The Strange Case of Jeremy Bamber
The story of Jeremy Bamber, who is court this week hoping to prove that he has been imprisoned for over 25 years for crimes that he did not commit, is almost the polar opposite of the normal cases of miscarriage of justice.
I came upon his case 16 years ago, when I discovered from a document released in Parliament that he was one of a small number of prisoners serving life sentences who had been told that they would never be released. (The report was in The Observer, 26 February 1995, but I don’t think it can be accessed via Google). Afterwards, I had a call from Bamber’s solicitor, who was seeking to have his ‘whole life’ sentence reversed in a European court. I thought it surprising that he should go to this trouble when Bamber was reportedly proclaiming his innocence and expecting to be released imminently. What I gleaned from this conversation was that Bamber’s own legal representative did not believe him and did not expect the jury’s verdict to be overturned.
There is standard pattern to most well known miscarriage of justice cases. A sensational crime takes place, there is an outcry, the police are under heavy pressure to make a quick arrest, they alight on someone who either has a criminal record or is a bit odd and vulnerable, wring a confession out of him if they can, and for years afterwards, devoted relatives and friends and high-minded lawyers and others campaign to have a guilty verdict overturned. None of this applies in the Bamber case.
If the police had wanted to frame someone for murder, they could have found an easier victim than Jeremy Bamber, who was a self-confident, strong willed, well educated youth, blessed with striking good looks, and eminently capable of fighting his corner. Anyway, the police were under no pressure to hunt the culprit after five members of the Bamber family were found shot dead in an Essex farm on 7 August 1985, because the case was solved before they arrived. Jeremy Bamber told them that he had had a phone call from the house to say that his adoptive sister, Sheila, was running amok with a gun. All the sensational publicity that surrounded the case at the time repeated the story that Sheila Bamber, who suffered from mental illness, had shot her parents, her two six year old sons, and then killed herself.
The first to cast doubt on this story was a relative, David Boutflour, who searched the house and found a silencer hidden away, with blood on it. It was unlikely that a demented mother who had killed her own children would have put it there. Then Bamber’s girlfriend came forward and told the police that Bamber had committed all five murders because he hated his adoptive parents and wanted their money. Sheila’s ex-husband, Colin Caffell, who had imagined that Bamber was as much in grief and shock as he was, was also persuaded that the truth was much more sinister. He has written a moving book In Search of the Rainbow’s End about the loss of his two six year old boys, in which he included the text of a rather nasty letter, written entirely in block capitals, that Bamber wrote to him from prison. It does not appear that anyone who knew Jeremy Bamber when he was at liberty believes in his innocence.
A detail often overloooked is that the twin boys who were murdered did not live at the farm. Because of their mother’s illness, they were being brought up by their father, who allowed them to visit their grandparents. A few days before the killings, Bamber visited Colin Caffell with the apparent aim of checking when the boys would be there. If they had not been killed, Jeremy Bamber would not have been the sole heir to the family fortune.
There is another rather creepy detail in Caffell’s book, that he later came to believe that Jeremy Bamber was studying him in the immediate aftermath of the murders to see how someone genuinely grief stricken behaved, in order to mimic him.
A court will have to decide this week whether Bamber is really a very wronged man, the victim of a conspiracy by his family, his girlfriend, and the police, as The Observer appears to believe, or whether he might be a dangerous psychopath who murdered three adults and two young children for money and has never displayed a scintilla of remorse. I hope they weigh the evidence carefully.Tagged in: crime, Jeremy Bamber
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