Around 3.26 a.m* on August 7, 1985 police received a call from Jeremy Bamber. He told police “You’ve got to help me. My father rang me and said “Please come over. Your sister has gone crazy and has the gun.” Then the line went dead.”
Police responded to White House Farm where his father lived, where they met Jeremy. Around 7.45 a.m. police entered the house and found Jeremy’s father Nevill, mother June, sister Sheila and her twin sons Nicholas and Daniel, age six, all shot dead.
Police initially believed that Sheila had shot herself after killing her parents and children : Sheila had a history of mental illness and drug abuse, and although Sheila had been shot twice, one of the shots would not have been immediately fatal. However, on September 29 Jeremy Bamber was arrested and charged and on 28 October 1986 he was convicted of all five murders.
* There is some controversy over the timing of Jeremy’s call, logs suggest Nevill called at 3.26 a.m. and Jeremy’s call was at 3.36 a.m. however this is uncertain, and this issue does not affect my assessment of the case very much.
The prosecution case
The prosecution case was that Jeremy ( henceforth “JB” ), travelled to White House Farm in the middle of the night, committed the murders, staged the scene to make it appear that Sheila shot herself, made a call to his home ( leaving the receiver off the hook ) and then cycled home and called police. JB told police the call from his father was at 3.10 a.m. and apparently believed British Telecom would have a log of the call ( although this was not the case), so he had only 15 minutes to return home. The prosecution argued that this was possible if he used a bicycle and paths and tracks to make the trip home, but this seems very questionable, as no bicycle tracks could be detected, in spite of the paths and tracks being muddy due to wet weather.
The prosecution case rested principally on two elements.
Blood in the moderator
Firstly, a moderator was found in a downstairs cupboard, and forensic evidence allegedly showed that Sheila was shot with the moderator on the gun. Since Sheila could not have placed the moderator in the cupboard after shooting herself ( she was found in an upstairs bedroom ), that would rule out murder-suicide.
However the flake of blood found in the moderator could have come from a combination of June and Nevill’s blood, or even rabbit blood ( the rifle was used to shoot rabbits). Moreover DNA tests performed in 2000 instead of supporting the conclusion that the moderator was on the gun when Sheila was shot, actually contradicted that conclusion. Instead of Sheila’s DNA being found in the moderator, the DNA tests showed June’s DNA and an unknown male, possibly Nevill.
Secondly, Julie Mugford, JB’s fiancé at the time of the shooting, testified that JB had practically confessed to her. But Julie’s story changed, and JB’s confession appears to have been based not on the true facts of the case, but rather must have been concocted by Mugford, who had multiple motives to lie, as will be explained in more detail below.
Why Julie Mugford’s testimony lacked credibility
Julie Mugford initially told police that JB said nothing of note when he called her around 3.30 a.m. just before he drove to the farmhouse to meet the police.
Then on September 1st, Julie called Liz ( a friend and one-time-lover of JB ) in floods of tears wanting to meet up. Julie tells Liz that JB has said he doesn’t want to see her any more. Then, apparently in a fit of jealousy, Julie said JB hired a hitman to kill his family. Liz suggested she should tell the police, Julie refused, suggesting this was just a casual lie or rumour intended to express her jealous anger at JB.
Over the next week, Julie continued to refuse to go to police despite the urging of Liz, but eventually after pressure from Liz and Malcolm ( Liz’s ex-boyfriend ), on September 7th, one month after the shootings, Julie told police that JB, on the same day as the shootings, said that he hired Matt McDonald to shoot his family. However, Matt had an airtight alibi, and was released.
See here for details on the complex story of Julie’s story changing ( the jury never knew the whole truth ).
Socialising with a murderer?
Besides the fact that Matt had an airtight alibi, one reason to doubt Julie’s story is that it would mean that she had been socialising with JB, remaining his girlfriend, spending two week-ends with him, even though she knew he was responsible for the murder of his own family. The appeal ruling ( see link below ) states:
110. …On 16 August Miss Mugford attended the funerals of Nevill and June Bamber with the appellant and then on 19 August the funerals of Sheila Caffell and her children. During that period the witness spoke of the appellant taking her out for frequent meals, and buying expensive clothes for himself and for her. She described the appellant’s mood during this period as “very happy”. After one of the funerals they drank champagne and cocktails.
111. Miss Mugford spent the weekend of 17-18 August 1985 with the appellant in Eastbourne. The following week the couple went to Amsterdam for two days, staying in expensive hotels and eating
It seems impossible to believe that Julie could have carried on her relationship with JB, knowing that he was a child murderer. But why might Julie have lied?
Motive for Julie to lie
Julie was angry
Shortly before Julie went to police, her relationship with JB went sour. She heard him arranging to meet another woman. So anger at being scorned for another woman would be one motive for her to lie.
Julie could have feared prison
However, it appears Julie had a much stronger motive to lie. Julie may well have been talking to Ann Eaton, and heard of the discovery of the moderator in the cupboard. Under Ann’s influence, she may have started to think that JB was responsible for the shootings, or that JB might be charged with the murders. Her friends had made statements that the time of her call from JB was earlier than 3.30 a.m, making it appear that she was lying about the call time, and could be charged with being involved or obstructing justice.
Therefore she may have been thinking : “JB did it, and I am going to prison even though I did nothing wrong. I hate him, he’s evil…. I am going to save myself, I am not going to prison for what HE did.”
This would explain why she might lie, throwing Jeremy under a bus.
Where did Julie’s story come from?
In Julie’s changed statement, Nevill was shot seven times. However this was untrue, he was actually shot eight times. What is especially telling is that the press had reported Nevill was shot seven times. The obvious inference is that Julie used what she read in the papers, rather than JB being the source of the information.
In Julie’s changed statement, the kitchen window was the means of exiting the farmhouse, a theory of Ann, but at trial it turned out that this was impossible.
Finally, Julie said JB told her “Sheila Caffell had been told to lie down and shoot herself last”. This, besides being being wildly implausible ( who would do as they told when told to shoot themselves? ), was contrary to the forensic evidence, which showed that Julie was shot twice in a sitting position, and then fell back.
Thus the content of Julie’s revised statement was not credible for multiple reasons, and we can infer it came from rumours and false press reports, not JB.
Why would Jeremy confess at all?
Finally, why would JB make such confessions at all? He could never gain anything from making these statements, there was no reason for him to confess to such a terrible crime. If he was capable of the cold-blooded murder of his own family, surely he could keep that secret from Julie for a day.
Evidence of Innocence
Besides the very doubtful prosecution case, there are several reasons to believe JB innocent.
(1) JB had no history of violence ( and this was a very extreme crime ). No diagnosis of psychopathy. Nothing in his past to suggest he could carry out such a terrible crime, the murder of his family, including young children.
(2) Sheila showed no sign of Livor Mortis at 10:30 a.m., meaning she could not possibly have died around 3 a.m.
(3) How could JB realistically have staged the suicide, how could he get Sheila to sit still , holding a Bible, while he got ready to shoot her? And do that twice?
(4) How can deep scratch marks on the arms of Nevill and June be accounted for? How could that possibly be staged.
(5) How does his plan make any sense? Why risk the trip to the farmhouse in the dark, why call the police and rule out all alternate suspects except Sheila?
To summarise : Julie’s testimony was not at all credible, and no rational jury could depend on it as proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the prosecution’s bicycle theory was impossible, and the theory that Sheila was shot with the moderator on was shown by DNA evidence to be wrong, his appeal should have been upheld, and there is every reason to believe he is innocent.
For more information about the case see here.