Postmaster jailed for murdering his wife says Horizon scandal can help clear his name

Robin Garbutt, 57, has maintained his innocence ever since wife Diana, 40, was killed in the flat above the post office they ran together (Picture: PA)

A postmaster who claims evidence from the faulty Horizon IT system was used to wrongfully convict him of his wife’s murder says clearing his name is the only way her ‘real killer’ will ever be caught.

Robin Garbutt, 57, has maintained his innocence ever since wife Diana, 40, was killed in the flat above the post office they ran together in the North Yorkshire village of Melsonby in March 2010.

He was convicted by a jury majority of 10 to two a year later at Teesside Crown Court despite no physical evidence linking him to either the scene or the rusty iron bar used to bludgeon Diana.

Speaking exclusively to Metro from HMP Wealstun, Garbutt claimed evidence from the Horizon system was used ‘to slight my good name and provide the prosecution with a motive of theft’.

He phoned 999 early in the morning of March 23, 2010, after apparently discovering his wife’s bloodied body upstairs.

Garbutt claims the balaclava-clad intruder who held him up and forced him to hand over £16,000 from the safe moments earlier must have done it.

But jurors heard the data showed he had been stealing cash and murdered his wife to either hide the losses or silence her.

Garbutt told Metro he had watched the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which has shone a new light on the scandal that saw hundreds of sub-postmasters falsely charged with theft and fraud.

‘The Bates drama I have found most upsetting and distressing,’ he said. ‘Those poor people.

‘I also know what it is like to be falsely accused and the hurt it causes for loved ones and friends.

Robin Garbutt was convicted at Teesside Crown Court of murdering his wife Diana at the post office they ran in Melsonby, North Yorkshire (Picture: PA)

Diana Garbutt was bludgeoned with a rusty iron bar (Picture: PA)

Tributes left outside the Melsonby Post Office, North Yorkshire (Picture: PA)

‘In my case they similarly said that I had been false accounting to hide theft – of course using Post Office data created by the Horizon system to do this.

‘My conviction was not brought solely on the Post Office evidence but that was needed to slight my good name and provide the prosecution with a motive of theft.’

In response to Garbutt’s comments, his former mother-in-law has accused him of ‘trying to use the Horizon scandal to his advantage’ to get out of prison.

However, he and his legal team insists there are also ‘huge question marks’ over another key plank in the prosecution case – Diana’s time of death.

Jurors were told she died between 2.30am and 4.30am – long before the post office’s central locking system allowed the safe to be opened, at 8.30am.

The assertion seemingly blew a hole in Garbutt’s claims of a robbery gone wrong.

But the prosecution’s expert was later contradicted by a Home Office pathologist, while one instructed by his legal team suggested the time of death may have been much later than 4.30am – possibly even after 6.45am.

His team point out that would have made it almost impossible for Garbutt to have carried out the murder because the till roll shows a stream of customers from 5.15am through to around 8.30am that morning.

Many of those gave evidence at the trial and all recalled Garbutt seeming his ‘normal cheery self’.

Police officers at the scene (Picture: North News & Pictures Ltd)

Garbutt’s legal team have also raised serious questions surrounding the DNA evidence in the case.

The murder weapon, a rusty iron bar, was only recovered days after the murder.

When it was swabbed, it was found to contain DNA from one of the police officers present when it was discovered.

They also suggest the same constable’s sample could potentially be found in a rust mark on a pillowcase in their bedroom – despite him not being on duty when the scene was examined, suggesting key evidence may have been contaminated.

Inexplicably, the most vital piece of evidence in the entire case was lost before the trial even started.

Crime scene photographs show a clump of light-brown hair on one of the pillows.

It did not appear to belong to Diana, whose hair was dark brown with red highlights, or her husband, whose hair was grey, so had she ripped it from her attacker’s head during a struggle it would surely have held the killer’s DNA profile.

Solicitor Glyn Maddocks – made an honorary KC for his work on miscarriages of justice – called the blunder ‘shocking’.

He previously told Metro: ‘The way in which the forensic work has been handled and dealt with is disgraceful. It’s absolutely disgraceful and no-one could possibly argue otherwise.

‘It’s just such a shocking case. If it was you or your relative, you’d be absolutely horrified.’

Garbutt will not be eligible for parole until the end of his 20-year minimum term in 2030 (Picture: PA)

Garbutt said: ‘The forensics in my case was a shambles – losing key evidence, hiding lamps with blood spatter on them in cupboards, not testing a balaclava and handgun when found for DNA.

‘When I see programmes like Silent Witness, their CSIs scratch around for the smallest piece of evidence and are thrilled when they find it, here in my case they find a ‘clump’ of hair at the murder scene and then lose it?

‘Maybe it did not help their case as it was clearly not mine or my wife’s.’

Garbutt has taken his case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission three times in the years since seeking a retrial. But has been turned down each time.

He said: ‘With all of the above – the time of death, the DNA, the Post Office evidence – I am sure a new jury could and would not convict me, especially when there was already doubt in my original jury room.’

Garbutt will not be eligible for parole until the end of his 20-year minimum term in 2030, while maintaining his innocence could see him stay behind bars way beyond that date.

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Nevertheless, he insists he ‘will never rest until justice is done’ and his wife’s ‘real killer’ is caught.

He said: ‘I am very hopeful that one day we will be able to convict the killer of my wife. We have done so much work already.

‘However, North Yorkshire Police will not be looking for someone else until the CCRC put my case forward to the Court of Appeal and my conviction is quashed.

‘I will never give up on my Di. My family, friends and I will never rest until justice is done.

‘So if I have to die in prison fighting for what is right – so be it.’

In a statement refusing to refer his case for retrial in November 2022, the watchdog said: ‘Much of Mr Garbutt’s application to the CCRC focused on the Post Office Horizon scandal, which has led to a number of fraud and theft convictions of former Post Office workers being overturned, many after referral by the CCRC. 

‘The CCRC decided that this argument could not assist Mr Garbutt, as figures from the Horizon system were not essential to his conviction for murder.  

‘Other issues concerning scientific evidence were also considered, and the CCRC has now made a final decision not to refer his case for an appeal.’ 

North Yorkshire Police has been contacted for comment.

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