Convicted of murder in 1981 – Given a 15 year tariff – Still in prison 2009
Report by Bruce Kent – June 2009
Raymond Gilbert is still in prison with little hope of release soon. He was convicted in December ’81 of the murder of a bookmaker, John Suffield, in Liverpool. Suffield was stabbed to death on the morning of Friday 13th March that year. Convicted at the same time as Gilbert was John Kamara, who was eventually released by the Court of Appeal in 2000 after long years maintaining his innocence.
Gilbert, a mixed race youth, had already been convicted of some crimes and gang fights in Liverpool before the murder. He was arrested on Monday 16th March 1981 and then spent 48 hours alone in police custody being interviewed at various times of day and night. During those 48 hours he was told that his alibi (the girl friend with whom he claimed he was at the relevant time) had changed her story.
Threatened with prosecution herself, she withdrew her statement that Gilbert had been with her all day and said that he had gone out on the morning of the murder.
Eventually Gilbert told the police he had murdered Suffield and signed a confession. It is clear from the police interview notes that Gilbert changed his account of what had happened several times during the 48 hours.
No evidence of any kind was found to connect Gilbert with the murder. No witness identification. No finger prints. No blood tracings despite multiple stabbings. No murder weapon. No stolen money. NOTHING AT ALL.
There were more likely suspects. Two men, angry at not being paid what they claimed was owed, threatened the night before the murder, in front of witnesses, and said they would come back the next day to sort him out. The threats were so serious that Suffield, very frightened, told his employers that evening that he wanted to work elsewhere. He was due to meet a Coral representative to arrange the handover on Friday 13th, the day of the murder. These two men were not properly investigated. John Suffield’s father tells me that possibly on Saturday 14th, and certainly by Sunday 15th he was told by the police that all those in the betting shop on the 12th, about twenty people, were in the clear. Manifestly their alibis, especially those who had threatened Suffield, were not given the same treatment as that of Gilbert’s. Indeed it would have been impossible for such investigations to have been carried out. All of those who were in the shop on the Thursday could not even have been identified in that time. The shop was closed on the Friday and Saturday.
Once in prison, on remand, Gilbert repudiated his confession and maintained that position up to his trial. He had a very good chance of being found not guilty, if he had had a good lawyer and had the jury (the third) actually heard the evidence. But they did not.
With an expression of exasperation during the trial, Gilbert suddenly changed his plea to ‘Guilty.’ He says that he was fed up and intimidated by Kamara and his friends, who were in the same prison. Hew had falsely incriminated Kamara, as his partner in the robbery, in his written confession, after Kamara’s name had been suggested to him by the police.
He says he thought he was helping Kamara by changing his plea to guilty during the trial. In fact his change had the opposite effect. Kamara became guilty by association and was also convicted.
There seems to have been no official notice taken of what ought to be blindingly obvious and a matter of grave concern. Why would a man go on denying his guilt for nearly 29 years and refusing to go on courses when, if he had conformed and admitted responsibility for his crime, he could have been out of prison years ago?
Everyone knows that miscarriages of justice do occur. With the best processes in the world, and we do not have them, such errors are inevitable. Moreover, though I am sure it is not the norm, there have been proven cases of police manipulation and even corruption to make an investigation of claims of innocence someone’s responsibility.
Recebtly the Chairman of the Merseyside Black Police Association said: “Make no mistake about it, the police were abusing the black community back then (1981)…whether this was in the form of people being assaulted or evidence being planted it all had a toxic effect.’ Note the date. The murder took place a few months before the Toxteth riots of 1981 and the trial a few months afterwards.
Gilbert is due for another Parole review in a year’s time. If favorable, that review might lead eventually to otside visits or even to open conditions in years to come. Perhaps the prison will move him from Category C from the B which he is now. But how many more years before all this happens?
What then of the Criminal Cases Review Commission which was meant to accelerate the process of justice through the Court of Appeal? There will be another approach to the CCRC soon. My experience of Gilbert’s case, the only one in which I have had experience of the CCRC, is that it works as an additional court, with the prejudices and assumptions of other courts, but without the safeguards of a court.
In their explanation of their refusal for Gilbert in 2000 the CCRC said “The Commission is of the opinion that it is unlikely that the police have Gilbert these details.’ ‘These details’ were details about the murder scene which it was said only someone present could have known. But if a policeman thought he had the right man is it so inconceivable that a few helpful details might not be fed in to make the confession a bit more realistic?
They go on to say: ‘the decision of the Court of Appeal to quash Mr Kamara’s conviction does not have any bearing on (Gilbert’s) conviction. A two – man crime yet the release of one of them by the Court of appeal has no bearing on the likelihood that the other was also not properly convicted?
Then there is the famous or infamous milk bottle. The confession and various witness statements (not all of them – some, not given by the defence at the time, gave different stories) said that there was a struggle at the door of the bookmakers shop in order to shove the victim inside. We know that he was carrying a bottle of milk and a newspaper.
Yet the milk bottle itself was photographed standing with the newspaper, safe and sound, on the shelf in the shop after the murder. How did it get there and survive the struggle and not get smashed on the doorstep? All the CCRC has to say was that ‘there were a number of possible explanations for the movement of the bottle of milk into the shop. They provided none.
One that I can think of is that two men were waiting, already inside the shop, perhaps there overnight, ready to sort out the bookmaker as they had previously promised. The bookmaker might well have been assaulted inside the shop after he had put down his bottle of milk and paper. But whatever the explanation the survival of the milk bottle is not compatible with the story of an assault on the outside steps.
A juror even brought this to the attention of the trial Judge in 1981. His reply was: ‘It is so difficult to understand why it matters.’ Not difficult at all, unless you have already decided on the guilt of the accused.
AN EXTRACT FROM A LETTER FROM JOHN SUFFIELD Senior, (The victim’s father) to the Parole Board, 11th May 2006:
‘Raymond Gilbert has long protested that he is a victim of miscarriage of justice. I am aware of some of the evidence that supports his claim but I am not competent to judge the quality of the evidence. It is for that reason that I have for many years called upon those who have responsibility for examining such evidence to give their judgement. Before John Kamara’s conviction was quashed in March 2000 many of the Law Enforcement Agencies contended that John Kamara was ‘as guilty as hell’ and refused to accept the court of appeal’s judgement. Some agencies continue to hold this view despite the overwhelming evidence given in his favour to the Court of Appeal. If there is any truth in Raymond Gilbert’s claim of innocence who among us would condemn his uncooperative behaviour and his reluctance to conform to the prison regime?’
I know that this is as much an appeal as a report but I have been involved in this case since 198 and my indignation increases. The Gilbert was not convicted beyond reasonable doubt is obvious. Unfortunately the jury in 1991 never had the chance of examining the contradictions in Gilbert’s reoudiation or to consider the lack of any other evidence, this is an irrational change of pleas which his lawyers should have got him to reverse. Pleas of guilty made by innocent defendants do happen for a variety of reasons,
Innocent of crime? I think so. We know that Gilbert got to bed after a drinking session at about 1am on the morning of the murder but we are supposed to believe that he was up around 7am, ready with a knife and enough cord to tie someone up, prepared with his accomplice, a new one not Kamara, for a robbery which led to murder by 9 am. Why he would take a knife and cord to rob a bingo hall is not explained. According to the written confession the attack on the Bookmaker was a last minute idea when the robbers saw Suffield coming to open up his shop which was almost next door to the Bingo Hall.
Granted the elimination of his alibi (who has now disappeared) no one can say that it would have been impossible for Gilbert to have committed the crime. He would have to have had a clear head and to move very fast around Liverpool indeed. But granted the lack of any other evidence to link him to the murder that becomes incredible.
Bruce Kent, 11 Venetia Road, London N4 1EJ June 2009
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