‘Innocent’ postmaster convicted of wife’s murder ‘using Horizon evidence’

Garbutt, 57, has spent the last 12 years in prison for the murder of his wife Diana, 40, in their home above the post office they ran together in Melsonby, North Yorkshire – North Yorkshire Police/PA

Robin Garbutt is a cold-blooded killer, rightly languishing in jail for beating his wife to death and then inventing a robbery at his post office to cover it up.

Or he is the victim of the biggest miscarriage of justice ever perpetrated by the Post Office’s faulty Horizon computer system.

Garbutt, 57, has spent the last 12 years in prison after being convicted in 2011 of murdering his wife Diana, 40, in their home above the post office they ran together in the pretty village of Melsonby, in North Yorkshire.

He protests his innocence and claims that the Post Office presented evidence against him (based on the Horizon computer system) to show that he was stealing money to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Without the Post Office’s analysis of Horizon’s evidence, Garbutt’s supporters claim, a large part of the motive for the murder – and the way it was organized – also disappears.

Garbutt has taken his case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) three times in an attempt to force a new trial.

He has been contacted three times, most recently in November last year, when the CCRC concluded that “the figures from the Horizon system were not essential to his murder conviction”.

But ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office has lit a new fire under the Horizon scandal and given Garbutt, his lawyers and supporters renewed hope that his conviction could still be overturned.

The Crown’s case (Sir Keir Starmer was director of public prosecutions at the time, while the village is in Rishi Sunak’s constituency) was that Garbutt had killed his wife, who was the postmistress, in March 2010 due to suspicions that he was having an affair and fears. that his theft of thousands of pounds of money from the Post Office was about to be discovered.

Diana Garbutt was murdered in her home above the post office she and her husband ran together in the North Yorkshire village of Melsonby.Diana Garbutt was murdered in her home above the post office she and her husband ran together in the North Yorkshire village of Melsonby.

Diana Garbutt was murdered in her home above the post office that she and her husband ran together in the village of Melsonby in North Yorkshire – North Yorkshire Police/PA

Post Office investigators, understood to have been involved in the unsafe convictions of subpostmasters for fraud and theft, testified against Garbutt.

Judge Openshaw, summing up to the jury at the time, said: “The prosecution considers that money was being stolen from the Post Office and that the theft was concealed by a series of false statements about the amount of money in the till. strong”.

Appeal documents, seen by The Telegraph, show Horizon data was used to show a “pattern of fraud”.

Garbutt’s claim that he had been robbed at gunpoint and that his wife had been beaten to death by a second attacker was rejected by a jury by a 10-2 majority.

“The evidence that led to the conviction is no longer reliable”

But Dr Michael Naughton, a law academic at the University of Bristol who runs the CCRC Watch campaign website and has studied the case, said: “The prosecution used Horizon’s evidence to support their claim that the motive for the murder was that Robin Garbutt was stealing money. He was on the Post Office side of the business and he needed to kill his wife to cover it up.

“Horizon was used to show that it was defrauding the Post Office. “I don’t know whether or not Robin Garbutt killed his wife, but I do know that the evidence that led to his conviction is no longer reliable and all aspects have been discredited.”

Mark Stilborn, Garbutt’s brother-in-law, said on Friday: “The prosecution said there was a shortfall which gave him a motive to stage the robbery. They said that Diana was doing her accounts and she found out about her and that’s why she killed her.”

But in light of the Horizon scandal, he said it is possible that the evidence provided by Post Office investigators would never have been presented to the jury (or at least would have been vigorously questioned), eliminating a key motive for the murder.

“I’m 100 percent sure Robin is innocent,” Stilborn said. “Everyone who knows Robin knows she is innocent. “Robin is the kindest person you will ever meet.”

Edward Abel Smith, author of a book about the case, said: “They used Horizon data to build a picture that showed Robin had been stealing from the post office for some time and was now using the theft to cover up the missing money. “

Garbutt outside Teeside Crown Court in 2011Garbutt outside Teeside Crown Court in 2011

Garbutt outside Teeside Crown Court at the start of his 2011 murder trial – Anna Gowthorpe/PA

Activists point out that no forensic evidence links Garbutt to the murder weapon: an iron bar that police found in a nearby wall two days after the murder. The evidence regarding the time of death is also the subject of hot controversy.

The prosecution alleged that Diana was murdered in the middle of the night, rather than at 8.30am at the time of the robbery, and that her husband then opened the post office normally and served dozens of customers. But the forensic report indicating the time of death is now the subject of heated controversy, and not a single customer served that morning noticed anything strange about her behavior.

For now, Garbutt remains in prison and continues to protest his innocence. He was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years in prison. “He dealt her three savage blows, shattering her skull and causing her immediate death, as she clearly intended,” the trial judge said, adding: “This was a brutal, planned, cold-blooded murder of his wife while she was sleeping in bed. “

Outside court, Agnes Gaylor, Diana’s mother, refused to talk about her son-in-law. “I’m not thinking about Robin right now. “I’m not going to let Robin get into my head after today,” she said at the time.

A CCRC statement issued in November 2022 about its refusal to refer the case said: “Much of Mr Garbutt’s application to the CCRC focused on the Post Office Horizon scandal, which has led to the quashing of several fraud and theft convictions of former post office workers. many after being referred by the CCRC. “The CCRC decided that this argument could not help Mr Garbutt as the Horizon system figures were not essential to his murder conviction.”

But the CCRC is also under fire. It has been slow to process appeals against the convictions of the hundreds of subpostmasters unfairly prosecuted by the Post Office, while the case of Andy Malkinson, wrongly convicted and jailed for rape, led the Government to launch an investigation into the management of your case. by the police, the CPS and the CCRC.

In the summer, Garbutt wrote an open letter to the president of the CCRC from his current home at HM Prison Wealstun. “The scene of horror” upon finding his wife’s bloodied body “will live with me forever,” he wrote, adding: “By not taking my case to the Court of Appeal, I am failing myself, my poor wife and the safety of others.” There is a murderer on the run. And as long as he is detained in prison, that will not change.”

He may or may not be a victim of the Horizon scandal, but activists say only a new trial will lead to the truth.

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