On July 4, 1992 Eddie Gilfoyle’s world fell apart. Eddie’s wife, Paula, who was eight months pregnant with their child, was found hanging in their garage. Then on July 3, 1993, a jury unanimously convicted Eddie of her murder. Eddie has always maintained his innocence. His fight for justice has been long and arduous and Eddie appears to have been betrayed by ‘justice’ at every stage. You can read Professor Julie Price’s write up of the first Innovation of Justice conference in Manchester (here).
This made Eddie Gilfoyle’s presence at the first Innovation of Justice conference of fundamental importance. This was a conference where the overarching message was one of hope, defiance and a commitment to challenging the status quo.
Eddie took to the stand to highlight the devastating impact of a wrongful conviction and to call for a movement to challenge our ‘rotten, dishonest and cruel’ criminal justice system.
Eddie reflected that he might be out of prison but he is not free. He recounted a dream where he is walking down a long and seemingly never-ending corridor. As he finally approaches the door towards the end, it slams shut in his face. There is nowhere to go.
Never have I heard a more accurate description of how I imagine it feels to be challenging a wrongful conviction in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
To illustrate this, it is necessary to pick up on two pivotal points in Eddie’s 26-year fight for justice.
Firstly, Eddie’s sister Sue explained how the Lancashire police were called upon to investigate the Merseyside police force and their investigation into Eddie’s case. The Lancashire police investigation exposed evidence of dishonesty and non-disclosure on the part of Merseyside police. Furthermore, most powerfully, the force concluded that there was no evidence to suggest a crime had been committed at all.
Such a damning account of the police investigation in 1992 would seem to call the safety of Eddie’s conviction into serious question. However, when Eddie sought to adduce this evidence at his 1995 appeal against conviction, he was told it was inadmissible, due to the fact there was still an open investigation surrounding this.
Unbelievably, when Eddie sought to adduce this evidence in his appeal against conviction in 2000, he was told this was not classed as ‘fresh evidence’ and could not be relied upon because he ought to have adduced it at his previous 1995 appeal. This is a decision that displays the kind of logic that only the Court of Appeal is capable of, and one that could only ever be expected by those with experience in fighting for criminal appeals.
The second pivotal point which Eddie drew upon was the discovery that the police had withheld crucial evidence of diaries written by Paula. These diaries documented a previous suicide attempt and discussed how Paula was still traumatised from a previous relationship with an ex-boyfriend who committed a brutal murder. If disclosed, this evidence would no doubt have been fundamental to the defence in counteracting the prosecution’s portrayal of Paula as happy-go-lucky and with no history of depression.
Eddie explained how he did not discover that these diaries existed until 2010. This is despite the fact that the diaries were handed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in their investigation leading up to the 2000 appeal. And eight years later, Eddie is still fighting to get a referral from the CCRC to the Court of Appeal to have this evidence heard.
Unsurprisingly, Eddie does not look upon the CCRC with any favour and sees the organisation as part of the problem. Of the Court of Appeal he said they ‘cherry pick’ appeal grounds to dispose of and never look at the case as a whole; they are there to uphold the jury’s verdict and to protect the establishment at all costs.
Eddie explained his view that the criminal justice system was designed to prevent the corruption and dishonesty within it from ever coming to the public’s attention. He lamented that the statue of Lady Justice positioned outside of the Royal Courts of Justice was supposed to represent a fair system, with the sword, scales and blindfold. But today, he said that the Lady Justice was ‘just protecting the whole rotten establishment’.
Eddie expressed his hope that the Innovation of Justice initiative would finally help to bring about the change that we so desperately need. He called for the attendees to get behind this movement to effect real change in the criminal justice system.
Powerfully, he concluded (and I paraphrase): ‘I am Eddie Gilfoyle and I am innocent. There was no crime committed in my case. My wife took her own life. But the justice system would sooner keep me convicted than admit to their deceit and dishonesty and give justice.’