Monday, August 04, 2008

British judges’ error over suicide note gives husband hope of appeal

A glaring error by judges in the case of a man accused of killing his wife by faking her suicide is to be used in a fresh attempt to clear his name. Eddie Gilfoyle was convicted of murder after prosecutors said that he dictated a suicide note to his pregnant wife, Paula, then hanged her to make it look like she killed herself. Court of Appeal judges who upheld his conviction thought that her final letter had been typed when it was actually in Mrs Gilfoyle’s handwriting, The Times can disclose. Academic lawyers say that the error could open the door to a fresh appeal by Gilfoyle, who has served 15 years of a life sentence, and has consistently protested his innocence. The Court of Appeal’s judgment has become contentious among legal scholars, with one book by a law professor turned Crown Court judge describing its language as glib.

Gilfoyle’s campaign was boosted when the criminal profiler David Canter disclosed in The Times in February that research into suicide notes indicated that Mrs Gilfoyle’s was genuine. A former Merseyside assistant chief constable, a Police Complaints Authority investigator and the chairman-elect of the Bar Council have all now said that the conviction was unsafe.

The prosecution said that Gilfoyle dictated suicide notes to his wife by tricking her into believing that they were for a course at work. Three appeal court judges upheld the conviction in 2000, but their judgment contains important factual errors. It reads: “According to the appellant, he went home at about 4.40pm, noticed his wife was missing and found a suicide note in the kitchen. It was typed and was before the jury. It started, ‘I’ve decided to put an end to everything’.”

A draft had also been found. “Another typed ‘suicide’ letter, referred to as the ‘indented’ letter, was revealed in a notebook,” the Court of Appeal stated. The Times has published the suicide note, in Mrs Gilfoyle’s looping feminine hand, and the draft is obviously handwritten, as it was detected only by studying indents on paper. The error may be explained because the judges were given typed versions of the notes when hearing the appeal.

Andrew Roberts, of Warwick School of Law, said: “An error of fact that provides the basis of the decision on appeal could be the subject of further appeal.” Paul Caddick, Gilfoyle’s brother-in-law and a former policeman who found Mrs Gilfoyle’s body in Upton, Wirral, said: “I would be suspicious if somebody presented me with a suicide note that was typed.”

The Gilfoyle judgment is criticised in Murphy on Evidence, a standard law textbook. The Court of Appeal refused to hear Professor Canter’s profiling evidence that analysed how Mrs Gilfoyle suffered disquiet during pregnancy while showing a positive face to the world. “Observing (with respect, rather glibly) that whether a person appeared to have been happy was not a matter that required assessment by experts, the court held that psychological autopsies were not recognised as having any real scientific basis and so should not form the subject of expert evidence,” Professor Murphy, now a Crown Court judge, writes.

Original report here

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