10. Hearsay

 

The 1995 and 2000 Court of Appeal judgments attached weight to alleged conversations which three of Paula’s workmates said they’d had with her before her death. Their statements ostensibly explained how the suicide note in Paula’s handwriting (and two partly-completed drafts) came into existence.

 

Paula, they said, told them Eddie persuaded her to write such notes for a course about suicide which he was attending at work. There was no such course. The friends’ statements were excluded from Eddie’s 1993 trial under the longstanding rule against ‘hearsay’*** evidence which then applied. The Court of Appeal ruled the statements admissible as evidence of Paula’s state of mind. The Court did not afford Eddie’s lawyers any opportunity to question the three friends about their statements. 

In the days following Paula’s death, there was inevitably much discussion, gossip and exchange of rumours among her family and friends.

 

Some declared a determination to ‘help clear Paula’s name’. There are factual inconsistencies in the friends’ statements which indicate their recollections were either faulty and/or Paula had not been telling them the truth.

 

For example, one friend said that some days after Paula first told her about Eddie seeking help with a work project, she told her that:

 

‘she had ripped the notes up and thrown them in the bin’.

 

This account was implausible. If Paula believed the purported reason for asking her to write such notes, why would she dispose of them? If she had not believed him, why would she write further notes?

 

None of the friends appear to have queried inherent weaknesses in Paula’s stories. What sort of training course would require participants to ask someone else to write suicide letters? If writing such notes was connected with a training course, why would Paula place the fictional suicide letters in envelopes specifically addressed to her parents and husband? Why would anyone, as one friend claimed, rig up a noose in his garage as part of a training course?

 

Paula’s alleged story cannot, moreover, explain the ‘Nigel’ letter. There is no mention of suicide in this document. It states that she had been having an affair with ‘Nigel’ and was having his baby. Paula knew Eddie had shown and/or related the contents of the ‘Nigel’ letter to several people at his workplace including his manager.

 

In the close-knit community of Upton, there was a strong likelihood the letter’s contents would become known to her workmates and friends. In one of her friends’ statements, Paula allegedly claimed Eddie told her to state in a fictitious suicide letter that she’d been having an affair and the baby was not his. Such an explanation might have provided a useful ‘cover’ if the ‘Nigel’ letter had come to the attention of her family, friends and colleagues.

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*** i.e. information gathered by one person from another about matters of which the first person had no direct experience. The rule against hearsay evidence was substantially reformed by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.