Unsafe convictions, p.5

Unsafe Convictions, page 5

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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  ‘Beryl was giving him a hefty monthly allowance,’ Dugdale said, ‘as well as picking up the tab for all the bills, so, technically, he had an income to annexe. Once Trisha proved that, to all intents and purposes, Beryl would be forced to keep her, which Beryl wouldn’t like one little bit.’

  ‘So are you suggesting she issued some kind of ultimatum that provoked the murder?’

  ‘Simply voicing her objections would be enough to make Smith fret that his new, and much fatter, milch cow might disappear into the distance if he didn’t rid himself of the millstone round his neck.’

  ‘Very colourfully put, Inspector, if the metaphor is somewhat mixed, but all assumption.’

  ‘Smith had motive, opportunity, and means. Anyone can get their hands on a can of petrol.’

  ‘He doesn’t drive, and there was no record of his buying petrol.’

  ‘Beryl’s garage was converted from the old stables. It’s full of all sorts, including several spare petrol cans. She couldn’t say if any were missing, or empty when they should have been full, and nor could her hired help.’

  ‘I think you must agree, with or without the benefit of hindsight, that your reasoning was based on rather tenuous links. There was no physical or forensic evidence whatsoever linking Smith to the murder.’

  ‘In a case like this, sir, the best you can hope for is circumstantial evidence. All in all, it was a very clever crime.’

  ‘Where was Broadbent during the crucial period?’

  ‘At the Willows. She lives in, and she spent the afternoon asleep in her flat because she was due on the night shift.’

  ‘The Willows is no significant distance from the house.’

  ‘The other staff say she never left the building.’

  ‘Was her voice compared with the 999 call?’

  ‘No, sir.’

  ‘Perhaps it should have been,’ McKenna told him. ‘Now, I want to discuss Linda Newton. How well do you know her?’

  Hinchcliffe sighed theatrically. ‘Is that question strictly germane, Superintendent? As you’ve already been told, my client has known Linda Jarvis, as she was, since they both attended All Saints primary school, albeit that he was about to leave for senior school when she entered at the age of five.’ He paused, summoning a little smile. ‘To my mind, the issue is not relevant. My client is a local man, and is therefore acquainted with a great many local people, a fact which, while often of great assistance in police business, is not significant to this case.’

  ‘At one stage, your client’s relationship with Linda Newton went far beyond mere acquaintance,’ McKenna said.

  Hinchcliffe snapped: ‘Is this true?’ When Dugdale nodded, he asked: ‘Why on earth didn’t you say so?’

  ‘I didn’t think it mattered,’ Dugdale muttered.

  ‘Of course it matters!’ The lawyer almost squealed with exasperation. ‘When did this happen?’

  ‘A long time ago! Linda was about sixteen.’

  ‘And as you were twenty-two,’ McKenna added, ‘her father thought the association was quite inappropriate. He ordered you to stop seeing her, didn’t he?’

  ‘Yes,’ Dugdale admitted, ‘but only because he was over-protective with both girls after their mother died. There was no ill feeling.’ He paused. ‘Nothing would have come of things, anyway, even if he hadn’t interfered.’

  ‘Was the relationship sexual?’ McKenna asked.

  Dugdale gazed at him, almost amused. ‘We never got beyond sweaty hand-holding and whispering promises, because Rene Minshull had put the fear of God in both those girls about what she called “goings-on” out of wedlock.’ Completely sober once more, he said: ‘Not many get to the altar as pure as Linda, and the pity of it is that Trisha got there at all, chaste or not.’

  ‘And you’ve remained friendly with Linda?’

  ‘I have a very high regard for her, sir, and I get on well with the whole family, including her husband Craig, their two boys, and Fred Jarvis. I was also very fond of Trisha.’

  ‘So when she fell victim to a vicious killer you would naturally do your best to nail that killer,’ McKenna suggested. ‘You attended the post-mortem, and must have been quite appalled by her injuries.’

  ‘Is that a question, or a statement, sir?’

  ‘Whichever you wish, Inspector.’

  Hinchcliffe intervened. ‘I think my client is concerned with the implications.’

  ‘Inspector Dugdale must accept that certain issues have yet to be explored, one of which is the possibility of collusion between himself and Linda Newton.’ Turning to his notes, McKenna went on: ‘Clearly, he had a long-standing relationship with the whole family. More pertinently, as other suspects were excluded, often on very dubious grounds, leaving Smith as the sole focus of police interest, it could be construed that Linda Newton was directing operations. As Inspector Dugdale is an experienced investigator, that could not have happened without his consent and co-operation. Linda had every reason to want her former brother-in-law punished and, given Inspector Dugdale’s admitted affection for her, he may well have decided to oblige.’

  ‘I see.’ Hinchcliffe tapped his cheek with spindly arthritic fingers, staring first at Dugdale, then, with a frown, at McKenna. ‘Tell me, Superintendent, in the wholly hypothetical, and most unlikely, event that criminal charges may be considered against any of the officers under suspension, are you in a position to offer them the usual opportunity to resign on health grounds?’

  Face suffused with anger, Dugdale jumped to his feet and strode to the window. ‘I will not resign! I’ve done nothing wrong!’

  ‘You also failed to disclose your interest in Broadbent,’ McKenna said.

  His face now as grey as the sky beyond the window, Dugdale asked: ‘Who told you?’

  ‘My sources of information are not relevant,’ McKenna replied. ‘Rest assured they will be checked and double-checked, and the informant’s motivation taken into consideration.’

  ‘What else didn’t you think fit to tell me?’ Hinchcliffe demanded of his client.

  ‘I used to go out with Julie.’ Dugdale shambled back to his chair. ‘I was seventeen, and she was sixteen. She’d left school, but I was still in the sixth form.’

  ‘And was that a sexual relationship?’ When Dugdale nodded, McKenna said: ‘How long did it continue?’

  ‘Off and on until I left school, I suppose.’

  ‘Were you seriously involved?’

  ‘I don’t know!’ His face was almost haggard. ‘She was the first girl I’d ever been with.’

  ‘So, you made your own contribution to pushing her “off the rails”?’ McKenna persisted. ‘Your own phrase, if I recall correctly.’

  ‘Oh, really, Superintendent!’ Hinchcliffe was becoming energised by the conflict. ‘It’s quite apparent this Broadbent girl made no secret of her inclinations, and my client can’t have been the first, and obviously wasn’t the last, to take advantage of what was on offer. If your case against him is reduced to chastising him over an adolescent sexual fling with a very willing girl who was also over the age of consent, I suggest you terminate these proceedings as of now.’

  ‘As your client failed to disclose this relationship during the murder investigation, I do not accept that his professionalism was intact.’

  ‘What difference would it have made if I had said?’ A steely challenge gleamed in Dugdale’s eyes as he confronted McKenna. ‘Apart from making Julie’s life harder than it already is? She had to haul herself through acres of shit to get where she is, and she’s a right to be respected for it. Wendy Lewis, for one, had plenty of bitchy things to say about her, without my handing out even more ammunition.’

  ‘Does Broadbent know Linda?’ asked McKenna.

  ‘Probably,’ Dugdale replied. ‘Julie knows a lot of people. She’s local born and bred.’

  Noting the way Dugdale stressed her name, McKenna began to replace the documents in his briefcase. ‘For today, the interview is suspended. It is my duty to warn you t
hat you must make no attempt to contact or communicate with any of the principals in this matter, and must avoid any chance or opportune meeting or discussion. Should you ignore my order, you will be arrested and held in custody pending the outcome of my investigation. Do you understand?’ he added, looking at Dugdale.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And do you agree to comply?’

  ‘My client is well aware of his vulnerable position, and will do whatever is necessary to expedite this most unfortunate and, I must say, most stressful business.’ Before Dugdale could take the initiative, Hinchcliffe shepherded the visitors from the room, saying, as they reached the front door: ‘Tell me, Superintendent, how long will this charade go on?’

  ‘Charade?’

  ‘While some of my client’s actions might be open to mild criticism, you’ll find the answers to the questions you should be asking lie well outside the knowledge of any police officer.’

  ‘Please don’t attempt to suborn me,’ McKenna advised. ‘Your motives can hardly be described as impartial, whereas my duties must be carried out without malice or favour, as you know.’

  Hinchcliffe bared his teeth in a parody of a smile. ‘Well, Superintendent, if such a noble ethic succeeds in informing your conduct, it’ll be a first in the history of policing, won’t it?’

  *

  ‘You’re not here to be a silent witness to the proceedings, Jack.’ Waiting at the kerb while Ellen, out of earshot, stowed the machinery on the back seat, McKenna began to nag his deputy. ‘You left me to do all the work in there.’

  ‘You didn’t leave me much to say.’

  ‘You’re supposed to provide a balance. I go on the attack, you offer the listening ear.’

  ‘I thought the “nasty copper, nice copper” routine was frowned upon these days?’

  ‘It may well be, but it’s still effective.’

  ‘You were effective enough on your own with Dugdale,’ Jack commented. ‘Granted, he looks awful, but he’s got plenty of fight in him, and he’s not in the least apologetic.’ Walking over to the car, he added: ‘And my guess is that he’s got nothing to apologise for.’

  ‘You think?’ McKenna demanded, striding after him. ‘The case he put together against Smith was like a house of cards. No wonder it collapsed!’

  Part Three

  Monday, 1st February

  Evening

  Chapter One

  Rene had gone for the day, leaving the Church Street house spick and span. Dinner over, they sat around the table, drinking freshly brewed coffee.

  ‘Wendy Lewis is next on the list,’ McKenna said. ‘Janet’s doing her interview.’

  ‘She outranks me, sir,’ Janet pointed out.

  ‘Neither she nor her brief objected when that was put to them.’ Lighting a cigarette, McKenna turned to Ellen. ‘Because of the potential conflict of interest between Dugdale, Lewis and Bowden, the Police Federation made sure they have independent representation, but you’ll need to check that Linda Newton’s solicitor isn’t hand in glove with Hinchcliffe or the Miss Pawsley who’s representing Lewis.’ He frowned. ‘Who’s Bowden’s brief?’

  ‘Anna Singh,’ Janet said, toying with a cup of unsweetened black coffee.

  ‘I also intend to interview Julie Broadbent under caution,’ McKenna added, ‘so whoever she instructs must be cleared of pre-existing interest in anyone else involved with the case.’

  ‘We’re seeing Lewis this evening,’ Ellen said. ‘Bowden’s down for tomorrow morning, and Newton’s on Wednesday. We could fit in Broadbent afterwards.’

  Chapter Two

  ‘You know he can’t talk to you! He daren’t!’ Susan Dugdale hissed into the telephone. ‘Oh, Linda, what have you done?’

  ‘I haven’t done anything!’ Linda snapped. ‘I want to know why the police are after me. They’re coming to see me on Wednesday, and I’ve got to have a solicitor.’

  ‘They know you and Barry used to go out together.’

  ‘Is that all? It was years ago!’ Linda was astounded.

  ‘They think you put Barry up to arresting Smith.’

  ‘You’re kidding!’ She laughed.

  ‘It’s not funny!’

  ‘No, it’s bloody ridiculous. Wait till I tell Craig.’

  ‘They asked him about Julie Broadbent, too,’ Susan added.

  ‘Why? What’s Julie got to do with it?’

  ‘Oh, I’m sure you know!’ Susan’s voice stung. ‘He went out with her as well. Had a ride on the local bike, you might say.’

  ‘Don’t be so nasty, Susan. She wasn’t really like that.’

  ‘Wasn’t she? The only difference between her and her mother is that she never charged for it. People called their house a slag-heap.’

  ‘I know they did,’ Linda agreed, ‘but you shouldn’t always believe what people say. Rene Minshull went on about them till she was blue in the face, saying Trisha and me would end up like Julie if we didn’t keep ourselves to ourselves.’

  ‘You must’ve heeded her, then, because Craig wouldn’t have looked at you twice if he thought you couldn’t keep your legs together.’

  ‘Some people just don’t stand a fair chance,’ Linda said. ‘That’s the bottom line.’ Then she put down the telephone.

  ‘Who was that?’ Dugdale asked, as his wife returned to the sitting-room.

  ‘Linda. I told her you can’t speak to her.’

  ‘What did she want?’

  ‘She’s going to be interviewed under caution.’

  ‘Hardly surprising. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to will probably get the same treatment.’ He sighed. ‘At least McKenna’s being thorough.’

  ‘And what’s his thoroughness likely to unearth?’ Susan asked.

  ‘The truth, I hope.’

  ‘But what is the truth?’ she demanded. ‘After what’s been dragged up today, I don’t know if I can believe a word you say!’

  Chapter Three

  Wendy Lewis now lived alone in a pre-war bungalow with angular bay windows on each side of the front door, and a chimney poking from the centre of a pyramid-shaped roof, which topped the eaves like a lid. With others of its kind, the bungalow occupied a quiet, pleasant patch behind the playing fields of Haughton’s comprehensive school. Until a month before Smith’s arrest she had lived with her mother, but on a bitter March day, when wind and rain were thrashing the newly emerged daffodils and irises in the front garden, the old woman looked through the sitting-room window from her chair near the fire, smiled to herself, and died instantly from a massive heart attack, the smile still on her lips as the death rattle grew in her throat. Wendy found the stiffening corpse at midnight when she returned from a tedious tour of duty and, since that night, had not dared to alter, let alone destroy, a single element of the bungalow’s fussy, over-decorated interior. The Sunday morning, four weeks before Smith’s appeal hearing, when four purposeful, stony-faced officers from her force’s Complaints and Discipline section breached her front door and tore the house apart looking for Father Barclay’s letter stayed in her memory as if gouged there. She ran after them from room to room, her innards churning from gut to gullet, and when they had gone away, empty-handed and without a word, she sat on the floor in the middle of chaos, and wept.

  She spent weeks rebuilding Mother’s house, but even now she would find the odd thing out of place, and was compelled to abandon whatever she was engaged with to make the tiny reparations, as if Mother’s shade watched her every move, and judged her every lapse. To some extent she resented her job for coming between her and her mother at the most poignant time in anyone’s life, but she deeply resented the way she was orphaned without the least warning. Whether she ever knew and appreciated her mother as an individual was quite outside the range of her emotional literature.

  Seated in the same room, and possibly in the same chair in which the old woman died, with her legs at an angle to escape the heat of the fire, Janet considered the possibility that Wendy Lewis had wandered through the investigation
into Trisha’s death in a state of shock, pushed and pulled in whichever directions others dictated or wanted. She looked her part, Janet thought. Approaching middle age was threading grey through her mousy hair, her lined face was rather sullen, and in her pale-lashed eyes there was the bitter gleam of perpetual disappointment. She blinked a great deal, and her eyes looked rather sore, making Janet wonder if she were taking sedatives or tranquillisers.

  The other woman, by the table in the window bay where Ellen had her machinery primed, was, Janet suspected, playing the part written for the occasion. At least fifteen years older than her client, Frances Pawsley wore a thick tweed suit with the jacket buttoned tight over a well-corseted torso, thick stockings, heavy brown brogues, and the uncomfortable, overheated appearance of post-menopausal womanhood. The greying hair above her florid face was clipped almost as short as a man’s. Her over-stuffed fingers meddled with the shiny red apples and freckled bananas in a green glass fruit bowl, pushed it aside, then began to nudge an inquisitive spider towards the open jaws of a Venus flytrap, in various stages of banqueting, rearing from a terracotta pot. Fleetingly, Janet wondered if Miss Pawsley and her client had other than a professional relationship, but could not decipher the many tantalisingly surreptitious looks that passed between them.

  Tape-recorder buzzing and Ellen’s fingers poised over the keyboard of her laptop, Janet completed the formalities of interview, then said: ‘Now you’ve had the opportunity to reread your statements, Sergeant Lewis, is there anything you wish to amend or alter?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Is there anything in the report which Inspector Dugdale submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service with which you disagree?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Anything you feel was omitted?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Do you have any reservations whatsoever about the investigation?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Or about Smith’s arrest?’

  ‘No.’

 
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