5. The Trial
Eddie’s trial began on 10 June 1993 at Liverpool Crown Court before Mr Justice McCullough. Opening the prosecution’s case, Rodney Klevan QC said Paula:
" had been hanged by another hand in some way and that the defendant did it and thereafter made it look as though it was suicide."
Referring to the suicide note he said:
"the letter was written by Paula Gilfoyle but it was written, we say, at the defendant's request and dictation".
The jury was shown a video film of an exercise in the Grafton Drive garage by police and forensic scientists to reconstruct the circumstances of Paula’s hanging.
A woman officer - who was pregnant and the same height as Paula – tried to pass a rope over the roof beam. After several attempts, she succeeded. Asked to tie a knot in the rope, she was unable to do so. The jury clearly attached importance to this evidence. During their deliberations, they asked to watch the film again. There was a significant problem with the purported reconstruction. At first, the policewoman does not appear to be trying very hard but then the rope goes over the beam easily. She is then able pass it back over the beam twice more. The rope used in the reconstruction was not the same type as the one from which Paula was found hanging. The rope given to the policewoman was floppy and limp whereas the actual rope was so stiff and rigid that it could even have been bent and pushed over the beam.
In the course of cross-examination, Home Office pathologist Dr James Burns giving evidence for the Crown said that the absence of bruising or any signs of a struggle, meant Paula:
‘must have been a willing victim’
i.e. she must have co-operated with her murderer while the rope was placed round her neck. He claimed that two small, parallel scratch marks found on Paula’s neck indicated an attempt to remove the ligature. McCullough J. reminded the jury that Dr Burns made no such claim in his original statement after his post mortem examination.
A significant factor which strongly influenced the outcome of the trial was ‘expert’ evidence from prosecution witnesses on issues about which they were unqualified to testify. As a broad rule, witnesses in criminal trials may only give evidence about facts within their direct experience. If they attempt to express a personal opinion or interpretation concerning those facts, they will usually be stopped by the trial judge. A major exception to this rule is opinion evidence from expert witnesses who may have expertise on matters outside the experience of the judge and jury.
At Eddie’s trial, pathologist Dr Burns repeated his opinion given in a previous written report that it was:
for Paula Gilfoyle:
‘to have climbed the aluminium step ladder, stood on the platform on top …then tied a rope around the ridge-beam and secured it firmly on the side of the beam’.
He based his conclusion on experiments he carried out at the Grafton Drive garage. At a meeting in the garage with police and others on 22nd June 1992, Dr Burns expressed the view that Paula could not have killed herself without assistance.
From that point onwards, Merseyside Police decided Paula had been murdered. The ‘expert’ view was that she could not have tied the rope around the beam in her pregnant condition and that she would have had difficulty balancing on the ladder which was not in sufficient reach of the beam. It is a reasonable speculation that officers - mindful of spectacular bungling at the scene and destruction of crucial case material – would have seized on Dr. Burns’ views. His conclusions helped to mitigate (and even to cover up) their inability to investigate Paula’s death properly as a consequence of those initial failings.
There was, however, a major problem with this ostensibly expert evidence. Questions about how the rope was tied to reach the roof beam were non-medical issues. As a medical pathologist, Dr Burns had no more expertise in these areas than any other layperson. Indeed, subsequent analysis by acknowledged forensic experts authoritatively refute his conclusions.
The trial judge was clearly bemused by Dr Burns presenting himself as an expert on such matters. McCullough J. intervened during his testimony commenting ‘
"He is not an expert in throwing ropes over beams or in reaching up… He is just a human being for that purpose’.
Nevertheless, Dr Burns’ evidence was admitted.
The notion that ‘experts’ could show Paula hadn’t killed herself was compounded in jurors’ minds when Paula’s GP was allowed to express similar opinions that she would not have been able to get the rope over the beam. Again, as a medical doctor he possessed no special expertise on this matter and his opinion evidence should not have been admitted.
McCullough J. decided that testimony from Paula’s friends who told police about alleged conversations with her was inadmissible under the longstanding rule against hearsay evidence. He also ruled inadmissible the evidence of David Canter, a distinguished psychologist who the prosecution wished to call.
Professor Canter had provided a report which stated the suicide note in Paula’s handwriting was not typical of women who commit suicide and it was unlikely that she’d written it with the intention of taking her life. The English courts have traditionally shown extreme reluctance to admit expert opinion on matters of psychology and psychiatry which jury members might be expected to assess from their own experience of human behaviour.
A recurring theme of the Crown’s case against Eddie Gilfoyle was Paula’s ‘bubbly’ personality and the assertion that she was looking forward to their baby’s birth. It had conclusively been established that Eddie was indeed the father of her unborn child.
It was unimaginable, the Crown argued, that a pregnant woman would take her own life and that of her child. It was claimed Paula had no history of depression. Witnesses were called to testify that she was in good spirits in the weeks before her death.
Her GP told the court he had never treated her for depression apart from temporarily prescribing valium when she was sixteen. She had ended a long-term relationship with her then boyfriend who shortly afterwards murdered a woman in a local park.
Thanks to a botched investigation, the Crown were presented with a problem. When was Eddie supposed to have murdered her? At trial, the judge remarked that because Paula failed to attend her ante natal appointment at 2pm she must have died before then. The last person believed to have seen Paula alive before that time was a door to door market researcher Maureen Brannan.
She had called at the house at 11.00 am on 4 June. She stayed 15-20 minutes completing a survey about wine with Paula and Eddie. His drive to work usually took eight minutes. He was seen arriving at the hospital around 11.30 am. There was no evidence he’d left his workplace until returning home at around 16.40 pm (he had been given permission to leave early).
A Mrs Melarangi who delivered parcels for Paula’s mail order business said she called at the house at 11.50 am but received no reply. She further claimed that she returned to the house around 5.30 p.m. She said Eddie was outside the house and signed for a parcel. In the subsequent words of the Court of Appeal:
‘the Crown's case was that Paula had died between Mrs Brannan leaving after 11.00 am. and Mrs Melarangi calling at 11.50 am’.
If the timings of Mrs Brannan and his work colleagues were correct, this gave him little or no opportunity to commit the crime before he left for work. At the close of the prosecution case, Eddie’s counsel submitted there was no case to answer. The Crown had failed to show that Paula had been murdered and were asking the jury to speculate about the manner in which the suicide notes came into existence. McCullough J. ruled there was sufficient evidence on which the jury could reach a verdict. The defence called no evidence on Eddie’s behalf and he was not asked to testify. He presented as a somewhat pathetic and confused figure in the dock. Eddie had suffered a severe mental breakdown shortly after the death of his wife and child for which he received hospital treatment and had been taking medication for ten months.
Unknown to the jury, HMP Walton failed to administer his anti-depressant drugs during his trial. The deleterious effects of sudden withdrawal of psychiatric medication are well-documented. His ability to participate in his own trial was severely impaired. He struggled to understand the proceedings, communicate with his lawyers or make an informed decision about testifying.
In their closing submissions, his counsel stressed the significance of the suicide notes and invited the jury to reject as mere guesswork the theory that they were written by Paula at Eddie’s request. During their deliberations (and just before they reached a verdict), a juror was discharged from the jury on the advice of a doctor but without consultation with the trial judge. The judge subsequently approved the discharge of the jury member. The jury considered their verdict for almost 15 hours before finding Eddie guilty of Paula’s murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 17 years.