Leo Mckinstry

Lack of appeal

The creepy campaign to free Jeremy Bamber

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Here we go again. Like a macabre version of Groundhog Day, mass murderer Jeremy Bamber is making yet another bid for freedom. This nasty legal saga has been dragging on for almost 26 years, ever since Bamber was first found guilty of the savage massacre at his family’s farmhouse in rural Essex. By a majority verdict, the jury at Chelmsford Crown Court decided that in the early hours of 7 August 1985, Bamber had shot dead his adoptive parents, Nevill and June, his sister Sheila Caffel, and her young twin sons, Daniel and Nicholas. No fewer than 25 rounds from an Anschutz .22 semi-automatic rifle had been fired at the victims, almost all from point-black range.

After hearing the jury’s verdict, the judge described Bamber as ‘warped and evil beyond belief’ as he sentenced him to life imprisonment, and despite all his protestations of innocence, Bamber has consistently failed to sway the justice system. On two occasions, in 1989 and 2002, the Court of Appeal considered his case in the light of supposed new evidence and both times it upheld the original verdict. Indeed, after the second appeal, the judges wrote, ‘The deeper we have looked into this case, the more likely it seems to us that the jury was right.’ Those words have not deterred ­Bamber. He’s kept up his campaign through the media, through his website and now on Twitter, aided by a group of diehard supporters who revel in lurid conspiracy theories about the actions of Essex police, the courts, and the wider Bamber family.

Cheered on by these creepy fans and a new legal team, Bamber is now seeking to go to the Court of Appeal a third time. His claims of new evidence revolve around the weapon used and some of the witness testimony, and they’re currently being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which will announce shortly if he will be granted leave to appeal yet again. It would be astonishing if he were, and deeply depressing, for the case against him remains overwhelming. There truly has been no dramatic breakthrough by his lawyers, just a rehash of past material. Last week, in the run-up to CCRC’s decision, ITV ran a high-profile documentary on the Bamber case, claiming that the so-called new evidence could render his conviction unsafe. But the programme turned out to be almost anaemic in its lack of proper substance just a few firearms professionals speculating and a few partisan journalists.

The whole pro-Bamber case has always rested on the theory that his sister Sheila Caffel, who had a long history of mental illness, was the real killer. According to this story, she assassinated her parents and her two children during a schizophrenic episode, before turning the gun on herself. In fact, this is what police initially believed had happened, but a number of developments soon turned the spotlight of suspicion on Bamber. One was his weird lack of any obvious grief in the wake of the massacre. He partied with friends and even went abroad for two holidays. Another was the crucial discovery, in a downstairs cupboard on the farm, of the rifle’s silencer, smeared with blood. This appeared to indicate that Sheila, whose body was found upstairs with two bullet wounds in the neck, could not be a suicidal murderer: the attachment of the silencer would have made the gun too long for her to hold under her chin while pulling the trigger. As the police renewed their enquiries, other factors emerged that ruled Sheila out. There was no firearms residue or oil on her hands, and little blood staining her nightdress. She was a small, thin young woman with no history of violence or experience of firearms. ­Moreover, the crime scene demonstrated that her father Nevill, found slumped in the kitchen, had put up a ferocious struggle against his assailant despite his bullet wounds. Nevill was a fit 61-year-old farmer who stood 6ft 4in tall. So violent was the fight that part of the rifle’s wooden butt had broken off. It was absurd to believe that Sheila, a recovering anorexic, would have been capable of such a struggle.

But Jeremy certainly would. The reason the evidence at first pointed to Sheila was because he had staged it that way to frame her, and his motive for the murder was to inherit the family estate, worth £435,000. A suave playboy used to handling guns, ­Jeremy loathed his adoptive parents so much that Nevill had confided to the farm secretary that he worried Jeremy was plotting to kill him. ‘I must never turn my back on him,’ he said. Bamber’s behaviour on the night of murders was deeply incriminating. He claimed to be asleep in his family-owned cottage near the farm when he received a distraught call from his father, saying that Sheila had ‘gone beserk’ with a gun. But Jeremy did not phone 999. Instead, as he admitted, he wasted time looking through the phone book for the number of the local police station. Then, though he had been known for fast, reckless driving, he pottered over to the farm in his car at 25 mph. He was overtaken by the police on the way. After he arrived at the farm, he kept up a running commentary to the police outside the farmhouse, insinuating that Sheila was guilty.

Just as damning was the testimony of his former girlfriend Julie Mugford, who told the police that he had talked of his hatred for his family and his plans to kill them. ‘It’s tonight or never,’ he reportedly said on the day of the murders. Pro-Bamber campaigners have always tried to dismiss Mugford’s evidence, arguing that she was a tainted witness because not only had he jilted her soon after the murders but also she sold her story to the press after the trial. But it is highly unlikely that she would have dared to perjure herself on such trivial grounds, particularly not in such a serious trial. Nor has she ever retracted a word of her testimony.

Bamber’s defence has always been inherently implausible. Even Bob Woffinden, a veteran journalist who specialises in miscarriages of justice and who spent 20 years arguing for Bamber’s release, bravely wrote last year that he has changed his mind and is now sure of Bamber’s guilt. In running his campaign from his maximum security prison cell, said Woffinden, ‘Bamber still has all the cunning and ingenuity that he displayed in planning the crime.’ The calls to overturn his conviction are a disgrace, based on nothing more than lies, distractions and hollow theorising. The real affront to our justice system would be another pointless appeal for this monstrous killer.