Commission refers the murder conviction of Justin Plummer to the Court of Appeal

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (‘CCRC’) has referred the 1998 murder conviction of Justin Plummer to the Court of Appeal.

On 16 December 1998, following a trial at St Albans Crown Court, Justin Plummer was convicted of the murder of Janice Cartwright-Gilbert. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 16 years, and remains in prison.

Ms Cartwright-Gilbert was found dead inside the mobile home she shared with her partner on 28 February 1997. She had been stabbed multiple times and the mobile home had been set on fire. Her body had bruising to the head consistent with stamping.

Mr Plummer was a prolific burglar who had committed a string of burglaries in the local area during January and February 1997. The prosecution case was that Mr Plummer murdered Ms Cartwright-Gilbert during a burglary, attacking her when she disturbed him. The key issue at trial was whether Mr Plummer’s right shoe could be attributed to marks found on Ms Cartwright-Gilbert’s face.

On 17 January 2000, the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal made on Mr Plummer’s behalf. Mr Plummer applied to the CCRC in March 2000 and, in January 2001, the CCRC decided that there was no real possibility that the Court of Appeal would quash his conviction. Mr Plummer re-applied to the CCRC in November 2017.

Following a detailed review, the CCRC has decided to refer Mr Plummer’s conviction to the Court of Appeal because new evidence now suggests that the expert footwear mark evidence at Mr Plummer’s trial was fundamentally flawed and the jury were misled. In particular:

  • Two of the prosecution experts who gave evidence (one of whom was a dentist and bite marks expert) did not meet the industry standards required to conduct reliable footwear marks comparison. These experts gave subjective opinions, in persuasive terms, with the appearance of expertise they did not, in fact, possess. In the CCRC’s view, neither expert should have been permitted to give evidence at the trial.
  • New expert evidence obtained by the CCRC has highlighted errors in the evidence that was given at trial and led the CCRC to conclude that the strength of the expert evidence which can now be relied upon is weaker than it was both at trial and in December 1997 when the CPS advised that the case against Mr Plummer should be dropped.

This referral relies, at least in part, on the work of the Forensic Science Regulator (a post created in 2007), developments in the Criminal Practice Direction on expert evidence and a body of case law that primarily post-dates both Mr Plummer’s trial and the CCRC’s first review.

Mr Plummer is represented by Scanlans Solicitors, 23 John Street, Sunderland SR1 1JG.

 

This press release was issued by the Communications Team, Criminal Cases Review Commission. They can be contacted by phone on 07789 945304 or by email press@ccrc.gov.uk.

Notes for editors

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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”.
  5. If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.
  6. 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