Court Of Appeal (Criminal Division) 12 December 2002
On 28 October 1986 Jeremy Bamber was convicted of 5 counts of murder by a majority of 10-2 following a 19 day trial. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 25 years. The case comes back before this court following a reference by the CCRC solely because of fresh scientific evidence.
The killings occurred in the early hours of 7 August 1985. All 5 of those who died met their deaths from gunshot wounds. They were Bamber’s parents, Ralph (known as Nevill) and June, his sister Sheila, and his sister’s 6 year old twin sons, Nicholas and Daniel. There was no dispute at trial that 4 of the 5 had been murdered. In respect of Sheila, the issue was whether she had been murdered or had taken her own life.
It was accepted at trial that there were only two possible explanations for the dreadful events of that night. Either Jeremy had killed all 5 members of his family, shooting them with a rifle with the probable motive of inheriting the whole of the family estate; or Sheila, who had a history of mental illness, had murdered her parents and her two sons with the rifle, and had then turned the gun upon herself in an act of suicide.
The police were first alerted that something out of the ordinary had occurred when they received a telephone call from Jeremy. The call was logged at 3.36am but there was evidence that made clear that it must have been at least 10 minutes earlier. He said: “You’ve got to help me. My father has rang me and said ‘Please come over. Your sister has gone crazy and has got the gun.’ Then the line went dead.” The telephonist contacted the Police Information Room and a police car was despatched to the father’s address. Jeremy was asked to meet the police there.
When the police attended at the farm, they were joined by Jeremy. There was no sound from the farm save for the barking of a dog and fearing that they might be in a hostage situation the police decided to wait until daylight. At 7.45am armed officers entered the farm and found all 5 occupants dead from gunshot wounds. Nevill lay dead in the kitchen, his wife was dead on the floor in her bedroom, the boys were dead in their bed and Sheila was lying on the floor of the same room as her mother. Across her chest and pointing up at her neck, through which the wounds that had killed her had been fired, was the rifle used to shoot all 5 members of the family. Beside her body lay a Bible. The scene gave the appearance that Sheila had shot herself, and the likelihood that this was the case was reinforced by information given to the police by Jeremy.
The senior police officers involved, and to some extent the pathologist who attended, readily accepted at that stage that they were dealing with 5 deaths for which Sheila was responsible. However, some junior officers believed that everything did not add up. This view was soon echoed by a number of members of the wider family. It was not until early September that the real possibility that someone else might have killed all 5 was properly addressed and there was a change in the senior investigating officer. Jeremy’s ex-girlfriend then came forward and gave information to the police. This caused the focus of attention to move to him and another said to be connected to him. Further inquiries were made and as a result he was charged with the 5 murders.
Nevill was 61 at the time of his death. He was a farmer and a local Magistrate and lived with his wife June at White House Farm. He was a well-built man, 6’ 4” tall and in good physical health. He kept a number of guns including shotguns and the rifle. He shot on his own farm as well as attending shoots locally. A number of witnesses called at the trial spoke of the care with which Nevill treated the weapons kept at the farmhouse. He would clean the guns following use and would not allow them to be left lying around.
The rifle was a .22 Anshutz automatic. Together with a Parker Hale sound moderator (silencer) and telescopic sights, it had been bought by Nevill on 30 November 1984 with 500 rounds of ammunition. The gun was used to shoot rabbits and would only be used with the sound moderator and the telescopic sights attached. A screwdriver was required to remove the telescopic sights but there was evidence that this was not normally done because of the time it took to realign them
June was also 61 years old. Religion had always played a strong part in her life. In her latter years her interest in this had come to dominate her thinking. In 1982, she received treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Northampton. Nevill and June married in 1949 and shortly afterwards took a tenancy of White House Farm. They were unable to have children of their own and adopted two children, Sheila and Jeremy.
Sheila was born in 1957 and was 28 at the time of her death. She was educated privately, before attending secretarial college in London and then working as a model. When in London she met Colin and they married in May 1977. On 22 June 1979 their twin sons were born. Daniel and Nicholas were six when they were killed.
Shortly after the marriage Sheila’s mental health began to fail and the couple divorced in May 1982. During 1983 Sheila was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and subsequently was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. In March 1985 she was re-admitted to hospital before being discharged a little under 4 weeks later. For the months before their death, the children had been living with their father, although seeing their mother frequently. Three days before the killings Colin had taken Sheila and the children to spend a few days with their grandparents at the farm in Essex.
Jeremy was born on 13 January 1961 and is now 41 years old. He too was educated privately before he attended college in Colchester and then spent time in Australia and New Zealand. For the year before the killings he had worked with his father at the farm. He lived in Goldhanger in a house which had been bought by his parents. Goldhanger is 3 miles from White House Farm. By car it would take some 5 minutes to travel between the two. On a bicycle it would take about 15 minutes by the shortest route.
In 1983 Jeremy met Julie Mugford a student at Goldsmith College in London and they began a relationship which lasted until shortly before his arrest in September 1985. The Bamber family had interests in other farming properties in the area and also in the Osea Road Caravan site which was owned jointly by June, her sister Pamela, Ann Eaton (June’s niece) and Jeremy. The value of the joint estate which he stood to inherit after the killings was some £435,000.
Anthony Pargeter, Nevill’s nephew and a competition standard shot, stayed at White House Farm between 26-28 July 1985. He saw the .22 rifle in the gun cupboard in the ground floor office. The telescopic sights and sound moderator were attached and the gun appeared in a “new” condition. There were no scratches or marks upon it. Later Jeremy, himself a good shot, took the rifle out for some target practice.
The housekeeper saw Sheila several times during the course of Monday, 5 August. She saw nothing unusual in Sheila’s behaviour. The next day, Sheila was seen with her children on several occasions by Julie and Leonard Foakes, who were working on the farm. She appeared happy and all was apparently well.
Barbara Wilson, the farm secretary telephoned the farmhouse at 9.30pm and spoke to Nevill. He was not cheerful and Mrs Wilson thought she had interrupted an argument. She described Nevill as abrupt, impatient and short. Pamela, June’s sister also telephoned the house that evening at about 10pm. She spoke first with Sheila who was quiet and then to her sister. Mrs Boutflour noted nothing unusual in her sister’s mood or in their conversation.
In the early hours of Wednesday, 7 August Jeremy telephoned Chelmsford Police Station on a direct line number as opposed to the 999 emergency call system and spoke to PC West. He said, “You’ve got to help me. My father has just rung me and said, ‘Please come over. Your sister has gone crazy and has got the gun.’ Then the line went dead”. He explained that he had tried to ring his father back at White House Farm but he could not get a reply.
PC West contacted Malcolm Bonnet at the Chelmsford H/Q Information Room. West then spoke to Jeremy again who complained at the time the officer was taking. He said, “When my father rang he sounded terrified”. Jeremy was told to go to the farm and to wait there for the police. West described Bamber as sounding “very laconic” and calm during the first part of their conversation and said that there was no sense of urgency. When he spoke to him again Jeremy appeared “more urgent and distressed in his manner”.
PC West recorded the time of Jeremy’s call as 3.36am. At trial it was accepted that the officer had misread a digital clock. The officer’s contact with Mr Bonnett was recorded as being at 3.26am and it seems clear that Jeremy’s call must have been at 3.26am or very shortly before.
At 3.35am Mr Bonnet arranged for a police car to go to White House Farm. A check made by a British Telecom operator of the telephone line to the farm was made at 4.30am. The receiver was off the hook and all the operator could hear was the sound of a dog barking.
PS Bews, PC Myall and PC Saxby drove from Witham Police Station passing Jeremy in his car on their way to the farm. He was travelling at a speed very much slower than their vehicle. Ann Eaton’s evidence was that Jeremy was normally “a very, very fast driver”. His car arrived at the farmhouse 1-2 minutes after the police vehicle.
Jeremy told the officers about the telephone call from his father, adding that it sounded as though someone had cut him off. When asked if it was possible that his sister was inside with a gun he said ‘yes’. He told the police that he did not get on with her. He was asked if it was likely that his sister had gone berserk with a gun and he replied, “I don’t really know. She is a nutter. She’s been having treatment.” When asked why his father had called him and not the police, he said that his father was not the sort of person to get “organisations” involved, preferring to keep things within the family. When asked why he had not dialled 999, Jeremy said he did not think it would make any difference to the time it would have taken for the police to arrive.
Having walked to the house from the lane there was further conversation. Jeremy told the police that Sheila could use a gun. He said they had gone target shooting together and she had used all the guns in the house before. In the light of what they were told the uniformed officers requested armed assistance before any attempt to search the house was made. Jeremy dictated a list of the firearms kept at the house. He told the police that he had loaded the .22 automatic rifle the previous night because he thought he had heard rabbits outside. He said he had left the gun on the kitchen table with a full magazine and a box of ammunition nearby. Those who saw Jeremy at the scene at that time described him as remarkably calm. At some stage during their conversations that morning PC Myall and Jeremy spoke about motor cars. Jeremy said that the Osea Road Caravan Site company, “would be able to stand him a Porsche” car at some point during the year.
Armed officers from the Essex Police Tactical Firearms Unit arrived at the farm at about 5am. At about 5.30am Jeremy said to PS Adams, “What if anything has happened in there, they are all the family I’ve got”. He became visibly upset and asked to telephone his girlfriend who was later driven to Essex from London.
Reconnaissance of the farmhouse revealed all the doors to be shut, as were the windows save for one in the main bedroom on the first floor. At about 7.30am the decision was made to enter the farmhouse and not long afterwards officers moved into place. Through the kitchen window, an officer observed the body of what appeared to be a woman but was in fact Nevill. Entry was then forced through the rear door which had been locked from the inside.
In the kitchen the police found Nevill’s body slumped forward over an overturned chair next to the hearth, so that his head was just above a coal scuttle. The police evidence was that there were other chairs and stools upturned and broken crockery, sugar and what appeared to be spots of blood on the floor. A ceiling light lampshade had also been broken. It appeared that a violent struggle had taken place. On one of the surfaces there was a telephone with the receiver off the cradle. A quantity of .22 shells was beside it.
Subsequent searches of this room revealed Nevill’s blood stained wristwatch under a rug and a piece of broken butt from the rifle on the floor. Upstairs the bodies of June and Sheila were found on the floor of the main bedroom. That of June was very heavily bloodstained and lay by the doorway. Sheila’s body was by her parents’ bed. The .22 rifle (with the sound moderator and telescopic sights removed) was on her body with her right hand resting lightly upon it and with the muzzle of the weapon just below wounds to her neck. Immediately to her right, resting on the upper right arm and the floor, was a Bible that belonged to June. The bodies of Daniel and Nicholas were found in their beds in another bedroom.
Firearms officers inspected the gun cupboard in the ground floor office to make sure that the other weapons were safe. Unaware of the possibility that anything in that cupboard might have played a part in the killings, neither they nor any other police officer sought to examine the cupboard or search for any sound moderator or sights for the .22 rifle.
At 8.10am Dr Craig attended the scene to formally certify the deaths. At trial he said the deaths could have occurred at any time during the previous night. The appearance of Sheila’s body suggested to him that the wounds had been inflicted by her own hand. In answer to the judge the witness made it clear this was not an opinion the jury should rely upon as a true indication that the injuries had been self-inflicted.
Dr Craig also saw Jeremy outside the farmhouse. He said he appeared to be in a state of shock. At one stage he broke down and cried and he also appeared to vomit. He told the doctor there had been “some considerable discussion” amongst the family about the future of Sheila’s children the previous evening, during which the question of their being fostered had been raised. He said that the family was concerned that his sister had been abusing the children. The bodies were taken to the Chelmsford and Essex Mortuary where post- mortem examinations were conducted. The bodies of Nevill and Sheila were examined on 7 August, and those of June and the twin boys the following day.
Nevill, who was wearing his pyjamas, had been shot 8 times. There were 2 wounds to the right side and 2 to the top of the head. If not immediately fatal, the combined effect of these 4 injuries would have been immediate unconsciousness and incapacitation. There was a wound to the left side of the lip and another to the left part of the lower jaw. This injury caused severe fracturing of the jaw, of the teeth in that area and damaged soft tissue in the neck and larynx. These features of this particular injury and the resultant flow of blood into the mouth meant, in the pathologist’s opinion, that Nevill would have been unable to engage in purposeful talk. There were also gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and a grazing wound above the left elbow.
Nevill’s body also had black eyes and a broken nose, linear bruising to the cheeks, lacerations to the head, linear type bruising to the right forearm, bruising to the left wrist and forearm and three circular burn type marks to the back. The linear marks were consistent with Nevill having been struck with a long blunt object, possibly a gun.
June was bare footed and dressed in a nightdress. She had 7 gunshot wounds, 1 to her forehead and 1 to the right of the head would have caused death very quickly. She suffered shots to the right side of the lower part of her neck, the right forearm, 2 injuries to the right side of the chest and to the right knee. There was a great deal of blood on her body and clothing and from its pattern it appeared that at some stage of the attack she had been in an upright position. Daniel had received 5 wounds from a gun to the back of his head, which appeared to have been fired in an arc and in quick succession. Nicholas had 3 gunshot wounds to his head.
Sheila was also dressed in her nightwear and bare-footed. She had received 2 contact (or near contact) bullet wounds to her throat. The higher of the 2 wounds would have killed her almost instantaneously. The lower of the 2 would have been a fatal injury but not one where death would have occurred immediately and a person having suffered such an injury may have been able to stand up and walk around for a little time. The lack of heavy blood staining to Sheila’s nightdress suggested that this had not happened here. The lower of the two injuries must have been the first since it had led to haemorrhaging inside the neck and this would not have occurred to the same extent if the other wound, which would have been immediately fatal, had preceded it. Dr Vanezis gave evidence that the nature of the blood stains to the nightdress suggested that Sheila was sitting up when she received both injuries. After the second injury she would have immediately fallen back. There was no evidence of any other mark or injury to Sheila’s body such as might be suffered during a fight or in a scuffle. From the pathological evidence alone, the pathologist could not say, one way or the other, whether Sheila had been murdered or had taken her own life.
The firearms officers who were the first to see her body noted that her feet and hands were “perfectly clean”. Her fingernails were well manicured and not broken and there were no marks or indentations on any of her fingers. All her fingertips were clean and free from any blood, dirt or powder and there appeared to be no trace of any lead dust or coating which is usual when handling .22 ammunition. The act of loading the magazine of an automatic weapon (carried out at least twice in this case) would be expected to leave visible traces of the lubricant and the materials from the bullets on the hands.
DC Hammersley, the Scenes of Crimes Officer placed plastic bags over Sheila's hands and feet before her body was removed from the farmhouse. He saw some blood staining to the back of the right hand, but apart from that the hands, to his eye were clean and the nails intact. The deceased’s feet were also free from blood staining and from any debris such as sugar. Following removal of the bags at the mortuary, Sheila’s hands and forehead were swabbed. Extremely low traces of lead were detected when the swabs were examined. Such levels being consistent with the levels found from the handling of every day things around the house. These results were compared to hand swabs taken from volunteers at the laboratory who were required to load the magazine with eighteen rounds of ammunition. Significantly higher traces of lead were found than those recorded on the hands of Sheila. The scientist Mr Elliott gave evidence that if Sheila had loaded eighteen cartridges into a magazine he would have expected the hand swabs to have revealed appreciably higher deposits of lead.
Sheila’s nightdress was bloodstained. When tested the blood was consistent with being her own blood. The garment was also examined for the presence of any firearm discharge residues or oil from the rifle. No such traces were found. The scientist gave evidence that there would be a strong chance of finding such residues or markings on the clothing of an individual who had fired a rifle 25 times.
The Bible found by Sheila’s body, belonged to her mother and was normally kept in a cupboard to the right of her bed. It was examined for fingerprints. Many belonged to June and there were a small number of insufficient detail for comparison, save for one which appeared to have been made by a small child. Analysis of samples of Sheila’s blood and urine taken during the post mortem examination indicated that she had consumed cannabis some days before her death and she had made therapeutic use of the prescribed anti-psychotic drug, haloperidol.
The senior police officers who attended the scene, led in the initial stages by DCI Jones (who died in May 1986), came quickly to the view that Sheila had murdered her parents and children before committing suicide. Inevitably this had an impact upon the nature and thoroughness of the searches and examination of the farmhouse.
The house appears to have been photographed first, with particular attention paid to the bodies and the rooms in which they were found. Samples and swabs were taken from some of the blood-staining. There was then a search directed principally at the recovery of bullets and cartridge cases and the seizing of other exhibits.
It seems clear that there was not the carefully ordered scientific examination or detailed search of the type that would have occurred today. Other guns were left at the premises and there was no attempt, at that stage, to search for any sound moderator or sights that may have been associated with the murder weapon. There were attempts to examine possible means of entry and exit. 5 carpet samples taken from the main bedroom were examined and found to bear numerous spots of dripped blood. These were tested and found to match the blood groupings of June. Wallpaper from the hallway to the left-hand side of the kitchen door was found to be stained with human blood consistent with the blood grouping shared by Nevill and the twin boys. Since the boys seem to have been shot in their beds, it is a clear inference that this was Nevill’s blood.
In all 25 cartridge cases were recovered from the scene and the firearms expert gave evidence of his opinion as to which of these could be associated with each particular victim. 2 bullets were recovered from June’s side of the double bed in the main bedroom and were consistent with the shots that had caused the injuries to her right shoulder, chest and forearm.
Found in or just outside the bedroom were 13 cartridge cases. 7 would account for the shots into June, 2 for the wounds suffered by Sheila, leaving 4 cartridge cases that had been fired at Nevill. 3 further cartridge cases were found in the kitchen, with a further case on the stairs leading up from the kitchen. If one accepts that the 4 shots to the head which would have immobilised and killed Nevill were fired in the kitchen where his body was recovered, it would follow that he had received the less serious injuries upstairs in the bedroom and was then able to make his way downstairs where he was subsequently killed. The last 8 cartridge cases were recovered in the children’s room and accounted for the injuries they suffered.
Mr Fletcher gave evidence of the range at which the shots had been fired. The lower (and not immediately fatal) of the injuries suffered by Sheila was caused when the muzzle of the gun was within three inches of the throat. The upper injury was a contact shot.
Of the 7 injuries suffered by June, 5 were shots from the gun held at least 1 foot away from the body. The bullet wound between the eyes was fired from less than 1 foot away, and could have been with the gun in contact with the skin, although he viewed that as unlikely. Mr Fletcher was unable to estimate the range of the shot which had caused the injury to the right side of June’s chest.
In respect of the 8 shots into Nevill’s body, the 6 to his head and face were fired when the rifle was within a few inches of the skin. The remaining injuries to the arm were caused when the gun was at least 2 feet from the body.
As regards the twins, 4 of the 5 injuries suffered by Daniel were caused when the gun was held within 1 foot of his head, the fifth was from over 2 feet away. The 3 wounds to Nicholas were contact or close proximity shots.
There were normally 4 telephones at White House Farm although there was only one telephone line. A cream old-fashioned finger-dial telephone kept in the main bedroom, a blue digital telephone in the first floor office, a cream cordless telephone kept in the kitchen but used around and outside the house and a fawn digital telephone also kept in the kitchen. The only telephone with a memory recall feature was the cordless telephone but this had been faulty and was collected for repair on the morning of 5 August 1985. The telephone that had been found with the receiver off its cradle in the kitchen was in fact the bedroom telephone, which had been moved downstairs. The kitchen telephone had been hidden amongst a pile of magazines in the kitchen. The office telephone was in its normal place.
There was no evidence of telephone billing information of the sort which would be available these days. There was, however, expert evidence called as to the effect of a telephone call having been made from White House Farm to Goldhanger which was then abandoned by the caller with the receiver being left off the cradle, as claimed by Jeremy. If such a sequence had occurred, the telephone link would have remained open either until the handset at White House Farm was replaced or until the handset at Goldhanger had been replaced and left in position for a period which could vary from 1 to 2 minutes, when an automatic interruption of the link would take place. Until one or other of these events, Jeremy would have been unable to make any call from the Goldhanger telephone.
The rifle was a German made Anschutz model 525 .22 self-loading rifle in good working order. Cartridges are loaded into a magazine, which has a capacity of 10. It is progressively harder to load as the number of cartridges increases. Loading the tenth is exceptionally hard. Assuming a full capacity at the commencement of the shooting at the farm, the discharge of the rifle 25 times would require it to be re-loaded a minimum of 2 more times. The stock was damaged, with a piece of wood missing. The broken piece of wood found on the floor in the kitchen was the missing part of the stock.
The rifle had blood smearing on the barrel in the region of the fore-sight and around the mechanism and there were splashes of blood to the left side of the weapon. The appearance of the blood staining was consistent with it having been used to strike somebody who was already bleeding. On analysis the blood was found to be human but tests to determine grouping were unsuccessful. A “pull-through” on the barrel of the rifle was conducted for any traces of blood within the weapon. There were none.
The weapon was also examined for fingerprints. A print from Jeremy’s right forefinger was found on the breech end of the barrel, above the stock and pointing across the gun and Sheila’s right ring fingerprint was found on the right side of the butt, pointing downwards. There were three further finger marks on the rifle, each of insufficient detail for identification purposes.
On 10 August 1985 members of the family, who were far from convinced that Sheila had been responsible for the killings, went to White House Farm with the executor of the estate, Basil Cock. During the afternoon David Boutflour found the sound moderator together with the telescopic sights for the murder weapon at the back of the gun cupboard in the downstairs office. His father, his sister Ann Eaton, the executor and the farm secretary all witnessed the recovery.
The silencer was taken to Ann Eaton’s address for safekeeping and that evening members of the family examined it. They noticed that the “gun blue” of the surface had been damaged and there appeared to be red paint and blood upon it. The moderator was packaged up and the police were informed of the discovery. When collected by DS Jones on 12 August he noticed a grey hair, about an inch long attached to it. By the time the moderator had been delivered to the Forensic Science Service at Huntingdon the hair had been lost.
Traces of blood in the form of smears were found in three places on the outside of the moderator: on the flat surface at the muzzle end, in the knurled end and in the ridge at the gun end of the device. The blood on the outside of the moderator was confirmed to be of human origin but there were insufficient quantities to permit grouping analysis.
Inside the moderator, on the 4 or 5 baffles nearest to the end from which the bullet would exit, there was a considerable amount of blood. At one point blood had pooled to form a flake when it dried, and this flake was subjected to group testing. Results were obtained for 4 of the 5 tests performed. Mr Hayward, the forensic scientist said that they showed that the blood could have come from Sheila but not from any of the other individuals involved. Mr. Hayward said that there was a possibility that the blood could be a mixture of blood from more than one person and if it was, a mixture of blood from Nevill and June could account for the findings in the grouping tests. However he judged that possibility to be a “remote” one.
Mr Hayward added in evidence that he would be very surprised to find blood from a person, who had not been shot with a contact or very close contact shot, inside the muzzle of the moderator. He concluded that since (a) the blood inside the moderator belonged to the same group as Sheila and (b) there was no blood within the barrel of the rifle of the gun, that she had been shot whilst the moderator was fitted to the rifle.
Mr Fletcher, the firearms expert also expressed the opinion to the jury that the sound moderator had been fitted to the gun when Sheila had been shot. He attributed the presence of blood within the device to the phenomenon of “back-spatter”. This occurs when the expansion of gases created by a bullet being discharged creates back pressure which in turn propels blood from the wound back towards the weapon. This effect is only seen when the muzzle of the weapon is in contact with, or very close contact to, the victim.
Exercises and tests conducted at the laboratory established that it would have been physically impossible for a woman of Sheila’s height and reach to have operated the trigger and shot herself with the sound moderator attached to the weapon. She simply could not have reached it. Thus she could only have committed suicide if the sound moderator had been removed from the rifle.
Having seen what they believed to be red paint on the moderator, members of the deceased’s family returned to the farmhouse and examined the red painted mantel shelf above the Aga in the kitchen. On the underside they found what appeared to be recent damage. On 14 August 1985 the underside of the mantel shelf was examined by one of the scenes of crime officers, DI Cook. He found score marks and took a sample of the paint from the area. The paint sample was compared with the paint recovered from the knurled end of the moderator and each was found to contain the same fifteen layers of paint and varnish. On 1 October 1985 casts were taken of the marks and impressions found on the underside of the shelf. These were also consistent with having been caused by the moderator and there had been more than one contact between it and the shelf.
Clearly of importance to the theory that Sheila killed the others and then took her own life was available evidence about her and her mental state at the time. This, of course, became an important part of the defence case, and it is convenient to review this aspect of the matter at this stage.
It was said Sheila was not a violent person and she had never known her to use a gun and would not know how to use one. Sheila was not a practical person and had very bad hand-eye co-ordination. She had never seen her with a gun, save for an occasion when she had been photographed carrying one as part of a modelling assignment.
Her ex-husband said that although there had been violent outbursts by Sheila during their time together, this had involved the throwing of pots and pans and the occasional striking of him. To his knowledge she had never harmed the children or behaved violently towards anybody else.
The defence at trial called Dr Ferguson, a Consultant Psychiatrist at St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, who had the care of Sheila between August 1983 and her death. Sheila had seen Dr Ferguson for the first time on 2 August 1983. Then she was in a very agitated and psychotic state and he admitted her for in-patient treatment on 4 August. Dr Ferguson came initially to the diagnosis of a schizo-affective disorder characterised by disturbance of thinking and perception. She was depressed in a paranoid way, struggling with the concept of good and evil and caught up with the idea that the Devil had taken her over and given her the power to project the Devil’s evil to others including her twin sons. In particular she spoke of a fear she could create in her children an ability to have sex and do violence with her. In the discharge letter Dr Ferguson made reference to her morbid thoughts, which included the idea she was capable of murdering her children or communicating an ability to them to kill. He said she had spoken of suicidal thoughts although he did not regard her as a suicide risk. Sheila responded to the treatment at hospital and was discharged on 10 September 1983.
Dr Ferguson continued to see Sheila as an outpatient and during that period made a firm diagnosis that his patient was suffering from schizophrenia. During that period she was prescribed the anti-psychotic drug Stelazine. Whilst she was then pre-occupied with her ability to have more children, there were less obvious signs of mental illness and no evidence of acute disturbance. On 3 March 1985 Sheila was re-admitted to hospital. Then she was agitated, very disturbed and in an anxious state. Her thinking was again very involved with the concepts of good and evil, but on this occasion more directly related to excessive religious ideas. She made no reference to any thoughts concerning her children or parents. As before she responded to treatment and was discharged on 29 March 1985.
Thereafter Sheila received monthly injections of Haloperidol, a drug used to treat agitated states which had anti-psychotic and tranquillising properties. It also has sedative side effects at the levels prescribed. When told on 8 August 1985 that Sheila had killed her parents and children and then herself, Dr Ferguson said this did not fit “his concept” of his patient. He did not feel she was someone who would actually be violent to her children or towards her father, although she was a highly disturbed woman and had expressed disturbed feelings towards her mother.
Dr Ferguson agreed that Sheila’s condition was well known to her family. There had never been manifestations of violence either when her illness was being managed or when in a highly disturbed state in hospital. In the context of what was alleged to have occurred Dr Ferguson found it possible to conceive of Sheila wanting to harm her mother or herself but “difficult to conceptualise her harming her children or her father”. He had always felt Sheila loved and cared for her children and saw her father as a very secure, caring and strong support in her life.
Dr Bradley, another Consultant Psychiatrist, was also called by the defence during the trial to give general evidence of the features of “altruistic” killings and to confirm that it was not unusual that a female murderer should not have a history of previous violence. He also gave evidence that where parents kill children there may be an element of “over-kill” or the infliction of excessive violence.
Professor Knight, another defence witness, lent support to Dr Bradley’s evidence as to the feature of excessive violence in parental killings. He also spoke of instances where the murderer (having killed their spouses in most cases) has then gone about some mundane or “ritualistic” task, such as cleaning up before committing suicide. In cross-examination he accepted the proposition contained in an article, which he himself had written some years earlier, that “women almost never commit suicide by shooting”.
A number of other witnesses were called on Jeremy’s behalf at trial as to Sheila’s mind. They included Farhad Emami (Freddie), a friend who gave evidence as to her mental state before the second admission to hospital, her relationship with her parents and her mood and appearance in the months before her death. Also called on Jeremy’s behalf were Miss Grimster who had seen Sheila on 30 March 1985. The deceased said she saw herself as a white witch and said she had once contemplated suicide. Nurse Heath from the Nottingham Hospital spoke of her low mood on one occasion and of a more optimistic one on another. Sandra Elston who saw Sheila on 31 July 1985 said the deceased appeared well and her only concern was about a poor haircut she had recently had.
Julie Mugford was 21 years old at the time of the offences and a student at Goldsmiths College at the University of London. She met Jeremy in 1983 whilst working in Colchester during one of the vacations and they became boyfriend and girlfriend. During the relationship she met his parents, his sister and her children. In December 1984 Jeremy had proposed to her. On the day after the killings, Julie made a statement to the police. In that statement she said nothing adverse to Bamber. She spoke of receiving a telephone call from him at about 3.30am on the night of the killings. She said that he “sounded disjointed and worried” and he said “There’s something wrong at home.” She had been sleepy and had not asked what it was.
On 7 September, Julie contacted the police and told them that she had omitted matters from her earlier statement. She then gave a very different account that she was to repeat to the jury in evidence. She said that after she met Jeremy, it quickly became obvious to her that he disliked his family. He resented his parents whom he claimed, “tried to run his life" and he said he did not get on with Sheila. He was angry that she lived in an expensive flat in Maida Vale, which was maintained by his parents. Between July and October 1984, he said that his parents were getting him down and he said that he wished “he could get rid of them all”. In evidence Julie said this included his sister and children because “if he was going to get rid of them it would have to be all of them”. Bamber explained to her that his “father was getting old, his mother was mad … Sheila was mad as well … and in respect of the way the twins had been brought up, … they were emotionally disturbed and unbalanced”. Bamber also told Julie he had seen copies of his parents’ wills.
Julie’s evidence was that the conversations about killing Jeremy’s family became more frequent between October and December 1984. At first he spoke of being at the house for supper and then drugging the family before driving back to Goldhanger in his car. He said that he then intended returning to the farmhouse on foot or on bicycle and burning the house down. Jeremy then appeared to realise that it would be difficult to burn the premises down especially since it would have the consequent effect of destroying the valuables within the property.
Later Jeremy said he had decided to shoot his family and he told her that he had discovered that the catch on the kitchen window did not work and he could gain access to the house in that way. Jeremy said he planned to leave the address by a different window, which latched when it was shut from the outside. He spoke of Sheila being a good scapegoat because of her admission to hospital during Easter 1985 and said that afterwards he would make it seem as if Sheila had done it and then killed herself.
Julie spent the weekend before the killings with Bamber in Goldhanger. During that period he dyed his hair black and she saw his mother’s bicycle at the address. Other witnesses saw the bicyle at Jeremy’s home following the killings. Robert Boutflour saw mud on the walls of the tyres but not on the tread, as if it had been through deep mud.
At about 9.50pm on Tuesday, 6 August Jeremy telephoned Julie. During their conversation that evening he said he was “pissed off” and had been thinking about the crime all day and that it was going to be “tonight or never”. The following morning she was awoken by a telephone call from Jeremy to her lodgings in London. He said to her, “Everything is going well. Something is wrong at the farm. I haven’t had any sleep all night … bye honey and I love you lots”. Julie did not take him seriously and went back to sleep. As to the timing of this call, she said in evidence said that it was between 3.00 and 3.30am. A number of Julie’s housemates were disturbed by the telephone call and provided additional evidence as to timing.
Julie described how later during the morning of Wednesday, 7 August 1985, Jeremy telephoned her again. He said he could not speak for long, Sheila had gone mad and he told her not to go to work because a police car would come and pick her up. Julie was then taken to the house in Goldhanger, where out of earshot of the police officers, Jeremy told her, “I should have been an actor”.
That evening when they were alone, Julie said that she asked Jeremy whether he had done it. He said he had not, but that he had arranged for a friend of his, Matthew MacDonald, to kill his family. He spoke of what he had told MacDonald as to ways of getting in and out of the farmhouse undetected and he said that one of his instructions was for MacDonald to ring him from the farm on the telephone which had the memory redial facility so that if the telephone was checked by the police it would provide him with an alibi.
Jeremy reported that MacDonald had said that everything had been done as instructed but there had been a bit of a struggle with Nevill. He said MacDonald had told him, “for an old man he was very strong and put up a fight” and that MacDonald had then become angry and shot seven bullets into Nevill. Jeremy said that Sheila had been told to lie down and shoot herself last. He said that MacDonald had then placed a Bible on her chest to make it look as though she had killed in some sort of religious mania. Jeremy said the children were shot in their sleep and so they had not felt anything and there was no pain. He told Julie that MacDonald had been paid £2,000 for the killings.
As a result of hearing this account, the police arrested not only Jeremy but also MacDonald. Their inquiries showed that Macdonald could not have been at the farm that night and he was called by the prosecution to give evidence to confirm that he had nothing to do with the shootings. In the course of her evidence Julie explained that initially she did not want to believe what Jeremy had told her but then she became scared and he had threatened her that if anything happened to him she would be implicated.
She and Jeremy spent the following weekend with Colin and on 12 August she went to the house in Goldhanger with Jeremy. There he told her that the police had been a bit slack because they had not done all the fingerprinting at White House Farm. On 16 August Julie attended the funerals of Nevill and June with Jeremy and then on 19 August the funerals of Sheila and her children. During that period she spoke of Jeremy taking her out for frequent meals, and buying expensive clothes for himself and for her. She described his mood during this period as “very happy”. After one of the funerals they drank champagne and cocktails.
Julie spent the weekend of 17-18 August 1985 with him in Eastbourne and it was then that she began to ask how he could behave as he was doing. She kept telling him “£2,000 for 5 lives”. The following week the couple went to Amsterdam for two days, staying in expensive hotels and eating out. On 27 August Julie returned alone to her lodgings in London and she told her friend Susan Battersby of what Jeremy had done.
On Saturday 31 August Julie asked Jeremy whether he loved her. He said he did not know. Again they spoke about the murders. Julie said she could not cope with him behaving so normally and asked why he had told her what had happened. She said she felt guilt for the two of them. Jeremy told her he was doing everybody a favour and there was nothing to feel guilty about. Later that night he told her that she was the best friend he had ever had and he had entrusted his life to her.
On Tuesday 3 September the couple met again in London at the flat which had belonged to Sheila. Again Julie raised the question of their relationship and his part in the killing. During their conversation Jeremy received a telephone call from an ex-girlfriend and Julie heard him asking her out. She became angry and threw an ornament box at a mirror and then slapped him. He became very angry and twisted her arm up behind her back. 4 days later, she went to the police.
During the course of making her witness statements in September, Julie admitted that at Easter 1985 she had helped Jeremy steal money from the offices of the Osea Road Caravan site which was owned by him and various members of the family. On this occasion he had stage-managed the scene to give it the appearance of a burglary by an outsider. Some £970-£980 had been stolen which was used in part to buy a lavish meal.
Julie also admitted that she had used a cheque book belonging to Susan Battersby which had been falsely reported as stolen to obtain some £700 of property in Oxford Street. She told the jury that she and Battersby had repaid the money to the bank in October 1985 and that she had been cautioned for the offence.
Other evidence was given which supported the evidence of Julie that Jeremy disliked his family. Julie’s mother said he had often told her that he hated his adoptive mother and he described her as quite mad. During the winter of 1984 he told one of the farm workers, “I’m not going to share my money with my sister” and he had always given the impression he did not get on with Sheila.
James Richards, another student from Goldsmiths College who had met Jeremy through Julie heard him talk of his parents in about February 1985. He claimed they kept him short of money and that his mother was a religious freak. He said, “I fucking hate my parents”. In about March 1985, in the context of a discussion about the security at the Osea Road caravan site, Jeremy told his uncle Robert Boutflour, “… I could kill anybody … I could easily kill my parents”.
Witnesses were called on his behalf in respect of this aspect of the case. They included a sales representative and a chartered surveyor who said they had met him and his father and that they had never heard him say anything nasty about his family.
In his witness statement of 7 August 1985, Jeremy dealt with his family background, dealing in particular with Sheila’s mental health. He alleged she had hit her children, spoke of her depression and what he termed her “paranoia schizophrenia” and told the police about her admissions to hospital. After her second discharge he said she was unable to cope and appeared vacant. He said he and his sister had had an amicable relationship and he understood the problems she faced. He said Colin had brought Sheila and the children to the farm on Sunday, 4 August where they were to stay for a week.
On Tuesday, 6 August he described working at the farm until 8-9 p.m. before returning to the farmhouse for supper where he stayed for about half an hour. He said there was a discussion between his parents and Sheila about plans for the children and mention was made of foster parents. She appeared “vacant” during this conversation.
During this conversation Jeremy said he saw rabbits outside the house so he took the .22 rifle from the office, loaded it with 8 to 10 rounds from a box of ammunition that he left in the kitchen and went outside. In fact he fired no shots outside and he then left the gun in the kitchen having removed the magazine and the bullet which was in the breach. He said he had left the farmhouse shortly before 10pm. Nobody then appeared distressed and he drove home. He went to bed at about 11pm.
Jeremy said he was awoken at about 3.10am by the telephone call from his father. His father told him, “Sheila’s gone crazy, she has got a gun”. After a few seconds the line went dead. He tried to call back immediately and found the telephone at the farm to be engaged. He then telephoned Chelmsford Police Station and thereafter went to the farm to meet the police. Before leaving he called Julie at about 3.25am.
In a second witness statement made the following day, 8 August 1985, Jeremy gave a little more detail of the conversation which he said had taken place between his parents and Sheila. He also said the sights and the silencer were not with the rifle. Jeremy said his sister had not previously fired the gun, although she had walked with him when he had been out shooting with his father. Following Julie’s visit to the police, Jeremy was arrested on 8 September 1985 and interviewed during the course of the following 3 days.
Throughout the interviews Jeremy maintained his innocence and the account that he had given in his witness statements. He denied any form of confession to Julie or any talk of planning to kill his family. He said she was lying because he had jilted her. In respect of the additional matters raised during the interviews he said that his relationship with his mother had improved during the course of the last two years and things had been more loving between them. He said he loved his sister and did not dislike his parents. He denied they kept him short of money.
Jeremy admitted committing the burglary with Julie at the Osea Road Caravan Site when £980 had been stolen. He said he had done it to prove that the security at the site was poor. He told the police that he had seen the draft wills his parents had made leaving their joint estate to be shared between him and his sister. Jeremy agreed that his mother’s bicycle had been at his home during the week before the killings. He said that he had fired the rifle with the sights both on and off. He claimed that the gun would not fit into its case with the silencer attached and so it was used mainly with the silencer off.
At one point during the interviews Jeremy said that following the call from his father he had telephoned Julie before the police. It was pointed out to him that in his earlier witness statements he had said he rang the police immediately upon receipt of his father’s call and only after calling the police had he rung Julie. He responded that he may be confused about the sequence of telephone calls. He could not explain why having received the call from his father he had not immediately telephoned 999.
He told the police that there were occasions when he gained entry to his parents’ home by way of a number of the downstairs windows including those in the kitchen and the bathroom. He explained that he used a knife to move the catches in order that the window could be opened from the outside. Jeremy was bailed from the police station on 13 September 1985. Some days later he went on holiday to the South of France. On his return to this country on 29 September he was re-arrested and charged with the 5 murders.
No transcript has survived as to Jeremy’s evidence in chief, although it seems clear from the summing up that it was entirely consistent with that which he had told the police. A transcript of his cross-examination is available. In cross-examination Jeremy said Sheila had frequent delusions and had spoken to him of suicide. He admitted that the burglary at the caravan site had been motivated by greed and that by breaking a window and scattering papers around he had deliberately sought to give the impression it had been committed by somebody other than him.
Apart from Julie, Jeremy suggested that other witnesses had told lies about him during the trial. They included Mrs Mugford, James Richards, Dorothy Foakes and Robert Boutflour. He admitted enjoying the good things in life – restaurants, wine bars, travelling, fast cars etc. In respect of the conversation with PC Myall about the Porsche car, Jeremy said he was in fact referring to a kit model car made by a company called Covan Turbo who produced vehicles looking very similar to Porsche vehicles but at a cost of between £1-2,000.
Jeremy claimed to have returned to the farmhouse within a day or two of his release from the Police Station and gained entry via the downstairs bathroom window. He said he had done this because he had left his keys in London and needed some documents for his trip to the South of France. He did not accept that that had been an unwise thing to do bearing in mind the circumstances nor that it would have been easy for him to have borrowed keys from the housekeeper who lived nearby.
He described his father as reasonably careful with guns and agreed that had he seen the rifle lying around in the kitchen he would have put it away in the gun cupboard. Jeremy agreed it would have taken him 30 seconds to have returned the gun to its cupboard and that he had been lazy. He confirmed he had not seen his sister fire a gun as an adult.
Having received the telephone call from his father, Jeremy said that it had not crossed his mind to use the 999 system to call the police. Instead he described spending a little time looking up the number for Colchester Police Station. On that particular page of the directory it reads in bold type, “In emergency call the operator (dial 999 where appropriate) and ask for the police”. Jeremy agreed that on his account, even though his father had asked him to come quickly, he had then telephoned Julie and then driven slowly to the farmhouse. He agreed it would also have been possible for him to have called one of the farm workers. He said he had not considered that.
The prosecution case at trial was that Jeremy, motivated by hatred and greed, had planned and carried out the killings. Having left White House Farm at about 10pm on Tuesday 6 August 1985 he had returned by bicycle (taking a route which avoided the main roads) in the early hours of the following morning. He had the means and knowledge to gain entry to the address, one such route being through the bathroom window. He then took the rifle, with the sound moderator attached as normal, and made his way upstairs to where the members of his family were sleeping.
The precise sequence of the killings was unclear. June was shot whilst still lying in bed but had managed to get up and walk a few steps before she collapsed and died by the main bedroom door. Nevill was also shot in the bedroom but was able to get downstairs into the kitchen where there was a violent struggle before he was overwhelmed and then shot a number of times in the head. The children had been shot in their beds as they slept.
Sheila, probably in a sedated state from her medication, was also shot in the bedroom. When she was dead Jeremy set about arranging the scene to give the impression that it had been she who had murdered her family before taking her own life. He then discovered, as he laid the gun upon her body, that it would not have been possible for her to have shot herself with the sound moderator attached since her arms were not long enough to reach down to the trigger. He therefore removed the silencer from the gun and then positioned the Bible by the body, knowing Sheila had been preoccupied with religion in the weeks before her death.
Jeremy returned the moderator to the gun cupboard and before leaving the address called his home at Goldhanger, leaving the receiver off the hook, thus lending support to the alibi he would later rely upon. He then left the premises, one available route being to climb out of the kitchen window, banging it from the outside to drop the catch back into position and then cycled home. Shortly after 3am he telephoned Julie, before calling the police at 3.26am. He chose not to make a 999 call, drove slowly to the farmhouse, gave misleading information about his sister and her knowledge of guns to create as long a delay as possible before the bodies were discovered.
The prosecution relied upon the following areas of evidence: Jeremy’s expressed dislike of his family; his speaking of his plans to kill his family and thereafter his confessions to his girlfriend Julie; the finding of his mother’s bicycle at Goldhanger; Jeremy’s admitted ability to effect covert entry into and exit from the farmhouse and the finding of the hacksaw blade outside the bathroom window. His claim to have entered the house in that way after the first arrest was an attempt to explain these findings; because on the facts of the case it could only have been Jeremy or Sheila who carried out the killings, the factors below proved they were not the responsibility of Julie:
Although seriously mentally ill, there had been no indication of any deterioration in her mental health in the days before the killings. Neither had she expressed any recent suicidal thoughts and the expert evidence was that she would not have harmed her children or her father; Save for Jeremy nobody had seen her use a gun and she had no interest in them. Sheila had very poor co-ordination and would not have been capable of loading and operating the rifle nor would she have had the required knowledge to do so; she would not have been able physically to have overcome her father (who was fit, strong and 6’ 4” tall) during the struggle which undoubtedly took place before his death in the kitchen; her hands and feet were clean. They were not blood stained and neither was there any sugar upon them; hand swabs from her body did not reveal the levels of lead to be expected in somebody who must have re-loaded the magazine of the gun on at least two occasions; and her clothing was relatively clean and she was not injured in the way that might be expected of somebody involved in a struggle. Her long fingernails were still intact and undamaged.
The sound moderator had on any view been attached to the rifle during the fight with Nevill in the kitchen. But if Sheila had committed suicide it must have been removed before she shot herself. The following aspects of the evidence established it was still in place on the gun when she was murdered: The blood grouping analysis proved (on the particular facts of the case) that Sheila’s blood was inside the moderator; and had she murdered the other members of her family with the moderator attached to the gun and then discovered she could not reach the trigger to kill herself, the moderator would have been found next to her body. There would have been no reason for her to have removed it and returned it to the gun cupboard before going back upstairs to commit suicide in her parents’ room.
Jeremy’s account of the telephone call from his father could be proved to be false for the following reasons: his father was too badly injured to have spoken to anybody; the telephone in the kitchen was not obviously blood stained; as a matter of common sense, Nevill would have called the police before Jeremy; had he really received such a call, he would have immediately made a 999 call, alerted the farm workers who lived close to the farmhouse and then driven at speed to his parents home; and instead he had spoken to Julie before calling the police. When he subsequently contacted the Police, it was not by way of the emergency system. He stood to inherit considerable sums of money.
The defence answered the prosecution case in the following way: the witnesses who spoke of Jeremy’s hatred and dislike of his family were either lying or had misinterpreted what he had said; Julie, the jilted girlfriend, had also lied to prevent anybody else being with the man she had loved; nobody had seen Jeremy cycling to and from the farm in the early hours of 7 August; because Jeremy had on a number of occasions before and after the killings entered the house by various ground floor windows there was no probative value in the finding of the hacksaw blade etc; Sheila had killed her parents and children and then taken her own life for the following reasons:
She had a very serious mental illness and it was known that even those with no previous history of violence had killed. She had expressed the morbid thought of an ability to kill her own children; those who carried out “altruistic” killings had been known to indulge in ritualistic behaviour before committing suicide. Sheila may have replaced the moderator, changed her clothes and washed herself before killing herself, thus explaining the absence of blood staining, the minimum traces of lead on her hands and absence of sugar on her feet; having lived on a farm and been present at shoots, she would have understood how to load and operate the rifle; the gun, the magazine and the rounds of ammunition had been left close at hand by Jeremy in the room where he had heard an argument about placing the children in foster care; Jeremy bore no obvious signs of injury; no bloodstained clothing of his had been recovered by the police; and Dr Craig, Dr Vanezis and the first senior investigating officer had all proceeded on the basis that Sheila was responsible for the killings.
There was a possibility that the blood in the moderator was not from Sheila, but represented a mixture of Nevill and June 4’s blood; in respect of the telephone call from his father, Jeremy had not initially appreciated the seriousness of the situation and then had become frightened to go to the farm alone.