Paula Gilfoyle was found hanged in the garage of the home she shared with her husband Eddie on the 4th June 1992. 32-year old Paula was eight and a half months pregnant and seemingly happy, writes Kim Evans. Paula’s family remain convinced that Eddie murdered his wife. Eddie has always protested his innocence and claims that he served 18 years imprisonment for a crime he did not commit.
Lord Hunt of Wirral hosted a reception at the House of Lords earlier this month, to mark the launch of a booklet (The case of Eddie Gilfoyle). The booklet details the mistakes, errors, and seemingly downright dishonesty which took place in the prosecution and some say wrongful conviction of Gilfoyle for the murder of his wife Paula.
Gilfoyle’s solicitors are even now, 20 years later, still fighting to obtain disclosure of evidence held by the police withheld during the original investigation and subsequent appeal. Some evidence, found only last year by Gilfoyle’s solicitor Matt Foot, has placed the investigation into an entirely different light.
A troubled relationship
Eddie and Paula had a somewhat turbulent relationship, the strain exacerbated by a house renovation. Paula refused to move into the house until it was completely finished and so the two were living apart. It was no secret that Eddie had become close to a work colleague, Sandra Davies, during this time, although both denied that the relationship had become physical. Paula refused to move into the house and Eddie concluded the marriage was over. He told Paula that he wanted Davies to move in with him. Paula’s response was to tell him she was pregnant with his child.
The reconciliation was not smooth. In April 1992, Paula told Eddie that the child was not in fact his claiming first of all that the father was a man named ‘Nigel’ and then that it was someone else altogether. Tests later established that Eddie was the child’s father.
On the 4th June Eddie returned from work to find what appeared to be a suicide note from Paula. He read the first two lines and went immediately to his parent’s home nearby, returning to the house with his father and brother in law, then a police sergeant, Paul Caddick.
Police were called but it was Caddick who found Paula’s lifeless body hanging in the garage. It is difficult to imagine a more distressing and upsetting scene.
There then followed a stream of official visitors to the house, CID officers, a scenes of crime officer (SOCO), all the relevant persons who attend the scene of a ‘sudden death’. However, the first official to arrive was the Coroner’s Officer, PC Brian Jones. PC Jones was shown the letter, and Paula’s body was taken down. No photographs were taken of the body in situ, the SOCO was told they were not required. The police surgeon did not take a body temperature, and the scene was not preserved. There was confusion between officers as to what had and hadn’t been done, assumptions were made.
After the Detective Inspector had read Paula’s last letter her body was removed to the mortuary and the next day, following a post mortem examination, which found nothing suspicious, the rope taken from Paula’s neck was incinerated.
It was clear to all who attended the house on that day that Paula Gilfoyle had taken her own life. There was a suicide note, there were no signs of a struggle, there was nothing to suggest that Paula had died by any means other than her own hand, and the scene of her death was treated accordingly.
There was no reason to treat the garage as a crime scene, no one was suggesting that this was a murder and that everything had to be carefully preserved so that a painstaking investigation could establish who was responsible for Paula’s death. Whilst PC Jones’ actions were, with hindsight, somewhat amateurish, sloppy even, they were perhaps understandable given that there was absolutely nothing to arouse suspicion at that stage.
It was only with the benefit of that hindsight that the lack of detail recorded allowed the police to fill in the gaps subsequently, with ‘evidence’ which fitted their theory that Eddie had killed his wife.
Police were forced to re-examine the circumstances of Paula’s death when her family, perhaps unsurprisingly unable to come to terms with the thought that a woman awaiting the birth of her first child would take her life in such a way. The finger of suspicion began to point at Eddie, with what looked like a clear motive – his affair with Sandra Davies.
A second post mortem found two small scratches to Paula’s neck, not seen by the first pathologist. Following his arrest a search of the house found another unfinished suicide note. Eddie denied a suggestion that he had dictated the notes for Paula to write, under the guise of a ‘suicide course’ he was undertaking at work, and he was released on bail. Almost three weeks later another search of the garage was carried out and a rope tied in a slip-knot was found in a drawer. The rope, referred to as a ‘practice noose’ at the subsequent trial was not there during the first search carried out on June 8th.
A review of the original inquiry by Lancashire police records PC Cartwright as saying he was ‘adamant’ the rope was not there at the time – he recalled looking in the drawer where the rope was subsequently found. It seems pertinent to add that a forensic scientist had mentioned before the search that it would be useful to find evidence such as ropes, perhaps to make up for the lack of evidence caused by the initial failings, due to an acceptance that the death was a suicide.
A lack of factual evidence from the scene was compounded at Eddie’s trial by the pathologist, Dr. Burns, giving evidence of his opinion that it was virtually impossible for Paula to have killed herself without assistance, following experiments he carried out himself at the garage. However, in giving that opinion, which from the mouth of an expert would have appeared indisputable, Dr. Burns was opining on areas outside of his area of expertise (subsequent analysis by forensic experts authoritatively refute his conclusions). Despite a warning to the jury, the judge admitted his evidence. The real damage had already been done, when the police took the pathologist’s opinion, and tailored their subsequent investigation to fit with his theory.
Fuller details of Gilfoyle’s trial, and the dismissal of his two subsequent appeals against conviction can be downloaded HERE.
‘Seventeen witnesses described her as being, in the spring of 1992, happy and looking forward to the birth of the child, despite misgivings about the birth itself. Her GP, who saw her regularly and last saw her a week before her death, and her gynaecologist, both described her as fit and positive about the birth. She had no history of depression’.
From the 2000 appeal judgment
As a detective, I would often say that there is evidence, and then there is ‘jury evidence’. Evidence which means more to ordinary lay men and women of the jury than it does to experienced lawyers. Such evidence in the case of Gilfoyle is, I believe the prevailing view at that time that it was very rare for pregnant women to commit suicide. For the vast majority of people it would be almost inconceivable that a woman, particularly one at such an advanced stage of pregnancy, would take her own life, and in doing so take the life of her unborn child. In fact that view was based on incorrect statistics. Shockingly, a 1993 study reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that suicide is the leading cause of maternal death, with the majority of such cases occurring during late pregnancy. Paula Gilfoyle’s state of mind was a crucial part of the evidence against her husband in a case which the court of appeal said depended on ‘non pathological evidence’.
The locked metal box
That revised view would be important on its own, but coupled with quite incredible evidence found by Matt Foot in August 2010 means that the case against Eddie Gilfoyle, must, at the very least, be subject to lurking doubt. Foot discovered amongst the exhibits still held by police, a padlocked metal box in an extraordinary scene worthy of a Hollywood movie.
The solicitor discovered inside the box diaries and keepsakes which revealed a very different side to Paula’s character, one which might be thought to directly contradict the view that she was happy and cheerful, with no possible reason to take her own life. The diaries revealed a previous suicide attempt, and detailed the suicide threat of her former boyfriend Mark Roberts. She had stood by Roberts even when he was convicted of the rape and murder of a young woman, and she recorded collecting his bloodstained belt and jeans from the police station. A suicide letter to her from another fiancé noted how he ‘only saw her happy when her friends were around’.
That letter too was in the box. Suicide and death seems to have been a constant theme running through Paula Gilfoyle’s tragically short life. Whilst researching this article, and reading the judgment from the 2000 appeal following a CCRC referral, I became aware of an issue which initially caused me some concern. The appeal court judges, in arriving at their decision to dismiss the appeal against conviction, placed considerable reliance on a number of issues, or ‘proved facts’, from which an inference could be drawn that Paula Gilfoyle’s death was the result of murder and not suicide.
To my mind most, if not all, of these facts have been resolved in Eddie’s favour as a result of either fresh evidence or re-interpretation of existing evidence. For example, the judgment recorded that the garage was locked when Paul Caddick arrived. It was a self-locking garage and could be opened from the inside without a key. Paula’s garage key was missing from her set. The court went on to record that ‘it was said that the appellant, having prepared the noose in the garage, removed his wife’s key from the key ring lest she go into the garage and see the noose’.
This, on the face of it, was damning evidence.
But, on closer examination, it was perhaps unfair of the court to draw that inference. There was a theory that the key had been removed from Paula’s set, but it was just that – a theory. Any evidence that the key was not on the key ring was very unclear as they were never tested or exhibited by the police. However there was some evidence that the lock to the garage door was faulty, and it may well have been the case that the key was on the set all the time but just didn’t work the first time it was used. Like so many of the issues in this case, we will never really know. The keys were never exhibited by the police and no-one appears to know where they are.
In the explaining the reasoning behind their decision, the court said:
‘[The] decision as to which was the cause of death, now as at trial, depends on the non-pathological evidence. If that evidence proves, as in our judgment it plainly does, because that is the inevitable inference, that the appellant killed the deceased, it is immaterial precisely how he killed her.’
That means effectively, that in the absence of clear evidence, the court concluded from the circumstantial evidence that Eddie tricked Paula into writing a suicide letter, into putting her head into a noose, and then pushed her off a step ladder, to make it look like she took her own life. That explanation is looking ever more fantastical, and ever more like a serious miscarriage of justice.
The new booklet places much emphasis on the ‘bungling actions’ of the Coroner’s Officer at the scene, actions that have subsequently been revealed as ‘Force Policy’ at that time. However, I wonder whether, had detectives had taken control of the scene any earlier, the outcome would have been any different. Isn’t the point that PC Jones concluded that this was a suicide, because that’s exactly what it was – an unsuspicious death?
I believe the true mischief in this case to be the tunnel vision in the investigation that occurred afterwards. Let’s hope that a more open-minded approach to the new evidence will bring peace of mind to Eddie Gilfoyle and his family.
Sadly, it’s unlikely to bring any closure to Paula’s.
Kim Evans has spent 31 years working at the sharp end of the criminal justice system - the last ten years in the cells of East Sussex police stations defending people in custody. ‘I'd guesstimate that 90% of my clients have a personality disorder, mental health issues, and, or, serious substance addiction be it drugs or alcohol,’ she says. Kim started her career at the Metropolitan Police as a uniformed officer in 1979.