In Defence of Ray Gilbert - Sentenced to 15 years in 1981 - 35 Years Later Still in Prison   (20th year over tariff in March 2015)

[ This is the full text of a speech by Bruce Kent given at the Helping the Innocent: INUK Symposium on the Reform of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Friday 30th March 2012 ]

Shortly after he retired as Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2008, Professor Graham Zellick said that where there is a 'lurking doubt' a claim of wrongful conviction should be referred to the Court of Appeal.

In the case of Raymond Gilbert, convicted in 1981 of murder, a brutal stabbing of an innocent young man, John Suffield a bookmaker, there are a whole series of doubts. They are not lurking. They are obvious and there for anyone who has studied the case to see.

I list some of them.

To start with, why would man given a 15 year tariff, who could have been released from prison years ago had he been a model prisoner, taken the necessary anger management courses, and admitted his guilt, nevertheless go on claiming that he did not commit the crime? He has now done over twice his tariff and even if all goes well with parole hearings it will still be several years before he gets out.

That is a general doubt. But there are many more specific ones.

His co-defendant in 1981, John Kamara had his case quashed in 2000 by the Court of Appeal. One strong reason was that the prosecution failed to give the defence a number of witness statements, which did not support the prosecution case and even contradicted witness statements, which were used. This failure applies as much to Gilbert's case as to Kamara's. Gilbert was not even picked out on an identification parade even though Kamara was.

Since Kamara's conviction was quashed another question arises at once. Kamara was only involved because Gilbert falsely identified him from a number of photographs shown to him by the police. If Kamara was not involved then who else was? The murder had to be a two-person crime. It involved probably forcible entry, tying up and then stabbing a young bookmaker in his betting shop. But the police say they are not looking for anyone else. Why not?

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

Why was Gilbert arrested? I imagine because he, a mixed race young man with little education, was a local petty criminal, known for robbery and gang fights, and might be worth questioning.

At no time, then or now, has there ever been ANY evidence - witness recognition, bloodstains, fingerprints, or a knife etc to connect Gilbert with what was a very bloody crime.

Indeed he had at first an alibi. He says he was in bed with his girlfriend, June Bannan, on the morning of Friday the 13th and only went out briefly to a local shop to buy cigarettes. The night before we know that he was in a club drinking and did not get back to her flat until well after midnight. Yet we are asked to believe that he was up by 7am??? to collect his accomplice and his knife and the tape used to bind the victim and make his way to the betting shop.

At first Bannan supported his claim to have been in bed with her that morning. But she was threatened with prosecution for obstructing the course of justice. We know that she was actually at some stage in the same prison van as Kamara. She changed her story and said that Gilbert had gone out for some hours on the morning of the murder

Interestingly the Judge, when the trial began in December '81 did not seem to notice a contradiction in Bannan's statements made after Gilbert had been removed from the court. She was produced as a witness when the court was hearing the case against Kamara. She was questioned about a row she had with Gilbert over allegations of having had sex with Kamara. She said that the row took place at about 11.30 am when both she and Gilbert were still in bed. However she could not remember the exact day but went on to say it ' may have been on the Friday morning at 11.30 am'.

That was Friday 13th the morning of the murder. In other words she was possibly reinstating Gilbert's alibi, apparently inadvertently, when she was being questioned. The Judge did not notice this contradiction. Why was Bannan pressured to withdraw the alibi she had first given and why did the Judge not notice her later contradiction?

If there was no evidence, why a prosecution? Because during the 48 hours during which Gilbert was held he was questioned at different hours of the day and night by two policemen and was told that Bannan had withdrawn her alibi. No lawyer was present and no taped record was kept. During these 48 hours Gilbert, certainly very scared, crumbled when he was told that Bannan had changed her story. He then made a confession, which in its final form he signed.

So that is that?

Not at all. He repudiated the confession when he had access to a lawyer who said that Gilbert was ' disorientated' when he first saw him after the questioning.

The written confession shows clear signs of manipulation, omission and contradiction.

For instance the times when things were supposed to have happened were adjusted to fit in with the times that various witnesses said that they saw a struggle outside the betting shop. At first Gilbert said that the time when the attack started was ten minutes past ten am. He could give gave the exact time, he said, because he looked at Kamara's watch. But this did not fit in with witness evidence and in the signed version it becomes just after 9am.

Gilbert at first said he threw the murder weapon down a drain near the shop. No knife was ever found in the drain in the version which he signed he changed the story to say that he took the knife back to someone's house. There was a kitchen type knife there, as there would be in most households, but nothing whatever to connect it to the murder.

In an early answer to a question he said that the door to the bookmaker's was open and the two of them walked in and then attacked the bookmaker. In the signed version (fitting in with one witness statement,) the two of them attacked the bookmaker outside and, after a struggle involving a knife, got him to open the door. This does not correspond with the statement made by Detective Superintendent Olson on the 11th May 1981 that ' the front door of the betting office had been forced open'.

Another doubt arises over the milk bottle and paper which the bookmaker collected from a local shop as usual. The crime scene photograph show both these items on a bench or table, intact, inside the shop. Inspector Olsen, an early witness to the crime scene, stated that they had been placed 'neatly' there. But the signed confession describes a violent struggle outside the shop. It is impossible to imagine how the bookmaker would be able to keep holding the milk bottle while being violently attacked. It would have been dropped. It seems much more likely that the bookmaker entered his shop in the usual way, put down his bottle and paper and was then overpowered by people, perhaps already waiting in the inner room or who had forced the front door after the bookmaker had entered. But that is not the story in the signed confession and it is not what one passer by said she saw.

The bottle would certainly have smashed on the outside steps of the shop if the confession story were true. A juror raised this point with the Judge at the trial and all the judge could say was the he did not see how it mattered.

But by then he was summing up on the Kamara case and had probably forgotten the details of Gilbert's 'confession' statement. In fact he may not have even got the story accurately in the first place. At an earlier stage in his summing up he referred to the bookmaker's collection of his 'paper and mail' from a local shop, not his paper and milk bottle.

Another difference between the signed statement and the admissions preceding it is that there is no mention of the story first told, about the disposal of the stolen money. Gilbert first said he gave some of it to Bannan, which she used to buy some items of furniture. But she rejected this version of events and explained to the police where she legitimately got them. Perhaps she could prove this. Anyway in the signed statement there is no reference to Bannan getting any money and it is not clear what Gilbert or Kamara are supposed to have done with it.

The CCRC also suggested, in a previous report that Gilbert knew facts about the murder scene that only someone who had been there might have known. They dismissed the idea that the police might have 'fed' him some information. Why? The murder took place a few months before the Toxteth riots and the trial a few months afterwards. The racist atmosphere in the Liverpool police force at that time is now a matter of record.

The Chair of the Merseyside Black Police Association has recently reported ' make no mistake about it, the Police were abusing black people then (in 1981)'. Gilbert was of mixed race. Anyway if they thought they had their man it might even be understandable.

Nevertheless the murder was a major item of Liverpool concern that weekend. Gilbert was going to the police station every day to report and there would have been gossip. A range of people apart from the police would have seen the murder site. The event was prominent news in local papers. Gilbert knew the layout of the betting shop since he had been there infrequently as a customer in the past.
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Another significant sign, and perhaps the most important, of the unreliability of the signed confession is that it fails to mention that inside the main money safe there was an inner section with a time lock. The bookmaker could not have unlocked it even had he wished to do so. He did open the main safe with its ordinary combination lock. It had inside a small amount of petty cash but he could not open the inner section with its timed combination. This is probably what caused his death. The real robbers, knowing that he had already opened the main door to the safe, which also had a combination lock, probably thought that he was refusing to open the inner section of the safe and stabbed him to try to make him do so.

There is no mention in the signed confession of any inner section to the safe yet this would have been a critical factor in the crime. Why was it not mentioned? Perhaps Gilbert did not know about it simply because he was not there? Perhaps the police who were doing the questioning did not know about it either and therefore did not help to introduce it into the signed confession?

Another doubt in a different direction now arises. The bookmaker's father was urged not to attend the trial but Coral, the bookmaking firm, were present with their lawyer. The time locked safe section had a statement on it to indicate that it could not be opened, according to the bookmaker's cashier This would have been prudent for the protection of Coral's employees, if not a legal requirement. Was the notice actually adequate? For failing to clearly mark the safe the firm might have been legally negligent. Was there some arrangement with the police by which this inner safe was not even mentioned in court?

So much for the ' confession'. Plenty of very obvious doubts. Nor must it be forgotten that a confession obtained under such circumstances of incessant questioning without anyone else present would never have led to a prosecution today.

Why did the jury not ask any questions about this confession?

Because they never had a chance to hear these doubts raised by the defence. No jury has ever heard Gilbert's defence. Why? Because in court, Gilbert made the biggest mistake in his life.

There were two attempts to get the trial moving when finally it came to court in December 1981. Twice Gilbert and Kamara pleaded not guilty in front of juries, which were then dismissed, for legal reasons. Again they pleaded not guilty in front of a third jury which had been sworn in. The trial then started. Yet after the prosecution had made its case and Gilbert was put in the witness box he suddenly sent a message to the Judge and said words to the effect that 'I am guilty.'

He was at once removed from the court and took no further part in the trial. What efforts his lawyers made to get him to change his mind I do not know. They do not seem to have stretched themselves on his behalf. Granted the lack of any evidence, he had a good chance of getting a not guilty verdict.

Gilbert gives several reasons for this sudden switch of plea.

The first - that he was being physically threatened by Kamara and Kamara's friends, who were also in the same prison. It was made clear to him that if he did not get Kamara off he would be injured. Actually by this change of plea he actually made things worse for Kamara.

The second - that he thought he was done for anyway having heard the prosecution case.

The third - that he was fed up with all the procedures, new juries etc and just wanted to get it all over with.

No defence on his behalf was ever presented. The inconsistencies in the confession were never pointed out. Only at the very end of the Kamara summing up did one juror ask about the miracle of the surviving milk bottle to be told by the Judge that he did not see how it mattered.

Does the guilty plea mean the end of the story? Not at all. The fact that false admissions are sometimes made is now a well-known legal phenomenon. Gilbert did make a further admission to Kamara's solicitor in January 1982 after his conviction, this time mentioning the inner safe and naming someone else as his partner in the crime. This may well have been another attempt to establish Kamara's innocence. Anyway by this time the existence and significance of the inner safe would have been public knowledge.

However, when Gilbert was put into a prison without Kamara and friends later that year, he again claimed innocence as he has since done consistently now for over thirty years.

This whole story has much more than a ' lurking doubt' attached to it. I believe, as do many others, that, at the very least, the Court of Appeal ought to have the right to decide on Gilbert's case. The CCRC ought to refer his case there. This is the wish of the murdered man's father who wants the issue to be decided in a court of law. He was himself told by the police at the time of a shoe print, not that of Kamara or Gilbert, which had been found at the crime scene.

At the moment efforts are being made to find out if any physical evidence remains which might carry DNA on it. This should have been sought from the moment that the significance of DNA became known. If Gilbert's DNA is not present then it would be almost certain that he was not there. If there is other DNA, apart from that of the murdered man, then that might even now lead to the identification of the real killers.

The CCRC, granted all the doubts listed, should surely accept that this is a case, which ought, at once, go to the Court of Appeal. Yet it has consistently refused to refer it there.

Why not? The media prejudice against Gilbert has been consistent and substantial. Gilbert did involve, whatever the pressure, an innocent man who spent many years in prison as a result. Those who rightly campaigned for the release of Kamara had little concern for Gilbert and his possible innocence.

'Lose no sleep over Gilbert ' the public were once told on a major TV programme.

Yet there are too many doubts about Gilbert's conviction for the case not to be re-examined in detail by a Court of Law.

Bruce Kent
Friday 30th March 2012

Present location of Ray Gilbert

Ray Gilbert
A6806AJ
HMP Wymott
Ulnes Walton Lane
Preston
PR26 8LW


 

The argument for Raymond Gilbert's case to be reheard

 

After 28 years in prison, supporters still say Gilbert was wrongly convicted for John Suffield's murder

Duncan Campbell guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 May 2009

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Father of young man murdered 26 years ago calls for release of person convicted of killing

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"Lose no sleep over Gilbert"

by Bruce Kent (former CND Chairman)


Raymond Gilbert Photograph: Valerie Flessati

With those few words a Trial and Error TV programme, broadcast on 5 January 1999, dismissed the possibility that Raymond Gilbert, convicted of murder in 1981, might not have been properly convicted.

The programme was aimed at obtaining justice for John Kamara, Gilbert's co-defendant, who was also convicted for the same murder.In that respect the programme was successful. The Court of Appeal later in 2000 quashed the verdict on Kamara, who had already spent 19 years in prison.

But we were told to 'lose no sleep' over Gilbert. Sleep or not, I nevertheless have grave and uncomfortable doubts. It does not seem to me that Gilbert was convicted beyond reasonable doubt.Born of a white mother and a black father, certainly an unloved child, Gilbert, afllicted with a speech impediment, had a patchy education and drifted into the underworld of Liverpool crime. He already had a record for robbery and for one assault before the accusation of murder. He was therefore an obvious suspect when a local betting shop manager was murdered in the course of a robbery which went dreadfully wrong.

But suspicion is not enough. What of evidence? Against neither Gilbert nor Kamara was there any positive evidence to connect them directly with the crime. The only evidence was actually against Kamara, now declared innocent. He, and not Gilbert, was picked out on an identification parade as the man one witness saw struggling with a white man outside the betting shop at about the time of the murder. The parade itself was not run according to proper rules. The witness had failed to pick out Gilbert on the first parade. The second parade was made up of a number of the same people with Kamara introduced as one of the new people. So the chances therefore of picking out Kamara were rather higher than they would otherwise have been if all those on the parade had been new to the witness.

However that no longer matters. The Court of Appeal has given its ruling about Kamara's innocence, and it did so in part because a large number of witness statements were not given to the defence at the time of the trial. Some of them even contradicted the witness evidence that was used. One unused witness said that he saw a van draw up at the betting shop, out of which four men emerged with something like a pickaxe handle, and burst their way into the betting shop. It was even revealed that one man had had a fierce altercation about an unpaid bet on the day before the murder, which took place on 13 March 1981, and had threatened that he would return to sort out the manager the next day if he was not properly paid.

The Court of Appeal must also have dismissed the prosecution evidence provided by fellow prisoners on remand about alleged admissions of guilt by Gilbert and Kamara. One of those prisoners later repudiated his statement. Another, who reported a conversation in which Kamara was supposed to have admitted being involved, hated Kamara because he thought that Kamara had raped his wife.

What then of Gilbert? The murder took place at about 9.30 am on Friday 13 March 1981. Gilbert was detained on Monday 16 March and then spent two days and nights in police custody. In detaining Gilbert the police could then only have been acting on general suspicion. No fingerprint, footprint, forensic, bloodstain or witness evidence has ever connected Gilbert with the crime. At one stage there was the suggestion that aknife of the right size was found at a house visited by Gilbert, but that connection was not pressed when it was admitted that the knife was one which could easily be found in many Liverpool kitchens.

Did Gilbert have an alibi? Well, he HAD one. He returned to the flat of his girlfriend, after drinking with friends, at 2 am on the morning of the murder. Apart from a possible visit to the newsagent/tobacconists, he was with her all day. At least she stuck to that story for some time, but after interrogation she was actually charged on 18 March, withimpeding the prosecution of Gilbert, and remanded in custody. She then changed her story and said that Gilbert had gone out on the morning of the murder. Gilbert's alibi then became a prosecution witness, having clearly been intimidated.

But what was the case against Gilbert, who had repudiated his confession and pleaded Not Guilty when it came to court? Simply that after two days and nights of police interrogation, with little sleep and no legal representative present, he had confessed to murder and signed a detailed statement. Worse, he involved an associate of his, Johnny Kamara, and said that Kamara had been with him. Why? Who knows. He says he was shown a photofit picture and asked to identify the people in it. Whether Kamara's name was suggested to him we do not know. The interviews were not taped. Whatever the circumstances, Gilbert certainly carries a heavy responsibility for Kamara's arrest and subsequent 19 years in prison.

What of the confession? It is said that it revealed details of themurder that only someone who had been at the scene of the crime could have known. This is nonsense. He was in the custody of two policemen who would have been negligent if they had not known all the details of the crime. Did they, convinced they were dealing with a murderer, reveal details to Gilbert which he could not have known anyway from reading the Liverpool papers? That is at least possible.

Curiously, Gilbert's first verbal admission which was noted by thepolice, and his subsequent written confession, differ in significant ways. In the first place he said he threw the knife down a drain after leaving the betting shop. In the written confession, which he signed, he said he took it to a friend's house, where indeed a possible knife was found. Then in his first admission he said that the betting shop door was open and that the two of them just went in. In the signed statement he said they had to grab the manager, poke him with a knife, and make him open the door. It is just possible that these changes were suggested to him because they fitted certain statements made by witnesses.

In any event, since the Court of Appeal has decided that Gilbert's confession, insofar as it involved Kamara, was untrue, why should it be assumed that the rest of the confession is unquestionably true?

But why was a confession of any sort made if he knew he was innocent? On that issue the distinguished consultant psychologist, Olive Tunstall, having examined Gilbert in preparation for his appeal process, prepared a detailed report on his makeup and background, dated April 1999. She says: "In my opinion there is evidence to suggest that the confession Mr Gilbert made during the police interviews may have been unreliable. Ihave based that opinion on the following grounds. The first of these is as follows: Mr Gilbert's personal vulnerability at that time (youth, limited education, abnormal personality, stammer, adverse social circumstances and in my opinion a profound fear of being physically assaulted emanating from early childhood experiences), his lack ofaccess to legal advice and evidence that at the time he began his confession he was in a state of high anxiety." Olive Tunstall's detailed 29-page report confirms that there are serious doubts about Gilbert's conviction.

There is another point which is significant. While the judge was summing up in the Kamara case, some of the jurors asked him why, in the police photograph of the murder scene, a full bottle of milk and what lookslike a newspaper are clearly evident on a dresser. The jurors rightly wanted to know how they got there. They were not delivered. They must have been carried into the shop by somebody, but certainly not by the manager if he was, according to Gilbert's confession, struggling vigorously against two robbers. It is just possible that someone else had entered the shop, perhaps someone connected with the previous day's threat, and was lying in wait for the manager, who himself brought in the milk and the paper. However, thanks to Gilbert's confession and the witness evidence of identification against Kamara, it seems not to have occurred to the judge that the murder could have been committed by somebody else. All he could say in reply to the question from the jurors was "It is so difficult to understand why it matters."

Not that it did much matter for Gilbert. Some days after the trial eventually began - two juries were discharged - Gilbert got up and changed his plea to guilty. His words were: "This has been going on long enough, so I want to change from Not Guilty to Guilty." At that point the judge stopped him from going further. It is at least possible that he was going on to say that Karnara had not been with him.

Why would he make that admission granted the lack of evidence againsthim, and did he realise that in so doing he was probably shutting prison doors on himself for a long time? Whether he got good advice at that moment from his counsel we do not know. It is reported that Counsel now says that he cannot remember the case.

Gilbert's explanation for the change of plea was that he was threatened in prison that he would be 'done' if he did not get Kamara off. He was certainly in prison with some very tough and unscrupulous people, quite capable of making and putting such threats into action. He may also have thought he was doomed anyway after his written confession and wanted to get the whole business over with.

Gilbert has now spent twenty years in prison. His efforts to get Kamara off at the trial, if such they were, did not succeed, though he did try again in prison in 1982 by suggesting that someone else, not Kamara, had been his partner. Once he moved to another prison, away from those allegedly intimidating him, he again claimed that he was innocent and has maintained that position ever since.

He has not been a model prisoner in Home Office terms and has been convicted of an assault while in prison. This verdict is being challenged. On the other hand, while in Durham, he voluntarily undertook three sponsored runs around the prison yard to raise funds for young people needing medical care. In total he raised over 1400. These runs took a great deal of training and commitment.

For the last 19 years since 1982 he has maintained his innocence. If he had taken the parole road, admitted guilt, and behaved himself, he would certainly be out of prison now. He is a determined man and if he has to admit his guilt before he is released, then he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Today his case would never have gone to trial. A confession from a young man of mixed race with a speech impediment, obtained as Gilbert's was obtained, however honest the policemeninvolved, would be rejected as evidence.

However, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, in March 2000, denied Gilbert access to the Court of Appeal. When the Commissioners made that decision they could not have known that Kamara's separate appeal would be upheld in May 2000. This decision by the Court of Appeal undermines the credibility of Gilbert's entire confession. In their March 2000 ruling the Commissioners discounted the evidence of Ms Tunstall, who is a very experienced psychologist, and accepted the police version of the interrogation and confession without serious question.

A new appeal has now been made to the CCRC on the basis of European human rights law. Gilbert's solicitors have however been told that this request must take its place in the queue. Even if they allow eventually access to the Court of Appeal, it could be years rather than months before the case is heard.

"Lose no sleep over Gilbert." I have visited him five or six times in the last two years and have tried to keep up with the extensive correspondence about his innocence which he conducts from prison. I do not lose sleep, but I do have a strong conviction that his guilt has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt. It is that which is required before a jury can bring in a "guilty" verdict. Will someone in authority please look at this case again?

Bruce Kent, June 2001