Mark Williams-ThomasBy Mark Williams-Thomas, TV Presenter, Criminologist & Child Protection Expert, Birmingham City University.

The scene that greeted the police officers on their entry into the farmhouse was one of blood-soaked carnage.     In the kitchen on the ground floor, they found the body of Neville Bamber, dressed in his pyjamas and slumped over a chair.   He had been shot eight times, with six of the bullets fired at close range into his head.    But it seemed clear that he had put up a fierce struggle against his lethal assailant, for not only  was his face severely bruised but also around his corpse lay the evidence of a fight, including broken crockery, a smashed ceiling light and upturned furniture.

The trail of murderous violence extended upstairs.   In one bedroom with tragic poignancy, were the bodies of six-year-old twins Daniel and Nicholas Caffell.   Eight bullets, all delivered from very close range, had accounted for them as they slept.    In the master bedroom lay the heavily blood-stained body of June Bamber who had been shot seven times, once through her forehead right between her eyes.  FINALLY there was the body of Sheila Caffell and the mother of the murdered twins, who had two bullet wounds in her neck, a rifle across her chest and a bible at her side.

Altogether 25 rounds had been fired during this massacre, which took place during the early hours of 7th August 1985 at White House farm in rural Essex.    It was a crime that shook the nation in its savagery and its extraordinary circumstances.  Initially the police and the media were certain that the bloodbath had been perpetrated by Sheila Caffell during some kind of frenzied breakdown.     She was a vulnerable ex-model with a long history of mental illness.    All the victims were members of her immediate family, her adoptive parents, Neville and June, the owners of White house Farm and her twin sons, Daniel and Nicholas.   The pattern of killing suggested that Sheila had killed the other four and then shot herself in a deranged murder-suicide.

But then the saga took a bizarre twist.   A few weeks after the crime, the spotlight of suspicion began to fall on Sheila’s brother Jeremy, who had also been adopted by the Bambers and lived in a rented cottage near the farm.    Gradually, the police built up a case against him.    Having been charged with the murders, Bamber was put on trial in October 1986 and after a very high profile court case lasting 19 days, was found guilty.
He has been in prison ever since, one of the few lifers in Britain who has been told that he will never be released because of the gravity of his crimes.

After all these years behind bars, Bamber continues to maintain his innocence.   And in the subsequent 26 years since the trial, doubts have grown about his guilt.   This case has attracted considerable attention and continues with opinions split between those who believe Jeremy Bamber is innocent and those that firmly believe he is guilty.   It is accepted by the original police team that vital evidence was lost, and enquires and forensic examinations were not carried out properly.    Vital material was destroyed or ignored.   The crime scene was never secured properly.  These are all failings that would not be accepted in any murder enquiry today. But we must remember this is 1985 and policing has changed massively since then.

I write as a criminologist and former detective myself with much experience of working on high profile cases and subsequently studying many more.   The White House Farm murders have only recently attracted my attention but having looked in depth at the evidence, it is clear that Bamber’s new legal team have identified some very significant points which need to be carefully considered.

Tonight, in an ITV documentary special, I have been given exclusive access to a lot of previously unseen documents and have set out to challenge the new evidence by Bambers legal team and see if it stands up under separate scrutiny.

The essence of the prosecution case is that Bamber was a cunning manipulator who loathed his adoptive parents and staged the massacre so that he could inherit the family farm and fortune.   According to this narrative, Bamber climbed into the White House Farm on the night of 7th August, took one of his father’s rifles, complete with a silencer on it, and embarked on the murders.   But in this account, two unforeseen problems almost ruined the deadly scheme.   First of all, his father Neville put up powerful resistance despite having sustained a number of bullet wounds.   That, said the prosecutors, was why he was battered so badly.    Second, Bamber discovered that, with the silencer on the rifle, it would have been physically impossible for Sheila to have shot herself  because her arms were simply not long enough to stretch to the trigger while holding the muzzle under her chin.    So, according to the prosecutors, Bamber removed the silencer after killing her and left the now shorter rifle on her chest.   Having placed the silencer in the gun cupboard downstairs, the illusion of suicide was complete.

So this object was absolutely crucial to the prosecution case.  The silencer was the key single piece of evidence in this case . In  fact, the judge in the original trial said that “on its own, it could lead the jury to believe that the defendant is guilty.”   Given its strength however to the case it is important to note that the silencer was not found by the police at all during their initial search of White House Farm.

Instead, it was uncovered by members of the wider Bamber family days after the police had finished their work at the crime scene.   It was the discovery of the silencer that suddenly turned Jeremy Bamber into the suspect.

The evidence that a silencer was definitely used when Sheila was killed has always has been the prosecutions case, yet this is now where Bamber’s lawyers have obtained evidence to challenge this view.  In preparing to mount a renewed appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, his legal team ordered one of the world’s leading ballistics experts, based in the USA, to conduct tests with a rifle and ammunition exactly the same as that used at White House Farm.   This expert’s findings, based on detailed photographs taken of Sheila’s two gunshot wounds is that in his opinion,  one of the wounds was consistent with the rifle  without a silencer attached. Just as importantly, in the police photos of Neville’s body, there are a number of small, circular burn marks on his back. Again Bambers’s legal team have now obtained expert evidence which concludes that the three marks are consistent with the artificially heated muzzle of a rifle without a silencer.

For the TV documentary tonight, we replicated precisely the firearms tests from the USA and achieved exactly the same results. One crucial point which has troubled me is how no residue, lead or gun oil was ever found on Sheila, despite having fired 25 rounds, which would have entailed reloading the .22 rifle at least twice.    Furthermore her manicured nails were undamaged. Although no proper forensic tests were carried out;  to the naked eye no residue was visible on her hands.   So I tested this and  loaded the bullets into the magazine . I found that I could easily load the first 9 bullets into the magazine and use the pads of my finger, leaving no residue on my fingers. And if i did get any residue on my fingers it was easily removed simply by wiping my hands on clothing.

The programme also looks at other evidence crucial to Bamber’s conviction.    One is the fact that his former girlfriend, Julie Mugford, was paid £25,000 for her story by the News of the World.   She played a crucial role for the prosecution.   After initially supporting Bamber in the wake of the killings, she turned against him and told the police that he had confessed he was planning to kill his parents.  “Tonight or never”, she claimed he said on the day of the murders.    But the jury never learnt of her dealings with the media.
In our programme tonight, we have tape of Bamber saying, more with regret than anger, “I think there is no question that Sheila was responsible”

Even after 27 years this case still attracts massive public opinion and attention . Whatever your view – ultimately the decision sits with the Commission as to whether this case will be referred back to the court of Appeal for the second time.   A decision which I am told is imminent.

Twitter @mwilliamsthomas

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Mark Williams

Mark Williams

TV Presenter, Criminologist & Child Protection Expert, Birmingham City University