Unsafe convictions, p.6

Unsafe Convictions, page 6

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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  ‘Are you then stating that you were, and are, perfectly happy with the conduct of the investigation, the conduct and motivations of the officers concerned, and the outcome?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Prior to the appeal, did you have any knowledge of the letter that Father Fauvel apparently received from Father Barclay and allegedly handed to Inspector Dugdale?’

  ‘No. I’d never even heard about it before the appeal papers were disclosed.’

  ‘Do you know Father Fauvel?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘In what capacity?’

  ‘As the Roman Catholic parish priest.’

  ‘Have you ever spoken to him?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘How often?’

  ‘I don’t know.’ Wendy reached for the cigarette packet lying on the kerb of the hearth, and fumbled inside. ‘Lots of times. We’re RC, and Mother went to Mass regularly.’ Cigarette extracted, she pushed it between her lips, and struck a match, the flame wavering in the draught. ‘I couldn’t go as often as I should because of work, but he was a great comfort to me when Mother died so suddenly.’

  Watching tears swell in the bloodshot eyes, Janet asked: ‘On the basis of your own knowledge of the investigation, have you reached a conclusion, tentative or otherwise, about what might have happened to Father Barclay’s letter?’

  Before she could respond, Frances intervened. ‘Superintendent McKenna’s whole investigation really depends on a hypothesis, doesn’t it? After all, no one’s ever seen this famous letter.’

  ‘But we do have Father Barclay’s sworn testimony for the appeal, which satisfied three highly experienced judges,’ Janet reminded her. ‘We must assume he sent the letter.’

  Frances smiled. ‘As long as you don’t forget that assumptions are always dangerous.’ To Wendy, she said: ‘You may answer, dear. We’ve already discussed what you’ll say.’

  Her agonised features betraying the conflict between faith and professional loyalty, Wendy drew a deep breath. ‘I can’t believe Father Brett would lie. I believe he handed over the letter, like he said. Why would he lie about it? He had nothing to gain. He wasn’t even involved.’

  ‘And you still maintain you don’t wish to amend your statements?’ asked Janet.

  Frances stepped in once more. ‘DC Evans wants to know why didn’t you voice your doubts before the appeal, or when you were interviewed prior to suspension.’

  ‘I couldn’t think straight! I struggled with my conscience for weeks!’ Wendy’s voice shook. ‘If I believed Mr Dugdale, I was as good as blaspheming, and if I believed Father Brett, I’d be ruining a man I’ve trusted for years.’

  ‘How did you reach a decision?’ Janet asked. ‘What guidance did you take?’

  ‘I took Wendy to my parish priest,’ Frances replied. ‘He’s a stranger, but she could have confidence in him.’

  ‘And do you believe you reached the right decision?’ Janet added.

  ‘Oh, please! Don’t make me go over it again. I thought I’d go mad.’

  ‘I think you can accept Wendy’s decision, dear,’ the solicitor told Janet. ‘She suffered long enough and hard enough in the making of it.’

  ‘Very well,’ Janet conceded. ‘Could you tell me how long you’ve known Father Fauvel?’

  ‘Since Mother and I moved to Haughton, about ten years ago. After Daddy died, Mother wanted a clean break. She hated living in Manchester.’

  ‘How long has Father Fauvel been here?’

  ‘Oh, years,’ Wendy said. ‘At least twenty.’

  ‘What made you join the police? You trained as a social worker, I understand.’

  ‘Wendy worked in social work,’ Frances said. ‘But she wasn’t qualified, and had little prospect of getting qualifications unless she financed her own training. Her parents couldn’t afford to keep her while she studied, so rather than remain in a dead-end job, she applied to the police, where she’s done very well, in my opinion. She’s developed several specialisms, most notably in the management and investigation of crimes against women and children.’

  ‘And I’m responsible for area child protection,’ Wendy added to her solicitor’s eulogy. ‘It was because of my background that I interviewed the residents at the Willows. I’d worked with the mentally handicapped at one time.’

  ‘What’s their level of incapacity?’ Janet asked. ‘As they’re not hospitalised, some at least must be capable of semi-independent living.’

  ‘I wouldn’t like to put it to the test,’ Wendy replied forcefully. ‘Most of them have multiple incapacity, including epilepsy, and I’d say seven are profoundly handicapped.’ She tossed her cigarette stub into the fire. ‘Today’s polite term for them is “people with learning difficulties”, which implies they’re capable of being taught, but they’re not. The Willows is a twenty-bed unit, and it’s nearly always full. They’ve got three or four high grades who could exist in the community with proper support, but the last time residents were sent on the community care programme, they ended up dossing on the street.’ Reaching for another cigarette, she added: ‘Father Brett’s disgusted about it, but unfortunately he doesn’t make the decisions.’

  ‘I thought the Area Health Trust ran the Willows,’ Janet said.

  ‘It’s owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese, and run as a joint initiative with the Trust.’

  ‘Who’s responsible for staffing and general management?’

  ‘A committee,’ Wendy said. ‘Father Brett’s on it.’

  ‘Those details aren’t in Inspector Dugdale’s report to the CPS,’ Janet pointed out.

  ‘Were they relevant?’ Frances asked.

  ‘Probably not,’ Janet admitted. ‘To return to the residents, did you think any of them might have pertinent information, whether they realised it or not?’

  Wendy shook her head. ‘I spent a lot of time with them, but there was nothing, which didn’t surprise me.’

  ‘Julie Broadbent was rather a different case, wasn’t she? You felt she was being evasive.’

  ‘And hostile,’ Wendy added.

  ‘But you’re now aware of her background and teenage excursions into delinquency?’

  ‘I wasn’t at the time. Mr Dugdale said he didn’t want to create prejudice.’

  ‘Did he ever interview her?’

  ‘Not as far as I know.’

  ‘Do you accept that Broadbent’s evasiveness is satisfactorily explained by her historical associations with the police?’

  Drawing on her cigarette, Wendy gazed into the fire. ‘No. Not really, and for several reasons, including my intuition.’ She lodged the cigarette on the kerb of the hearth, held up the fingers of her left hand, and began to count off with her right. ‘First, she sat in on most of the residents’ interviews, and couldn’t have been more helpful. Second, she’d have been checked out for a criminal record before she got the job there, so that secret was already out. Third,’ she said, pushing down her middle finger, ‘I got to know her quite well, because interviewing the mentally handicapped takes time and patience. She must have known I didn’t pose a threat. And fourth, her teenage delinquencies didn’t amount to much.’

  ‘She might still be ashamed of them,’ Janet suggested.

  ‘She might,’ Wendy conceded. ‘She might have thought I’d sit in judgement on her, like a lot of women would and, for all I know, she could still be promiscuous. But none of that explains why she clammed up so fast.’

  ‘At what point did that occur?’

  ‘I can’t say, because it wasn’t until later I realised she had. I’ve racked my brains, but I can’t pin-point the trigger.’

  ‘Was Colin Bowden actively involved in the interviews?’

  ‘He came along on occasion, but he was quite happy to leave things to me. To be honest, I think he felt completely out of his depth, which I accepted.’

  Frances struggled to her feet, breath wheezing in her corseted chest. ‘Don’t know about you gels,’ she said, disarmingly conspiratorial, ‘hut
I need a drink, preferably alcoholic. I’ll perc coffee for the rest of you.’ She plodded to the door, adding: ‘Interview suspended 19.34.’

  The choice made for her, Ellen switched off the tape-recorder.

  ‘Don’t mind Frances,’ Wendy said. ‘She’s been our solicitor for years, so she can’t help treating me as if I’m still in ankle socks.’ She smiled, rather sadly. ‘She was an absolute brick when Mother died.’

  ‘Was your mother ill for long?’

  ‘She wasn’t ill at all. I think I thought she’d live for ever, then she just went, like the light had gone out.’

  ‘It must have been a dreadful shock,’ Janet sympathised.

  ‘Oh, it was! And I still miss her. I plan to do something, or I hear a bit of juicy gossip, and I still say to myself: “Oh, I can’t wait to tell Mother.” Then I remember she’s not here any more, and it hits me like a fist in the chest. I even find myself feeling winded, at times.’

  ‘You can ask if shock affected her professional judgement when the tape’s switched back on.’ Frances appeared in the doorway with a glass of neat whisky in her pudgy fingers. ‘Personally, I think it did, but Wendy said she went on to auto pilot, as it were.’ She returned to the kitchen, and Janet heard the clatter of crockery landing on a tin tray, and the sucking sound of a refrigerator being opened and closed. The aroma of percolating coffee seeped into the room.

  ‘I wouldn’t know, would I?’ Wendy asked. ‘If my judgement was affected. It’s far too subjective, and Mother’s death made such root-and-branch changes nothing could ever be the same. There’s always going to be a before and after.’

  ‘Were you dependent on her? Emotionally?’

  ‘That’s a silly question, if ever I heard one!’ Frances clumped back into the room, put the tray on the table with another loud clatter, and resumed her seat. ‘Of course she was dependent, and even though they had the odd row, they were still very, very close. Most of the arguments came about because it’s always a struggle for a mother and daughter to redefine their relationship into something acceptable to two grown women.’ She glanced at Ellen. ‘You can switch on again now, dear. D’you like cream and sugar with your coffee?’

  When Wendy made no attempt to take control of this simplest and least contentious of proceedings, Janet wondered if she always needed someone on whom to depend, and were therefore always vulnerable to more powerful personalities. As Frances handed over her coffee, black and steaming in a pretty china cup, she assessed the impressions gathered in the last hour, asking herself if Wendy Lewis’s rather naive responses implied more than a somewhat immature personality under extreme stresses. ‘You realise that your change of heart about the letter creates an entirely new set of circumstances, don’t you?’

  Wendy nodded.

  ‘Does Father Fauvel have much day-to-day contact with the Willows?’

  ‘As much as he can, but he’s very busy,’ Wendy said. ‘He’s the only priest permanently on the management committee, and he takes his turn on the various parish committees and so forth. The church is involved in a lot of community activities, far more than the Anglicans.’

  ‘But they’ve only got the vicar and a curate,’ Ellen said. ‘Whereas, apart from the nuns and Father Fauvel, there are usually at least two junior priests lodged at the presbytery and doing something with the church.’

  ‘Most people still think the Protestants aren’t very well served,’ Wendy commented snappishly.

  Putting her cup in its matching saucer, Janet said: ‘Inspector Dugdale said you’d researched Beryl Stanton Smith’s background. Although the relevant details are written up, I wonder if you could elaborate. What were your personal impressions of her?’

  ‘Well,’ Wendy began, slurping her coffee like a child, ‘at first, I thought: “What’s a woman like this doing with a loser like Smith?” Have you met him yet?’ As Janet shook her head, she went on: ‘When you do, you’ll see what I mean, which is all I’m saying, because I don’t want to give the impression we were so prejudiced about him it blinded us to the truth.’ She blinked fiercely. ‘I mean, Beryl’s filthy rich. When she sold the shop site it was as good as winning the lottery jackpot. Her house is a gorgeous old rectory at the foot of the moors, and it’s been the family home since her grandfather moved out here. He made pots of money before the war, and he and her father made pots more afterwards, so she led a charmed life. She went to a posh boarding-school in Derbyshire, had her own horses, and just about everything else that money could buy.’ Wendy smiled, rather spitefully. ‘The only thing she couldn’t apparently get was a husband, so in the end, she bought one.’

  ‘What brought you to that conclusion?’

  ‘She’s very spoiled and arrogant, although I’m not sure she’s aware of it, and she just can’t relate to people. Maybe all that money isolated her from reality, or simply turned her into a dreadful snob.’

  ‘Their relationship could be based on genuine affection,’ Janet suggested. ‘Even love. Where did they meet?’

  ‘At the shop, apparently. Smith met both of them there. Trisha was a salesgirl, and Beryl was cracking the whip. I don’t know if he kept in regular contact with Beryl, but she was definitely on the scene before the divorce, offering a shoulder to cry on, if nothing else. She told me, in confidence, that she’ll never forgive herself for standing by and doing nothing while Trisha ate into his very core like a “fat maggot”.’

  ‘Are you suggesting she deliberately encouraged the divorce by tempting him with a far more promising alternative?’

  ‘I think that’s the way it was.’ Imagination triggered, Wendy added: ‘It’s a classic example of one person’s needs dovetailing perfectly with someone else’s.’

  ‘Or the planned occupation of a mutually fertile feeding ground,’ Janet commented.

  ‘That’s a very clever observation, dear.’ Frances leaned forward to pat Janet’s arm, and let her fat fingers loiter for a moment too long. ‘But really not necessary and, to my mind, a way of showing off your superior education.’ As her fingers drew away, almost reluctantly, she frowned. ‘You should have more respect for the background of your fellow officers. Not many people can enjoy the privileges you had, and Wendy, for one, struggled to get where she is. Nothing was handed to her on a plate.’

  Janet’s self-control stopped her from engaging in the verbal skirmish Frances clearly hoped for. ‘I see you’ve done your homework, Miss Pawsley,’ she said, ‘although I’m not sure every answer would earn a tick. However, I do apologise for any offence. None was intended, I assure you.’

  ‘I’m glad to hear it.’ Frances surveyed her, still frowning. ‘I trust you’ll make it clear to Superintendent McKenna that Wendy expects to get back to work very soon. Being under such a cloud is dreadful for her.’

  ‘And for the other officers,’ Janet replied, ‘as Mr McKenna has stressed.’ She faced Wendy once more. ‘Returning to Broadbent, Sergeant Lewis, did you challenge her about her evasiveness?’

  Wendy shook her head. ‘There was no point. She’d only have looked at me like I was stupid, then denied everything. She’s tough when she wants to be.’

  ‘Did she ever discuss Linda Newton?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Did she indicate that she knew Inspector Dugdale?’

  ‘What d’you mean?’

  ‘Exactly what I say.’

  Wendy shrugged. ‘Not that I recall. Do they know each other? As friends, I mean?’

  Without answering the question, Janet went on: ‘Did Linda Newton discuss Broadbent at any time?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Or Inspector Dugdale?’

  ‘All the time. She made out they’re thick as thieves, and got quite shirty when I turned up to talk to her. She was always asking for him. The rest of us didn’t count in her book.’

  ‘Did you discuss either woman with Inspector Dugdale?’

  ‘Not really. Not in depth.’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘He wouldn’t. When
I asked him how to handle Broadbent’s secretiveness, he told me about her background, and said to leave it. When I said Linda was being funny with me, and demanding to talk to him, he just shrugged it off.’ She stared. ‘Is it important? Does it mean something? Should I have reported him at the time?’

  ‘Reported him to whom?’ Janet asked.

  ‘Superintendent Ryman, of course.’

  ‘But what could you have said, dear?’ Frances asked. ‘You can’t very well report a hunch, can you?’

  To Janet, she added: ‘I think we should leave this kind of speculation out of the equation, don’t you?’

  ‘I’m not speculating,’ Janet replied, ‘although I suspect Sergeant Lewis is allowing imagination to colour her responses. At the beginning of this interview she had no reservations about Inspector Dugdale, but then admitted she believes he suppressed vital evidence. Now, she seems to be concocting a conspiracy theory involving him and Newton.’

  ‘And is that not precisely in line with Superintendent McKenna’s thinking?’ Frances asked, snatching victory in the fight Janet assumed had been abandoned.

  ‘I beg your pardon?’

  ‘I think you heard me.’

  ‘Where did you get that information, Miss Pawsley?’

  ‘Goodness me, we don’t disclose our sources,’ Frances said, pursing her mouth. ‘You should know better than to ask, but quite frankly, my dear, I’m not sure you do. In fact, I’m not even sure you should he here. Wendy outranks you.’

  ‘When that issue was put to you both, you had no objections.’

  ‘We didn’t realise how young you are,’ Frances replied. ‘More importantly, I imagined you’d be infinitely more experienced. After all, every police force has its complement of highly experienced officers in the lower ranks, but as it is, I think you’re completely out of your depth.’

  ‘Then I have no choice but to terminate the interview and report back to Superintendent McKenna.’ Stowing notebook, papers and pens in her bag with shaking hands, Janet rose. ‘I trust you will ensure your client abides by the restrictions on her conduct and communications,’ she added. ‘I also trust you will remind her she is liable to arrest should she choose to breach those conditions.’

 

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