strong - she slept downstairs, in the dining room - she was determined to stay in her own home. Her niece, whom she loved like a daughter, agreed to help her do this. After her divorce, Susan had worked as a dinner lady at a local school; now, with two elderly relatives to care for, she gave up work completely.

11 March 1993 was a normal day for all the family. It was Dorothy's birthday and Hilda was coming over for tea. In the event, though, Dorothy felt unwell and asked if her sister could be put off. 'I told her that it was all right, Auntie would understand,' says Susan. 'Then I went up to Tandle Hill Road to tell Auntie. Normally, I would have taken her tea up with me, but this time I just opened some soup, and put it in the pan for her. I kissed her and said: "I'll see you tomorrow." I always went up first thing in the morning, to get her up.' Hilda stood in the porch, waving, as Susan headed home.

Later that evening, the telephone rang. It was Hilda, asking Susan where her house keys were. 'I knew her so well,' says Susan. 'Something must have happened to trigger that thought. Someone must have been at the door and she'd gone to the porch and said: "I don't know where my keys are." Her short-term memory was nil. Sometimes I had to go up there three times a day. The police said it must have got me down. But it was a pleasure. She was always so pleased to see me.' Susan told her aunt where the keys were - she'd trained her to take them out of the lock - and Hilda rang off.

Not long afterwards, the phone went again. 'Perhaps whoever it was had come back to the door. Anyway, I wasn't happy,' remembers Susan. 'I said: "Open the door, I'm coming up." She said: "Oh no, you're not. I shouldn't have mithered you." But I said, no, I was coming as soon as I'd given Mum her drink.' Before she could leave the house, the phone rang again. This time it was Susan's lover, Christopher Ross. She and Chris, who worked at a computer firm and was 16 years her junior, had met when he and his wife, Julie, were living next door to Susan; they had been having an affair for eight years - a relationship they were careful to keep from Julie, from whom he was now separated.

'Chris asked me if I would run him and a friend to the pub. I said: "I've got to see Auntie first, she's mithering me." So I drove up to Tandle Hill Road. I went in through the back door. There she was, sitting on her bed in her pink dressing gown. I showed her where the keys were, and asked her if someone had been to the door. She wasn't sure. Then she apologised for putting me to so much trouble. I said: "No problem at all." It was about nine o'clock and I was there for 10 minutes at the most.' Again, Hilda waved her off from the porch. This was the last time Susan May saw her aunt alive.

The following morning, Katy May asked her mother if she could drive her into Royton. Susan agreed and, while she was there, bought her aunt a sandwich and a cream cake for her lunch. She got to Tandle Hill Road at about 9.45am. The curtains were still drawn and the back door was unlocked. Susan went in. She shouted: 'It's me! Are you up?' The door to the room where Hilda slept was ajar. 'I just came upon this horror. Absolute horror. It looked like her face was covered in blood. The next thing you know, I was standing in the driveway with my hands in the air.'

She ran next door, to Hilda Marchbank's neighbour, Delryse Oakley. 'I said: "I've got to cover her up," but Mrs Oakley told me not to touch anything.' Hilda's nightdress had been pulled up, exposing the bottom half of her body. 'She was so private, she would have hated to be found half naked. Mrs Oakley went into Auntie's hall to phone for an ambulance. I said: "I'll have to go outside, I think I'm going to be sick." Then she came and stood at the side of the house with me. Not long afterwards, we heard the sirens.'

Once it was certain that Hilda was dead and the police had taped off the scene of crime, Susan May was allowed to go home to tell her mother what had happened. Though her sister Ann thought their mother should be told the truth, Susan was adamant: they would do no such thing - it would kill her. So Dorothy was informed that her beloved Hilda had died in her sleep. She did not find out what had really happened until her daughter was convicted. Convinced of Susan's innocence, Dorothy died, heartbroken, a year later.

Initially, the police focused their efforts on known burglars: there had been several attacks on old people in the area. When this line of inquiry came to nothing, they turned to Mrs Marchbank's niece. At first, because she thought it was 'not their business', May denied to the police that she had been having an affair (they discovered the liaison after interviewing Ann). But the fact that she had lied about it made them suspicious, a feeling which grew when it was discovered that May had credit-card debts of 7,000 and had 'bought' Chris Ross an MG (in fact, the car was jointly owned).

A bereavement officer, Sergeant Janet Rimmer, was assigned to the family and, in the days after the murder, she spoke to May at length. During one of these conversations, May supposedly said: 'Do you know the scratches on my aunt's face, can they get stuff from down the fingernails at forensic?' According to the police, May would not have known of the existence of such scratches unless she was the murderer. When May's fingerprint was then found in a blood stain on the wall, they decided they had their woman.

Though shocked by her arrest, May had faith in the system. She'd done nothing wrong; she would be acquitted. Her original defence team, however, failed to line up any experts to challenge the forensic evidence and called only one witness, Katy. In court, May's motive for the murder - simple greed, driven by the fear of losing her 'toy boy' to a younger model - crumbled to dust. She had power of attorney over her aunt's affairs and, though Hilda's money had dwindled, there were also shares, jewellery and three houses owned by Dorothy that could have been sold to pay off her debts. What the prosecution was left with was this: May was simply fed up with her aunt.

The evidence pointing to Susan May's innocence falls into two main categories. First, there is that which the jury never heard at her trial (and because it was available at the time of the trial, it cannot be classed as new evidence and tested in the court of appeal). Then there is the fresh evidence dug up by the CCRC. Taken together, the question one ends up asking is not, 'Who killed Hilda Marchbank?' (though, in the view of May's barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, and her many other supporters, the person responsible is still at large) but: 'Why is her niece still languishing in prison?'

On the night of the murder, a neighbour reported seeing a red car outside Mrs Marchbank's house; its engine was running but its occupants had disappeared. It was there for 15 minutes. Inside the house, police found unidentified fingerprints and, in a wardrobe, an unidentified footprint. Clothing fibres were also found in Mrs Marchbank's hand. They did not match any of May's or her aunt's clothing. A notorious local burglar was arrested; his sister had made a statement saying that he had told her about the murder of a woman in Tandle Hill Road at 8.30am on 12 March, an hour before the discovery of the body. The woman later retracted the statement but, thanks to an administrative cock-up by the police - the statement was mislaid and put into the wrong file - it was lost to the defence.

At her trial, the judge said that the main planks of the evidence against May were her fingerprint in a bloodstain on the wall - one of three marks reputed to have been made by the murderer as he or she stumbled out of Hilda Marchbank's bedroom - and the remark she made about the scratches on her aunt's face. The CCRC discovered that the policeman who told Susan how her aunt had died had recorded in his notebook 'bruising to face and head'. The CCRC felt it was reasonable to assume that he may also have mentioned the scratches. It is worth adding, though, that the notebook in which Janet Rimmer noted May's incriminating remark has since been lost.

The matter of the three bloodstains is more complicated. The first two stains tested positive for blood, though not necessarily human blood, and in the first of these May's fingerprint was found. However, the third bloodstain, which did not contain any prints, was the only stain conclusively proved to have been Hilda Marchbank's blood. The prosecution's case was that, because the third mark was Mrs Marchbank's blood, it was safe to assume that the other two marks were also her blood and that, therefore, the appearance of May's fingerprint in the first stain proved she was responsible for the attack. But the CCRC ascertained that there was no photographic or video evidence of the third stain being present on the wall on the first day of the police investigation. At the appeal, Michael Mansfield suggested that the mark could have been made by someone other than Susan May, after the body was discovered. Take the third stain out of the equation, and the forensic evidence is thin indeed.

The CCRC, which had serious concerns over the way forensic evidence was gathered in the investigation, also found evidence to explain how May's fingerprint could have innocently come to appear in the first stain. An exhibit labelled 'Craftsman Baker Paper Bag' found in the kitchen by the police contained scraps of meat that also 'tested positive for blood'. The senior investigating officer was advised to send this bag to the laboratory for further testing, in order to find out whether some stains on the bag were also blood. But no such tests were carried out. Had the stains been found to be animal blood, it would have assisted the defence case that the first two marks on the wall were not human blood. Susan May, remember, often prepared food for her aunt in the house and, in fact, a stain found on one of her dresses after the inquiry began was found to be bovine blood.

Finally, the CCRC found that several breaches of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) had taken place during the course of the investigation. May was not, for instance, asked to confirm having made the 'scratches' remark until 30 March, 12 days after she is supposed to have said it, and six days after her arrest. She was also denied the protection of Pace, which guarantees that suspects should be cautioned and the interview be taped with a solicitor present, during an interview that took place on 23 March - a fact corroborated by the Police Complaints Authority in 1999, when it found that May had indeed been interviewed as a witness by Janet Rimmer when, unknown to her, she was actually a suspect.

In Royton, May's family and friends are still trying - and failing - to come to terms with what has happened. Her children, who were in their early twenties and living at home when their mother was taken away, each cope with her absence differently. 'It's worse than if she'd died,' says Katy, who now has a partner and a young son, Alfie. 'That would have been it then. I would have grieved and moved on. Knowing she is alive, but not being able to phone her when I feel like it... it's horrible.'

The gossip is hard to bear. 'You'll be at the market and you'll hear old biddies behind you saying: "That's her daughter." I always tackle them. I say: "Yes, I'm Susan May's daughter. What about it?" Some people even drive by the house, have a good stare. I don't know what they're expecting.' She has come to hate the town where her family has lived for more than a century. 'When Mum comes home, I'm leaving. We'll go to France, buy a farm. I need to spend lots of time with her. It feels like we've been apart a lifetime.'

Those who thought Christopher Ross would drop Susan May like a ton of bricks after her conviction have been proved wrong; he visits her regularly. Ross was arrested at the time of the murder, though he was later released without charge, and subsequently had a nervous breakdown. 'I'll always be in love with her,' he says. 'Even now, I look out of the window and expect to see her walking across the park. She's the loveliest person: funny, gentle, kind, undemanding. It's absolutely heartbreaking what has happened to her. I still find myself expecting someone to say it's all been a terrible mistake.'

Then there are the friends. May's support group is run by Dorothy Cooksey, who has known Susan since they were little girls living in the same street. Cooksey first heard that Susan had been charged with the murder via the TV news - an announcement that left her so shocked that she phoned the local police station in tears. 'I said: "You're wrong, this woman couldn't possibly have done it." I was so upset they thought I must know something about the murder. They wanted to come round and interview me.' She has been fighting her friend's corner ever since.

'You wake up, and there is just a cloud,' says Cooksey. 'You have to be stubborn and keep going, no matter how bleak things seem. You focus on the next day rather than the next year. After the last appeal failed, that was the lowest point. We think the judgment was dishonest; all the judges did was say that they believed the police - irrespective of how many times the police changed their stories. But you carry on. What else can you do when such a terrible injustice has been committed?'

May's solicitor, Campbell Malone, now plans to take her case to the European Court. The manner in which her appeal last year was dismissed, he says, again raises concerns over the role of the Court of Appeal which, increasingly, is usurping the role of a jury by second-guessing how it may have interpreted new evidence. The Court of Appeal appears to have a lofty disdain for cases referred to it by the CCRC.

Meanwhile, in HMP Foston Hall, where May has been moved, the parole process has begun. May, who has a job in the prison garden and is doing an Open University course, has been a model prisoner, and her reports are excellent. There is just one problem: she is still doggedly refusing to attend any 'offending behaviour' courses - no matter how much pressure the regime puts on her to do so. 'I'll never do that,' she says. 'I'm not going to get parole, but I'm not interested in it anyway. Some people have said: "You'll never get out, then." Well, so be it. I'm not a prisoner who riots or kicks off. But I will not admit to something I didn't do - not even if that means I can go home and see my children. I would rather die in prison than do that."

 
 

Woman loses second murder appeal

BBC News

December 7, 2001

A woman jailed in 1993 for the murder of her elderly aunt, has lost a second appeal against her conviction.

Susan May, from Greater Manchester, was sentenced to life imprisonment for battering and smothering 89-year-old Hilda Marchbank at her home in Tandle Hill Road, Royton, near Oldham, in March 1992.

May, 55, has always denied the crime, claiming that her aunt was murdered in a burglary that went wrong. There was uproar from May's supporters as Lord Justice Kennedy, Mr Justice Buckley and Mr Justice Grigson made their ruling at the Court of Appeal on Friday.

May was convicted of her aunt's murder at Manchester Crown Court in May 1993. Although she cared for her aunt, May was accused of murdering Mrs Marchbank for her money in order to lavish gifts on her secret lover Chris Ross. Evidence was presented that May had left a blood-stained handprint on a wall at the murder scene.

During the appeal hearing, Michael Mansfield QC defending, suggested that the mark could have been made by someone other than May, and after investigations began. He also told the court that May should have been treated as a suspect at an earlier stage and afforded the protection of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in relation to various comments she made.

'Damning evidence

Lord Justice Kennedy said the court saw no reason to doubt the evidence of a police officer and a forensic scientist who said separately they saw all three marks on the wall at an early stage, well before the body was moved from the bed. He said it was clear from the evidence that all three marks appeared at about the time of the murder and certainly before officers arrived on the scene.

Identification of May's right hand in relation to one of the marks constituted "damning evidence" against her, he added. Dismissing the second ground of appeal, the judges accepted that there were no grounds to suspect May of having committed an offence such as to require that she be cautioned in the earlier stages of the inquiry. They said that they were unable to detect any breach of any provision of any code which was then in force.

Memory lapse

Speaking after the hearing, May's solicitor Campbell Malone said: "Susan is determined to fight on. "We know that she didn't do this and it follows that somebody else did. "We believe the identity of the murderer is known to somebody and they are sheltering them. "I hope they will now have the courage to come forward."

May's first appeal in February 1997 failed after judges rejected fresh evidence that she had suffered a memory gap over the circumstances of Mrs Marchbank's death. May, of Dogford Road, Royton, had said that she had not touched her aunt's body on discovering it but a consultant psychiatrist said that she might have suffered a form of medical amnesia stemming from trauma.

The new appeal followed a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

 
 

Woman loses appeal over murder of elderly aunt

Telegraph.co.uk

February 15, 1997

A woman lost her appeal yesterday against her conviction for murdering her 89-year-old aunt. Susan May, 51, shook her head at the Court of Appeal and there were cries of "shame" as Lord Justice Staughton, sitting with Mr Justice Scott Baker and Mr Justice Harrison, announced his decision.

The judges rejected fresh medical evidence that May, of Royton, Greater Manchester, had suffered a memory gap over the circumstances of Hilda Marchbank's death. "The attempt by the expert evidence to explain away what she had said four or five years previously, in our judgment, fails," said Lord Justice Staughton. "We do not regard the conviction as unsafe on any ground."

May, a divorcee, was jailed for life at Manchester Crown Court in 1993 after a jury found that she had suffocated Mrs Marchbank at her home in Tandle Hill Road, Royton, in March 1992. At her trial it was alleged that May had murdered her for her money in order to keep her lover, on whom she had lavished gifts. After the hearing, Michael Schwarz, May's solicitor, said that she wanted to carry on the fight to clear her name.

 
 

Case No: 99/7254/S1

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE
COURT OF APPEAL (CRIMINAL DIVISION)

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 7th December 2001
Before:
LORD JUSTICE KENNEDY
MR JUSTICE BUCKLEY
and
MR JUSTICE GRIGSON

R
v
Susan Hilda May

Mr Michael Mansfield QC and Mr James Gregory (instructed by Stephensons Solicitors, Salford for the appellant)
Mr Anthony Morris QC and Miss Rachel Smith (instructed by CPS for the Crown)

JUDGMENT

Lord Justice Kennedy

Introduction

On 5th May 1993 in the Crown Court at Manchester this appellant was convicted of murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She appealed against her conviction and on 14th February 1997 that appeal was dismissed by a differently constituted division of this court. Her case was then investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and on 24th November 1999 that Commission, in the exercise of its powers under section 9 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, referred the case to this court. The effect of that reference is that we are required by section 9(2) of the 1995 Act to treat this matter for all purposes as an appeal by Susan May under section 1 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 against her conviction. That means that we started our hearing of the appeal from the position that the only material before us was that which was before this court, in 1997, together with the fresh grounds of appeal and the new skeleton arguments. For the purposes of the present appeal certain additional matters were agreed, and we heard evidence from eight witnesses de bene esse reserving to this judgment the decision whether to receive the additional oral evidence pursuant to section 23(l) of the 1968 Act. It necessarily follows that in this judgment we will not touch upon every point raised by the Commission in its Statement of Reasons, nor will we necessarily confine ourselves to those points. As required by statute we address ourselves instead to the grounds of appeal now raised in relation to the evidence and other material now properly available to us.

Background

In March 1992 Hilda Marchbank was an 89 year old widow living alone at 24 Tandle Hill Road, Royton, Greater Manchester. It was a neat well kept semidetached house in a residential road, as can be seen from the photographs which were before the jury and from the short video film which we were invited to view. Mrs Marchbank was the aunt of the appellant who was then 48 years of age, and who lived with her mother at 42 Dogford Road, Royton, not far away. The appellant was the principal carer for both of the elderly women, and she visited her aunt several times each day. She also received many telephone calls each day from her aunt, whose sight was impaired, and who often sought guidance as to what she should do next. The appellant provided all of her aunt's food, either preparing it at her own home and taking it to her aunt's house by car, or buying it pre-prepared. The aunt also had the help of a cleaner, Mrs B, who visited once a week for two hours on a Wednesday. Mrs B visited as usual on Wednesday 11th March 1992. That evening at about 9 pm, according to the appellant, she went to her aunt's house because her aunt had telephoned expressing anxiety as to the whereabouts of the front door keys. The keys were not in fact mislaid, and the appellant says that she was able to leave again after a brief visit, leaving her aunt to lock up.

On the following morning, Thursday 12th March 1992, the appellant did not receive any telephone call from her aunt but set off to visit her. She bought a sandwich for her on the way, and arrived at about 9.40 am. The aunt slept downstairs in a former living room which opened off the kitchen. The curtains were still drawn. The appellant went into the kitchen, and when she got as far as the door from the kitchen into the bedroom she could see her aunt lying on the bed in disarray, with her night-dress up. The appellant says that she entered a little into the room and was able to see blood on her aunt's face and blood on the pillow. The appellant then ran out of the house and managed to find a neighbour, Mrs O with whose support she was able to telephone for an ambulance. It was clear to the ambulance crew that the aunt was dead, and subsequent examination by a pathologist Dr Lawler revealed that she had died as a result of asphyxia due to suffocation, possibly with the blood-stained pillow on which her head was subsequently found to be resting. There were also bruises on the neck indicative of the neck having been grasped and compressed quite forcibly. There were facial bruises, probably caused by slapping or punching, and three facial scratches, probably caused by fingernails but which could not have been self-inflicted because the nails of the deceased were bitten short.

Once it was clear that the aunt was dead the police became involved, and Detective Superintendent Kerr took charge of the investigation. He arrived at 24 Tandle Hill Road at about 10.30am with a fingerprint officer and a photographer Mr Naylor. Later in the day another photographer, Mr Fitton, attended for about half an hour to make a video film. Many other police officers attended, and so did Mr Davie and his assistant Miss McCabe (now Mrs Ashworth) of the Forensic Science Service.

Initial investigations showed signs of disturbance within the house suggestive of searching by a burglar, but no property appeared to be missing and there was no sign of forcible entry.

At some stage on that first day it was noticed that there were three sets of marks on the wall which ran parallel to and a short distance away from the bed on which the deceased lay. Anyone entering the bedroom from the kitchen would have that wall on their right, and there was a light switch on the wall near to the entrance. The wall ended before it reached the bedhead, leaving a gap giving access to the living area, and when facing the wall the left mark, made by a right hand, was thirteen inches from that corner of the wall nearest to the bedhead. That mark was labelled JH1. All three marks were made at a height of about 4'6" above floor level. Moving toward the kitchen, the middle set of marks JH2 was eighteen inches away from the left hand set of marks, and that middle set of marks, was make by a left hand. A further 26" along towards the kitchen was a smear MSN14. It was quite close to the light switch. We will have more to say later in this judgment about those marks, and the evidence in relation to them. It ultimately became the prosecution case that those were marks made by the appellant at the time when she murdered her aunt during the evening of Wednesday 11th March, the substance left on the wall being the blood of the deceased. When the ambulance crew arrived on the morning of 12th March all of the blood on the surface of the body and the bedding was dry, and at the trial Mr Davie was able to report that as a result of experiments he had carried out he could not envisage blood being transferred more than six hours after it was deposited. The pathologist's opinion was that death had probably occurred between 9 pm and midnight on 11th March, so it would seem that unless the body was disturbed there would have been no liquid blood available to transfer at any time after about 6 am on Wednesday 12th March, long before the appellant made her first visit to her aunt's home on that day.

In fact the body was disturbed when it was examined by Dr Lawler in situ at about 3.45 pm on 12th March, and then removed from the bed. After its removal photographs of the pillow show a little fresh blood, and at trial Dr Lawler suggested that the fresh blood could have leaked from the facial blood blister at some stage during the movement of the body by him, by the forensic scientists, or whilst it was being taken away. We will return later to the further evidence which we have heard in relation to this aspect of the case.

Emergence of Prosecution Case against Appellant

Although it was clear from the outset that the appellant had the opportunity to commit the murder on the evening of Wednesday 11th March, and although it was well known that murders in the home are often found to have been committed by persons known to their victims, the appellant was not initially regarded as a suspect, even though Detective Superintendent Kerr was, he says, not wholly convinced that a burglary had occurred. A woman police officer, Detective Sergeant Rimmer, was assigned to act as liaison officer between the appellant and her family and the investigating team, and it is clear from Detective Sergeant Rimmer's notes and from a typed report R17 dated 13th March 1992 which we have seen, that Detective Sergeant Rimmer gathered from the appellant a considerable amount of information about the deceased and about the last day of the deceased's life. As to what happened on the morning of 12th March Detective Sergeant Rimmer recorded in her report -

"As she got near her 'aunty' she could see blood on her face, blood on the pillows and thought she had something around her neck. May states that she did not go any nearer nor did she touch anything."

One of many lines of enquiry recorded in the police policy file for this investigation on 13th March 1992 was -

"To enquire into the family background of the deceased re possible motives for a domestic murder".

Gradually, but not at this early stage of the enquiry, it did emerge that the appellant had been spending a lot of money. She had been having a secret affair with a younger man, C R, and by the spring of 1992 200,000 which had been in the accounts of the deceased, the appellant's mother and the appellant's two children a few years earlier and to which the appellant had access had gone. By 11th March the appellant had debts of over 7000, and had no easily available means of discharging them. The accounts were almost empty. The deceased had some shares worth just over 11000, and some jewellery worth about 5000 which had not been sold, and she also had her home. If she died the appellant and her sister would have shared her estate. The appellant's mother also had three houses, one of which was about to be sold at the time of the trial. At the trial the appellant said that she had taken nothing to which she was not entitled, and the judge, having warned the jury in strong terms not to be prejudiced against the appellant by the evidence as her use of the money, invited the jury to assume in her favour that her assertions as to financial matters were broadly correct. In other words she was entitled to have all of the money which she had spent. Even on that basis it remained undeniable that in March 1992 the appellant did need money.

On 18th March 1992, as a routine part of the enquiry, Detective Sergeant Rimmer took the fingerprints of the appellant, and she noticed that whereas previously the fingernails on both hands had been manicured now those on the right hand were thick and dark. As the judge indicated, not much might be thought to turn on that, but after the fingerprints had been taken Detective Sergeant Rimmer and Detective Constable Ogden escorted the appellant and her daughter Katy from the building. According to Detective Sergeant Rimmer, when they reached the exit Katy went to the car 30 to 40 yards away and in the course of a general conversation about fingerprints the appellant said to the officer -

"Do you know the scratches on my aunt's face, can they get stuff from down your finger nails at forensic?"

At the trial detective Sergeant Rimmer said that she was astounded and shocked, or at least taken aback, by that question, and in reply said that she did not know. After the appellant had gone off with her daughter she and Detective Constable Ogden, who had been nearby, reported to Detective Superintendent Kerr what, according to them, had been said. Detective Sergeant Rimmer recorded the conversation in her pocket book, and her fellow officer confirmed her record, but no record was made on the Holmes Computer, nor did the police choose formally to regard the appellant, who had no criminal convictions of any kind, as a suspect from that moment on. The remark allegedly made by the appellant to Detective Sergeant Rimmer was incriminating if, as the police believed, the appellant had no innocent means of knowing of the facial scratches. They had not been visible when the body was identified but, as Detective Superintendent Kerr explained to us, it was necessary after 18th March to check that the scratches had not been reported in the media. Whilst that enquiry was being made the police continued to treat the appellant as a potential witness, and uncontentious witness statements were obtained from her on 19th March and 20th March dealing with background matters. It may also be of significance that at that stage the police had already arrested a man named B B, who they had reason to suspect of having committed this murder.

It seems that on Friday 20th March Detective Superintendent Kerr learnt that the left hand mark on the wall (JH1) had been made by the appellant's hand, and it was already known that all three marks on the wall had the appearance of blood, but the appellant continued to be treated as a potential witness, and on Monday 23rd March she made her third witness statement. In that statement she confirmed on two occasions that when she discovered the body on 12th March she did not touch her aunt in any way. In the light of that statement it was decided to treat her as a suspect, and a policy book entry for 24th March reads -

"There is significant evidence to suspect that Susan May has murdered her aunty. The SIO instructs that she be arrested and interviewed on Thursday 26th March 1992."

When arrested and interviewed she denied the offence, and vehemently denied having said anything about scratch marks to Detective Sergeant Rimmer.

The Case at Trial

The prosecution case which was presented in the Crown Court in 1993 started with the evidence of opportunity and motive which, as was said later in this court, opened the door to proof of murder but did not, either separately or together, amount to an important element of proof. The other matters relied upon were -

(1) the evidence in relation to the marks on the wall:

(2) the evidence of burglary which, the prosecution contended, was faked:

(3) the remark about scratches allegedly made to Detective Sergeant Rimmer:

(4) lies admittedly told in interview about financial matters, and about the appellant's association with C R:

(5) lies allegedly told by the appellant when giving evidence about conversations she had with Mrs O and PC Roberts soon after the murder, and about her conversation on 18th March with Detective Sergeant Rimmer. PC Roberts had been instructed to take the appellant home on the morning of 11th March 1992, and, according to the officer, the appellant said she felt awful because in her final encounter with the deceased she had been cross with her. When PC Roberts gave that evidence she was challenged, and Mrs O (the neighbour to whom the appellant had gone on the morning of 12th March and who happened to be in court) volunteered that the appellant had said something similar to her. In evidence the appellant maintained that both woman were mistaken, but, as the trial judge pointed out, if those remarks were made they were perhaps more indicative of innocence than guilt.

There were one or two other minor points relied upon by the prosecution to which it is unnecessary to refer at this stage. Clearly, as the judge said, the marks on the wall, and in particular the fingerprint on the wall was "the central plank of the prosecution case" so it is worth considering what the expert evidence was in relation to those marks. A forensic scientist, Mr Hussein, went to the deceased's home on 19th March about one week after the murder, and saw all three marks. He applied two chemical re-agents to enhance fingerprint detail, namely an iodine spray and ninhydrin. On 24th March he returned to the scene and treated the three areas with a further re-agent, tetra-amino biphenyl (TAB) in order to assist him to express an opinion as to whether the substance on the wall was blood. All three areas demonstrated a positive reaction, and there were no atypical reactions. In other words the material behaved exactly as the scientist expected it would behave if it were blood, and his conclusion was that all three marks were made in blood, but his tests were not sufficiently specific to distinguish between human and animal blood. No realistic source of animal blood seems to have been canvassed at the trial, and the judge did raise the question of where such blood might have come from. There was unchallenged evidence from a fingerprint officer, that the left hand mark (JH1) was made by the appellant's right hand. The left hand which made the middle mark (JH2) could not be identified because the blood had run too much to permit identification of the print. The right hand mark was, as we have said, simply a smear, but another scientist, Dr Basley, was able to discover that the blood which made that mark was of human origin and could not have been animal blood. However he could not say whose blood it was. Mrs Brady (the cleaner) did not recall having seen any mark on the relevant wall on 11th March 1992, although she cleaned in that room and tended to notice that wall which did get marked with tea stains and the like. There has at times been some complaint of the way in which the trial judge summarised her evidence, but having read the transcript of what she said we are satisfied that his summary was accurate. The judge did, however, tell the jury that to make the marks would have required "a great deal of blood". That was the effect of the evidence at that time, but before the case reached the Court of Appeal in 1997 it became clear that one or two milliliters of blood would have sufficed. The prosecution invited the jury to infer that all three marks on the wall were made in the blood of the deceased by her murderer as he or she felt his/her way along the wall towards the kitchen door after killing her, and that as the appellant's right hand made the left hand mark JH1 she was the murderer.

The appellant gave evidence at her trial, and denied the offence. She specifically adopted what she had said in her three witness statements, and that of course included her assertions that at no time had she touched the body of the deceased. In cross-examination she said "I am more than sure that I didn't touch her."' She denied the remarks attributed to her by Detective Sergeant Rimmer, Mrs O and PC Roberts, and pointed out that the absence of any sign of forcible entry may be explained by her aunt having left the door unlocked, which, according to the appellant, was something that from to time she did do. On the appellant's behalf it was suggested that the marks in blood may have been made on an occasion about two or three weeks before 11th March 1992 when the appellant cut her left hand when removing a rubber door stop. She could not think that she would have put her hands onto the wall on that occasion, but her friend Mrs B recalled the incident, which was canvassed for the first time in evidence at the trial. Of course if the marks had been on the wall for two or three weeks prior to 11th March they had not been noticed by either the appellant or Mrs B. In his summing up the judge said -

"I suggest, ask yourselves whether, as a matter of sensible inference, you can or cannot conclude that really it must follow that all three marks were put there at the same time and whether you can accept on the basis of Mr Hussein's evidence that all those marks are blood and, as a matter of overwhelming probability, human blood. Does that appeal to you or do you find more persuasive Mr. Carus submission about the scepticism which you should show to conclude that the mark with the hand print is even in blood let alone that it was placed at the same time as the mark by the switch?"

The First Appeal

In the Autumn of 1995 Professor Brinkmann, a German expert chosen by the appellant's new legal advisers, tested all three wall marks. His investigations were carried out in the presence of Dr Clayton of the Forensic Science Service and demonstrated that the blood, in the right hand mark - the smear MSN14 - was very probably that of the deceased, and it was certainly not that of the appellant. No additional information of any significance was obtained in relation to the left hand mark (JH1) but the centre mark yielded results which showed that the blood was human or that of a higher primate. So, as this court noted when the appeal was heard, the additional scientific evidence was of no assistance to the appellant. It tended, if anything, to make it easier to draw the inference as to the origin of all three marks which the prosecution had invited the jury to draw at the time of the trial.

In this court it was accepted on behalf of the appellant for the purposes of the first appeal that the two hand prints must have been of the same blood. The screwdriver episode explanation was relegated if not discarded, and the possibility canvassed was that, despite her denial, the appellant may have touched the body of the deceased on which there may have been wet blood on the morning of Wednesday 12th March 1992. Professor Knight expressed the view that if some pressure were applied to the blood blister on the deceased's left cheek blood would have been released, but if that occurred would it not have been seen by the ambulance men and Detective Superintendent Kerr? The appellant's experts did not think that inevitably it would have been observed. Dr Lawler found it difficult to envisage that application of pressure and release of sufficient blood to contaminate the appellant's hands without more obvious overt skin slippage, which he did not see. With the assistance of Dr Bullard, Dr Joseph and Dr Oakley, the theory was advanced that the appellant may have suffered a patchy loss of memory, dissociative amnesia, which would have explained her failure to recollect touching the body and getting blood on her hands.

In the light of the fresh evidence this court looked again at the case as a whole including in particular what the appellant said in her written statements, in interview, in her proof of evidence, and in the witness box. The Court rejected the suggestion that the appellant may have suffered from a short term loss of memory. There was also at that time a complaint of non-disclosure in relation to the information obtained by the police about B B, but the court found no substance in the complaint. Furthermore the case against B B in relation to this murder was demonstrated to be unfounded.

Fresh Grounds of Appeal

In September 2000, in the light of the investigations made by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and with the benefit of the Commission's Statement of Reasons, junior counsel for the appellant drafted fresh grounds of appeal which fall under 5 heads:

"(1) The marks on the wall. The principle submissions now advanced by Mr Mansfield QC on behalf of the appellant relate to the right hand mark (MSN14) which, it is suggested, could have been made on 12th March 1992 by someone other than the appellant, and after investigations began.

(2) Statutory protection. It is submitted that in accordance with the relevant parts of the Code of Practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 the appellant should have been treated as a suspect at an earlier stage, and that because she was not so treated some of the evidence heard by the jury should have been excluded, including in particular the evidence about what was allegedly said to Detective Sergeant Rimmer on 18th March 1992.

(3) The Police interviews dwelt too much on financial matters and were too accusatory in style.

(4) Motive played too big a part in the trial.

(5) Those originally acting for the appellant did not establish that there was material to suggest the real possibility of an unknown assailant."

Only the first two grounds of appeal were developed in oral argument before us, and we do not find that surprising because, having considered the remaining grounds of appeal, we cannot find any substance in any of them. We turn therefore to review the additional evidence, other than that to which we have already referred, before examining the first two grounds of appeal in the light of the case as a whole.

Fresh Evidence

It is convenient to look at the fresh evidence in the order in which the witnesses appeared on the scene, rather than in the order in which they happened to be called before us.

Detective Superintendent Kerr is now retired. In 1992 he had been in post for two years, and had been a police officer for 25 years. He told us that he was not satisfied with the police log, which was not wholly accurate. That we accept. For example, not everyone shown as entering the house is recorded leaving, but we have no reason to doubt that the log is broadly correct. Detective Superintendent Kerr's concern was triggered by the brevity of his first two recorded visits, but at this stage nothing turns on that. What is much more significant is that, according to the Superintendent, soon after his arrival at about 10.30 am he opened the curtains in the bedroom and saw the three marks on the wall, including MSN14, the smear. In cross-examination he said "I can say with certainty that I saw all three on the wall shortly after my arrival". The curtains were later closed after the arrival of the press. He did not make any note of what he did or saw because he did not regard that as necessary, and he did not instruct the photographer Mr Naylor to photograph MSN14 because at the time his interest was in JH1 and JH2 which he thought were connected and might yield fingerprints. MSN14 did not then have any particular significance. In retrospect he clearly regretted that there was no photograph of MSN14, or of the whole wall. In 1992 video recording was used only as a briefing tool, not as a means to record evidence. Detective Superintendent Kerr accepted that he did touch the body soon after he arrived. It was partly an emotional reaction and also to get some idea of how long the deceased had been dead. He did not touch the pillow, and could see that all visible blood was dry and cold. The Superintendent thought that he was probably in the bedroom when under the supervision of Dr Lawler the body was moved out to the kitchen, and Mr Naylor was then asked to photograph the pillow, but the Superintendent does not recall at that stage noticing fresh spots of blood. From the outset he was not convinced by the evidence suggestive of a burglary, partly because there was jewellery and a cheque book which had not been removed.

Mr Naylor, the police photographer, arrived with Detective Superintendent Kerr. It was the first time he was assigned to the scene of a murder, and he acted very much in response to directions from the Superintendent. His recollection is of taking photographs around lunchtime and later, but he cannot recall precisely when he photographed JH1 and JH2, nor can he recall anything of MSN14. If he had seen it, or had it pointed out to him he would have taken a photograph of it. Towards the end of cross-examination he did say that he saw three marks on the wall on 12th March 1992, but that seemed difficult to reconcile with the rest of his evidence. He spoke of seeing a speck near the light switch, but if there was a speck it was not significant.

On 18th March 1992 Mr Naylor returned to the premises and took samples from the area of MSN14. He also on a later occasion took photographs which show the area of MSN14, but only after it had been subjected to chemical enhancement.

Mr Fitton, the video photographer, described his role in terms similar to those used by Detective Superintendent Kerr. For briefing purposes he filmed what he was asked to film, or thought relevant. He was free to "pan around" but had no investigative role. He was not asked to record any of the marks on the wall, nor did he do so.

Mrs Ashworth (nee McCabe) was in 1992 a trainee reporting officer with the Forensic Science Service, having worked with the service since 1988. She went to the scene to assist Mr Davie. It was usually her job, as on this occasion, to prepare a sketch and to make notes, which were then signed and dated by the reporting officer. She accepts that, as recorded in the police log, on 12th March 1992 she and Mr Davie entered the house at about 1.10 pm and left at 2.07 pm. In that period, she says, they would have had an initial look around but would not have done more pending the arrival of the pathologist, Dr Lawler. She has a recollection of following Dr Lawler into the house but, according to the log, she and Mr Davie re-entered at 2.25 pm and Dr Lawler did not enter until 2.46 pm. Mrs Ashworth recalled that whilst Dr Lawler was examining she began her sketch plan, alongside which she wrote -

"3 areas poss finger/hand prints in blood. Not heavy staining ... left for F/P people"

She told us that there were three separate definite marks, she had a vivid memory of them. They looked like three hand marks in what appeared to be blood and, she said, the body was still on the bed when she made her note about those three marks, as it is clear from what she wrote on the plan, and below the plan about the position of the body. On that same day she carried out the KM presumptive test for blood on all three marks, and all three results were positive. A limited number of other substances such as horseradish could also give positive results.

On 26th March 1992 she returned to the house and found a small old stain just above the kitchen central heating radiator, about 6 to 8 inches from the frame of the door into the bedroom, on a section of the wall originally concealed by towels hung on the radiator. The KM test was positive for blood, and in Mrs Ashworth's opinion that deposit could have been as recent as two or three weeks before the murder if in the interval the radiator was left on. If so it could perhaps be related to the doorstop removal episode of which evidence was given at the trial. On 26th March 1992 Mrs Ashworth collected from the police a Craftsman Baker paper bag which had been removed from the draining board in the kitchen in the deceased's home. It was intended to be examined further to see if the marks on it were of blood and what its contents were, but those tests were never carried out.

Mr Davie was the reporting officer who Mrs Ashworth was assisting. He was an experienced member of the FSS, but in relation to this investigation he was not impressive, and Mr Morris QC for the Crown made it clear to us that Mr Davie was not a witness on whom he would wish to rely. Mr Davie told us that at some point on 12th March 1992 the three marks on the wall had been shown to him, and that when he saw them, the third mark being a fairly formless smear, the body was still on the bed. He confirmed Mrs Ashworth's evidence that when those marks were KM tested the results were positive, and a much later stage he made a note to that effect on the plan which Mrs Ashworth had drawn. He also made other notes on that plan. In his statement of 8th July 1992 he said that at the time of his examination at about 1330 hours he noted three small bloodstains which appeared to be wet. In evidence he accepted that there was no wet blood at that time, it only appeared after Dr Lawler's examination. Dr Lawler did not arrive until 2.46 pm and his examination did not start until some time thereafter. Mr Davie claimed to have seen in the kitchen on the draining board on 12th March 1992 the Craftsman Baker paper bag which Mrs Ashworth collected on 26th March 1992 and which Mr Davie said tested KM positive for blood. But he made no note of it, and it is not mentioned in his statement. It was not until 1995 that Mr Davie completed the paper work in relation to items submitted to the laboratory in 1992 and he accepted in cross-examination that was not the way that it should have been done. Specimens collected on 12th March included some tapes from the body of the deceased, including one from the face. Mr Davie accepted that he probably collected those tapes, and said that he hoped that he would have worn gloves, but they would not, he said, be collected from any part of the skin where there was blood.

Dr Lawler said that when examining the body he may have briefly touched the face. He would have been wearing gloves, because that was routine by 1992, and those gloves would be rolled off, so that they ended up inside out, before he left the room. He explained how, after examination, the body would have been encased in plastic sheeting, being rolled to one side with the head supported so that a sheet could be slipped underneath, and then rolled in the opposite direction. The sheets would have been taped, and the sheeted body would then have been lowered into a body bag laid out on the floor, which after it was zipped up had two handles at each end. Dr Lawler believed that in order to sheet the body the duvet and the pillow would have been lifted out of the way, and possibly given to someone to hold. When in the body bag the body would not have been difficult to manage. The deceased only weighed 8 stones and Dr Lawler's recollection was that he and someone else who was present carried the bag out to the kitchen where it was handed over to the undertakers. He could not envisage any way in which during that process a mark could get on to the wall at a height of 4 feet 6 inches. There would be no blood on the outside of the body bag, none on the hands of those carrying it by its handles, and it would never be lifted to a height of 4 feet 6 inches above the floor. He explained the positions of the three scratches on the face of the deceased - one on the chin and two between the nose and the upper lip. He accepted that, as suggested by the photographs of the pillow, there may have been a small discharge of blood as he examined or as the body was being sheeted up. He had no particular explanation to offer of the flakes of dried blood found on the pillow of the other bed in the room, the one not used by the deceased.

Mr Javaid Hussain of the FSS did not go to the home of the deceased until 19th March 1992, a week after the murder. He went to apply re-agents to the three marks, to make them more discernible for the purposes of hand and fingerprint comparison. By then Mr Naylor had taken his samples from the area of the third mark, the smear. On 24th March Mr Hussain returned to the house to test the marks for the presence of blood. Those TAB tests were positive. On that day Mr Hussain noted the Country Baker paper bag on the draining board in kitchen. It contained teabags and meat scraps. There was a very small area on it which responded positively to the KM presumptive test, and he advised that it be submitted for examination, but as it was not his area of expertise he left it where it was. As we have already noted it was collected from the police by Mrs Ashworth two days later.

We also heard evidence from Dr Clayton of the FSS who was with Professor Brinkmann in 1995. His explanation of what happened at that stage we have already considered when dealing with the first appeal.

Submissions - Ground 1

Mr Mansfield submits that what was not really investigated at the time of trial was whether the right hand mark MSN14 was there from the time that enquiries began on 12th March 1992. It was not photographed on that day and, Mr Mansfield submits, it is no longer safe to infer that all three marks were in place before the removal of the body. In order to make that mark there had to be some blood of the deceased in a state in which it could be transferred, but that potential source of blood was created at the time of Dr Lawler's examination or when the body was being wrapped and bagged. Someone, it is suggested, may have helped Dr Lawler without wearing gloves and left the mark, not at body level but at hand level.

Mr Mansfield recognised that even leaving aside Mr Davie and Mr Naylor there are two witnesses, Detective Superintendent Kerr and Mrs Ashworth, who claim to have seen all three marks before the body was moved, and the submission is that both of those witnesses may be mistaken. It is pointed out that Detective Superintendent Kerr's early visits, according to the log, were brief so, it is suggested, he may be mistaken when he says that he saw the marks as soon as he went in. He made no written record of them prior to his witness statement of 13th May 1992 in which he speaks of seeing "what appeared to be blood stained marks" without specifying the number of such marks. Mr Mansfield submits that if the marks, and in particular the third mark, were there in the morning others would have seen those marks also.

Mrs Ashworth of course did say that she saw all three marks before the body was moved, and noted them. Mr Mansfield pointed out that in her first statement she was wrong in her recollection of following Dr Lawler into the house when she and Mr Davie arrived, and Mr Mansfield submits that she may also have been mistaken when she says that she saw all three marks before the body was moved.

Turning to one of the other marks JH1, the left hand mark made by the appellant' s right hand, Mr Mansfield submits that although the possibility of it being made in animal blood was discounted at the trial there was a potential source of such blood in the kitchen, namely the Craftsman Baker paper bag. In that room there was also the old mark above the radiator, and Mr Mansfield reminded us that a mark on a dress belonging to the deceased did test positive for bovine blood. Mr Mansfield suggested that the mark JH1 might have been made by the appellant leaning against the wall whilst talking to someone in the bed.

For the Crown Mr Morris submitted, and we accept, that where this court is asked to consider fresh evidence and to re-interpret evidence not previously relied upon, that must be done in the context of the material available at the trial, the instructions given by the defendant at the time of trial, and the manner in which in consequence the case for the defence was conducted at trial. Mr Morris points out that at trial MSN14 was of relatively little importance. It was human blood but it had not then been determined whose blood it was. Much more significant were the two hand prints JH1 and JH2, which were made in blood, and one of which was known to be the hand print of the appellant. Mr Morris submitted that the inference was obvious. Both marks were made by the same person on the same occasion. The jury was invited to draw the further inference that the marks were made in the blood of the deceased. The defence explanation was that they may have been made in the appellant's own blood at the time of the doorstop removal episode two or weeks earlier. That explanation only emerged in evidence at the trial and could only be accepted if Mrs B, the cleaner, failed to see the marks on more than one occasion.

As a result of Professor Brinkmann's investigations the defence adjusted its position for the purposes of the appeal in the way to which we have already referred, despite the difficulty of trying to explain how any significant amount of the deceased's blood could be transferred onto the hands of the appellant at about 9.30 am on 12th March 1992. Now, Mr Morris submits, there is a further change of position. There has been speculation as to the source of the blood in JH1 and JH2. May it have been animal blood? But the evidence was that the appellant did not cook or prepare food at the deceased's home, and, for what it was worth, the evidence in relation to the Craftsman Baker paper bag and the mark near to the kitchen radiator was available at the time of trial. Furthermore, the tests carried out by Professor Brinkmann show that the blood in the mark JH2 is human, or that of a higher primate, so the basis for the inference that both JH1 and JH2 were made in the blood of the deceased is stronger than it was at the time of trial and, Mr Morris submits, the appellant has no innocent explanation for such marks.

Turning to MSN14 Mr Morris reminded us that at the time of the first appeal it was accepted that all three marks were made on the wall at the same time and, he submits, that was realistic because they were all at the same height, and probably, the Crown submits, made by the appellant feeling her way back towards the kitchen, hence the diminishing amount of blood. At trial the evidence of Detective Superintendent Kerr that he saw the three marks at 10.30 am was not challenged. Had it been challenged it is possible that at that time other officers would have been able to recall making a similar observation, so no positive point for the appellant can be made out of the fact that only one police officer now speaks of the existence of those marks at that time. Mr Morris submitted that Detective Superintendent Kerr was an officer whom we should regard as careful and honest, and we should adopt a similar approach to Mrs Ashworth, who in relation to important issues had the support of her annotated sketch. There was also positive evidence that there were no other marks on the relevant wall. In the light of Dr Lawler's evidence it was, Mr Morris submitted, unrealistic to think of MSN14 getting onto the wall at the time when the body was moved.

Submissions - Ground 2

Mr Mansfield submitted that by 13th March 1992 Detective Sergeant Rimmer knew that the appellant was saying that she had not touched the body, and the officer regarded that as significant as she noted it in capital letters, and incorporated it into her typed report R17. Against that background if, as the officer contends, the appellant did on 18th March refer to the scratches and the possibility of getting "stuff from down your fingernails" then, from that moment if not before, the appellant should have been treated as a suspect. She should have been cautioned and asked to check and sign the record of what she had just said. Her subsequent statements should have been made under caution, and if not regarded as a suspect on 18th March she should certainly have been so regarded on and from the moment on 20th March when Detective Superintendent Kerr learnt that the left hand mark JH1 was made by her hand. If so regarded and arrested she would have a proper opportunity to take legal advice before making her statement of 23rd March. In this context we were referred to three paragraphs of the current Code of Practice for the Detention, Treatment and Questioning of Persons by Police Officers made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Paragraph CI0.1 so far as relevant reads -

"A person whom there are grounds to suspect of an offence must be cautioned before any questions about it ... are put to him regarding his involvement or suspected involvement in that offence if his answers or his silence ... may be given in evidence to a court in a prosecution"

Paragraph 11.13 states -

"A written record shall also be made of any comments made by a suspected person, including unsolicited comments, which are outside the context of an interview but which might be relevant to the offence. Any such record must be timed and signed by the maker. Where practicable a person shall be given the opportunity to read that record and to sign it as correct or to indicate the respects in which he considers it inaccurate. Any refusal to sign shall be recorded."

Mr Mansfield also invited our attention to paragraph C11.2A which reads -

"at the beginning of an interview carried out in a police station, the interviewing officer, after cautioning the suspect, shall put to him any significant statement or silence which occurred before his arrival at the police station, and shall ask him whether he confirms or denies that earlier statement or silence and whether he wishes to add anything. A 'significant' statement or silence is one which appears capable of being used in evidence against the suspect, in particular a direct admission of guilt, or failure or refusal to answer a question or to answer it satisfactorily, which might give rise to an inference under Part III of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

It is common ground that paragraph C11.2A was not in force in 1992, but Mr Mansfield submits that we can refer to it to assist us as to what would have been fair, and it is clear that at the beginning of her formal police interviews the appellant was not asked to confirm what she was alleged to have said earlier about the scratch marks. That point was not canvassed until her 5th interview on 30th March 1992.

In relation to this ground of appeal Mr Morris submitted that the police were dealing with a woman who was known to be a good carer and of entirely good character. Despite her proximity to the deceased there was initially no real reason to suspect her when she spoke as she did to Detective Sergeant Rimmer on 18th March. The remark, even if surprising, was not incriminating if she could have learnt of the scratches otherwise than by committing the crime, and that possibility had to be investigated. It is true that on 20th March Detective Superintendent Kerr knew whose hand made the mark JH1, but by then he may not have known what Detective Sergeant Rimmer knew (i.e. that the appellant was saying that she had not touched the body) because he may not have seen her report R17. So, Mr Morris submits, there was no need to caution in pursuant to paragraph C10.1 prior to the taking of the third witness statement on 23rd March 1992, and in any event the whole procedure was conducted in good faith. The appellant was not prejudiced by not being cautioned earlier because from 13th March 1992 onwards it has always been her case that she did not touch the body. Far from seeking to exclude her statement of 2nd March that statement was relied upon by counsel at her trial to show her consistency, and Detective Sergeant Riinmer's failure to caution her on 18th March immediately after she allegedly enquired about scratches was used by the defence as a means of casting doubt on whether anything about scratches was said. That, Mr Morris submits, was a perfectly understandable forensic decision which cannot be re-opened now.

Conclusions

Having regard to the history of this matter we consider it expedient in the interests of justice to receive the additional evidence adduced before us pursuant to section 23 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968.

We found Detective Superintendent Kerr and Mrs Ashworth to be impressive witnesses and we see no reason to doubt their evidence that separately they observed all three marks on the wall at an early stage, well before the body was moved from the bed. We reject as fanciful, and in conflict with their evidence, any suggestion that the third mark may have got there as a result of transfer by Detective Superintendent Kerr, Mr Davie, Dr Lawler or whoever assisted Dr Lawler with the removal of the body. In reality there was no liquid blood available to transfer until Dr Lawler examined the body and, quite apart from the observation evidence which we accept, for the reasons explained by Dr Lawler we cannot see how the third mark could have got onto the wall thereafter. That means that the marks on the wall close to the body of the deceased constitute even more telling evidence against the appellant than they did at the time of trial. The position in relation to JH1 has not changed. It is still a handprint made by her right hand in blood. JH2 is a print made by a left hand, but it is now known to be made in human blood, or the blood of a higher primate. MSN14 is a smear of the deceased's blood. Having regard to the evidence of Mrs Brady, and now that of Detective Superintendent Kerr and Mrs Ashworth, it is clear that all three marks appeared on the wall at about the time of the murder, and certainly before the investigating officers arrived on the morning of 12th March 1992. Plainly it was open to the jury to infer, as no doubt they did, that all three marks were made at the same time, in the deceased's blood, at the time of her death, and consequently the identification of the appellant's right hand in relation to JH1 constitutes damning evidence against her.

Turning to Ground 2, we accept that there were no grounds to suspect the appellant of having committed an offence such as to require that she be cautioned in the earlier stages of the inquiry. Her early assertions to Detective Sergeant Rimmer that she had not touched the body did not become significant until 20th March 1992 when it emerged that it was her hand print on the wall. Similarly what she allegedly said to Detective Sergeant Rimmer on 18th March, even though it surprised the officer, did not constitute grounds for suspecting the appellant of the offence until the possibility that she could have innocently learnt of the existence of the scratch marks was ruled out. If on 20th March, when Detective Superintendent Kerr was told whose hand print was on the wall he already knew that the appellant had said that she did not touch the body of the deceased, then, in our judgment, he had grounds to suspect her of an offence, but whether or not he knew at that stage is far from clear. It seems that on 23rd March, when Detective Sergeant Rimmer took the witness statement, she did not know whose hand print was on the wall, but when the statement obtained that day was considered by Detective Superintendent Kerr, together with what he already knew as to the origin of the hand print, he, on 24th March 1992, rightly gave instructions that the appellant be arrested and interviewed under caution. In that sequence of events we are unable to detect any breach of any provision of any code which was then in force, and we see no reason to treat later changes in the Code as though they were in force at the relevant time. Even if there had been a breach, the fact is that at the trial no application to exclude evidence was made for the very good reason that those acting for the appellant wanted to use most of what she is recorded as having said to the police to demonstrate her consistency. In those circumstances the judge could not possibly of his own motion have excluded the evidence, and it must still remain part of the evidence as a whole for consideration by this court. Of course we recognise that the defence did not rely upon what the appellant allegedly said to Detective Sergeant Rimmer on 18th March 1992, but in our judgment any application to exclude that evidence was bound to fail because, for the reasons we have explained, at that stage there were no grounds to suspect the appellant.

With the benefit of hindsight it is unfortunate that Detective Superintendent Kerr and Mrs Ashworth did not record the time at which they separately observed the three marks, and that Detective Superintendent Kerr did not cause Mr Naylor to photograph all three marks. The reason is obvious. At the time the third mark did not appear to be of great significance, and it is unrealistic to expect every step at an inquiry to be time-recorded, whatever its significance. It is also unfortunate that the evidence of the reporting officer assigned to this case by the FSS was such that counsel appearing for the Crown before us felt obliged to invite us to set it aside, and the shortcomings of that witness may explain why there seems to have been no further examination of the Craftsman Baker paper bag. But the significance of that item was overtaken by events, and, for the reasons which we have explained, we do not think that the conviction is unsafe. We must therefore dismiss this appeal.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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