A miscarriage of justice

On 28th October 2011, at Bristol Crown Court, Dr. Vincent Tabak was found guilty of murdering landscape architect Joanna Yeates on 17th December 2010 and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum tariff of 20 years. The evidence proving that he was made the scapegoat in a cruel and deliberate miscarriage of justice to protect the real killer is summarized point-by-point in “Guilty until proven Innocent”. The British and international news media and even the Leveson Inquiry have been muzzled to prevent them from exposing this evil scandal.

The Salvation Army chaplain

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”

– Exodus, Chapter 20, verse 16

When he arrived at Long Lartin prison, about 27th January 2011, Vincent Tabak had no one with whom he could discuss the pressing problems that made him feel somewhere between “so-so” and suicidal. After he was first arrested, he had been allowed to telephone his family in the Netherlands twice a day. As a punishment for telling them he believed that he was being made a scapegoat by panic-stricken police, he was subjected to a sleepless night of terror in Bristol prison. His family were forced to issue a statement saying that he was being well-treated. He was probably forbidden to make international telephone calls from Long Lartin, and his family’s plans to fly to the UK to visit him in prison at the time of his case management hearing on 31st January 2011 had been thwarted by an individual ban on visitors, perhaps as a punishment for the independent post-mortem of Joanna Yeates’s body ordered by his solicitor.

Long Lartin prison, near Evesham, Worcestershire
Having no criminal record, nor any experience of law-breakers, Vincent Tabak did not know anyone at Long Lartin beforehand. Most of the inmates there had no time for academics, especially foreign ones, and would sooner knock him down rather than give him some tips on how to deal with the unpleasant legal advice he was getting from his own solicitor. Although he had declined to answer nearly all of the questions put to him by the police, and had disputed the validity of the sparse forensic evidence against him, he had not entered any plea when brought before the magistrate or the judge. Consequently the other prisoners and the general public believed he really was Joanna’s killer. The so-called chaplain’s subsequent testimony in court suggests that the solicitor from Crossman & Co was advising his client to prepare to plead guilty to manslaughter, possibly because she had been told that the prosecution would be leading further evidence. This probably included “sacrificial” forensic evidence, allegedly collected from the two flats at 44 Canynge Rd., which would never be led in court. One of the reasons why the CPS had refused him bail was their allegation that he had attempted to incriminate his landlord. On the other hand, the pathologist hired by Crossman & Co had reported that Joanna’s injuries did not necessarily indicate that she had been beaten up, as the CPS had insisted – yet his lawyers had still not applied for bail on his behalf. He made up his mind to replace them.

There was also the matter related to adult pornographic videos that Vincent Tabak may have viewed on his computers, prostitutes whom he may have researched during business trips to Yorkshire and the USA, and illegal images of child abuse the police allegedly found on his Dell laptop computer. He would certainly have been warned that the police would seek to alienate and distress his girlfriend by disclosing these highly personal and private activities to her, with all the lurid exaggerations and embroidery that seems to be a speciality of Avon & Somerset Constabulary, and in due course he would have learnt that they had done so.

Prison chaplain Peter Brotherton
So he put his name down for counselling by the prison chaplain ­– not knowing that he would be talking to a Salvation Army volunteer whose main occupation was that of Supervising Officer at another prison, and who had only just been drafted in a couple of weeks earlier specifically to manipulate him. The court was told that Peter Brotherton had been a prison visitor since 1975, but, unknown to Vincent Tabak, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, acting on instructions from the CPS and the Home Office. He was chosen as an agent provocateur for this assignment. The court was told that he had been doing voluntary work for 35 years in prisons – a testing environment for the integrity of even the strongest soul. He did not give any other information about his occupation to the court, though a Peter Brotherton was born in Evesham, less than 10 miles from Long Lartin, in 1939, and still lives nearby. Issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine “Insight” reported the award of a Commendation for 2012–2013 to a Peter Brotherton, Supervising Officer at Whitemoor Prison, Cambridgeshire. The citation refers to his work with the transport of dangerous prisoners to and from court, and to contact with the CPS. Perhaps he received this Commendation as a reward for tricking Vincent Tabak.

Head of the CPS’s Complex Casework Unit
Ann Reddrop, who must have been
instrumental in setting Peter Brotherton up
at Long Lartin to entrap Vincent Tabak
Brotherton had probably been briefed to take careful notes of each of his conversations with Vincent Tabak, to ensure that he could not be charged with perjury. It is even possible that the conversations were tape-recorded without the prisoner’s knowledge. What was said would be subsequently edited by “boiler-plating” selected sentences out of their original context and into a sequence that would give the appearance of a confession. The resulting document might possibly have been used by the lawyers to persuade the prisoner to plead guilty to manslaughter or murder – but it it much more likely that it was not until after his trial started that he learnt from the Prosecutor’s opening speech that he had “confessed” to this person! The chaplain would also base his testimony at the trial on these conversations, to convince the jury that the defendant had confessed to Brotherton that he had killed Jo. No wonder “a little bit of anger” was to enter Vincent Tabak’s voice when this Judas’s treachery eventually came home to him!

The chaplain’s first meeting with Vincent Tabak had been on 2nd February 2011, in the first cell of the health unit at Long Lartin prison, where he had been placed allegedly because of fears that he could kill himself. Vincent Tabak assumed that he could depend on the chaplain’s respecting his confidentiality, and Brotherton did not disillusion him beforehand. Brotherton posed with the suicidal Tabak as a man who could be trusted to respect confidences, an honest man one could trust and whose friendly demeanour would be in sharp contrast to all the people he had been surrounded by since his arrest.

There was a second meeting, apparently lasting only five minutes, on 5th February 2011, but what they talked about has not been made public. However, the chaplain’s subsequent, seemingly ingenuous, remark was intended to convey the false impression that the two men had NOT talked about the murder of “the young lady from Bristol” at all during their first two conversations, and even that Peter Brotherton had not heard of Joanna Yeates until now. The prisoner probably asked the chaplain to recommend him a good criminal lawyer based in Bristol to replace Crossman & Co, and was then probably given the name Kelcey & Hall. Vincent Tabak asked for paper and a pencil, and requested a further meeting with the chaplain.

At their third meeting, on 8th February 2011, two days before his 33rd birthday, Vincent Tabak went to his cell to get his mug so he could have his water.

Recounting the conversation from the witness stand, Mr Brotherton told the court: “I shook hands with him and said ‘How are you?’. He said ‘So, so’.”

He told the chaplain, “I am going to tell you something that will shock you”. The chaplain replied, “You tell me and we shall see”, or words to that effect.

“The young lady from Bristol”
Joanna Yeates
Vincent Tabak told the chaplain he was thinking of changing his plea to guilty. The chaplain asked if this was about the young lady in Bristol. Vincent Tabak said “yes”.

When asked if he was sorry for what he had done, he replied “yes”.

Vincent Tabak told the chaplain that he would find it difficult to tell his girlfriend. The chaplain told the court that Vincent Tabak wanted to talk more, but that he didn’t want him to, as he was getting upset. Brotherton offered to say a prayer with him, but the prisoner declined. He gave Vincent Tabak a handwritten prayer, shook hands with him and left – not stopping to think that if the prisoner were interested in communicating with God, he would want to do so in Dutch, not in English.

At this point in his testimony, the treacherous chaplain used a breathtaking rhetorical device to avoid perjuring himself. He explained to the court that he had gone back to the chaplaincy office, where his boss, the senior chaplain, asked him to report the conversations to him. Peter Brotherton told the court that he had acceded to this request, as Vincent Tabak was not religious, so “it was not a religious confession”. Everyone would interpret this to mean “it was a non-religious confession” – that it is the word “religious” that ‘wears the trousers’. However, the operative words were “not” and “confession” since the chaplain did not actually say, “It was a confession” – on the contrary, if challenged, he could truthfully declare that he had said “it was not a confession”. The senior chaplain had then reported the conversations to a security officer.

His girlfriend
Tanja Morson
The chaplain offered to help Vincent Tabak tell his girlfriend about what had happened and advised him to talk to his solicitor. This fourth encounter took place about a week later, after his girlfriend visited him in the prison on 13th February 2011 together with Marcel Tabak and a family friend. When the chaplain told Vincent Tabak that he had disclosed their conversations, Vincent Tabak replied: “Well I’m not going to tell you anything else”. The chaplain said there was “a little bit of anger in his voice”, and that Vincent Tabak was nervous, and there was a tremble in his voice.

The chaplain’s reason for deliberately compromising himself was to get the prisoner unwittingly to provide a reason why the “confession” seemed to lack the most obvious thing – an explanation “Why?”

Cross-examining Peter Brotherton at the trial, Counsel for the Defence William Clegg QC (who was not himself under oath) used an ingenious device to pretend to discredit the chaplain’s testimony while at the same time reinforcing the jury’s belief that the defendant really had killed Joanna Yeates. Mr. Clegg questioned whether Vincent Tabak really had told the Chaplain that he intended to change his plea, and went on to suggest that Vincent Tabak was “a depressed and distressed man unburdening himself”. Counsel pointed out that the Chaplain had signed a statement on 16th February 2011 in which he had stated that Vincent Tabak had told him that he intended to plead guilty, not “to change his plea”.

Mr Clegg said: “Let me suggest to you there was no suggestion of ‘changing my plea’. ‘I am going to plead guilty’ – that’s what he said. You said ‘What for?’. And he said ‘For the crime I have done’.” Mr. Clegg added that the defendant had already told his lawyer that he had killed Joanna. When the barrister suggested some of his evidence today was wrong, Peter Brotherton replied: “If that’s what you say, I would agree with you.”

Counsel for the Defence
William Clegg QC
Whether the prisoner had told the chaplain that he was going to change his plea or to plead guilty made no difference, so Mr. Clegg’s quibble was just a pre-arranged gambit to deceive the jury into believing that the QC had succeeded in discrediting the old man’s ability to remember. Unnoticed by the jury and, apparently, by the judge as well, it was Mr. Clegg – and he alone – who used the phrase, “For the crime that I have done” – not Brotherton (who was thereby saved from perjuring himself), and certainly not Vincent Tabak. The double-act played out in court by Peter Brotherton and Counsel for the Defence suggests that the solicitor who would take over his case, Ian Kelcey, had been instrumental in setting up the chaplain as early as January 2011, even though Kelcey & Hall did not become publicly associated with Vincent Tabak until May 2011.

If the Chaplain really had signed the statement whose content Mr. Clegg claimed the witness misremembered, furthermore, then you can be sure that both the judge and the jurors would at once have thumbed through their bundles to check the actual wording, and the journalists in the press gallery would have tweeted this fact. As nothing of the kind was reported, it is highly likely that the statement existed only in Mr. Clegg’s imagination.

Peter Brotherton had been talking to murderers for 35 years, so, as his response to the prisoner’s opening remark implied, references to young ladies who had been strangled were not likely to shock him. On the other hand, the jury had been exposed repeatedly, day after day, to the details of Joanna’s effervescent life and shocking death. What shocked the prisoner on suicide watch?
  • That a forensic scientist had leaked her test results to a newspaper for payment? That those test results were unsound but had formed the basis for his arrest?
  • That the police had leaked lies that his girlfriend, Tanja Morson, had been the “weeping woman” and that she had dumped him?
  • That Tanja had not been allowed to visit him.
  • The revelation that the police could behave so maliciously not just towards himself, but also towards his innocent family and girlfriend as well?
  • His lawyer’s suggestion that he, gentle, shy, courteous Vincent Tabak should plead guilty to killing a girl he did not even know, despite the manifest weakness of the case against him?
  • Had the CPS already offered him a secret amnesty and a new identity in exchange for an undertaking to stand trial for murder with a certain conviction as the outcome?
“Are you sorry for what you have done?” and the reference to telling his girlfriend had nothing to do with Joanna’s death – it was actually referring to the phone-call to the police from Holland, that he bitterly regretted as it had resulted in accusations of trying to incriminate the landlord falsely. However, it may also have referred to the allegations about Californian call girls, adult pornographic videos and images of child abuse. For obvious reasons, Vincent Tabak could not discuss these with his girlfriend, and was no doubt bitterly regretting he ever went near California or opened his internet browser.

“Depressed and distressed” he may have been, but “unburdening himself” is exactly what Vincent Tabak did not do! He did not go on to pour out an explanation of why and how he might have come to strangle Jo, nor did Brotherton produce any explanation of why he had consulted the chaplain at all – except perhaps to seek help in explaining his actions to his girlfriend, which is the nearest the chaplain himself comes to explaining why Vincent Tabak requested the three conversations at all. This offer of Peter Brotherton’s suggests that he himself may have talked to Tanja Morson, perhaps in the guise of a go-between. 

“Things are seldom what they seem” wrote the Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Bucknill in his 1953 book The Nature of Evidence. “History and literature hold many examples of deception imposed on credulous people... We need not go further than the Old Testament for good examples of that kind of deception. Thus Jacob deceived his father Isaac when he was old and his eyes were dim, by wearing his brother’s clothes... and telling his father that he was Esau.”

Every murderer who has ever felt obliged to confess his crime in custody has immediately gone on to try to explain away his action, usually by blaming it on the victim’s behaviour. This invariably happens when he is forced to confront the fact that the detective has the evidence he needs for a conviction, and can describe the course of events to the offender. However, the case against Vincent Tabak was almost non-existent. Had he really had been the person who deliberately killed Jo and gone to all the trouble to dump the body on the other side of the Avon Gorge in Longwood Lane so as to avoid detection, and then kept quiet about it – totally immune to the anguished public appeals by her parents – for nearly two months, during which he was arrested, subjected to three days of the police interrogation methods so graphically described by Christopher Jefferies, and found out how disagreeable prison life really was, it is amazing that a jury could be persuaded that such a man would spontaneously “confess” as long as there was still a chance of getting off scot-free. That neither the jury, the journalists nor the general public were puzzled by, nor sceptical of, the timing, circumstances and nature of Vincent Tabak’s alleged “confession” is a sad reflection on human credulity.

The prosecution must have felt confident of their case by 4th March 2011 ­– the date when Christopher Jefferies was finally released from bail. The police may have been waiting to release the landlord until the prisoner agreed to be respresented by Kelcey & Hall. However, Vincent Tabak did not sign his “enhanced statement”, very reluctantly, admitting that he strangled Joanna Yeates by holding her neck for 20 seconds, until 22nd September 2011. An honest confession would be credible and supported by all the facts - it would not given in dribs and drabs over several months.

By testifying for the Prosecution at the trial of a prisoner who had been in his pastoral care, and breaching a prisoner’s confidence without warning him that he might do so, Peter Brotherton completely compromised his status as an independent counsellor and by implication compromised the validity of his own testimony. He also prejudiced the Salvation Army’s reputation, at least among the community of prison inmates.

Mr Clegg’s cross-examination of Brotherton reveals him slyly collaborating with a prosecution witness to put the noose round his own client’s neck. If  the defence had not been in the prosecution’s pocket, they would have protested about the chaplain’s repeating this “confession” made in confidence. Any normal defence lawyer would have advised his client not to incriminate himself by making statements to anyone else. He would have rejected the chaplain’s statement, and told his client to plead Not guilty. The chaplain’s account of Vincent Tabak confessing prevented the jury from wondering why his defence team had allowed him to plead guilty on the basis of such weak forensic evidence and in the absence of a believable motive for killing Joanna. Had he not been tricked by the chaplain, Vincent Tabak would be a free man today.

Mr. Justice Field
One of the main functions of a judge during a trial is to supervise the tactics of the opposing barristers and stop them whenever they lead a witness, as Mr. Clegg so spectacularly led the chaplain by prior arrangement. Judges have many years’ training in doing this. It is also the job of a judge to blow the whistle when there is evidence of collusion between a QC and a witness called by the opposing side, as there was here. If this had been a proper trial, the judge, Mr. Justice Field, would also have intervened to ask Peter Brotherton whether his final “If that’s what you say, I would agree with you” were a “yes” or a “no”. For obvious reasons, it was a non-committal answer masquerading as a “yes”. This was one of the instances where Judge Field showed his true colours.