The Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred for appeal the 2004 murder conviction of Gary Walker.
The decision to refer this exceptionally complicated case to the Court of Appeal is based on new expert opinion on cause of death and the CCRC’s view that the jury were effectively precluded from considering a potentially viable route to acquittal, which now has more expert support.
Mr Walker was convicted at Stafford Crown Court on 22 October 2004 of the murder of his partner, Audra Bancroft, and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 12 years and 26 days.
The prosecution case was that Mr Walker had attacked Mrs Bancroft at their home in the early hours of 8 December 2003. This attack, the prosecution alleged, included punches and manual strangulation and resulted in fatal injuries to her head and brain. At trial Mr Walker maintained that the head injury must have been caused by a fall earlier that night, when he was not with her. He agreed that there had been a violent incident at their home, which may have accounted for the signs of strangulation, but said that Mrs Bancroft had been the aggressor, attacking him with a potato peeler, and he had therefore acted in self-defence.
The jury at Mr Walker’s trial heard evidence from a number of medical experts who were asked to give opinion on the cause of death and whether it was possible that Mrs Bancroft could have suffered her injuries by way of a fall rather than an assault. They also heard evidence that Mr Walker had put Mrs Bancroft (who had been drinking heavily) into the recovery position but that a paramedic had then, inappropriately, rolled her onto her back and left her in that position.
In 2007 Mr Walker unsuccessfully tried to appeal against his conviction on a number of grounds including the medical evidence, causation and whether the prosecution had proved that he had the intention to kill or cause serious injury (the mental state (mens rea) required for murder).
Mr Walker applied to the CCRC in October 2014 and in September 2017, following a lengthy review, the CCRC concluded that it could not refer Mr Walker’s conviction to the Court of Appeal. Mr Walker sought to challenge the CCRC’s decision by way of Judicial Review and, in May 2018, he was granted permission to bring his case by the High Court. After carefully considering the Court’s detailed permission judgment, the CCRC decided to withdraw its September 2017 decision and look again at Mr Walker’s case.
As part of this review, the CCRC obtained and considered new expert medical opinion from pathologists and neuropathologists (including those who gave evidence at trial), primarily around what are known as contre-coup injuries and whether Mrs Bancroft could have suffered the head injuries by way of a fall as Mr Walker had said at trial.
Having analysed this complex body of expert opinion and guided by the High Court’s detailed permission judgment, the CCRC has concluded that there is a real possibility that the jury at Mr Walker’s trial was left with a false impression as to the likelihood of the account that he gave and that, were the expert evidence as now articulated, presented to the jury in a fair and balanced way, they may have returned a not guilty verdict.
The CCRC is also of the view that the trial judge’s direction on causation failed to adequately draw the jury’s attention to the implications of the evidence that Mr Walker had placed Mrs Bancroft in the recovery position only for the paramedic to move her into a much more dangerous position on her back. The CCRC considers that that this lends support to the overall argument that there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will conclude that Mr Walker’s conviction is unsafe.
This press release was issued by Justin Hawkins, Head of Communication, Criminal Cases Review Commission, on 07947 355231 or e-mail email@example.com
Notes for editors
- The Commission is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for independently reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.
- There are currently nine Commissioners who bring to the Commission considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
- The Commission usually receives around 1,400 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.
- The Commission considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal. Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.
- If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.
- More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at www.ccrc.gov.uk The Commission can be found on Twitter using @ccrcupdate