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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Helen Pidd North of England editor

Post office owner convicted of wife’s murder denies jumping on ‘Horizon bandwagon’

Robin and Diana Garbutt at their wedding in 2003
Robin and Diana Garbutt at their wedding in 2003. Photograph: Handout

A man who claims the Post Office’s faulty computer system was used to frame him for murdering his wife says he is not jumping on “the Horizon bandwagon”, and that there is other evidence pointing to his wrongful conviction.

Robin Garbutt, 58, has spent the last 12 years in jail after being convicted of the murder of his wife, Diana, 40, at their home above the post office and village shop they ran in Melsonby, North Yorkshire.

Diana’s mother has said it was “obvious to anyone that Robin is taking advantage of the Horizon scandal to gain publicity”.

But talking from his cell at HMP Wealstun, Garbutt said that unreliable Horizon data was used to present the jury with a false motive at his 2011 trial: that he had been stealing from the Post Office and staged an armed robbery that left his wife dead in order to cover up his theft.

Asked if he was “jumping on the Horizon bandwagon”, Garbutt said: “I would say you need look at all the other evidence in my case.”

He said he would “never” confess to the killing, even if it meant spending the rest of his life in prison. He was given a life sentence with a 20-year tariff and will not be eligible for parole until October 2030.

“The only way we’ll ever find out what happened to my wife is that we just pray and pray and pray at some point that the case gets reviewed, and we get the person who killed Di,” he said. “If I have to stay in prison for ever and ever and ever we will be fighting for Di, all of us. That’s what it’s all about.”

He said he had other fresh evidence challenging prosecution evidence about the time Diana died. This partly relied on analysis of her stomach contents by Dr Jennifer Miller, a forensic scientist.

Diana and Garbutt had eaten a fish and chip supper about 8.30pm on the night before the murder. Miller told the jury that digestion would take six to eight hours, which meant Diana was killed between 2.30am and 4.30am. The prosecution said Garbutt murdered her and then acted like everything was normal until the post office safe could be opened at 8.30am.

Yet giving evidence in another case in Bristol later that year – which saw Vincent Tabak convicted of killing his neighbour, Joanna Yates – Miller said digestion could take up to 12 hours.

Garbutt told the jury Diana must have been killed much later, hours after he had opened up the shop at 4.30am. Numerous customers gave evidence to say Garbutt was his “usual cheery self” that morning, with one telling the jury he heard a woman’s voice calling “Robin” from the door to the couple’s living quarters at about 6.45am.

This testimony, plus the shop till roll which showed a steady stream of customers right up until Garbutt called the police just after 8.30am, was used by Garbutt’s legal team to suggest he would not have time to go upstairs and brutally murder Diana by hitting her three times over the head with a metal bar.

Giving evidence, Garbutt said a man in a balaclava waving a gun forced him to hand over £16,000 from the post office safe shortly after 8.30am, which is when the automated locking system allowed it to be opened each day. He said he handed over the money and then ran upstairs to find Diana dead.

In 2017, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) rejected Garbutt’s request for a second appeal against conviction but accepted that Miller’s evidence was unreliable.

The CCRC accepted fresh evidence from a different expert about the time of death, and had reviewed Garbutt’s case on the basis “that Dr Miller was in error and that, according to the stomach contents alone, Mrs Garbutt could have died at any time up to the moment she was found.”

But the CCRC noted that the jury also heard evidence from two pathologists who agreed Diana had died at least an hour before Garbutt phoned 999, more likely several hours earlier because of the level of rigor mortis and “postmortem staining”.

Garbutt said he knew that maintaining his innocence could see him stay in prison long after 2030.

As someone with no previous convictions who had never got in any trouble in prison, the Parole Board will have no insight into how someone who “was a normal lad” could have “committed the worst crime imaginable”.

“They will say ‘we don’t know what’s driven Robin to do this type of thing’ and that’s what will hold me back. They will say they won’t be able to address the madness that I must have,” he said.

His campaign was not about getting justice for himself, he said: “It’s not about that. It’s about my poor wife, who did nothing wrong that morning and is not here any more.”

Edward Abel Smith, who is writing a book about the case, said: “The digestion evidence, coupled with what we now know about the Horizon system, is surely enough for Robin Garbutt’s conviction to be declared unsafe.”

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