Authors: Alison Taylor
© Alison Taylor 2014
Alison Taylor has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in Great Britain in 1999 by William Heinemann
This edition published in 2014 by Endeavour Press Ltd.
Monday, 1st February
Two years after Piers Stanton Smith received a life sentence for murdering his ex-wife, the Court of Appeal judged his conviction ‘unsafe’. Accused of corruption, the police officers who sent him to prison are now themselves under investigation. In the first of three major articles, our chief reporter Gaynor Holbrook looks into the tragic background of this miscarriage of justice.
a chilly April after-noon, someone in Haughton battered thirty-six-year-old Trisha Stanton Smith into oblivion, drenched her home in petrol, and dropped a match. The autopsy on her charred remains proved that the cause of death was smoke inhalation. Ten days later, her thirty-one-year-old ex-husband was arrested for murder.
where Trisha spent all her life, is a bleak, wind-swept town in the Pennine hills. Manchester and Sheffield are twenty-odd miles away, over snaking moorland roads that are often blocked by winter blizzards. At one time, the town’s monumental mills reverberated to the thump and roar of King Cotton’s massive machinery. Now, the vast empty walls echo to the drip of water through ruined roofs, the whine of bitter winds off the moors, and the scuttle of vermin.
before she died, Trisha lodged an alimony claim against Smith. By then, he was married to Beryl Kay. She inherited one fortune from her grandfather, the owner of the town’s largest clothes shop. She later made another one by selling the shop site to a supermarket chain.
’s trial began at Manchester Crown Court on a raw November day, and the public gallery was packed. Trisha’s widowed father, Fred Jarvis, never saw his former son-in-law in the dock — he was still too distraught over the murder. But her sister, Linda Newton, was a key prosecution witness. Oddly, Beryl was never called, but she sat through every harrowing second of testimony.
prosecution argued that Trisha had to die to stop the squalid secrets of her marriage reaching Beryl’s ears. In her divorce petition, Trisha described eight years of terror as Smith’s wife. She was beaten, humiliated, sexually debased, and dragged into debt. Ravaged by stress, she became too ill to work. As their income went from bad to worse, so did Smith’s behaviour. Then, she had to go into hospital for a gynaecological operation.
I was still in dreadful pain when they sent me home,’ she had written. ‘I was crawling on the floor I hurt so much. He screamed at me to get up, but I couldn’t, so he kicked me between my legs as hard as he could.’
by one, the prosecution witnesses slashed Smith’s reputation to shreds. He was not ‘Piers Stanton Smith’ from a small village in South Yorkshire, but plain Peter Smith from a corporation housing block in Sheffield. Then frail, elderly Henry Colclough spoke of the ‘wickedly cruel’ death his wife Joyce suffered in her blazing car, while ten-year-old Smith calmly watched.
Joyce was his teacher. She was giving him a lift home from school, but something happened. She drove straight into a tree, and her legs were trapped under the dashboard. He got out, but when he saw the flames licking around the car, he stood and watched instead of running for help. He kept on watching, until she was dead.’ Looking steadily at the blue-eyed man in the dock, Colclough added: ‘I’ll never forget that look in his eyes. Never! And it’s still there. It makes my blood run cold.’
Newton claimed her former brother-in-law was a closet homosexual as well as a violent monster. Relentlessly cross-examined by Smith’s barrister, she had to admit that Trisha had her own flaws. But she was outraged by the suggestion that Trisha connived masochistically in her own pain. When it came to the advertisements Trisha placed in several lonely hearts columns while she was still married, Linda hung her head and refused to reply.
According to your testimony, Mrs Newton,’ the barrister said, ‘your sister was completely demoralised by the violence and sexual humiliation she allegedly suffered at my client’s hands. That picture of her sits very uneasily with that of a woman confident enough to solicit approaches from total strangers, and a woman who, for all we know, engaged sexually with one or more of them.’ He then denounced the police investigation
for not finding these men. ‘Not one iota of forensic evidence links my client to the murder, whereas any one of these mystery lovers could have killed Trisha Stanton Smith.’
climax of the trial was Smith’s testimony on his own behalf. He talked about his deprived childhood, and his mother, who died many years ago. Then he described life with the unstable, neurotic Trisha, who devised her own ways of violence. He was asked why he did not defend her divorce petition. ‘I had to get free of her. She was destroying my personality, like water dripping on stone. She often threatened to ruin me, and now she is doing, even from beyond the grave. How can I defend myself against that?’
course, he could not. Despite his lawyers’ best efforts and even the claim of an alibi for the murder, the jury took less than an hour to find him guilty. As he was led down to begin a life sentence, Beryl collapsed. Linda, gloatingly, hissed: ‘Rot in hell, you bastard!’
’s appeal was refused. He was forgotten by everyone except Beryl and Trisha’s family. Then a young Roman Catholic priest called Father John Barclay returned to England.
Barclay had been assistant priest at St Michael’s church in Haughton. Two days after Trisha died, he left to do missionary work in South America. He learned about Smith’s arrest when an old newspaper came his way months later. But he knew that Smith was in church throughout the fatal afternoon, and therefore over five miles away from the blazing house. He immediately wrote a letter to the police. Not knowing who was in charge of the investigation, he sent the letter to Father Brett Fauvel, St Michael’s parish priest, asking him to pass it on unopened.
heard nothing more. The police did not contact him, and Father Fauvel did not reply. So Father Barclay assumed someone else had been arrested for Trisha’s murder. Then he caught meningitis and hovered between life and death for many weeks. He was sent back to England to recuperate. When he found out Smith had been convicted,he approached the authorities. His evidence confirmed Smith’s own alibi defence and secured his release. But for the police it opened up a can of worms. At the appeal hearing, Father Fauvel stated under oath that he personally handed Father Barclay’s letter to Detective Inspector Barry Dugdale the day it arrived.
thirty-five, was in charge of probing Trisha’s horrible death. He stolidly maintains that he did not receive Father Barclay’s letter. He has been suspended from duty. His two assistants, Detective Sergeants Wendy Lewis, forty-two, and Colin Bowden, twenty-seven, are also under suspension.
Neville Ryman, fifty-one, supervised the murder investigation from police headquarters in the county town of Ravensdale, an elegant spa on the edge of the Peak District. He is a prominent Mason, and his wife Estelle works tirelessly for charity. Their daughter Shelley is a student. Ryman was an inspector in Haughton until his promotion.
Home Office has now called in officers from North Wales to investigate what looks like blatant corruption among Haughton police. The North Wales team is headed by recently divorced Super-intendent Michael McKenna, who is forty-five. Also on board are Detective Inspector Jack Tuttle, forty, Detective Constable Janet Evans, and Ellen Turner, their top administrator. They have a nasty job to do and, as things look at the moment, will probably recommend criminal prosecution of Dugdale and the others.
authorities appeared to respond quickly to Smith’s wrongful conviction. But the Haughton community has new worries. Trisha’s murder file remains closed, despite clear evidence that her killer is still at large. And people are suspicious about Haughton police being investigated by brother officers.
to appear independent, McKenna refused to base his inquiry at the town’s police station. He has been allocated a former police house in the village of Old Haughton. But his strings are already being jerked by the Police Federation, police lawyers and insurers, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police Complaints Authority, and the Home Office. And he is an odd choice to head this kind of investigation. His own background is very murky. He was brought up in Holyhead, and went to Aberystwyth University, but he comes from an Irish Republican family. A relative was hanged by the British after the 1916 rebellion.
is now head of a divisional criminal investigation unit in North Wales. But his last promotion was mysteriously delayed. He has also been absent from his usual duties at times. I queried these absences with the Home Office. Very brusquely, I was told they concerned ‘appropriate and legitimate police business’. But, as everyone knows, police business often gets very dirty.