For the purposes of a prosection, the decision concerning what account of events to accept is one to be decided, once and for all, by a magistrate or jury.
If the case later winds up in a higher court, it will generally be so that a point of law can be decided. Only in certain circumstances can a dispute over the facts form the basis for an appeal.
But the imagination of anyone with an interest in criminal law is easily captured by infamous past cases, particular those where someone has been convicted of serious offences against the person, but doubts have emerged as to their guilt.
Jeremy Bamber is one of 39 prisoners in British jails serving sentences that will keep them behind bars for the whole of their natural lives. He is the only one who protests his innocence.
Might Bamber really have served half his life in jail for a crime he did not commit?
Tuesday 6 August 1985, and the south Essex coast was cool for the time of year. Temperatures overnight dipped to 11 degrees and there were brief rain showers.
At approximately 03:30 the next morning, an officer at Chelmsford police station answered the phone to a young man identifying himself as Jeremy Bamber of Head Street, Goldhanger. The caller had dialled the station directly, instead of being patched through after ringing 999.
Bamber told PC Michael West that a few minutes earlier he’d been woken by the sound of his phone ringing. It was his father, calling from the family farm in Tolleshunt D’Arcy. “Please come over, Jeremy” Nevill Bamber had urged his adopted son, “you sister’s gone crazy and she’s got the gun”.
Sheila was Jeremy’s 28-year-old sister and the divorced mother of twin boys, custody of whom was principally in the hands of their father. She had been adopted by the Bambers a few a years before Jeremy (himself adopted) was born, and the two were not related by blood. A former model, she had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and spent time at St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton.
Bamber wanted police to collect him on their way to White House Farm, but West urged him to make his own way there and rendezvous with officers who would be in attendance outside.
The constable then contacted Witham station, which was seven miles closer to Tolleshunt. At 03.35, patrol car CA7 was despatched from Witham. Although he lived just a few minutes drive from his parents’ property, Bamber was overtaken by the white Ford Sierra as it sped towards the village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy.
At 03.48 the three occupants – Sergeant Bews and PCs Myall and Saxby – reached Pages Lane, the private road leading to White House Farm. A few minutes later, Bamber arrived at the scene. The three officers were parked a short distance into the lane; Bamber pulled up behind them and left his silver Astra to speak with them. After identifying himself, he was asked to clarify what his father had managed to tell him before being abruptly cut off. The young man reiterated that Nevill, sounding very distressed, had asked him to come over at once because his sister Sheila had gone crazy and got hold of a gun. Sheila (whose married name of Caffell he couldn’t recall), was “a nutter” and recent psychiatric in-patient. As was to be expected, there were a number of guns on the farm, and Sheila was capable of handling them. Bamber told the officers that his mother June also lived at the house, and Sheila’s children, six year old Daniel and Nicholas, were staying on the farm.
Two adults and two children were therefore at the mercy of a mental patient wielding a firearm which she may or may not have discharged. The officers’ first step would be to approach with caution and make a visual assessment. Ideally, Nevill would now have control of the situation and would emerge from the farm house to greet them. The police could then decide whether Sheila needed medical assistance or should be taken into custody.
With Saxby remaining in the vehicle to monitor the radio, Bamber and the remaining officers walked down the lane together in the direction of the property. They stealthily approached the front door, at one point crouching behind a hedge in an effort to remain inconspicuous. It was nearing 04:00, but dawn would not break for another 90 minutes. At the right side of the house on the first floor was Jeremy’s parents’ bedroom. Lights were blazing here and in several other rooms.
Suddenly, there seemed to be movement upstairs. The trio retreated and a decision was made to summon the Tactical Firearms Group. As the group waited next to the patrol car, armed support was an hour away and several decisions had yet to be weighed up.
Accounts of what happened in the hours that followed have been revisited many times in the intervening quarter century. At his trial Bamber didn’t challenge the police timeline or account of events, but when he later gained access to additional material recounting the officers’ experiences that morning, he identified several statements and pieces of information that he claims help exonerate him from responsibility for the murders.
It is common ground that the firearms team entered the farm house shortly after half past seven and reported that everybody was dead.
More than three hours prior to this, Jeremy Bamber and the officers were at an impasse, and faced seeing out what was left of the night in a frustrating wait.
An additional patrol car arrived from Chelmsford, and British Telecom were asked to perform a check against phone number 0621 860209 (there were multiple handsets at the farm but only one line). The operator reported that the phone was off the hook. Sending a signal to clear the engaged tone, she was able to listen in to sounds inside the property, and told the police that the only thing audible was the sound of a barking dog (the Bambers’ Shih Tzu Crispy was later found cowering under their bed). The line could be monitored continuously from this point.
A radio operator was recording details of transmissions made by the officers using their CBs, and this later served to provide a running accounts of events.
The Tactical Firearms Group arrived close to 05:00, and, giving the farm house itself a wide berth, everyone repositioned themselves inside a barn at the rear, which allowed them to scan the back of the property and prepare their next move. With the sun due to rise in barely half an hour, the logical thing for the armed response team to do was to bide their time.
Shortly before 05.25, a challenge was issued using a loudhailer to anyone inside the property.
The wireless operator pre-empted events and recorded “Firearms team are in conversation with a person inside the farm”. However, the call to persons inside met only with silence. The wireless operator updated the log at 05.29 – “From CA7 – Challenge to persons inside house met with no response”
Additional firearms officers arrived at 06.45 and were greeted by Sergeant Bews. Fresh on the scene, PC Woodcock from the Firearms Training Department was told by his colleagues that a siege was underway and a young woman with mental health issues was presumed either to have killed everyone or to be holding them hostage. Whatever had taken place, there had been no response from anyone in the farm at any time, and because of this the group were preparing to force entry into the property.
Inspector Montgomery and Police Sergeant Adams put together the raid team, consisting of PCs Collins, Delgado, Woodcock, Hall, Alexander-Smart and acting Sergeant Manners. The team, working from a plan of the building sketched by Jeremy, divided the property into “White”, “Green” and “Black” zones. Woodcock was nominated to break down the rear door using a sledgehammer. Collins and Delgado lined up on one side of the door. To their right was the kitchen window. Collins peered inside and reported seeing the body of a woman.
The door gave way when Woodcock pounded it several times with the sledgehammer. As the armed officer led the others into the property, he turned into the kitchen and saw the same person witnessed by Collins, obviously dead. In fact it was not a woman but 61-year old Nevill Bamber. A chair was on its side to the left of an Aga oven, and Nevill’s corpse was sat awkwardly on one edge of the backrest. He was slumped forward with arms at his side and his head fully inside a silver-topped bucket – in fact a coal scuttle. Blood had run thickly down the sides of this hod. The body was facing the window Collins had looked through, and all that was visible of Nevill’s head was a dishevelled shock of grey hair. This was why Collins had mistaken farmer Bamber for an old woman.
With Collins having stated over his police radio that he’d seen a woman in the kitchen, and Woodcock now reporting the body of a man, the wireless operator made the following entry at 07.37:
“one dead male and one dead female in kitchen”.
The error was insignificant in itself, but when Bamber obtained a copy of the log in 2005, he quickly sought out anything that could be represented as an inconsistency and manipulated to support his claim that he’d been framed for the crime.
At this stage Hall was covering a set of steps that led upstairs from the kitchen, Manners covered the hallway and Alexander-Smart was also occupied in a monitoring capacity. An additional officer entered the premises, and Woodcock, Collins and Delgado made a brief excursion up yet another set of stairs leading from the kitchen, then descended again and flanked the main stairwell in readiness to move up to the first floor landing. Using an extending mirror, Collins could see a female body sprawled in the door of the front-facing main bedroom: this was Jeremy’s adoptive mother June.
The team mounted the stairs and entered the bedroom. The door in which June was lying opened to the right and there was a window over the front of the farm house to the left. Lying on the other side of the room with her feet protruding beyond the foot of the bed, Collins found the body of Sheila Caffell. There was a rifle on her chest and two bullet wounds to her neck.
Her six year old twin sons were found last – shot dead in their separate beds in what had once been Sheila’s bedroom. An officer later told the boys’ father Colin that when he entered the room he had thought the children were sleeping, and decided not to wake them until the terrible scenes beyond their room had been partly covered up.
Colin was never able to bring himself to view the bodies of his children, which left him to imagine their condition and the terrible scene. When he later sought reassurance from the police that the boys hadn’t suffered for any length of time, the officer may have stretched the truth in order to make the bereaved father feel better. However, it seems true to say that the boys were unaware of their fate until it had overcome them. One died sucking his thumb after being shot repeatedly in the back of the head.
Throughout this time the wireless operator was recording updates, with an entry roughly every five minutes. At 08.10 another anomaly appears in the log. Hearing that everybody was now accounted for – and deceased – and not yet aware that one person, rather than two, was dead in the kitchen, the operator totted up “three further bodies found upstairs”. Bamber has taken this discrepancy at face value and woven it into his own narrative of what may have taken place once police entered the building.
Reports of Bamber’s conduct after being informed of the deaths of his family indicate a mixture of apparent grief and curious indifference. He was outwardly devastated and uncomprehending. Later he appeared to vomit in a field off Pages Lane. But he would switch into callous indifference, and within two hours cooked and ate a substantial breakfast at his flat in the presence of Detective Sergeant Stan Jones. Colin Caffell later observed that Jeremy seemed to ape his own behaviour, copying his refusal to re-enter the farm house, as if he needed to take his cue from others as to what was expected of a grieving relative.
But however hard it is to understand, it isn’t Bamber’s behaviour following the tragedy for which he is in jail. Nor can anyone mandate how a person should respond to grief and shock.
To begin with, police were not looking for anyone in connection with the deaths. Sheila, everyone concluded, had experienced a psychotic episode, murdered her family and taken her own life.
The case against Bamber
But within weeks Jeremy Bamber would appear at Cheltenham Crown Court charged with five murders.
The case against Bamber hinged on three things:
- Bamber’s girlfriend Julie Mugford remained Jeremy’s confident for a month after the event, but later became the key prosecution witness and testified that she had known all along that he was guilty.
- Bamber had backed himself into a corner by claiming to have received the call from his father. It wasn’t possible in the mid-1980s for BT to tell what calls had been placed when, so there was no evidence to support or disprove his claim. But if Nevill hadn’t telephoned, there was no way Jeremy could have known about the murders unless he’d been somehow involved. If the call had happened, Bamber had no reason to lie about its contents, and Nevill’s statement that Sheila had gone crazy with a gun. Therefore the only possible culprits were Sheila or himself – and forensic evidence suggested Sheila didn’t do it.
- A silencer designed for the Anschutz was recovered from a gun cupboard in the days following the massacre. Just visible inside was dried blood matching Sheila’s blood type. The silencer, which was also contaminated with red paint that matched scratches on the mantle shelf above the Aga, was discovered by Bamber’s relatives when they visited White House Farm with the specific intent of gathering evidence to substantiate their suspicions of Jeremy. As it was not on the gun found on top of Sheila, it was plainly not used by her to commit suicide, in which case, how did her blood get in there?
Bamber had spent years telling anyone who would listen exactly what he thought of his family. His father was ready to be put out to pasture. His mother was insane, having spent time in a psychiatric hospital herself for illnesses expressed as religious mania. Sheila, of course, was barking mad. And the children were bound to have been screwed up by their troubled upbringing.
Despite this, if Bamber’s antics after the deaths hadn’t been so impossible for those around him to understand, he might never have come under real suspicion for the murders.
The ease with which Bamber accepted his loss and began selling off the farm house’s contents alienated his cousins David Boutflour and Ann Eaton, and their parents. Detective Sergeant Stan Jones, who spent a great deal of time in Bamber’s company, suspected him of involvement in the massacre after just one day day, when he and Julie disappeared upstairs in his cottage at Goldhanger. Jones thought he could hear Jeremy laughing, and Julie later confirmed that Bamber had been in self-satisfied form that morning, telling her, “I should have been an actor”. By any account, Bamber lived it up after the deaths of his family, and spent a great deal of time partying with friends and preparing to disperse his parents’ property. Meanwhile, he attempted to sell the press topless photos of Sheila uncovered at her Maida Vale flat, and didn’t even attend the memorial service for his family held on the Sunday following the killings.
The funeral of the Bambers and Sheila (the boys were buried in London) was a different matter – here Jeremy got to play the bereaved son in full view of the world’s media. With his apparent inability to judge appropriate behaviour in the circumstances, he laid on an excessively theatrical display, complete with a well-timed collapse as the cortège left the church and came into view of press photographers.
Doubts emerge amongst the Bambers’ relatives
As facts about the events at White House Farm began to leak out, Bamber’s relatives arrived at the conclusion that Sheila couldn’t have been responsible for the massacre. The 28-year-old mother of two may have grown up on a farm but was not used to handling firearms. At a stretch, the Boutflours could imagine her loosing off .22 bullets from a single shot rifle, but the Anschutz used to kill everyone was semi automatic. Her ex-husband would add that the effects of anti-psychotic drug haloperidol had made her uncoordinated and clumsy. Loading and reloading the 10 bullet-magazine and still managing to hit the target 25 times out of 26 shots was not a feat they could realistically attribute to her, even in the grip of a presumed psychotic frenzy. Certainly, they reasoned, she would not have been found with her manicured fingernails intact and almost no traces of residue on her nightdress and hands.
Living in close proximity to weaponry doesn’t make a person into a firearms expert. June had lived at White House Farm for decades, but her brother recalls her referring to magazine cartridges as “the thingy” that slots in the gun. Interestingly, this was during a conversation in which June asked Robert Boutflour his opinion of an incident she witnessed in the weeks leading up to the murders, in which Jeremy had tried to get Sheila to load bullets into “the thingy”.
Robert recalls that his first thought, at a time when no-one could have imagined what would transpire, was “he’s obviously trying to get her fingerprints all over the magazine”. He hadn’t shared this thought with June at the time, instead merely asking her “She didn’t do it, did she?” (the answer was “No”).
This sort of hearsay evidence could scarcely form the basis of a successful prosecution. But past events of this kind helped bring Bamber’s relatives, and in turn the police, to a tipping point at which Jeremy’s involvement in the deaths began to cross over from ominous possibility to seeming likelihood.
Jeremy was known to his relatives as a ruthless operator obsessed with obtaining money. Since he’d returned from various overseas jaunts and settled into a job on the farm, he’d complained bitterly about being paid a labourer’s wage, comparing Nevill and June’s treatment of him unfavourably with Sheila’s subsidised existence in Maida Vale (Bamber enjoyed much in the way of subsidy himself – he lived rent free in the Goldhanger cottage and had access to a car and as much free petrol as he wanted). At a meeting to discuss dealing with trespassers at a family-owned caravan site in which he held an 8% share, Jeremy had shocked his Uncle Bobby with the observation “I’d have no trouble killing anyone. I could easily kill my own parents”. (Bamber later admitted robbing the premises in March 1985, stealing nearly £1,000 from a safe).
The picture acquired from detailed accounts of Bamber’s lifestyle and behaviour combines with a great deal of circumstantial evidence to create an inference of guilt greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, that is not a satisfactory standard of proof for the purposes of a criminal conviction.
The confession of Julie Mugford
But the most powerful evidence pointing to Bamber’s culpability is the confession of Julie Mugford. Contemporary commentators and the crown court judge made the point that Mugford’s sum testimony had “the ring of truth about it”. Her story of life in the month after the murders is a convincing tale of a person’s conscience unravelling due to the burden of carrying a great and terrible secret.
Why did Bamber confide in Julie? By every account, Jeremy was prone to verbal incontinence regarding the ins and outs of his personal life, and was particularly fond of hard luck stories about the raw deal meted out to him by his parents. He had no compunction sharing with all and sundry thoughts about the awfulness of his family, and the obstacle they presented to his overwhelming desire for money and status. He had been telling Julie Mugford for so long how he intended to put them all out of their misery (at one time he considered drugging the family and then setting fire to the farm house), that she had long since dismissed it as idle talk. She thought little of what he told her on the phone on the evening of 6 August: “it’s now or never”. She even dismissed Bamber’s 3AM phone call to tell her that everything was going well. It therefore came as a catastrophic shock to her when Bamber called again at around 8am, this time from a phone box in Tolleshunt, to tell her that everyone at White House Farm was dead. Later, wishing to put some distance in Julie’s mind between the man she knew and loved and the savage who had meted out such brutality in the farm house, Bamber invented a proxy in the form of a hit man, and told his girlfriend that this person had carried out the killings for £2,000 (the man he named was proven to be alibi). Throughout this period, Bamber remained confident that Mugford was sufficiently under his spell as to represent no threat to him, regardless of what she knew.
As the weeks passed, Julie moved from disbelief to fear, partly perhaps for herself and the responsibility she bore for failing to turn Bamber in on day one. But when Jeremy took her into the bedroom at Bourtree cottage and laughed that his façade was fooling the police so effectively, he little knew that at that very moment seeds of doubt were being sown in the mind of DS Stan Jones, waiting quietly downstairs.
Julie’s already fractious relationship with Bamber was torn apart by the insanity of August 1985. With his family cremated and Jeremy the beneficiary of almost the entire estate, grandiose plans were made and promises broken, played out to a soundtrack of drink and drug induced oblivion.
Just as Mugford broke, confessing to close friends and readying herself to approach the police, Sergeant Jones had nearly finished pulling together his own case against Bamber. Had Julie not visited the police station in September, the detective would in any case have pulled her in for questioning.
Bamber convicted … just
At Bamber’s trial, the jury were divided, and found the defendant guilty by a 10-2 majority. As sentence was passed, two female jurors wept.
Before reaching a verdict, the jury had asked for clarification concerning the blood in the silencer. They needed to be sure that it was Sheila’s – forensic evidence was plainly needed to put the matter of Bamber’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt in their minds.
In fact, the silencer is problematic as a piece of evidence. It was discovered not by the police, but by relatives with a financial interest in preventing him from securing his inheritance. Evidence provided by DNA testing would be used to catch a criminal in Britain for the first time only 12 months later. But at the time of the White House Farm murder, biological profiling techniques were little different from those employed during the war: distinguishing between blood groups was the summit of the forensic evidence that could be obtained. Procedures at Huntingdon lab were in any case starkly criticised in later years, and some authorities came to the view that no results produced around that time can be considered reliable.
In February 1996, Essex police took the bizarre decision, in contravention of their own guidelines, to destroy the outstanding forensic evidence relating to the case: therefore all we will ever know about the blood found in the silencer is that it could have been Sheila’s, and could not have been either Nevill’s or June’s alone, although there was a remote possibility it was a mixture from that of both. This was important as the latter possibility would not have excluded Sheila being responsible for the deaths and then returning the silencer to the cupboard before taking her own life, albeit that this would seem hard to fathom.
Bamber’s own views regarding the silencer stretch into the realms of conspiracy. He claims it was not necessarily used in any of the shootings. The scenario he prefers is one which weaves every anomaly in the police record into a (barely) coherent narrative in which Sheila, responsible for the deaths of the other four people in the house, doesn’t take her own life until the police are actually inside the farmhouse. Subsequent to this, Bamber’s cousins pounce upon the opportunity provided by his crass conduct to put him in the frame for murder, and go about fabricating evidence to support this assertion.
From the point of view of the defence, any inconsistency or error in the thousands of documents that make up the case file can potentially be exploited to undermine the prosecuting authorities and sow doubt in the minds of people unfamiliar with the facts.
A call from Nevill Bamber?
Approaching the evidence chronologically, Bamber first takes issue with police reports of his telephone call to Cheltenham station.
After speaking to Bamber, PC West contacted his colleagues at Witham police station, which is halfway between Chelmsford and Tolleshunt. The officer who took this call wrote up a memo headed “daughter gone bezerk”, in which he paraphrases what Nevill is supposed to have told Jeremy about Sheila having “got hold of one of my guns”, and adds “Information passed to CD [control at Chelmsford] by Mr Bamber’s son”, confirming that Chelmsford’s source was Jeremy Bamber.
West times Bamber’s own call from Goldhanger to Chelmsford at 03.36, whereas the other memo times West’s call to Witham at 03.26, so at least once timing is inaccurate. But Bamber concludes that the timing is bang on: his suggestion is that the other officer didn’t get his information from Chelmsford, but from no less a person than Nevill Bamber. The officer, Jeremy maintains, must have taken an emergency call from the 61-year-old farmer and noted Nevill’s words as he’d spoken them.
Aware that a problem existed reconciling the order in which calls between the parties were placed and the time at which they were said to have happened, the Crown liaised with the officer in question. He confirmed that he’d received a call from Chelmsford at 03.26, passing on the information received from Jeremy Bamber moments beforehand. Later he filled out an official Document Record to this effect.
At no time had he heard from Nevill Bamber or anyone else in connection with the incident at White House Farm. Presumably then, West had misread the clock when he filled out his call log, or just mistakenly wrote 03.36 instead of 03.26.
At 03.35, Witham despatched patrol car CA7 to attend the scene, and Chelmsford directed CA5 to attend at 03.36. Overlooking the fact that the police were co-ordinating their response across relevant parts of the county, Bamber’s supporters also ask why the Essex constabulary should send a car from each station unless the police were responding separately to different reports?
There is something darkly comic about the image of Nevill Bamber, under a hale of bullets, leafing through the phone book to get hold of the number for Witham station instead of dialling 999.
Plainly, there is little for Bamber’s defence team to get their teeth into here, but that hasn’t stopped them promoting the risible scenario of a call from Nevill to Witham police station. Earlier this summer the mainstream press picked up on the story: the Mail and Mirror were among papers reporting it on 5 August as a dramatic new find that had the potential to clear the supposed killer.
These papers uncritically reported that all along, documented proof seems to have existed that police had heard about Sheila’s rampage not only via Jeremy but directly from Nevill. If this information was correct, Jeremy’s account was vindicated and he could not possibly be guilty of the murders.
It’s worth considering the implications of the defence’s claim. If it were true, several members of the Essex constabulary would have been aware of the existence of a call from Nevill on the morning of the murders. When officers began to suspect the son of involvement and started poking around for discrepancies in Jeremy’s story, they would quickly have turned up accounts of Nevill’s call, snuffing out any doubts they had about Sheila’s culpability.
In these circumstances, police would only have continued to pursue Bamber for the murders if they were intentionally attempting to frame him.
In fact, Bamber maintains that this is exactly what happened, although he casts the net much wider to take in his relatives as well as the Essex constabulary.
Bamber’s legal team must be aware that claims about Nevill telephoning police withstand no scrutiny. Perhaps their strategy is to keep throwing anything at all to the papers, the better to build a groundswell of feeling that their client is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
The long retired Stan Jones recently told the Essex Chronicle that Bamber "consistently presents material which has already been discussed and adjudicated on in court and appeal hearings”, manipulating its supposed meaning to support his claim to be wrongly convicted.
Discrepancies in the wireless log
But other evidence adduced by Bamber is, at least, more substantive than the call report.
He has claimed that officers were in conversation at 05.25 with a person inside the farm, which is what a strict reading of the wireless log would appear to suggest. The implication from Bamber is that officers were trying to reason with a very much alive Sheila. If this was really the case, Jeremy was plainly alibi when Sheila met her death.
What’s curious is that although Jeremy was present at the time, he never suggested that officers were speaking to his sister until years later when he obtained the wireless log. It’s inconceivable that officers at the scene would not have updated him to this effect at any time that morning, particularly since they may have sought his involvement in any attempt to “talk Sheila down”. When Bamber was finally charged with the murders, why didn’t he tell the police incredulously that officers must know of his innocence, as some of them had spoken to Sheila while she was alive and when Jeremy’s whereabouts were well accounted for? The defence team never raised any such objection, then or in the years which followed, until one sentence in a log written up by an operator miles away seemed to throw up an inconsistency which could be exploited.
Bamber also maintains that at 07.30 PC Collins did see a female in the kitchen: a dazed Sheila, having self-inflicted the first of two wounds (and one which pathologists accept would not have killed her outright), who is roused by the sound of Woodcock smashing down the main door and flees upstairs to her parents’ bedroom.
By this account, she delivered the second, fatal wound as the police prepared to move upstairs. The officers heard no rapport from a rifle. But Bamber has no difficulty concluding that they covered up the truth or were leaned upon to do so.
In support of this theory, Bamber’s supporters adduce that photographs taken circa 09.00 show fresh blood running from Sheila’s wounds, and note that the gun on her body changes position between post-mortem photographs.
But there are prosaic explanations for this. The officers did interfere slightly with Sheila’s corpse: by their own account, the rifle was removed from her body and then returned when photographs were taken in order to represent the condition in which she was found. A bible belonging to June, which was discovered at Sheila’s waist, appears at the level of her shoulder in the photographs.
At the farm that morning, police had no difficulty accepting that Sheila had carried out the murders and taken her own life. This is what they had been primed to believe by Jeremy Bamber. They didn’t think there was any need to preserve the scene beyond what was necessary for the purposes of an open and shut coroner’s investigation. Nor were scene of crime procedures anything like as fastidious in 1985 as they are today.
There have been claims that rigor mortis is visible in photographs of Nevill, June and the twins, and that those of Sheila Caffell show no rigor or lividity. This claim does not seem ever to have been adduced by a medical professional rather than a layperson.
A consistent feature of objections to the Crown case is that they rest upon arguments from personal incredulity. Surely the blood on Sheila’s neck couldn’t look as “fresh” as it does in the photographs if she’d been dead for at least six hours?
Well, yes, it could. Officers observed that wet blood had pooled in the crook of Sheila’s right arm. Congealed blood had also formed in the aperture of the lower neck wound. One possibility is that when Sheila was moved by officers at the scene, this plug became detached, and allowed blood accumulated within Sheila’s neck, viscous but not yet congealed, to run thickly beyond the entrance of the wound.
Sheila could certainly not have shot herself once in the kitchen and once upstairs: the photographs show no blood down the front of her pale blue nightdress. The blood that has run from the two wounds flows at an angle down the mother of two’s neck and along her right arm, with a patch spreading onto her right bosom. If she was on her feet for anything more than a moment after receiving the initial shot, blood would have run vertically down her sternum.
Bamber passes a polygraph with flying colours
In 2007, Jeremy Bamber convincingly passed a lie detector test conducted by Terry Mullins, an expert in the field. Asked a series of twelve questions including “Did you shoot your family on 7 August 1985?”, “Did you hide a rifle silencer in a cupboard after shooting your family?” and “Did PC Berry radio in a report of seeing someone in an upstairs window around 4am on the morning of the shooting?”, Bamber gave answers that indicated his innocence and affirmed the sighting, and no indices of deception were apparent in the results recorded by the polygraph.
But despite its notoriety as a ruthless instrument of detection, the polygraph test has almost no credibility within the scientific community. The ability of such a device to accurately assess the truthfulness of answers is in reality little better than chance, relegating the science of polygraphy to the level of astrology and tarot cards. What’s more, the technique is particularly ineffective when applied to individuals with antisocial/psychopathic personality disorders, tendencies which are often displayed by people who kill deliberately. Gary Ridgway, the man convicted on the basis of DNA evidence (and later his own confession) as Utah’s Green River killer, passed a polygraph with flying colours at an early stage of the investigation. Conversely, Bill Wegerle, an innocent man, failed two separate tests after coming under suspicion of the murders.
Mystery of the missing scratches
Probably the most potent post-trial evidence the defence can summon is found in the conclusions of forensic image analyst Peter Sutherst, who was asked to examine photographs of surfaces above the Aga in the farm kitchen, where Nevill lost his life after what seems to have been a fierce struggle with the killer.
The silencer found by David Boutflour, which provided a key element of the case against Bamber, was not contaminated only with blood. The knurled end from which the bullets emerge was embedded with red paint made up of nine coats, exactly matching that on the surface above the Aga where scratches were found and photographed. The jury, or at least ten of them, believed the Crown’s contention that these marks were made when the gun, with sound moderator fitted, was flung about during a tussle between Nevill and his adopted son.
Arranging photographs of the scene chronologically in his cell, Bamber realised that he couldn’t make out the scratches in the first photographs which show most of the room: they were visible only in the close up pictures taken more than a month later, after police were alerted to their existence. The defence team also suggest that flakes of the bright red paint which were scratched out of the wall ought to be visible on the carpet in the first photograph.
It’s perfectly true that no such flakes are visible to the naked eye, and also that scratches to the paintwork cannot be made out in photographs showing greater portions of the kitchen.
To my mind, the marks ought not to be apparent in these photographs since they were made to the underside of the mantelshelf, which is simply not visible in the broader shots. However, I wouldn’t presume to argue with an expert on the topic.
This claim certainly has implications for the safety of Bamber’s conviction. Unlike disputes over what was scribbled in a wireless message log, the photographs have the potential to falsify evidence relied upon by the prosecution.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that if the marks were made at a later date, this does not exonerate Bamber. What it would suggest is that one or other party was determined to shore up the evidence against him.
However, since the jury were asked to rely upon the scratches as proof that the red paint on the silencer had got there on the night of the murders, the Court of Appeal would have no choice but to quash Bamber’s conviction if they now found reason to think that the evidence was planted. Whether they will have the opportunity to make that decision depends upon the outcome of the CCRC’s latest review of the evidence. The Commission is due to report its findings at any time. If Bamber gets a third appeal, he will be the first convicted murderer to do so.
Bamber waits for yet another day in court
The defence make various other claims concerning the reliability of police evidence, almost none of which bear any scrutiny. Sometimes, competing possibilities are floated that wildly contradict each other (Bamber himself has recently raised the possibility of an unidentified killer, a person who, if he is innocent, he must know cannot exist, since his father is supposed to have told him alone that the person going crazy with a gun was Sheila). On the evidence of the post-trial objections raised by Bamber’s various defence teams over the years, he and his representatives have tended to value quantity over quality when it comes to protesting Jeremy’s innocence.
The prosecution case, however, was supported by reams of additional evidence as to how Jeremy carried out his crime.
It remains true that there is no “smoking gun” in the Bamber case. But I for one was drawn to the story of White House Farm by fears a miscarriage of justice had taken place, and instead found myself resolutely convinced of the defendant’s guilt.
Some people have suggested it’s a coincidence too far that a sometimes deranged young woman who believed her relatives possessed by demons was visiting the farm when the murders were carried out. It isn’t a coincidence at all – it is the very reason Bamber choose that evening to carry out his plan, and why he thought he’d get away with it. Things went broadly in line with the young man’s expectations that night, but there was more than one hiccup. Nevill refused to give up without a fight, and Bamber must have blanched at realising a second shot was needed to finish off Sheila. Suicide victims don’t often shoot themselves twice through the head.
Bamber gave little of his feelings away when 10 of 12 jurors found the 25-year-old guilty following a potent summation by Judge Drake. At times, the cracks have shown. When in August 1992 the Police Complaints Authority dismissed his concerns over the way the original investigation was handled by Essex Constabulary, he joined five other inmates in Franklin, Durham in wrecking their cells and pasting the words “Free Bamber he is innocent” in excrement on the walls.
For the most part though, Bamber patiently waits. As his own correspondence illustrates, he exists in a state of limbo in which he continually believes freedom to be a matter of weeks away.
Elated after receiving the results of his 2007 polygraph test, Bamber told the Daily Mirror “I didn’t do it, I couldn’t have done it, I wouldn’t have done it.”
But he could have done it, seemingly would have done it and very probably did do it. Nevertheless, if the CCRC accepts that his latest submissions cast any doubt on the safety of his 1986 conviction, this fact may not be enough to keep him behind bars.