Lawyers for Jeremy Bamber, who is serving a whole life sentence for murdering his family, have unearthed evidence that they say undermines the claim that it was “inconceivable” for his adoptive sister to have shot herself.
Sheila Caffell, who died alongside her twin sons and Bamber’s adoptive parents in 1985, was initially the prime suspect in the White House Farm case, with police working on the hypothesis of a murder/suicide. But after suspicion later turned to Bamber, the prosecution said she could not have taken her own life because she received two bullet wounds to the neck at an interval.
Lawyers for Bamber – whose case is currently the subject of a six-part ITV dramatisation – have found in archives a series of statements by senior officers and the police surgeon that they say contradict that claim. They say the documents were never seen by the trial jury, and suggest that Caffell appeared to have only one gunshot wound when the police entered the crime scene.
The claim that Caffell was shot twice was significant at Bamber’s trial, alongside evidence that a silencer was used and then removed from the murder weapon. The judge Mr Justice Drake told the jury: “If she [Caffell] had killed everyone and was about to commit suicide and put the gun to her neck and found she could not reach it, is it seriously to be suggested that anyone, whether mentally upset or not, would then unscrew the silencer, go back to the cupboard, put it in the box and then return upstairs to the bedroom before taking her life by two shots – one with some interval between the other? The prosecution on that evidence alone say it is inconceivable that she killed herself.”
In the ITV series, the turning point in the police investigation comes when they realise Caffell has been shot twice in the neck, the investigating officer stating: “Well it can’t be bloody suicide then.”
Bamber’s lawyers asked ITV bosses to postpone the dramatisation, which concludes on Wednesday, because they believe the new evidence could clear Bamber’s name.
During the night of 6 August 1985, Nevill and June Bamber were shot and killed inside their Essex farmhouse along with their adoptive daughter, Caffell, and Caffell’s six-year-old twin sons, Daniel and Nicholas.
Bamber, then 24, phoned the police to say Nevill had called him saying his daughter Sheila had “gone crazy and has the gun”.
Initially, police believed that Caffell, diagnosed with schizophrenia, had fired the shots and then turned the gun on herself. But on 10 August, after the police ended their examination of the crime scene, a silencer was found in a gun cupboard at the farmhouse. It was later said to contain blood belonging to Caffell. In 2018 a forensics report cast doubt on the validity of evidence relating to the silencer.
On 7 September 1985, Jeremy Bamber’s ex-girlfriend told police Bamber had discussed killing his family with her and that he was involved. On 29 September, Bamber was charged with the murders. He was convicted in October 1986.
The newly discovered statements show that before the Essex police photographer began taking crime scene photographs at the scene at 10.20am on 7 August, illustrating that Caffell had sustained two gunshot wounds, five senior officers and the police surgeon had seen Caffell and suggested there was only one wound.
At 8.13am a Ch Supt Harris and Ch Insp Gibbons saw Caffell’s body in the main bedroom. In their witness statements written that morning, they described how she appeared. Harris stated: “A .22 rifle was lying along Mrs Caffell’s body, the barrel of which was resting just below an entry wound beneath her chin.” Gibbons said he saw “a younger female with a wound to her throat”.
At 8.25am a police surgeon, Dr Ian Craig, entered the house. He recorded in his witness statement, also written on the morning of 7 August, that “there was what appeared to be an entry wound in the throat”.
In 1986 during the Dickinson inquiry into Essex police’s handling of the case, ordered by the trial judge after Bamber’s conviction, Craig said: “I only saw one gunshot wound at that stage.”
Two Essex police officers, DS Jones and DI Miller, entered the house together at 9.15am. Miller recorded in a report dated 15 August: “The wound appeared to have been made by her own hand.”
Jones made no reference to any wounds in his witness statements until 1991 when he informed a City of London police inquiry that he attended the house the following day with a pathologist, Peter Vanezis, and was surprised to be told Caffell had suffered two gunshot wounds. He told the City of London police: “Up to that point I thought there had been only one.”
PC Wright , the coroner’s officer who provided information for the official coroner’s report dated 9 August, stated: “The appearance suggested in the case of Sheila Caffell the wound had been inflicted by her own hand.”
Controversially, the scene of crime officers, tasked with gathering forensic evidence, were unable to gain access to the house for 45 minutes and did not conduct their examination until approximately 10am.
While Bamber’s lawyers do not dispute that Caffell had two gunshot wounds by the time official police photographs were taken, they believe the failure to inform the jury of these statements prejudiced the case. One theory is that a gun went off accidentally in the chaos that followed after numerous police officers entered the farmhouse. It is accepted that the scene of crime was contaminated as officers attempted to reconstruct what had happened.
In evidence given to the Dickinson inquiry in 1988, Vanezis, the pathologist, said that while it was possible for people to kill themselves using two shots, it was uncommon.
Mark Newby, a solicitor advocate at Quality Solicitors Jordans, which represents Bamber, told the Guardian: “The jury only heard of the two shots, which was relied upon by the crown to support their case, but this wasn’t the whole picture. It represents yet another significant aspect to this case which supports Jeremy Bamber and undermines this conviction.”