Evidence kept in storage for decades could ‘prove bookies murderer’s innocence’

Crime scene samples stored away in boxes could hold the key to proving the innocence of a man who was jailed for murder in 1981.

Ray Gilbert, now 63, was jailed for the savage murder of betting shop manager John Suffield, 23, at the Joe Coral bookmakers on Lodge Lane in Toxteth, Liverpool Echo reports.

John was opening up for the day on the morning of Friday, March 13, 1981, when he was ambushed, tied up and stabbed 19 times in what appeared to have been a horribly botched robbery.

Detectives theorised at the time that a speech impediment may have prevented the terrified victim from explaining that he could not open a time-locked inner safe, angering his attackers and sealing his fate.

Within days Merseyside Police had rounded up Ray, who had a reputation as a petty criminal and subjected him to a gruelling 48-hour interrogation without legal representation, cracked and confessed to the killing.

Ray later withdrew his statements and pleaded not guilty, but in a disastrous move changed his plea to guilty halfway through his trial in what he says was an ill-fated attempt to amend his mistake.

Due to Ray's guilty plea, he was not given leave to appeal and languished in prison until 2016, even though admission of guilt could have seen him released as long ago as 1995.

The ECHO has reported how the contents of the witness statements offered a disturbing alternate theory as to the identity of the killers – after it emerged that Mr Suffield had been threatened by two men the day before his death over a bet he refused to payout.

Detectives interviewed both of those men, one of who died in the late 1980s, but seemingly switched their focus within days.

No forensic evidence such as fingerprints or bloodstains and no witness evidence has ever been uncovered to place Ray at the scene.

Speaking about his time in prison, Ray said: "It was hard. In the end when you are in prison and you have not done the crime it's difficult to accept. I was sending probably 50 letters to people every weekend about my case.

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"I could have been released in 1996 if I had confessed but I have never ever given up on my case."

Ray now believes DNA testing, which was not available in 1981, could be used on samples from the crime scene which were found stored away in the bowels of St George's Hall.

Ray has four times asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which has the power to refer cases back to the Court of Appeal, to reopen his case – but has been refused.

A spokesman for the CCRC told the ECHO: "The CCRC can only refer a case for an appeal where there is a 'real possibility' that the appeal will succeed.

"We have completed a total of four reviews of Mr Gilbert’s murder conviction, each time concluding that there was no real possibility that the Court of Appeal would quash the conviction.

"At the conclusion of the fourth review in October 2010, Mr Gilbert and his representatives were provided with a detailed Statement of Reasons which explained why we decided not to refer his case and why we declined to undertake any further testing."

A Merseyside Police spokesperson said: “Merseyside Police still holds case files in relation to the murder of John Suffield and subsequent conviction of Mr Gilbert.

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"The Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) has previously reviewed the case and grounds for appeal were dismissed and the conviction deemed safe.

"If the CCRC were to seek a further review of the papers, Merseyside Police would co operate with them."

Ray is currently working on a new application to the CCRC.

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