15 year tariff in 1981 – Still in prison 2009
Provided by George Coombs – 28th Mar 2009
Written by Bruce Kent – June 2008
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
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 released by the Court of Appeal in 2000 after 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.
Recently 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 favourable, that review might lead eventually to outside 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 gave 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?