The miscarriage of justice watchdog has referred the 1998 murder conviction of a prolific burglar to the Court of Appeal two decades after it first rejected it. Justin Plummer was convicted of the murder of Janice Cartwright-Gilbert following a trial at St Albans Crown Court. She had been found dead inside the mobile home she shared with her partner after having been stabbed multiple times and her home set on fire.
Plummer was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 16 years and to this day remains in prison. He had committed a string of burglaries in the local area and the prosecution case was that he had murdered the woman during a burglary, attacking her when she disturbed him. The key issue at trial concerned footprint evidence and whether his right shoe could be attributed to marks found on Ms Cartwright-Gilbert’s face.
In 2000, the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal and Plummer applied to the CCRC however the following year it decided that there was no real possibility that the conviction would be overturned. Plummer re-applied to the watchdog in November 2017.
The CCRC has decided to refer Mr Plummer’s conviction to the Court of Appeal on the basis of new evidence suggesting that the expert footwear mark evidence at trial was ‘fundamentally flawed’ and the jury were misled. The Commission points out that two of the prosecution experts who gave evidence – one was a dentist and bite marks expert – did not meet the ‘industry standards’ required to make a reliable footwear marks comparison. ‘These experts gave subjective opinions, in persuasive terms, with the appearance of expertise they did not, in fact, possess,’ the CCRC says. In the commission’s view, neither expert should have been permitted to give evidence at the trial..
The CCRC says that its referral draws on cadence nd arguments not available at trial or at the time it first looked at and rejected Plummer’s application including input from the Forensic Science Regulator, created in 2007, as well as developments on expert evidence and a new case law.