Could the inquest into Brenda Leyland's death reach the wrong verdict - as happened in the Andrew Chubb case? No inquest jury, and an inadequate police investigation? (long) [NOTE: Chubb prosecuted at the trial of Rosemary West]

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Could the inquest into Brenda Leyland's death reach the wrong verdict - as happened in the Andrew Chubb case? No inquest jury, and an inadequate police investigation? (long) [NOTE: Chubb prosecuted at the trial of Rosemary West]

Post  Tony Bennett on Sat Dec 27, 2014 4:43 pm

I'm posting up these three articles for those closely following the inquest into the death of Brenda Leyland.

The Coroner in the Andrew Chubb inquest reached the wrong verdict.

Two contributory reasons, which also apply to the death of Brenda Leyland, were these:

1. The Coroner refused to convene an inquest jury, and

2. The Police immediately declared that this was an accident and not a suspicous death.

There was a third reason which may or may not apply to the Brenda Leyland inquest: the police investigaation into a clearly suspicious death was hopelessly inadequate.


The three articles are:

No. 1 - A report in 2007 into the overturning of the Coroner's original verdict, and

Nos. 2 & 3 - Two reports by Nick Davies in the Guardian on the first inquest:


So who DID kill my lover? The mistress of the judge killed in a fireball tragedy speaks out


Last updated at 00:06 13 October 2007


After years of conflicting claims, accusation and counter-accusation, dark talk of blackmail and revelations of professional incompetence, 38-year-old Kerry Sparrow was granted a resolution of sorts: the death of her lover Judge Andrew Chubb can no longer be filed under the heading "accidental".

Andrew, a highly respected Crown Court judge, died in a fireball in the garden shed of his £1 million home in July 2001, just two hours after asking his wife of 33 years, Jennifer, for a divorce. It was, a coroner recorded at the original inquest five months later, an accident. Kerry has never believed it and has fought a five-year battle to reopen the inquest.

Finally, her instincts have been vindicated. After a week of dramatic evidence at Glastonbury Town Hall, district coroner Sheriff Payne recorded an open verdict. It may not seem like a seismic shift, but for Kerry it is a crucial one, acknowledging as it does that many questions still remain about the events of July 29, 2001.

"I'm over the moon," Kerry told the Mail. "I've been waiting for this moment for a long time, and now it's finally here I feel elated.

"What I wanted was to get a full and proper inquiry into Andrew's death, and I'm delighted I achieved that. I think he would have been proud of me.

"In an ideal world, I would have liked the verdict to be unlawful killing, but given the amount of evidence that has been lost or destroyed, I didn't expect that in a million years.

"But I do believe Andrew was unlawfully killed, and I would like to think that people will draw their own conclusions given the evidence.

"For now, I am just glad that the original verdict was overturned." Arguably, no verdict can ever draw a definitive line under the distressing and puzzling events surrounding Andrew Chubb's death.

The one person who might shed further light now seems unwilling to do so.

Jennifer Chubb, now 60, declined to attend the reopened inquest and remained at her new home in Australia.

"I find that pretty astonishing, not to say disrespectful,' Kerry says quietly.

"Whatever had happened between them, Andrew was her husband for more than three decades, and I find it quite extraordinary that she did not want to come home to try to find the truth."

Andrew Chubb, then 58 and the father of three grown-up children, died in a massive fireball in the garden shed of the family home in the leafy Somerset hamlet of Leigh, near Chard.

Two hours earlier, he had told his wife he wanted a divorce. He'd then gone out to mow the lawn. Five months later, a coroner ruled that a spark from his sit-on lawnmower had ignited petrol cans stored in the garage.

An extraordinary series of events, then. But a grief-stricken Kerry soon discovered other, more worrying facts. Andrew's body had, she found, been released for cremation without a forensic post-mortem. Blood samples were not taken and his lungs were not examined, making it impossible to obtain a definitive cause of death.

Vital witnesses were not traced and the remains of the shed — a crime scene — were bulldozed the day after he died, at his widow's request.

Jennifer's behaviour, too, puzzled Kerry. Within hours of her husband's death, Mrs Chubb was checking details of his life insurance policies.

With the fire raging in the shed, she had taken the washing off the line and moved the cars from the drive. Nor, despite dialling 999 from her telephone, did she actually speak to the emergency services. She claimed the phone would not connect. It was neighbours who raised the alarm. For Kerry, the motivations for such actions were to haunt her in the coming months.

While Mrs Chubb inherited Andrew's £1 million estate, £100,000 in life insurance policies and his £140,000-a-year pension, Kerry was left with no financial support and only the most rudimentary mementoes:

Andrew's shirts, which remained in her wardrobe, his cards and messages. "It didn't matter," she insists now. "I have never been interested in money. "What his wife got is not important to me. It has never, ever been about money."

In the days and weeks after a coroner ruled that Andrew's death had been an accident, Kerry focused her energies on trying to get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding her lover's death, giving up her job as a legal executive and using legal aid to prepare a case for a fresh inquest. "It was incredibly difficult," she says. "The police made it clear they thought I was a nuisance."

They would soon find their actions under the microscope, however. By October 2003, the Police Complaints Authority was forced to admit that the original inquiry was "far from thorough". Finally, at a judicial review in November last year, Lord Chief Justice Phillips ordered a fresh inquest.

"I was elated," Kerry says. "It meant it had all been worth it." She is, she would admit, not the most obvious crusader. A former barmaid and single mother, she met Andrew when she was working as a legal executive and living in a small rented cottage in Bishops Sutton, Hampshire, with her then eight-year-old daughter Sabina, born hen she was engaged in her late teens.

Andrew Chubb, meanwhile, was a highly respected lawyer as well as a familiar figure in Leigh, where he and his wife owned a rambling 19th-century farmhouse and were the epitome of respectability. But according to Kerry — and friends of the judge concur — the Chubbs' marriage was a cold and distant one, and Mrs Chubb herself had had two affairs. Kerry says she first met Andrew at a legal chambers drinks party in Exeter in 1996. "I thought he was lovely and very smiley," she says. "When I think of him now, I still remember his smile."

It was to be three years — during which time Andrew rose from prosecutor to judge — before their relationship was to become physical. Kerry was invited to dinner at his flat in Portsmouth, his weekday base, in August 1999, and the two became lovers. A pattern was quickly set. While Andrew returned to the family home at weekends, the couple spent at least three nights together at Kerry's home. "We did very simple things together — going for walks, cooking and gardening," Kerry recalls. "Andrew wasn't a very good cook but he went to such efforts.

"He would always light candles and put a rose on the table. He always wanted to make me feel special." He did not meet her daughter, she says, who stayed with her father on the nights she entertained Mr Chubb.

"Andrew and I were just happy as we were," Kerry says. "Neither of us wanted to get married again. "We were just very content in each other's company, simple as that. We needed each other, and that was all. It was a real love story." By 2001, though, Mr Chubb was finding it hard to live a double life. He told Kerry he would ask his wife for a divorce once his
youngest daughter had graduated from university that summer.

"It was not easy for him," Kerry says now. "He was troubled, although he was certain it was what he wanted and he remained as sweetly affectionate as always towards me." Nonetheless, some of the events in the weeks immediately preceding his death seem likely to remain forever in dispute.

Kerry maintains that three weeks beforehand, Andrew had confessed to his wife about the affair. Jennifer had remained cool, asking only how much money he had given his mistress. Mrs Chubb, for her part, maintains that her husband had, indeed, confessed to his affair shortly before his death — but this week it emerged at the inquest that she also claimed he had told her his lover was blackmailing him.

It is an accusation that Kerry robustly refutes. "I can barely bring myself to dignify that with a response," she says. "They are the words of someone who was desperate. I don't know why she said it, but I most certainly wasn't. "What reason did I have? I didn't need money. All I wanted was for us to be together."

There were other allegations made by Mrs Chubb. In a statement read out at this week's inquest, it emerged she claimed her husband had told her that Kerry had had an abortion during their relationship. It is an issue Kerry would prefer not to air in public, though she reluctantly does so. "I did become pregnant about a year-and-a-half into our relationship," she admits.

"It was obviously an emotional time when I found out, but neither of us wanted a child because we felt it would have ruined what we had.

"It was initially my decision to have an abortion, but Andrew was totally supportive. He could not come with me, but he bought me a beautiful bottle of perfume afterwards and was very protective of me. "He told me he had told his wifebecause he could not help being honest,' Kerry says. 'I just find it upsetting that she chose to bring it up in public."

If such washing of dirty linen has been unedifying and distressing for Ms Sparrow, neither can it have been easy for Mrs Chubb to discover her husband's affections for a woman 20 years her junior. What neither woman disputes is that on the evening of July 29, Mr Chubb was seeking a divorce. His wife maintains that while distressed by the prospect, she agreed, asking only that Andrew remained at home over the weekend to sort out their affairs.

Shortly afterwards, she recalled hearing a 'whoosh' and looked out to see the shed 'engulfed in flames'. She had, she said, tried to call the police, but her phone would not connect. She had also, this week's inquest heard, apparently changed her story in the immediate aftermath, first telling neighbours she believed her husband had committed suicide, but insisting to police that all was amicable between them and that she did not believe he had any suicidal thoughts.

Meanwhile, at her home in Hampshire, Kerry anxiously awaited further contact from her lover. "He rang me every night before he went to bed, wherever he was," she says. That night, of course, there was no call. Instead came a call the following day from the police, informing her that Andrew was dead.

So shocked was she that she had to be given tranquillisers. Though not invited to the funeral, Kerry attended anyway. "I felt compelled to," she says. "I just wanted to be close to him." Her request to place a single rose on the coffin, relayed to Mrs Chubb by the funeral directors, was rebuffed. "The funeral director must have felt some sympathy for me, though, because after the funeral one of them told me they had placed in the coffin the bunch of sweetpeas I gave them which Andrew and I had grown together."

Mrs Chubb, meanwhile, was to find her own behaviour under scrutiny.

Following her conflicting statements about her husband's state of mind, in April 2002 she was questioned by police on suspicion of murder and perjury, although no charges were brought. Perhaps it is for this reason, Kerry says, that she has found her battle supported not only by her own friends and family, but also by Andrew's sister Rosemary and his brother Nigel. "I met Rosemary in the summer of 2003. She told me she was glad I was doing what I was in seeking the truth, and that she could understand Andrew's feelings for me. "That meant an awful lot."

No doubt they, too, will be grateful that the original verdict has been overturned. Whether or not the CPS will now see fit to re-open an investigation remains to be seen, although Kerry thinks it unlikely.  

"Too much forensic evidence has been lost," she says. Today, Kerry has left the picturesque cottage she shared with Andrew Chubb and is living in a rented bungalow, where she has been laying the building blocks for a new

life by starting her own gardening business. "Gardening helps me feel connected to Andrew still," she says. "In my old house, we had a lovely garden and we spent a lot of time just pottering around together. It is where we were happiest. But I also know I have to move on now.

"What I did was only what anyone in my position would do, given the circumstances. It is only natural to fight for justice for a man you have loved."

And so the mystery remains about exactly why Andrew Chubb died.

But rest assured that however much times passes, there are two women — both of whom he once loved — who will never find it in their hearts to forgive one another for what they believe to be terrible injustices.

Read more:


The two Guardian articles are in the next posting



                            "Maddie's Jammies. Where is Maddie?" - Amelie, May 2007 -  "Maddie's Jammies. Where is Maddie?"

Tony Bennett

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Re: Could the inquest into Brenda Leyland's death reach the wrong verdict - as happened in the Andrew Chubb case? No inquest jury, and an inadequate police investigation? (long) [NOTE: Chubb prosecuted at the trial of Rosemary West]

Post  Tony Bennett on Sat Dec 27, 2014 4:49 pm

The two Guardian articles - see bolded passages:


[size=32]How a judge's death in country garden exposed fatal flaws in system: part one[/size]

Nick Davies looks at an extraordinary, inconclusive case in the latest in his series on criminal justice

The Guardian, Saturday 13 December 2003 12.47 GMT

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, Wednesday December 17 2003

In the special report below we said that the late Andrew Chubb had appeared as a barrister in the Fred West trial. Fred West took his own life on January 1 1995 and therefore did not stand trial. Andrew Chubb was a prosecuting lawyer in the Rosemary West trial.


Andrew Chubb devoted most of his working life to justice, first as a lawyer in the merchant navy, then as a barrister (he appeared, for example, at the Fred West murder trial) and finally as a crown court judge on the western circuit - nearly 30 years of service to this country's system of civil and criminal justice. Then he died. And justice deserted him.

To be more precise: the police failed effectively to investigate his death; two forensic experts produced reports the conclusions of which owed more to guesswork than to evidence; a pathologist conducted a postmortem examination which came up with a cause of death which was not proven; a coroner returned a verdict which does not stand up to scrutiny; and so, the truth was lost - because the system failed on almost every front, even when it was required to investigate the possible murder of a judge.

The Guardian's investigation into the criminal justice system has shown how the policing of volume crime is failing on a spectacular scale - bringing to justice only 3% of offences - fundamentally because it relies on the antique and failed tools of arrest and trial and punishment. In the policing of serious crime, there is no viable alternative to those tools. And it is here, in the policing of murder and rape and arson, that they are used with maximum force - the best of the resources for detection and prosecution, the toughest of punishments. And yet it is here that the criminal justice system has produced the worst of its failures: the spectacular miscarriages of justice, the inquiries perverted by institutional racism, the Rippers and the Shipmans, the scandals of bent cops and bent evidence.

Each of these failures has its own detail and yet all of them spring from a common source: our systems for detecting and dealing with serious crime are unreliable. Sometimes they succeed but then again they fail, because, oddly, we do not train our detectives to detect; or because we now filter our forensic science through a privatised marketplace; or because we have left the most important decisions about death in the hands of coroners with ancient and arbitrary powers; or because, when things go wrong, we still rely on some of the most powerful institutions in the country to arbitrate on their own behaviour.

Systems like these invite the manufacture of false evidence, they provoke guesswork and phoney logic, they stimulate the crudest of prejudices, because they fail consistently to deliver the most important element in any criminal justice system, which is the truth. It can happen even to a judge.

Andrew Chubb spent the last few minutes of his life in the garden of the old farmhouse where he lived with his wife, Jenny, deep in south Somerset, near Ford Abbey. It was a blissful summer's evening, Friday July 27 2001. A couple of hours earlier, he had driven home from Portsmouth, where he lived during the week, and now he was in the rickety wooden shed where he kept his mowers. It was just after a quarter to nine when there was a thumping explosion inside the shed, flames poured through the upper walls, a mountain of dark black smoke shot 20 feet into the sky, and fire enveloped Andrew Chubb.

They all came to the scene: the fire engines with their crews and then the fire investigation officer; the uniformed police and the detectives; the scenes of crimes officer and the Home Office forensic scientist. The experts studied the shed and the house and the garden and wrote reports. The body was taken to Yeovil hospital, where a pathologist examined its charred remains and wrote another report. Over the following weeks, the police interviewed witnesses and other interested parties and they produced sworn statements. And, just over four months later, all the evidence was placed in front of a coroner who held a one-day hearing at the end of which he declared that a thorough investigation had taken place and formally recorded a verdict of accidental death. The case was closed. Justice was satisfied.

Now look more closely. Look, for example, at the incident log which records the messages sent back to their control room in Taunton by the fire officers who arrived in Andrew Chubb's garden 20 minutes after his shed burst into flames. As they reached the scene, at 21.06: "Shed in the open on fire". As they saw that the fire was not spreading, at 21.07: "Third pump not required." And as they took stock of how the fire started, at 21.10: "Fire investigating required, as cause of fire very suspicious." An hour later, at 22.08, having found the dead judge's body, they underlined their concern: "Confirm one fatality. Incident being treated as a crime scene and being passed over to police."

The suspicion of the fire officers was provoked by one very simple worry: they could not see how the fire had started. There was no known source of ignition in the shed - no electrical supply, no gas switch, no cigarette or burning pipe. Had somebody gone in there and deliberately started it? Neighbours reported that, around the time of the explosion, they had seen a light plane flying low over the area with its canopy open and had heard the sound of car tyres squealing in the lane. Was it possible that a former client or defendant was taking revenge on Andrew Chubb?

As the fire officers quelled the flames, Chubb's wife, Jenny, volunteered to a uniformed police officer that, less than an hour before the fire, she and her husband had had an argument. Indeed, he had told her that he wanted a divorce. It transpired that, for more than two years, Andrew Chubb, who was 58, had been having an affair with a much younger woman and that, four weeks earlier, Jenny Chubb had found out. She had thought their marriage would survive and, that evening, she had planned to try to find a solution with him, but instead, he had announced that it was over, they would have to sell the house, and he would live with his lover.

She had felt worried and betrayed and had remonstrated with him and then followed him out to the garden where she had found him in the garden shed. She told police they had stood in the driveway, arguing, and then she had walked back into the house where, a little later, as she sat down to eat scrambled egg in front of the television, she had heard the explosion. None of this meant that a crime had been committed. All the fire officers knew was that there were questions that needed answers.



[size=32]How a judge's death in country garden exposed fatal flaws in system: part two[/size]

Nick Davies looks at an extraordinary, inconclusive case in the latest in his series on criminal justice.

Then ... nothing happened. The fire officers had put out the fire and called up a lighting unit so that nightfall would not obstruct the police. But no detectives started an investigation. No scenes-of-crime officer photographed the scene and collected samples for testing. No forensic experts examined the wrecked shed. If the mysterious low-flying plane or the squealing tyres were important, they would not be pursued that night. If it was important to swab Mrs Chubb's hands or the soles of her shoes for petrol or to check her clothing or to interview her while the facts were still fresh, none of that happened. Those who might have come, were busy elsewhere. The fire officers waited and, finally, at about two o'clock in the morning, a scenes-of-crime officer turned up and said they would start work during the day. So, at 2.20am, the fire engines finally left the garden and the smouldering remains of the shed, with the judge's charred body still lying in the ruins, while a lone constable stood by in the darkness.

It was the next morning before the investigation began. A forensic scientist, Bob Bell, went through the house, looking for displaced furniture or any other sign of a struggle. It was now about 12 hours since Andrew Chubb had died, and Bell found nothing out of place. He was joined by Andrew Quinlan, a specialist investigation officer from the fire service. Together, they checked for odd footmarks in the garden and then studied the ruined shed, the scorched corpse and the burned-out shell of a Honda sit-on tractor mower.

Bell and Quinlan could smell petrol. They found a residue of petrol around the body and the scorched remains of a petrol can which had no cap. Perhaps petrol vapour had built up in the shed and then - for some reason - ignited. But, after such an intense blaze, there was no way of knowing for sure how it had happened. As Quinlan later recorded in his report, petrol vapour could have caught fire if the judge struck a match or started the mower, releasing a spark from the engine; he said he had no proof for either theory, but both were possible. In his report, Bob Bell later suggested that the judge might have been actually handling petrol at the time and then ignited the vapour with a spark from the mower engine or with "an accident involving some other item within the shed". He, too, recorded that he "had no direct evidence to support such a scenario" but he went further than Quinlan and considered that an accident was "very much more probable" than foul play.

Now, this was a crucial moment - and one which reveals the kind of structural crack that makes the system so unreliable. The detectives at the scene wanted to know what these two experts thought, and yet the two experts relied on the police to tell them what had happened and, crucially, had no right to interview witnesses, such as Mrs Chubb and neighbours.

Lacking key information, the experts were expected to establish the cause of the fire, and yet the law insisted that it was then for the police alone - to decide whether this was an accident or foul play. The reality was that there was no proof of what had caused this fire and so, based on the little they knew, the two experts did all they could: they came up with their best guess to try to help the police.

Quinlan's theory that the judge might have struck a match was speculation. He had been told, as he later recorded in his report, that "Mr Chubb may at certain times have carried a box of matches to light garden fires etc". He had no way of knowing whether this was true. And even if it was, why would an intelligent man suddenly take into his head to strike a match in a shed full of petrol?

Bell's theory that the judge might have been handling petrol was similarly speculative; nobody had seen the judge doing that, he did not normally fill the mower because that was the gardener's job, and the gardener, who was interviewed by police later that day, said he had left the mower two-thirds full, so there was no need for it to be filled. But Bell didn't know that.

In the same way, the idea, which was floated by both experts, that the judge might have released a spark by trying to start the mower was also pure speculation. They had been told by the police that the judge had gone out to mow the lawn, but - unable to question anybody - they did not know that he was not in the habit of using this mower because that was the gardener's job; or that there was no need to use the mower because, as the gardener told police that day, he had cut the grass two days earlier. The starter motor was so damaged by fire that they could not tell if the key had been turned; and, even if the judge had tried to start it, there was no evidence that the mower produced sparks in a way which would jeopardise the lives of gardeners in sheds up and down the country. The experts' theories might be right, or they might be wrong.

The truth might have been that it was foul play. Quinlan studied the hinges of the shed door and concluded that both had been closed when the shed caught fire - an odd thing on such a hot day and with such limited light inside. The gardener said he had left the tops on all the petrol cans, and yet the experts had found one without its top, lying not at the far end of the shed, where the judge's body lay, but just by the door. And it was odd that a healthy man had not been able simply to batter his way through the flimsy wooden walls of the shed as the fire took hold - unless he was unconscious or even dead before the fire began.

Perhaps the truth was that somebody had gone into the shed, hit the judge over the head, scattered petrol over him, thrown a match on him, shut the doors and left him to burn until the heat built up enough to explode through the upper walls and roof.

Both experts, however, leaned towards accident. They could see no clear sign of foul play. They had taken samples of debris to test for petrol and they had scraped up a spot of blood from the conservatory in case it was the judge's, but it would be days before the results were known. They had checked the body for signs of injury and seen nothing in the charred remains, now the body would go for postmortem examination, but that too was several days away.

Neither expert claimed to have proof for their theories. And yet, that Saturday morning, gathered around the burned-out shed, the police listened and concluded that the fire was an accident. From this moment, everything changed.

Having come to this conclusion, the police prepared a brief statement for the press, saying that they were investigating the judge's death, but they were not treating the incident as suspicious. Accordingly, that same weekend, when Jenny Chubb told the police she had visitors and asked quite logically if it was all right if she bulldozed the remains of the shed, the police said that was fine, thus losing whatever evidence might yet remain in its ruins.

So, too, instead of asking for a special postmortem examination by a Home Office pathologist (the normal course when a death is suspicious) the police and the coroner agreed on a routine examination by a pathologist at the local hospital in Yeovil, who concluded simply that the judge had died from burning. And when Jenny Chubb then asked if, in the normal way, she could hold a funeral and cremate her husband's body, the police said that, too, was fine, thus losing whatever evidence might yet remain there.

Following this line, the police never challenged the clearly speculative conclusions of the two experts and commissioned no further expert opinion. They accepted that the fire might have been started by a spark from the mower, without sending the mower's starter motor for testing to see whether the key had been turned in it; they did not even keep the starter motor, which was buried in a landfill site with the rest of the ruined shed.

They did not trace the pilot of the light plane which was reported over the judge's garden. Jenny Chubb was not interviewed by a detective; her statement was taken by a local uniformed PC whom she already knew.

The case might now have rolled gently downhill to the inquest and into oblivion, had it not been for one simple obstacle - the judge's lover. Kerry Sparrow, then 32, worked for a firm of London lawyers, had been spending most nights with him during his working week in Portsmouth, was aghast at the official response. When she started to complain that the case was not being properly investigated, a police officer told her: "I am beginning to dislike you, Miss Sparrow." So, she went to a lawyer, who agreed to represent her at the inquest.

On December 12 2001, the case of the death of Judge Andrew Chubb came to the court of the East Somerset coroner, Tony Williams, sitting at Wells. The police sent a detective constable who explained: "A fire that involves a fatality - that will be investigated to the nth degree, by the CID". He then conceded that nobody had checked the skin or clothing of the only other person at the scene of the fire; that he did not think this had ever been an issue; and that "there were no concerns" about the argument between the judge and his wife. The coroner, nevertheless, managed to conclude: "I accept that as a result of the police inquiry, there was nothing further for them to consider either with regard to suspicious circumstances or with regard to foul play."

The inquest focused on one central question: what could have ignited a fire in that shed? The theory of the fire investigation officer, Andrew Quinlan, that the judge had struck a match, was dismissed: Jenny Chubb confirmed he was carrying no matches. In the absence of any other candidate, there was only one possible source of accidental ignition left - the Honda ride-on mower. But had Andrew Chubb tried to start it?

The forensic scientist, Bob Bell, admitted that the switch had been too badly burned for him to tell and that he did not even know what had happened to it. But even if Chubb had tried to start it, would it have produced an open spark? Bell told the coroner that, although he was "not an expert on Honda mowers", he thought the switch in the starter motor "would probably not be flame-proofed, and therefore that spark could ignite any vapour present in the shed."

The only witness who could claim to be an expert on these mowers was Peter Sherry, who had sold one to Andrew Chubb and who repaired them for a living. He told the coroner that you could not start it unless you sat on it - and the judge's body was found lying behind it, with his legs partially underneath it. And as to whether it would produce a spark, he differed from the forensic scientist. Whatever the situation, he said, "there shouldn't be an open spark, no."

Pressed by one of the lawyers, he conceded: "If the plug cap was loose or something like that, you could have a spark." But he said that was unlikely and that he had never heard of a Honda catching fire.

And yet, the coroner concluded that, on the balance of probability, Andrew Chubb's death had been an accident. He explained that he placed "a great deal of reliance" on the evidence of Bob Bell, even though Bell himself had told the court that "all fatal fires are murders until one either finds any concrete evidence or indeed evidence that it isn't". Kerry Sparrow's lawyer had urged the coroner to return an open verdict on the legal basis that the evidence did not "fully disclose the means whereby the cause of death arose". The coroner, however, sitting without a jury, was allowed by law to come to his own conclusion. As the coroner declared his verdict, Kerry Sparrow called out from her seat in the court: "Absolute rubbish."

So, officially, the case ended. Anybody who has ever found themselves at odds with the criminal justice system will say that there is a horrible momentum about its decisions. A single error or a single act of malice can push an entire investigation off course and once it reaches court and receives the blessing of a verdict, from a jury or from a coroner, doors slam closed all over the system, and it becomes enormously difficult to reopen them.

Kerry Sparrow commissioned her own experts to review the evidence. Their conclusions were startling. She went to Dr Chris Foster, one of the world's leading specialists in the investigation of fires. He considered the work of Bob Bell and Andrew Quinlan. He observed that "none of the photographs show a systematic clearance of debris in a manner that I would expect"; he dismissed key findings because they were "not warranted on the evidence" and because they failed to answer basic questions; and, on their central suggestion, that the fire was an accident, Dr Foster concluded simply that both experts had been speculating.

Kerry Sparrow also commissioned a report from a Home Office consultant pathologist, Michael Heath, the kind of specialist who is supposed to be involved whenever there is a suspicious death. Dr Heath noted that the local pathologist had said that there was no blood to analyse and no airway to examine but he suggested - on the evidence of the same pathologist's report - that this was wrong. The tests could have been done, he said, to find crucial evidence about whether the judge was dead or alive when the fire started. But since there were no tests, the local pathologist was not entitled to come to any solid conclusion. The idea that the judge had died of burning, he said, was "not proven".

These two reports kicked away the props on which the police had relied for their conclusion that there was nothing suspicious about the death. They made nonsense of the idea that the police inquiry had been thorough. They contradicted the very evidence on which the coroner said he had relied for his verdict. But it was too late to go back to the night of the incident and do things differently; too late now to re-examine the body, which had been cremated; or to go back to the scene, which had been bulldozed; or to go back to the inquest, which was now closed.

Kerry Sparrow bombarded the system with letters and emails and, up against a wall of silence, she found one door which opened. The chief constable of Avon and Somerset police agreed to set up a second inquiry into Andrew Chubb's death. Whereas the original inquiry had been led by an inspector from the local division, this was run by a chief inspector from the central pool of specialist CID.

This inquiry dug out the remains of the mower from the landfill site, sent the starter motor off to be examined by experts, checked with Honda to see if the mower really did produce a dangerous spark and commissioned its own experts, who duly confirmed the thrust of Kerry Sparrow's reports, that there was scant reliable evidence of accident. On May 30 2002, 10 months after the incident, they arrested Jenny Chubb on suspicion of murder and also perjury, in relation to a discrepancy in her evidence at the inquest.

Jenny Chubb was interviewed and consistently denied playing any part in her husband's death. She also denied perjury. The police sent a report to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who concluded that there should be no prosecution. For Mrs Chubb the ordeal was over. And since the second police inquiry had also found and cleared the pilot of the light plane which had flown over Andrew Chubb's garden, the detective work had now reached a dead end.

While this was going on, Kerry Sparrow had been to the high court to seek judicial review of the coroner's verdict that Andrew Chubb's death was an accident. They had presented the evidence of her experts, but the coroner said his verdict was justified on the evidence available at the inquest. He said it was for him to decide what documents to admit and what witnesses to call, and he quoted a 1995 judgment by the Master of the Rolls: "The coroner fails in his duty if his investigation is superficial, slipshod or perfunctory. But the responsibility is his. He must set the bounds of the inquiry. He must rule on the procedure to be followed."

The high court agreed. Now, the police reported their new findings to him, but still he allowed his verdict to stand.

Kerry Sparrow continued to batter at the doors of the Home Office, which reviewed the work of Bob Bell and concluded that there was nothing wrong with it, and at the CPS which declined to discuss the case. She pursued Avon and Somerset police and became bogged down in a bizarre argument. From the start of their second inquiry, she understood that, apart from trying to find out the truth about Andrew Chubb's death, they were also investigating her complaints about the weakness of the first inquiry.

She was told in writing by the head of the complaints division that the original inquiry would be reviewed. She was told in writing by the chief inspector who led the second inquiry that his report was being considered by the head of complaints. And yet, the police then told her that she had not formally registered her complaint as a complaint, so they would not recognise the second inquiry as a complaints inquiry, so no action would be taken against any officer in the original inquiry.

Infuriated, she carried on battering, threatening to go to the press unless the police accepted that she was complaining. The police asked her for samples of her complaints. She offered two and - to her horror - discovered they were planning to set up a complaints inquiry which was limited to the two samples. Finally, six months after the second inquiry ended, they agreed to set up a formal complaints inquiry into all of her concerns.

Ten months later, in October 2003, the Police Complaints Authority concluded that the original inquiry was "far from thorough". They accepted that the senior detective understandably had "relied on the experts at hand" but they found that "the clues from the outset were clearly suspicious", that it was clear at the time that neither accident nor suicide were likely, that the judge's argument with his wife "should have become a prominent focus of the inquiry". They catalogued a list of failings not only by the senior detective but also "a failure by the forensic scientist to make a more systematic examination of the scene." However, they said, the detective responsible would not be disciplined. The reason: so much time had passed since Kerry Sparrow first complained, that he had retired from the force. So the system closed its final door.

Avon and Somerset police have reviewed the original inquiry and apologised that it had failed to come up to the expected standard. They told us: "However, we do not believe that the findings of the initial investigation would have been different had the investigating officer completed the actions which were highlighted as omissions in our subsequent review." They emphasised that the senior detective did not set out to conduct an incomplete investigation.

The Forensic Science Service also reviewed the work of Bob Bell and found that he had worked to the correct guidelines; that he had found no evidence of any third party's involvement; that he had not ruled out this possibility but had concluded that an accident was more likely. Given the extent of the fire, the review noted, it was unlikely that any solid evidence of its cause would have been found: "The overall conclusion from the review is that the original scene examination and the conclusions derived by the scientist were sound, based on the information available to him at that time."

The truth may be that Andrew Chubb spilled petrol in his garden shed and somehow created a spark which enveloped him in flame. Or it may be that somebody attacked him in the shed and then burned his body. Andrew Chubb is not the only victim. His wife too suffers from a system which treated her as a suspect but which deprived her of the facts. She, at least, emerges without a stain on her character. The same cannot be said of the system. It lost the truth in this case just as for years it has lost the truth about IRA bombers, Stephen Lawrence, the Yorkshire Ripper, Dr Harold Shipman and a back catalogue of smaller cases which never reach the public eye. In each case, the failure is blamed on an individual - look at how the Shipman inquiry has dumped almost all the weight of failure on one hapless detective inspector. The reality is that failure in the investigation of serious incidents is simply not unusual. It is not unusual in the specific case of death and damage by fire. We have spoken to senior fire officers and forensic scientists who say that it is commonplace for arson to be mistaken for accident: ordinary fire officers have no training in investigation; specialist fire investigation officers have only six weeks training which is not normally updated; the fire service as a whole has no statutory power to investigate a suspicious fire but has to hand over to police who have no arson training at all.

Four years ago, the Home Office commissioned a "scoping study" which recognised that arson was routinely slipping through the net. Senior detectives have told us privately that arson generally is hard to investigate and tough to prosecute and that, given the chance, they will record it as an accident. A specialist investigator told us that the CPS has an "appallingly lackadaisical attitude" to the few cases which are pursued, failing to hold case conferences to get to grips with technical detail (although this was not an issue in the case of Andrew Chubb).

Beyond that, these kinds of errors are not unusual generally in the detecting of serious crime. There is an extraordinary hole at the centre of police training of detectives and those who supervise them. One senior police source with long experience of training told us: "We provide superb training in driving, surveillance, firearms, self-defence. But our management training is crap - nothing to do with skills, just passing on lists of words. And our detective training is non-existent. We train detectives in data systems and law and admin and procedure. But we don't train them in detection. There is no model for detection. We expect detectives to use some unconscious model."

A study on quality control in CID for the 1993 Royal Commission on Criminal Justice warned of the built-in fallibility of CID work: most cases were not investigated at all; in those which were investigated, error was widespread; small errors could damage whole cases; CID, generally did not recognise, record or attempt to learn from their errors; "it is remarkable that no training or supervision seems to be in place to avoid them". And yet this "fallible error-prone system" was expected to prove cases beyond reasonable doubt with life-changing results for defendants and victims.

Within this unreliable system, the role of forensic science nationally has become compromised by commerce. The Forensic Science Service now charges police for its work and is allowed to keep the profit it makes. Middle-ranking detectives routinely find themselves, for example, with DNA traces from burglars or car thieves but no money to pay the £1,375 fee to have each one checked. And no detective at any crime scene gets brownie points for keeping a forensic scientist working at a cost of £115 an hour.

This is not a defining factor: if the job is worth it, the police will find the money. But it is a limiting factor, a constant background pressure, particularly when police decide that a particular crime is "a rubbish job" - one that will give them more trouble than joy.

And all this is surrounded by the fact that the handling of serious crime, like the whole criminal justice system, is now driven by targets and business plans. Everybody involved has a vested interest in speedy conclusions. In many cases, untrained and often inexperienced officers arrive at an incident and come up with a plausible story which then defines the response of everybody else down the line: to attack that plausible story may be an essential requirement for the discovery of the truth, but it flies in the face of the new values of criminal justice.



                            "Maddie's Jammies. Where is Maddie?" - Amelie, May 2007 -  "Maddie's Jammies. Where is Maddie?"

Tony Bennett

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Re: Could the inquest into Brenda Leyland's death reach the wrong verdict - as happened in the Andrew Chubb case? No inquest jury, and an inadequate police investigation? (long) [NOTE: Chubb prosecuted at the trial of Rosemary West]

Post  Joss on Sun Dec 28, 2014 2:32 pm

That was an interesting & informative read Tony, and as to the question of "Could the inquest into Brenda Leyland's death reach the wrong verdict" as in the Chubb case you posted about, i think definitely that could be a possibility, seeing as how some cases are investigated, and that there is so much that happens that shouldn't happen. This is in no way an acceptable delivery of Justice to the victims in suspicious cases, and i have thought for a while now that in most countries their legal & judicial systems need a good overhaul because they are very archaic and outdated, as are other systems we have to deal with also, but that is another story.
As much as i hope there will be real justice for Brenda Leyland, i am not feeling confident about such a system and the way it supposedly delivers its justice.


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