Ray Gilbert, By Bruce Kent, MOJUK, 16/03/2016
A mixed race child, Raymond Gilbert, grew up in poverty. He had a speech impediment, was given a patchy education and drifted into the underworld of Liverpool crime. He already had a record for robbery and for one assault before the accusation of murder. He was therefore a likely suspect when a local betting shop manager was murdered in the course of a robbery in 1981 in Liverpool.
But suspicion is not enough. What of evidence? Against neither Gilbert nor Kamara, his co accused, was there any evidence to connect them with the murder. Kamara, not Gilbert, was picked out on an identification parade by one witness who said he saw Kamara struggling with another man outside the betting shop at about the time of the murder. The parade itself was not run according to proper rules. The witnesses had failed to pick out Gilbert on the first parade. The second parade was made up of a number of the same people with Kamara introduced as one of the new people. Kamara was identified not Gilbert.
However, that no longer matters. The Court of Appeal has given its ruling in 2000 about Kamara’s innocence, and it did so, in part, because a large number of witness statements were not given to the defence at the time of the trial. Some of them even contradicted the witness evidence that was used. There was no investigation into the threat made by one customer at the betting shop that he would return to ‘sort out’ the manager the next day (the day of the murder) if he was not paid.
What then was the case against Gilbert? The murder took place at about 9.30 am on Friday 13 March 1981. Gilbert was detained on Monday 16 March and then spent two days and nights in police custody before being remanded to prison. No fingerprint, footprint, forensic, bloodstains, witness evidence or knife has ever connected Gilbert with the crime.
Did Gilbert have an alibi? Well he had one. He returned to the flat he shared with his girlfriend, after drinking with friends, between 1 and 2 am on the morning of the murder. Apart from a visit to the newsagent/tobacconists later that morning, he was with her all day. At least she stuck to that story for some time, but after interrogation she was actually charged on 18 March, with impeding the course of justice, and remanded in custody. As a result of this intimidation she then changed her story and said that Gilbert had gone out early on the morning of the murder.
What then was the evidence against Gilbert, who had repudiated his confession and initially pleaded Not Guilty, when the case came to trial in November ‘81? Simply that after two days and nights of police interrogation in March 81 with little sleep and no legal representative present, he had confessed to murder and signed a detailed statement. Worse, he involved an associate of his, Johnny Kamara, and said that Kamara had been with him. Why? Who knows? He says he was shown a photofit picture and asked to identify the people in it. Whether Kamara’s name was suggested to him we do not know. The interviews were not taped.
What of the confession? It is said that it revealed details of the murder that only someone who had been at the scene of the crime could have known. This is nonsense. He was in the custody of two policemen who would have been negligent if they had not known all the details of the crime. Did they, convinced they were dealing with a murderer, reveal details to Gilbert which he could not have known anyway from reading the Liverpool papers? That is at least possible.
Anyway, Gilbert’s first verbal admission which was noted by the police, and his subsequent written confession, differ in significant ways. In the first place he said he threw the knife down a drain after leaving the betting shop. In the written confession, which he signed, he said he took it to a friend’s house, where indeed a possible knife was found. Then in his first admission he said that the betting shop door was open and that the two of them just went in. In the signed statement he said they had to grab the manager, poke him with a knife, and make him open the door. It is just possible that these changes were suggested to him by the police because they fitted statements made by other witnesses.
In any event, since the Court of Appeal has decided that Gilbert’s confession, insofar as it involved Kamara, was untrue, why should it be assumed that the rest of the confession is true?
Why then was a confession of any sort made if he was innocent? On that issue the distinguished consultant psychologist, Olive Tunstall, having examined Gilbert in preparation for his appeal process, prepared a detailed report on his makeup and background, dated April 1999. She says: “In my opinion there is evidence to suggest that the confession Mr Gilbert made during the police interviews may have been unreliable. I have based that opinion on the following grounds.” The first of these is as follows: “Mr Gilbert’s personal vulnerability at that time (youth, limited education, abnormal personality, stammer, adverse social circumstances and in my opinion a profound fear of being physically assaulted emanating from early childhood experiences), his lack of access of legal advice and evidence that at the time he began his confession he was in a state of high anxiety.” Olive Tunstall’s detailed 29-page report confirms that there are serious doubts about Gilbert’s conviction.
There is another point which is significant. While the judge was summing up in the Kamara case, some of the jurors asked him why, in the police photograph of the murder scene, a full bottle of milk and what looks like a newspaper are clearly evident on a dresser. The jurors rightly wanted to know how they got there. They must have been carried into the shop by somebody, but certainly not by the manager if he was, according to Gilbert’s confession, struggling vigorously against two robbers. It is possible that someone else had entered the shop, perhaps someone connected with the previous day’s threat, and was lying in wait for the manager, who himself brought in the milk and the paper. However, thanks to Gilbert’s confession and the witness evidence of identification against Kamara, it does not seem to have occurred to the Judge that the murder might have been committed by somebody else. All he could say in reply to the question from the jurors was “It is so difficult to understand why it matters.”
Not that it did much matter for Gilbert. Some days after the trial in November 81 began - two juries were discharged - Gilbert got up and changed his plea to guilty. His words were: “This has been going on long enough, so I want to change from Not Guilty to Guilty”. At that point the judge stopped him from going further. It is at least possible that he was going on to say that Kamara had not been with him.
Why would he make that admission granted the lack of evidence against him, and did he realise that in so doing he was probably shutting prison doors on himself for a long time?
Gilbert’s explanation for the change of plea was that he was threatened in prison that he would be “done” if he did not get Kamara off. He was certainly in prison with some very tough people, quite capable of making and putting such threats into action. He may also have thought he was doomed anyway after his written confession and wanted to get the whole business over with.
Gilbert has now spent over 35 years in prison, 20 years over tariff, he begins his 36th year on Wednesday 16th March 2016. His efforts to get Kamara off at the trial did not succeed, though he did try again in prison in 1982 by suggesting that someone else, not Kamara, had been his partner. Once he was moved to another prison, in 1982 away from those intimidating him, he again claimed that he was innocent.
For the last 35 years he has maintained his innocence. If he had taken the parole road, admitted guilt, and been conformist in prison, he would certainly be out of prison now. Today his case would never have gone to trial. A confession, with all its contradictions, obtained as Gilbert’s was would be rejected as evidence.
However, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, in March 2000, denied Gilbert access to the Court of Appeal. When the Commissioners made that decision they could not have known that Kamara’s separate appeal would be upheld in May 2000. This decision by the Court of Appeal to free Kamara undermines the credibility of Gilbert’s entire confession.
I have visited him many times since I was made aware of the case and have visited him in many prisons. It is clear to me, not only that that his guilt has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but that he is an innocent man unjustly imprisoned. This year or next he might be released on parole. He is now doing some ‘outside’ work. I keep my fingers crossed.