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British law lords trash murder conviction in Shirley Playfair case (Part II)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012    

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Following is part two of Monday's judgement by the United Kingdom Privy Council which overturned the conviction of Annette Livingston in the murder of attorney Shirley Playfair.

The evidence (cont'd)

8. Marjorie Falconer was a legal secretary who worked for another partner in the firm. According to her evidence, she was in the bathroom when she heard a scream. When she left the bathroom, she saw Mrs Richards coming towards the deceased from the direction of the lunchroom, and a man then holding Mrs Richards by the hand. The deceased was standing with both hands at her neck, which was bleeding. Miss Falconer went back into the bathroom, where she remained until the incident was over. She later identified the man at an identification parade. Other evidence established that the man whom she identified was Williams.

9. A deposition which Miss Dell had given at the preliminary enquiry was read to the jury. In it, she explained that visitors were supposed to speak to her first, but did not always do so. When the incident began, she was working at her desk, and Miss Burke and the appellant were working at theirs. Two men entered the office and went straight to the appellant's desk. They spent one or two minutes at the appellant's desk, then went into the deceased's office. Seconds later, the deceased screamed. The appellant was then at the photocopier. When the deceased screamed a second time, the appellant ran towards the lunch room. Miss Dell ran to the door of the deceased's office, and saw the men trying to remove the deceased's hands from the front of her neck. Miss Dell then ran after the appellant to the lunch room, where she joined the appellant, Mrs Richards, Mrs Grier and Miss Thompson. Miss Burke ran to the lunchroom behind her.

10. Edward Griffiths was a police inspector who conducted two identification parades. At the first, held on 15 April 2000, Drysdale was a member of the line-up. He was identified by Mrs Richards, but not by the other witnesses who viewed the parade, who included the appellant and Miss Falconer. At the second parade, held on 19 April 2000, Williams was a member of the line-up. He was identified by Miss Falconer, but not by the other witnesses who viewed the parade, who included the appellant and Mrs Richards.

11. Gladstone Grant was a police superintendent who attended at the scene of the murder about an hour after it had occurred. The appellant was at her desk, using a computer. She was not crying. She appeared normal. Some other members of staff were crying.

12. Mr Townsend had acted as Crown counsel at the preliminary enquiry. Williams had been present. Mr Townsend was not asked whether he had been made aware of any identification of Williams by Mrs Richards.

13. There was in addition forensic and other evidence linking Williams to the murder.

14. The appellant gave evidence. She stated that she did not know her two co-defendants. Nor did she know the third man who had appeared in the dock at the preliminary enquiry. She denied that that man had come to the office and spoken to her during the week preceding the murder. Immediately before the murder, the deceased was on the telephone, and asked her over the intercom to bring her a copy of the registered title of a property. The appellant had been about to photocopy the deed when two men had appeared at her desk, which was directly in front of the entrance. She asked the men to take a seat, and went over to the photocopier. The men were then behind her, and she did not see what they did. She heard screaming from the direction of the deceased's office, and saw Miss Dell running towards her, screaming that the police should be called. The appellant ran to the lunchroom where the other women were. Mrs Richards, Mrs Grier and Miss Thompson were there. Miss Dell and Miss Burke joined them soon afterwards. She did not block anyone entering or leaving the lunchroom. She then left the lunchroom and saw the deceased walking across the reception area towards the entrance. She had her hands round her neck and was bleeding. The appellant rushed to Mrs Grier, who had gone on to the balcony and was shouting that murderers were coming down the stairs. She asked Mrs Grier to help her to get the deceased to a doctor. Mrs Grier was the only person who had a car that day. Mrs Grier did not leave the balcony.

The appellant returned to the reception area and found that the deceased had gone. She then collapsed on a sofa. She was nervous and confused, and was crying. The police arrived and took the deceased to hospital. The appellant herself was taken to a doctor. On her return to the office, she used her computer to save the work she had been doing before the incident, and to close down the system. She had been unable to identify anyone at the subsequent identification parades.

15. In cross-examination, the appellant stated that, when the incident began, she had been working on her computer, amending an agreement for the sale of property. The deceased had been on the telephone to Peter Milligen, the attorney acting on the other side of the transaction. The deed which the appellant had been asked to copy was the registered title of the property being sold. Once she had copied the deed, she was to take it to the deceased. When she got to the lunchroom, Mrs Richards was seated there. The appellant accepted that the deceased had lent her money to buy a car. She had bought a Datsun. In an exchange to which the trial judge appears to have attached particular significance, she was cross-examined on her evidence that she had asked Mrs Grier to help her to take the deceased to a doctor. In reply to the question: "To the doctor or to the hospital?," she answered: "To the hospital, doctor, same difference."

16. Evidence was led on behalf of the appellant from a number of witnesses. Mrs Grier said that she was in the lunch room with Mrs Richards and Miss Thompson when screams were heard. Everyone rushed to the door. Mrs Richards rushed out first, with Mrs Grier very close behind. She did not see the appellant trying to prevent anyone from leaving the lunchroom. The deceased was standing in the reception area, holding her neck. She was bleeding. Mrs Grier ran out to the balcony and started screaming for help.

The appellant was holding on to her and crying out to her to help the deceased. Mrs Grier remained on the balcony. She saw one of the murderers emerge from the building and enter a car. In cross-examination, Mrs Grier confirmed that visitors did not always go directly to the receptionist but sometimes spoke first to one of the secretaries. The appellant had rushed into the lunchroom just before the persons there rushed out. Mrs Richards was heading out as she was heading in, and there was a little commotion.

17. Mr Milligen gave evidence, and confirmed that he had been speaking to the deceased on the telephone when the incident occurred. They had been discussing an agreement for the sale of land.

18. Evidence was also given by Michael Gordon, a press photographer who had gone to the offices shortly after the murder. He had seen the appellant. She was crying.

19. Finally, in relation to the evidence, Vinnette Forrester, a justice of the peace who had known the appellant for more than 20 years, gave evidence as to the appellant's good character.

20. As will be apparent from this summary of the evidence, the case against the appellant depended upon the evidence of Mrs Richards that she had identified Williams at the preliminary enquiry, on 14 September 2000, as a person who had spoken to the appellant at the office on two occasions during the week preceding the murder, five months earlier: evidence which might be thought to be undermined by Mrs Richards' failure to identify Williams at the identification parade held on 19 April 2000. It was only if that evidence was accepted, and the inference was drawn that the appellant and Williams were associated with one another, that the other evidence upon which the Crown relied might be regarded as being incriminating: that is to say, the evidence that the murderers had gone initially to the appellant's desk; Mrs Richards' evidence that the appellant had blocked her way out of the lunch room - evidence which appeared to conflict with the evidence of Miss Burke and Miss Dell that they had joined the appellant and Mrs Richards in the lunch room, and with the evidence of Mrs Grier; the evidence that the appellant had attempted to bring Mrs Grier away from the balcony; the evidence that the appellant had not been visibly distressed in the aftermath of the murder but had continued working; and the evidence that the appellant had not identified Williams at the identification parade.

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