Unsolved Murders

Jack Royal

Age: 57

Sex: male

Date: 19 Mar 1990

Place: 44 Laburnum Grove, Sunniside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Jack Royal was shot at his home at 44 Laburnum Grove, Sunniside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne after someone rang the doorbell at 11.35pm and shot him when he looked through the window.

It was thought that his murder was in revenge for Jack Royal having previously killed a man in self-defence during a street fight outside a chip-shop. Jack Royal had been tried twice for the murder of David Thompson who he stabbed in 1987 but acquitted both times. David Thompson, a 29-year-old scrap dealer had been Jack Royal's 29-year-old son's former business partner. David Thompson had 17 stab wounds following the fight which started after his son fell out with him over a business venture. At the first trial the jury could not reach a verdict and he was acquitted at the second trial.

After Jack Royal was shot a neighbour said that she looked out of her window and saw a man run off and get into a white Austin Montego car and drive off. The car was found set on fir a short while later in a car park.

A man was tried for Jack Royal's murder but was acquitted on 26 June 1991.

He was identified by the woman that saw the man run off and he lived not far from St. Michael's Green car park where the Montego was later found burnt out. The woman picked the man out from 55 mug shots and later picked him out in an identity parade, saying, 'He was definitely the driver. I had seen the face that night'.

When the police questioned the man, they found that David Thompson had been the man's sisters’ partner and the father of her children.

However, the man was acquitted at a trial in 1991.

Another man was later tried and convicted of his murder in 1993, but his conviction was later quashed in January 2007 after it was found to be unsafe. The man had previously appealed in January 1998 but had his appeal dismissed then. The judge said that criticisms and failures relating to the handling of his defence had been sufficient to render the verdict unsafe. The man had been tried with two co-accused, one of whom was the sister of David Thompson, but the co-accused were acquitted at the 1993 trial. The trial claimed that David Thompson's sister had solicited the man, who was her boyfriend at the time, and another man, to murder Jack Royal in revenge for the death of her brother.

After the man was released, he said, 'A few minutes ago I was a prisoner serving a life sentence for a crime I did not commit. I am now a free man'.

Two months after the murder, the man that was tried in 1993 separated from his girlfriend after she found him in a nightclub with another woman and he moved out of the house that they had bought together.

After that the man moved in with a friend, who was later the main witness against him in the 1993 murder trial. However, the witness soon owned the man money and tensions arose.

Then, in May 1991, the police raided their house and arrested them for an armed robbery at a nearby Presto supermarket. The man was soon released as he had an alibi, but the witness was charged after he was picked out in an identity parade, but the charges against him were later dropped.

After that the man asked the witness to move out.

Whilst that was happening, the police had been building the case up against the first man tried, but after he was acquitted, they had to start again with their investigation.

In early 1992 the police carried out tests on a shotgun that was found at a man's house which left scratches on cartridges loaded into it that were similar to those found on cartridges that were found on the porch at Jack Royals house. The man was a friend of the witness and was himself later convicted for the Presto armed robbery that the other two men had initially been arrested for.

Shortly after the first man was acquitted for Jack Royals murder, a gang broke into the home of an elderly couple in County Durham on 6 April 1992, a crime that was known as the Consett robbery. During the robbery, two elderly people were tied up and their home ransacked for valuables.

However, within hours, the witness was arrested at his girlfriends with items stolen from the Consett robbery by the Durham police and arrested. He was then charged with robbery with the possibility of 10 to 15 years in prison.

Whilst he was being held, his solicitor asked the police if they would agree to a lighter sentence if the witness named his accomplices in the Consett robbery, but they refused. Then, the next day, 11 April 1992, the witness asked the Durham police if they wanted to talk about Jack Royals murder and the police went to his house to talk to him about it.

The details of what went on at the meeting were not fully known and because of that, the man's later appeal in 2007 was strengthened after it was noted that his defence at the 1993 trial had attempted to undermine the witnesses credibility by suggesting that he had made a deal with the Durham police to have his charges reduced to handling stolen goods in exchange for making a statement in relation to the Jack Royal murder. It was heard that many of the notes from those interviews were lost and that some that were kept were not looked at, such that if they had have been present, that the witnesses credibility might have been sufficiently undermined for the man to have been acquitted, as was the defence's intention.

It was further heard that it took just 22 days for the man’s charges to be reduced and for the Northumberland police to arrest the other man for the murder of Jack Royal, which they did on 6 May 1992.

The man's house was surrounded by armed police early in the morning on 6 May 1992. He was was charged with murder along with his friend and a woman who was the sister of David Thompson, the man that Jack Royal had killed.

The man spent a year on remand, but shortly before the trial, his solicitors stepped down and another solicitor elected to take the case, and as such, it was stated that 13 days before the trial, the man had no barrister and it was later claimed that preparations did not improve, which was later a ground for appeal after it was claimed that his trial had been compromised by incompetence and lack of planning, although those grounds were not upheld.

It was noted that the man's solicitors made some mistakes early on, and mistakenly wrote down the wrong dates for the man's alibi, which gave the prosecution the ability to claim that the man had changed the dates of his alibi.

It was a couple of days before the trial that the man met his two new barristers and they requested an adjournment of the case for four weeks to prepare, but the judge only gave them five days.

It was said that it was clear at the trial that there was no case without the testimony of the witness, the person that the man on trial had lived with and who had been arrested with him initially for the Presto robbery and who had later been arrested and charge for the Consett robbery and then made a deal with the police for uncertain arrangements which the man's defence suggested including testifying against him and also possibly being fed information to assist with that implication.

As such, the man's defence attempted to undermine the witness’s evidence.

It was noted that the witness had claimed that he had decided to help the police purely as a matter of conscience and denied on oath that he had made a deal with the police. However, it was noted that his conscience had remained untroubled during the trial of the first man.

The man's friend and the woman were acquitted, but the man was convicted on 18 May 1993 and he was sentenced to life.

It was noted that the conviction made no sense as it relied on the witness’s statements and as such, if the jury believed him then they should have all been convicted, and if not, they should have all have been acquitted.

It was also heard that shortly after the trial, three members of the jury contacts the man's family to state that one of the jury members had made certain statements to influence their decision, which was unanimous, claiming that she had inside information and that  'she knew they were guilty' and that she knew that the man was a bad lad and had been involved with drugs. As such, the claimed formed a significant part of the appeal but the claim was refused after it was said that all the jury members had been found to pass the relevant tests to be jury members at the beginning of the trial.

The man appealed in 1998 but his appeal failed, and he then appealed in 2007 and had his conviction quashed.

The four points of the 2007 appeal were:

  1. Incompetent defence representation depriving the appellant of a fair trial.
  2. Material non-disclosure by the prosecution.
  3. Errors in the summing-up.
  4. The jury received inadmissible evidence concerning the appellant's bad character (the jury point).

The Court of Appeal heard that one of the jury members had been biased. The jury member, known as 'Juror 9' had been heard to say that she knew 'these lads are guilty' numerous times outside the jury room during the trial. However, the Court of Appeal rejected that the claimed that the jury were bias, stating, 'Before the jury was sworn, the judge said that any juror with prior knowledge of any defendant should declare it before being sworn. None did. No irregularity was drawn to the attention of the judge by any juror during the course of the trial. The verdict was unanimous. In the circumstances, we are quite satisfied that no evidence of bias has been shown, so as to render the verdict unsafe'.

The Court of Appeal also heard that there had been a failure to use evidence relating to three topics, which were available to the defence before trial which demonstrated that the legal advisers at trial had failed, for some reason, in those respects in their pre-trial preparations and that it was that deficiency in pre-trial preparation which caused the failures that made the conviction unsafe. The judge said, 'It is difficult to conclude that the criticisms and failures which we have found in respect of any one of the individual topics were on their own sufficient to render the verdict unsafe but we are quite satisfied that taken together, cumulatively they were sufficient to render the verdict unsafe'.

Jack Royal was a retired science teacher.

Jack Royal had been watching television with his wife at their home at 44 Laburnum Grove, Sunniside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the evening of Monday 19 March 1990 when at about 11.35pm there was a ring of their front doorbell which Jack Royal went to answer. When he got to the door, and looked through the porch window, he was shot once in the face and died almost instantly.

Following his murder, the first man was later arrested and tried. However, he was acquitted, but it was heard that it was during his trial that further evidence came to light, in April 1992, after a man said that he had driven the two men tried to a car park near Jack Royal's home and that they had got out and when they had returned they had told him that they had blown a man's head off.

The witness said that at 6pm on 19 March 1990 the man had had asked him to drive him and the other man to Whickham so that they could 'chin a bloke who had been cheeky to his girlfriend', the sister of David Thompson. The man said that he agreed to meet them in the Denton Hotel at about 10.00pm that evening and that, after asking them to come back in half an hour, told them that he didn't have enough money for petrol, but said that they gave him £5 for the petrol. He said then, that between about 10.30pm and 10.45pm they met at the door of the Hotel and they all left in the man's silver Renault 5 Turbo car for his home where he collected his blue Ford Escort car and drove to a petrol station opposite the Denton Hotel to fill up with petrol. He said that after that he drove to the man's house in Sugley Street, followed by the man and his friend in the silver Renault 5 Turbo car.

It was noted that the witness said that as he was filling up with petrol that the man and his friend were driving their silver Renault 5 car up and down West Road and that during that time he had seen a police Astra GTE drive past. It was later heard in evidence that that sighting matched reports made by two policemen who said that they had carried out two Police National Computer (PNC) checks on a silver Renault 5 that was being driven on West Road  in Denton at 10.47pm and 10.53pm respectively on the night of 19 March 1990.

He said that when they got there, the man and his friend went into the house and then came out with a dark coloured holdall and a petrol can which they put in the boot of his blue Ford Escort car. He said that they then all drove off in his blue Ford Escort car to a car park in Whickham where the man and his friend got out near some garages with the holdall and the petrol can, telling him that they were using a stolen car.

The witness said that a few minutes later he saw a white Montego car drive past him out of the car park, driven by the man and with the man's friend in the passenger seat. He said that he waited for them and that they returned about ten or twenty minutes later with the holdall and the petrol can. The witness said that the man asked him, 'Did you hear that bang?' and that he asked the man, 'Did you chin the bloke?' and said that the man took out a single-barrelled sawn-off shotgun from the holdall and said, ' blew his fucking head off'.

A while later neighbours found the white Montego car on fire in the car park and the fire brigade was called.

The witness said that he then drove to a car park in West Denton where the man set fire to some overalls. The witness said that he agreed to hide the shotgun at his home. The witness said that the man then described to him how he had shot Jack Royal, saying 'You should have seen it, it blew his head clean off. There was blood everywhere. The blood was all the way up the wall on the side of the porch'. The witness said that he then hid the gun behind the flats where his mother lived and then drove the man home.

The witness said that the man visited him the following day at his place of work and told him that the white Montego car had been stolen from the Metro Park Hotel by a lad who he named and that it had contained IBM computer equipment. He also said that the man had told him that he and his friend had set up a false alibi with two people.

The witness said that the following day he retrieved the shotgun and said that the man and his friend then broke it up with a hammer and put the trigger mechanism in one bag and the other pieces in another bag, and said that the cartridge that had been in the gun was burnt.

The evidence of the witness was corroborated by a friend of his who was an ex-soldier. The ex-soldier said that he had heard David Thompson's sister say to the man, 'If you loved us you'd sort him (Royal) out', and said that the man replied, 'Do you want us to go and shoot him? Do you want us to kill him?', to which he said David Thompson's sister replied, 'Go on then, Go on and do something about it', to which he said the man replied, 'Right I will'. The soldier also said that about three weeks before the murder he had seen the man in possession of a single-barrelled sawn-off shotgun in a green hessian bag. He said that the shot gun was quite old and in a bad condition and the barrel had been sawn off close to the front hand grip and that most of the wooden stock had been removed. He added that he also saw an old sock with the shotgun that contained 20 to 25 green, orange and blue shot gun cartridges. The soldier said that he had also on another occasion shown the man how to use the shotgun and had fired it at a telephone booth. The ex-soldiers evidence was itself corroborated by a man that lived near the telephone booth who said that in early March 1990 he heard a gunshot and that the following morning he saw damage to the telephone booth. The ex-soldier said that he saw the man with the gun about five or six times before the murder of Jack Royal, but not after.

The girlfriend of the ex-soldier said that she had also seen the man with the shotgun, noting that the man had pointed out to her that the serial number had been erased.

Later, a different girlfriend of the man said that the man had told her that he and his friend had once done something really bad, describing it as the 'worst possible thing', which the prosecution said referred to the murder of Jack Royal.

Another friend of the witness also corroborated the statement made by the witness as to having been in the Denton Hotel between 10pm and 10.15pm, stating that he had been at the Denton Hotel when he saw the man and a person with him come over and speak to the witness who then left 15 minutes later. However, it was noted that the description that the witness's friend gave of the person that had been with the man did not match that of the friend of the man tried. He also said that the witness had showed him a sawn-off shotgun in a green nylon sports bag at his place of work a few days later and added that the man and his friend also visited the garage later that day, but that he didn't see them go near the green bag with the shotgun.

One of the two men that the man said he had been with on the night of the murder said that he had been at his friend’s house on the evening of 19 March 1990 and that the man and his friend had also been present, but that they had left at some point during the evening, but that he was unable to say how long they had been. The prosecution at the trial then said that that was evidence that supported the claim by the witness that the man and his friend had fabricated their alibi.

Also, at the trial, the Home Office pathologist said that the description of the scene was consistent with what the witness had said that man had described it as shortly after the shooting.

At the trial the man denied shooting Jack Royal. He said that his girlfriend had only once told him about her brother's death but had not expressed hostility towards Jack Royal. He admitted that for a period of three or four days he had a shotgun at home, but he said that he was only looking after it for the witness. He admitted that he and the ex-soldier had fired the shotgun but said that it was the ex-soldier who wanted to try it out. He said that he and his friend had spent most of the evening of 19 March 1990 at the house of the man that he was said to have fabricated his alibi with and the other man that had supported it. He said that he and his friend left at about 10.30pm to drive to the city centre for food but changed their minds and had just driven around. He accepted that they were stopped by the police at 10.53pm when they were driving back to the house of the man that gave him his alibi. He said they got back to the house at about 11.05pm and that he and his friend left again sometime between midnight and 12.30am. He said they called at Sugley Street to pick up some keys and were stopped by police again on their way to Newcastle Airport.

Another man gave evidence in support of the man at the trial. He had been one of a number of defendants who had previously stood trial for the robbery of the elderly couple in Consett on 6 April 1992 for which the witness had given evidence for the prosecution, having been a principal witness. The witness had pleaded guilty to handling goods stolen from that robbery. The man said that he witness had told him in 1991 that he would like to shoot the man and that it would not be the first time that he had shot someone. The man also said that the witness had claimed that he and a friend had been paid to shoot Jack Royal and had done so. The man agreed that he had not mentioned any of this at his own trial two months before, although he had, at that trial, sought to discredit the witness in the course of his evidence.

However, the man was convicted.

At his January 1997 appeal, there were five grounds of appeal:

  1. There was a material irregularity during the trial by the intervention of the jury bailiff giving information to the jury about a witness.
  2. There was an alleged misdirection by the judge in respect of the alleged corroboration of the witness's evidence.
  3. There was a failure by the prosecution to disclose the record of a police interview with a man who was the witnesses’ co-accused in an earlier robbery known as the Presto robbery.
  4. It was alleged that the manner of the witness becoming an informer was unrecorded and irregular and inadequately placed before the jury.
  5. Also, it was contended that the conviction of the man was inconsistent with the acquittal of his friend.

However, all these grounds were rejected by the Court and the appeal dismissed.

At his 2007 appeal the judge dismissed most of the claims, including the claim that the defence had not had access to all the evidence and that the defence counsel was incompetent. However, they upheld three criticisms which meant that the judges ruled that the conviction was unsafe. The three criticisms were:

  1. The witness unused material.
  2. The West Road stop.
  3. The Coalway Lane getaway.

The witness unused material

The witness unused material was an upheld criticism that related to certain interviews that the witness had made during questioning over a crime that he had earlier been involved with known as the Consett Robbery, that being the robbery of the elderly couple living near Consett in County Durham. It was said that the witness had been questioned by the police by the Durham police regarding the Consett Robbery and that during that he had made a deal with then to give evidence in the Jack Royal case which was being investigated by the Northumbrian police. It was further heard that during the trial, the defence had sought to undermine the evidence of the witness by showing that he had made a deal with the Durham police which the Court of Appeal said might have succeeded if all the evidence relevant to the questioning of the witness by Durham police was available. It was noted that the witness had been on charges of robbery, but that they were dropped by the Durham police for what was described as a lenient charge of handling stolen goods. Whilst this was brought up by the judge in his summing up at the initial trial, it was heard that certain evidence was missing that might have made the argument more compelling.

During the trial summing up, the judge said, 'Then there was a close analysis of the matters implicating him, those six matters implicating him in the Consett robbery which I have summarised and he, in effect, acknowledged that there had been a formidable case against him justifying a prosecution for robbery, but that had been dropped and he was dealt with very leniently for the offence of handling stolen goods'.

The judge at the trial in his summing up then said, 'On the whole of the evidence you have heard, ladies and gentlemen, it would be open to you to conclude, despite his denials, that the witness was indeed an accomplice in the murder of Jack Royal, that is to say that despite his denials, he was a knowing and willing party to the killing of that man. He, of course, denies it. He says it was only after the murder that he realised with shock and consternation that a murder had in fact been in contemplation and had been committed, but if you, the Jury, took the view that he knew in advance at the time he drove those men to St. Michael's Green car park that it was in order to effect the killing of Jack Royal, then, of course, he would be a party to the crime of murder. But even if his role was the more limited one, as he maintains, he is plainly a person who, on his own evidence, may well have a purpose or purposes of his own to serve by giving false evidence implicating the two men on trial in the murder. When I say 'purpose or purposes of his own' conducing to falsehood, I refer of course either to minimising his own role in the killing, or because of the 1991 and 1992 history that I have already sufficiently reviewed. Whether because he is an accomplice or whether because he may well have a purpose or purposes of his own to serve, ladies and gentlemen, I must tell you that it is dangerous to convict in reliance solely on the evidence of the witness, unless that evidence is corroborated in some material particular by other evidence in this case'.

At the court of appeal in 1998 it was heard that whilst a similar claim had been made at the first appeal, namely that evidence had been concealed that might have reinforced the inference that the witness had done a deal with the Durham police to give evidence in the Jack Royal case, the appeal ground was rejected because there was no evidence that the witness had discussed the Jack Royal murder case with the Durham police. However, at the 2007 appeal, whilst the claim was similar, it was said that the grounds were quite distinctly different. The court heard that whilst the background was similar, namely the chronology of the arrest of the witness for the Consett robbery and the events which led to him making statements to the Northumbrian police conducting the Royal murder investigation, which were shown to encompass a short time span of no more than twenty-two days from 8 April 1992, when the witness was arrested, to 29 April 1992 when the interview process of him under caution was completed. Evidence from the interviewing of the witness that was missing that might have been used to support the undermining of his credibility as the key witness in the Jack Royal trial and reinforce the fact that a deal had been made included:

  • 9 April 1992 A meeting between the Durham police And the Northumbrian police (Royal murder) officers.
  • 9 April 1992 19.53 A 'missing' interview with the witness by the Durham police.
  • 10 April 1993 12.00 Northumbrian police with Durham police.
  • 14.00 Unrecorded visit between the witness and his girlfriend.
  • 14 April 1992 15.00 Northumbrian police visit the witness at his girlfriend's parents’ home.
  • 26 April 1992 Northumbrian police lengthy interview with the witness at Consett safe house. The meeting was not mentioned in witness statements.

It was noted that the significance of the unrecorded meeting between the Northumbrian police and the witness on 14 April 1992 was that on 15 April 1992 the witness made a witness statement in which he blamed the man for the murder of Jack Royal but gave no indication that he was in any way involved in it. The significance of the unrecorded meeting on 26 April 1992 was that it was followed by interviews of the witness on 27 April 1992 and 29 April 1992 in which he set out in detail what became his evidence at trial.

It was also noted that because of the defences absence of cross-examination of the meeting between the Northumbrian police and the witness on 26 April 1992, the day before he gave a detailed account of the man's part in the murder, it could be assumed that he was not aware of it, that the evidence had not been made available to him.

It was noted at the second appeal that the existence of the meeting between the witness and the Northumbrian police on 26 April 1992 was recorded in the notebooks of two policemen, the entries recording that they both went on duty at 9.00am. Each then contained a reference of travelling to Consett to see the witness, and although details about the length of the meeting were not recorded, one of them noted that a 'long conversation re night of Royal murder' took place. It was also noted that one of the policeman’s note ended with the observation that the witness agreed to be interviewed'.

As such, the Court of Appeal heard that it seemed clear from the notebooks that the witness was prepared to give information that would suggest that he was an accomplice in the murder. The Court of Appeal also heard that it was, to say the least, surprising, in the circumstances, that the length of the meeting and the detail of what was said was not recorded by either officer.

As such, the Court of Appeal concluded that they did not accept prosecution’s broad submission that the material would not have added to the damage already done to the witness in cross-examination. They noted that the prosecution accepted that the strategy of the defence lawyers was to undermine the witness's credibility and at the same time expose opportunities for information to have been fed to him by police officers. The Court of Appeal then concluded that in  their judgment the use of the material might have had just that effect, noting that what was missing from the cross-examination was the reference to the visit by Northumbrian police to Consett police station before the witness's release on bail. In addition, the judges said that it seemed to them that that strategy could well have been assisted by reference to the meetings on 14 and 26 April 1992 and that the absence of detailed notes of those meetings in the police officers' notebooks, was something that in their judgment required some explanation from the police officers. The second Court of Appeal noted that at the first appeal the Court described the absence of notes by the Durham police in similar circumstances as deplorable and inexcusable.

As such, the Court of Appeal ruled that as fact, and as accepted in the first appeal that contrary to the witness's evidence, that a deal must have been done between him and the Durham police in respect of the Consett robbery, and that that would have further undermined the witness's evidence given at trial.

The police stop on West Road

The police stop on West Road covered a criticism that the evidence given by the witness that he had been followed to the petrol station on the night of the murder by the man and his friend and had then driven up and down the West Road whilst he filled up should have been contested at the trial and wasn't, and that by looking at a certain document, entitled Action 491, that the witnesses’ statement to that effect was seriously undermined as it suggested that he must have been filling his car up with petrol for between 13 and 16 minutes which was thought to have been unlikely, and that during that time the man and his friend had driven up and down the West Road.

The Court of appeal reiterated the evidence given at the trial that on the night of the murder the man's Renault 5 Turbo motor car was the subject of two checks on the Police National Computer (PNC). The court noted the man and his friend admitted that they were in the Renault car at the time the checks were made and that it was common ground that a policeman in a police Vauxhall Astra GTE car had stopped the man's car at about 10.53pm, the time recorded on the PNC. However, the Court of Appeal noted that the importance of that evidence was that the witness had said he had seen the man's car and the Astra GTE at about that time when he was filling up his car with petrol at a garage near Denton roundabout in West Road. The court noted that his evidence was that the man and his friend had followed him to the garage and then driven up and down West Road until such time as he had completed filling his car and drove out onto West Road and that he had then followed the man's car to Sugley Road where the man and his friend collected the dark coloured holdall which the prosecution allege contained the sawn-off shotgun. The court added that the witness said that the man had told him that he was 'trolling up and down West Road in order to get stopped so as to provide him with an alibi for the time of the murder.

The prosecution contended that the man's admitted presence in West Road at that time corroborated this part of the witness's evidence. The prosecution further alleged, on the basis of this evidence that the man was endeavouring to provide for himself an alibi for the time of the murder. Much was made of this incident by the prosecution in cross-examination of the man and in prosecuting counsel's closing speech. There can be no doubt, that as it was left to the jury, the evidence was powerful support for the prosecution case.

However, it was noted that the witness was not cross-examined over that evidence and that the two policemen where only given a cursory cross-examination, and the Court of Appeal criticised the trials defence for its failures on that part, noting that the HOLMES database contained the document Action 491 which contained the following paragraph referring to the stopping of the man's car:

'190390 stopped by PC (traffic) on behalf of DC, Newcastle West CID. No offences were disclosed. Vehicle had been seen in the vicinity of Bobby Shaftoe when two stolen vehicles were sighted'.

It was contended that the document potentially undermined the prosecution case in respect of the incident as the reference to the vehicle being sighted in the vicinity of the Bobby Shaftoe public house supported the evidence of the man and his friend that before the stop their car had been in Condercum Road not far from the Bobby Shaftoe public house. Firstly, they said that at the time of the stop they were on their way back to Darden Lough, the address where one of the alibi witnesses lived. Secondly, it is submitted that the reference to the car being stopped by the PC on behalf of the DC contradicted the policeman's initial statement saying that he had stopped the car because it was speeding. The DC suggested that he had 'shouted up' for the appellant's vehicle to be stopped because it was suspected to be stolen and that that was why the PC had only looked at the number plates to confirm that it wasn't.

The defence at the second appeal went further and argued that A 491 and the times of the checks potentially exposed inconsistencies between the evidence of the two police officers and the witnesses’ evidence. It was heard that the witness had said that he had seen the man's car travelling west up West Road when he was filling up his car at the garage and at the same time had seen the police Astra car driving up the road. He had then said that by the time he had completed filling up his car and driven out of the garage he was able to see the Renault driving west along West Road and that he caught up with it and followed it to Sugley Street. However, the defence contested that by taking the times of the first policeman's sighting 10.47pm and the second policeman's check 10.53pm, it could be demonstrated that if the witness was telling the truth that he must have been filling his car up in the garage for a period of at least 13 minutes, and then submitted that that this was inherently unlikely and that it cast doubt on the witnesses’ evidence in respect of the incident. The defence further submitted that the time might have been further extended if the defence had followed up the DC's report and been able to show the time when he saw the the man's car 'in the vicinity of the Bobby Shaftoe', stating that if that time had been known it might have shown that for the man's evidence to be correct, he must have been in the garage for as much as 16 minutes.

It was also noted that there were discrepancies between when the second policeman said he stopped the man's car in his evidence and when he said he stopped it in his first witness statement that he gave on 24 April 1992.

It was also noted that both policemen had no notes about stopping the car and that they had both given their statements just over two years after the event and it was also suggested that the second car stopped might have been another car, although it was agreed that that was speculation.

As such, it was accepted that A 491 suggested that speeding was not the reason for the man's car being stopped and supported the reason given by him in his witness statement of 10 March 1990.

The Court of appeal said, 'On the face of it there is an important inconsistency between the first policeman's statement and the second policeman's evidence. They also agreed that there was also some confirmation in A 491 of the man's evidence, but that where imponderables about the timings and the places where the police officers were when they made their checks. They added that there was also some support for the man's evidence to be found in the man friend's evidence that he saw the man at Denton Hotel at about 10.00pm on that evening. The Court of appeal added that, nevertheless, they could not escape the fact that the prosecution case on that important piece of evidence was not tested to any real extent by the defence lawyers, noting that they ought to have seen document A 491. It was also conceded that it was unacceptable not to have examined the HOLMES database and agreed that if document A 491 had been unearthed it would have given the defence lawyers a useful tool with which to challenge both the evidence of the two police officers and the witnesses, and said that it may also have led to further fruitful enquiries being made as to the time when the DC 'shouted up' for the man's car to be stopped.

The Court of appeal said that on its own, the failure to obtain and use A 491 and to make the associated points might not be sufficient to render the verdict unsafe, but that, in their judgment, it was something that should be put in the balance with other factors when they considered whether the verdict overall was unsafe.

The Coalway Lane getaway

The Coalway Lane getaway noted that there was evidence that was not seen at the trial, which should have been seen as it was on the HOLMES database, that suggested that the murderers had taken a different route out of the car park from that which the witness had stated.

Firstly, it was heard that a security guard who had worked at the Gibside Arms in Whickham, and whose office overlooked the sole entrance and exit to the St Mary's Green car park in which the burnt out Montego was found following the murder, had seen a white coloured Montego saloon car entering at speed the service road leading to the car park and within a minute saw it leave at speed. It was also heard that the security guard, a few seconds later after he had left his office, had said that he saw the same car return at speed and about 10 seconds later heard two loud bangs coming from the direction in which the vehicle had travelled. However, he said that no vehicles left the car park after that time. The inference was that that was the Montego.

At the appeal the defence lawyers were criticised for failing to call the security guard and his evidence, which clearly indicated that no cars left the car park after the two bangs were heard, was inconsistent with the statement of the witness who said that he had driven out of the carpark with the man and his friend after having set the white Montego car on fire.

It was also noted that the CCTV tape from the Gibside Arms pub was not examined thoroughly at the trial and it was not later kept.

The Court of Appeal then went on to consider the topic of the Coalway Lane getaway, which was another exit from the car park, that was just about wide enough for a car and which was often used to take stolen cars along and it was submitted that the murderers could have left the car park via that route, contrary to what the witness had said.

It was heard that along with the sole entrance to St Mary's car park, there was another footpath called the Coalway Lane footpath, leading to South View Terrace and that the place where the footpath joined the car park was near to where the white Montego  was set on fire and much closer than the main entrance that the witness said they had left by. It was noted that although the footpath was a footpath, that it was large enough to accommodate cars and was said to be frequently used by those who stole cars from the car park.

At the Court of Appeal, it was heard that two separate witnesses who had lived in houses that overlooked the relevant part of the car park had each looked out of their windows moments after the white Montego car had been set on fire and that neither of them had seen anyone near it, suggesting that those who had set it on fire had escaped by a route other than one which would take them across the car park in the direction of where the witness had said his car was parked.

Other evidence was also heard that supported the use of the Coalway Lane getaway, namely:

  • The first person tried for Jack Royal's murder lived nearby in Mount View.
  • A large burgundy car, possibly an Audi, was seen by a man parked in the car park before the fire started close to where the Montego was found. He did not see it in the early hours of the following morning when walking past that part of the car park.
  • At 22.40 three men were seen by a woman acting suspiciously in the Coalway Lane getaway route.
  • The HOLMES database disclosed the existence of a transcript of an anonymous telephone call taken by a policeman on 24 March 1990 from a person describing himself as an eyewitness. It was made in answer to a police advertisement seeking witnesses who might assist in the investigation of the murder. The man said that he had seen a dark coloured car driving along the public footpath in Coalway Lane at the relevant time. He described the car as flying down the Lane and going along South View Terrace. He thought there were two people in the car and although he said he could not actually say it was the killers he thought it sufficiently important to ring up and inform the police of it.
  • A man who lived in South View Terrace made a statement in which he said that between 23.50pm and 00.10am on the night of 19 March 1990 he saw a large saloon car drive along South View Terrace from the east end. His statement was recorded on the HOLMES database and was apparently not seen by the defence lawyers.
  • A woman who lived in South View Terrace Said she described a dark coloured saloon car travelling at high speed along South View Terrace. She gave the time of that incident as 23.50pm on 19 March 1990. Her statement was also on the HOLMES database.
  • On 25 March 1990 a police dog handler found a discharged 12 bore shotgun cartridge near the Coalway Lane footpath.

The Court of Appeal stated that whilst they agreed that the evidence regarding the Coalway Lane getaway route was not overpowering, that it did offer an alternative to the witness’s statement of having driven the men away after the shooting.

The Court of Appeal further stated that taking the evidence at a whole they could see no reason why it should not have been placed by the defence before the jury and every reason why it should have been, and that in their judgment the reason for it not being used was almost certainly that in addition to not examining the HOLMES database, in the time available to them for pre-trial preparation, the defence had simply failed to appreciate the significance of the evidence and the argument that could have been mounted in respect of it.

When the Court of Appeal summed up, they said:

'Against this background we have asked ourselves whether the criticisms and failures which we accept have been made out are sufficient to render the verdict unsafe. None of the evidence which was not deployed on these three topics can be described as fresh evidence. It was all available to the defence before trial. But the failure to use this evidence, in our judgment, demonstrates that, for whatever reason, the legal advisers at trial had failed in those respects in their pre-trial preparations. The reason for this is not hard to see. The principal cause of these failures was, in our view, the late return of their instructions by counsel first instructed. At the date when the briefs were returned much preparatory work remained to be done. We find that not all of the essential preparatory work was carried out. It was this deficiency in pre-trial preparation which caused the failures which we have identified. It would be unfair to blame the defence alone for all these failures. We have no doubt that they did their best. We have also no doubt that they believed that everything that ought to have been done had been done. But in our judgment, they underestimated the time needed to complete the work. It is difficult to conclude that the criticisms and failures which we have found in respect of any one of the individual topics were on their own sufficient to render the verdict unsafe but we are quite satisfied that taken together, cumulatively they were sufficient to render the verdict unsafe. Each of these topics was important. The relevance of the witness's unused material was 'crucially important'. The West Road stop was a very important part of the prosecution case. It went largely unchallenged by the defence at trial. The ability meaningfully to probe it in the way suggested is in our view significant. Finally, the Coalway lane getaway evidence represented an opportunity further to undermine the witness's's evidence of his alleged assistance given to the man and his friend in carrying out the murder.  We are not to be taken as finding that if there had been no such failures the man would inevitably have been acquitted. We are however satisfied for the reasons given that the verdict is unsafe. The appeal will be allowed and the conviction quashed'.

Shortly after the murder in March 1990 the police received an anonymous called from a man who said, 'We did what we had to do, it's over'. They'll never catch us now. We're miles away'. It was also heard that the caller had said that they were concerned that Jack Royal had been made out to be 'such a lovely bloke' and that David Thompson was the 'bad man' and that people were forgetting his own awful death.

Jack Royal had been a science teacher at Blaydon Comprehensive school but had taken early retirement. After being acquitted of the murder of David Thompson, Jack Royal had retired and become a plumber.

After the man had his conviction quashed in 2007, the police said that they were not going to reopen the case. An Assistant Chief Constable said, ‘The Court of Appeal decided to allow the appeal because the man’s defence team failed to carry out essential preparatory work in exploring unused material. The judges also made it clear they were not saying the man would inevitably have been acquitted had there been no such failures on the part of the defence. The Appeal Court judgment does not criticise the actions of any Northumbria Police officers involved in the investigation into the murder of Jack Royal. There are therefore no issues of misconduct for us to address. We have no plans to reopen the investigation into the murder of Jack Royal. We have reached a stage at which there is no further evidence on which we can pursue inquiries. However, as with any investigation which has failed to secure a conviction, the case will be reconsidered if any significant new evidence comes to light. We have kept Mr Royal's widow fully informed of this and will continue to keep her updated with any developments’.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.bailii.org

see Bailii

see Nigel Green Media

see Innocent

see The Journals

see The Guardian

see The Telegraph

see Newcastle Journal - Wednesday 19 May 1993

see Newcastle Journal - Tuesday 27 April 1993

see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Thursday 22 March 1990

see Newcastle Journal - Friday 11 March 1988