In November 1997 Nick Tucker, an R.A.F squadron leader with twenty-eight
years service, was convicted, by a majority of ten to two, of murdering
his wife. He was sentenced
to life imprisonment. The
conviction occurred because the jury did not believe Tucker’s explanation
for the crash that resulted in his wife’s death. If his explanation contains truth, however,
as the evidence seems to suggest, then Carol Tucker must have died in
a tragic accident leaving her grieving husband to suffer a tragic miscarriage
On Friday 21 July 1995 Tucker and his wife were travelling home by car having visited the Red Lion pub in the village of Icklingham in Suffolk, where they had had a meal. As Carol had been drinking wine her husband was driving. The meal had been by way of a double celebration; Carol had finished her last day of work and Tucker had recently returned from Croatia where he had spent six months carrying out military service.
As the Ford Fiesta drove towards a bridge at the village of Lackford, Tucker saw something ahead; two deer had strayed on to the road. Swerving to avoid the animals the car left the road before the bridge and plunged ten feet in to the River Lark. A fisherman thought it was at around 22:30 when he heard a screech of tyres, a skid and a thud. Soon later a cyclist saw Carol’s vehicle in the river. A motorist, who had been alerted by the cyclist of what had happened, found Tucker. He appeared unconscious, bleeding from a head wound. He was discovered beside the driver’s door having fallen from the vehicle. Carol Tucker was later found, after the police had arrived, floating in the water underneath a bridge. Despite attempts to revive her she was declared dead at the scene.
Tucker Becomes a Suspect
Exactly four weeks after the crash Tucker was arrested on suspicion of murder on the same day that he was admitted in to hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of his service in Yugoslavia, the crash and his wife’s death.
In March 1996 Tucker was charged with the ‘crime’ and remanded in custody. However, after spending seven weeks on remand it was ruled that he should be granted bail by a judge who asked, “Where is the evidence a murder has taken place?” Tucker remained free throughout his trial until he was convicted in November 1997.
The Cause of Death
The cause or mechanism of death has never been determined. A Home Office pathologist named Dr Harrison, who carried out the first post-mortem examination on Carol Tucker, recorded that death was due to ventricular fibrillation secondary to immersion in water (heart stoppage as a result of drowning). Dr West, who conducted the second examination, believed that the cause of death had been choking on food. Professor Knight could not determine a cause of death. Dr Cary believed drowning was the cause of death.
No coroner’s inquest was carried out to establish how Carol Tucker died. Despite this, however, Tucker found himself in the dock having being charged with murder with a judge and barristers arguing over the nature of the death. Barristers and judges are experts in law, not pathology. If cause of death cannot be determined at a mortuary then why should it be discussed in a courtroom? If medical experts cannot determine the cause or mechanism of death, then how can the courts? In the absence of strong evidence of murder a case should not be prosecuted or lead to a conviction.
It was alleged that Tucker drove the vehicle in to the river in order to stage an accident. The prosecution had alleged that Carol had been strangled and her head held underwater. However, the fisherman who was close by when the vehicle entered the water did not hear anything suggesting that a struggle had taken place. At trial it was therefore claimed that Tucker had strangled or throttled, but not killed, his wife at some undetermined location before drowning her in the river and driving the vehicle in to the water.
If the reason for Carol Tucker’s death could not be determined then
what evidence is there to suggest murder was committed?
The Expert Opinions
The prosecution sought Professor Knight’s professional opinion relating
to whether or not murder was a possibility. In a report the expert responded,
"There is insufficient evidence on medical grounds for any successful hypothesis to be maintained that the death was due to the actions of another person. …The medical evidence cannot take forward any intention to bring criminal charges "
This conclusion did not fit in with the prosecution’s argument and so it was not read out at the trial although it was available to the defence.
Similarly Dr Shepherd’s more recent conclusion has never been heard in court. He wrote that,
“There’s no marks at all on this lady that would indicate that she was held under the water and drowned … there is no pathological evidence that I have seen that indicates that Mrs Tucker was murdered.”
The evidence provided by Dr Cary and Dr Harrison, however, was heard by the jurors and represented the expert view that murder was extremely unlikely. Cary’s evidence was that, “… there was nothing to show death as a result of a third party and nothing to show that it was homicide.” Dr Harrison also did not believe that there was evidence suggesting any actions upon Tucker’s part had led to the death of his wife, and he stated that there was no evidence that she had been deliberately drowned.
There were no injuries to the neck, throat or larynx consistent with strangulation and there were no head injuries that would indicate that Carol had been deliberately injured.
Taking in to consideration the pathological evidence, as covered by experts in pathology, there is no evidence that Carol Tucker was murdered.
There is no physical evidence to prove that Carol did not die in an
accident. The appeal judges,
at Tucker’s hearing in December 1998, admitted that, “We immediately
recognise that there was no, and is no, direct evidence that the appellant
murdered his wife.”
Why Was He Convicted?
As you read the following sections bear in mind the words of the judge at Tucker’s trial, Mr Justice Gage, in which he told the members of the jury that,
"If you are not sure that he has lied about anything, then that is the end of the prosecution case because the prosecution say that he has lied about the whole thing and particularly lied about what happened that evening. … If he may be telling the truth about the accident and what happened, then plainly your verdict would be one of not guilty."
Evidence is comprised of all the available facts that can be used to determine the truth. As is so often the case, at Tucker’s trial information, rather than evidence, was used to infer that he had killed his wife.
Therefore they began to believe that Carol Tucker might have been intentionally drowned by her husband.
However, it is known that the seatbelts in the Ford Fiesta were from
a batch with a recognised fault and that they might fail in an emergency. Indeed Ford later recalled this batch
of vehicles informing members of the public that there was a fault with
the seatbelts. With the
driver’s seatbelt adjusted, with a klink-klip device, for his wife who
was overweight, the belt would have been far too loose for Tucker and
so he could easily have struck his head upon the interior of the vehicle,
rendering him unconscious.
Was Tucker Play Acting?
Mr Justice Gage, in his summing-up, told the jurors that,
"When he [Tucker] was seen by witnesses
following it [the crash], he was simply play-acting. Either he was not rendered unconscious at all or, if he was,
it was only for a few minutes."
Is there sufficient evidence to suggest he was play-acting?
No expert neurologist was called to provide evidence, which is unfortunate as the effect of an impact upon Tucker is a central issue in this case. However, Mr Wilson, an expert in emergency care, told the court at Tucker's trial that he had “no doubt that [Tucker] was initially unconscious, and what witnesses saw was a phase in his recovery." Play-acting could, he said, be ruled out.
The importance of this point is demonstrated by another comment made
during the summing up, "If he [Mr Wilson] is correct or may
be that play acting can be ruled out, then that really is an end of
the prosecution case, if he is right about that."
The "Missing" Hour
Tucker and his wife had arrived at the Red Lion, at around 20:20. They ordered a main course, dessert, coffee, chocolates and then had more coffee. It is alleged that the Fiesta entered the river at around 22:30, at a location only a short distance from the pub. However, the bill was calculated at 21:20. Therefore the prosecution alleged the couple must have left the pub soon after 21:20, leaving approximately an hour unaccounted for.
Tucker claims that they left the Red Lion shortly before the accident and that they were still sitting in the restaurant at 22:00. Is it realistic to believe that the couple could arrive, be seated, wait to order their meal, have their meal presented to them, eat all courses and have the bill presented all in one hour?
It was discovered that staff at the Red Lion often totalled up the bill long before it was ready to be paid. Is it not possible that the bill could have been calculated long before Tucker and his wife had finished their meal? It is known that somebody paid their bill at 22:11, a time consistent with Tucker’s account of events.
Additionally it has been shown that the till does not always show the correct time. It was discovered that the time was not changed when British Summer Time came into effect in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. Is it possible that the time had also not been altered during the summer of 1995?
It is quite conceivable, is it not, that the time shown on the bill was not the time at which the couple were ready to leave? The staff at the Red Lion have never disputed that the time could have been incorrect; it was the police and prosecution that used this piece of information to construct their case against Tucker.
The prosecution claimed, due to the fact that the fisherman had not heard a struggle at the river, that Carol Tucker had been killed, or forced in to unconsciousness, elsewhere. If Tucker paid for the meals at 22:11, and the couple left soon later, then it does not leave very much time to travel to the scene of the alleged offence, attack his wife in such a way that left no marks of assault or defence injuries, and then travel to the river where the accident was allegedly faked, all of which had taken place by 22:30.
The Bloodstains in the Car
Crash investigators found four bloodstains on the Fiesta;
two of the stains were identified as being Tucker’s blood. One was located near the lock on the front
passenger’s door and the second stain was located on the rear of the
car. The prosecution theorised that this indicated
that Tucker had dragged his wife from the passenger seat in order to
Tucker claims that the stain most likely resulted from
the motorist who found him having gone to the passenger door. As Tucker was bleeding from the head when
he was dragged from the water it is logical to believe that some blood
was transferred on to the motorist, first on to the rear of the car
and then on to the passenger door.
The Road Conditions
The stretch of road at which Tucker’s vehicle left the road, and entered the river, had been the scene of one hundred and nineteen accidents between 1990 and when the council improved the road conditions after the incident that led to the death of Carol Tucker.
Tucker has always maintained that he swerved to avoid two deer that
had been present on the road.
Whilst in hospital he thought that they were ‘dogs’ that caused the accident. This is understandable because the species of deer present
in the area, Muntjac deer, could very easily be thought to be dogs in
the darkness, due to their size and appearance. It would be suspicious if he had referred to the creatures
as deer, for this would have shown that he had possibly formulated a
lie in his mind. It is
a known fact that large numbers of deer live in the region and, due
to the fact that there is nothing preventing them from straying on to
the road, the possibility that they did so cannot be ruled out.
They have been the cause of other accidents in the locality.
Was There a Motive?
The motive that led Tucker to kill his wife, according to the prosecution, was that he was having an affair. Whilst in Croatia Tucker had a relationship with a Serbian interpreter named Dijana Dudukovic. It was suggested that he was infatuated with her and was, according to a prosecution witness who had been with Tucker for only one month, “like a lap-dog, doing her bidding.” In his summing-up Mr Justice Gage told the jury that Tucker was “besotted” with the translator. In order to continue seeing the interpreter he allegedly murdered his wife.
This alleged motive is far from convincing, with the prosecution’s argument distorting the truth.
According to Tucker the relationship was, at the time of the accident, nothing more than friendship, a close and ‘unique friendship borne out of circumstances and experience of Yugoslavia’; circumstances that included Dudukovic having prevented Tucker from being killed during a patrol. A brief affair had taken place but this had ended after a short liaison in London, which had been a “complete and utter disaster” according to Tucker.
Before Tucker had returned to Britain Dudukovic had moved to Zurich in Switzerland to live with another man. She later married, in March 1996.
It is unfortunate that Dudukovic was not able to give evidence at trial due to her fears that such action cold jeopardise her refugee status in Switzerland and create problems for her family in Yugoslavia. However, Dudukovic, her husband and her family all provided statements explaining that the relationship was not how the prosecution portrayed it. Dudukovic’s husband, as well as the deputy leader of Tucker’s UN team, both described the relationship as “normal”. Unfortunately these were never read in court and so the jury were not provided with proof that the prosecution’s theory was entirely false.
Commenting on the issue of the prosecution’s argument with regard to Dudukovic, Tucker has told that,
"The prosecution's case began with my relationship with the interpreter: that was not denied, it had happened. Thus, that was proved and I was guilty of being unfaithful. Therefore with their minds set, the jury decided I was guilty of everything else it was alleged had followed. I was found guilty of murdering my wife solely on the grounds that I had been unfaithful to her. It was nothing short of moral indignation and prejudice.”
In the absence of a motive it is hard to imagine that Tucker would
go to such lengths to dispose of his wife, especially as the outcome
of such a crash would be totally unpredictable, and Tucker’s life was
just as much at risk as his wife’s.
Indeed, according to the motorist's words as recorded in a police
notebook he had, 'pulled man's head from water preventing him drowning." Thus Tucker
was only moments away from sharing the same fate as his wife.
Accident or Murder?
The evidence against Tucker is tenuous to say the least. If there is no direct, or indirect, evidence proving he killed his wife, as the appeal judges have admitted, then how can this conviction be justified? It is a travesty of justice where a man is convicted of murder when such a crime most probably did not occur.
Speaking of his conviction Tucker tells that,
‘My case was fought out like two actors on a stage, with the jury “voting” at the end for the performance they liked best. … In fact I would have received better justice, and an acquittal, if all the evidence in my case had been fed into a computer programmed with an analytical brain. …Dr Cary said after my trial that it should never have been left to a jury to decide over medical evidence that they clearly did not understand.’
The judge’s summing-up included the following direction to the members of the jury,
“What you have to decide is whether this defendant killed his wife; whether it was murder, or may it have been a case either that she died as a result of an accident, or of natural causes – by which I mean a choking fit.”
Having read all of the information are you able to decide, beyond reasonable doubt, whether Carol Tucker died in an accident or whether her husband carried out a calculated act of murder?
Nick Tucker continues to fight to clear his name and is hopeful that the Criminal Case Review Commission will once again refer his case to the Court of Appeal. In December 2003 he wrote,
"The fight will go on, no matter how long or how many hills there are still to climb. At times it is difficult to muster the mental and physical strength to embark on yet another battle, but it has to be done, not only for me but for others who are in a similar position."
you been Convicted of a Murder that did not happen?