WHEN DID CAROL LEAVE HOME?
The scenario of Steel leaving the gardens in Delius Avenue and then seeing Carol as he walked through to Langdale Road depended on the timing of when she left her home. The evidence presented by the prosecution at trial has never been disputed. The judge stated:
"We know, do we not, it is not challenged that Kevin Best, her fiancé, left home at about 25 past 8 that morning and went to his work at the Butcher’s Shop. Carol followed at about 8.30. It is a long time ago. Mrs Whitley, do you remember, saw her coming out of the garden gate at about 8.20. Carol then called to see Kevin for a minute or two, to kiss him good-bye and to make arrangements to meet that evening, you may think a matter of a few moments"
Unchallenged? It was then, but not now.
The judge's version of events accords with the statements of one of the timing witnesses - Mrs Whitley. But Mrs Whitley cannot now remember any of the details of her evidence. What she can remember is that the statement used at the trial was not her only statement - she had made one earlier that has never seen the light of day.(Click HERE if you wish to see a map of the area)
The judge may not have known this - and he seems to have forgotten that there was another witness to timing in the evidence. He did not mention her.
This was Helen Rigby. Her statement was disclosed to the defence. It said that she left her home in Rudby Haven - on the northern side of the Ravenscliffe estate - and walked down towards the home of her boy friend Philip Firth. She left home at about 8 20 and arrived at her boy friend’s home at about 8:30. She saw Carol coming out of her front gate as she passed 131 Ranelagh Avenue. The Firth home was just one house away from 131 Ranelagh Avenue.
Helen Rigby now denies the truth of this statement. She says that she made a statement in 1977 which must have been different as to the timing element. She has good reason to remember the incident of making the statement. Secondly, she is inclined to place the sighting of Carol leaving home nearer to 8:45 than 8:30 - for this too she has good reasoning and recollection. She also saw Carol’s beige high-heeled shoes and says that Carol had difficulty walking up the slight hill up to Ravenscliffe Avenue. Her good reason is simply - love. She was supposed to be going to school, but in fact she was going to see her boyfriend who lived two doors away from Carol Wilkinson. When she got there she was too late - he had gone to work. She knows therefore that she can't have seen Carol as early as 8:25 or even 8:30 - because he would still have been home at that time.
Helen Rigby says she did not dare leave home too early - because her father would have realised she was not going directly to school - and he disapproved of the boy friend.
If what Helen Rigby now says is correct the police not only decided not to use her 1977 statement, but returned to her in 1979 and inserted a timing into her statement which was different to what she told them.
The only other good witnesses to the timing of this period were not so accurate. They were John and Trevor Lofthouse . Their 1977 statements were used in the trial. John Lofthouse’s estimation relied on the fact that he expected to be picked up by a car at 8:30 and he believed he was. Trevor Lofthouse was more precise. He believed that Carol was passing him on the corner of Damon Avenue and Ravenscliffe Avenue at a few minutes before 8:33 am.
The corroboration for these two timings is not good. John Lofthouse’s estimation relies entirely on an acceptance that the car to pick him up arrived on time. Trevor Lofthouse’s estimation relied on his having heard the Terry Wogan programme on the radio as he got into the car. This programme was on air after 8:30 and later, so his recollection meant nothing more than he got into the car after that time.
And in fact, when we look at the judge's only relaible witness, Mrs Whitley, we see that she was not precise as the jury was led to believe. She said that she left at "around 8:30" to take her children to school. In the Ravenscliffe area, children tend to leave home for school well after 8:30.
Against this general vagueness, Helen Rigby’s account shows a motivation for her to leave home as late as possible - otherwise her father might realise that she was not going to school.
We might well wonder why Helen Rigby's statement did not accord with the truth as she remembers it.
In fact - on the prosecution's evidence alone, Steel could not have seen Carol on her journey that morning.
The prosecution case was that Steel left Delius Avenue, a few minutes walk to Ranelagh Avenue, at about 8:25.
Against this, Hannon, a prosecution witness, also told the court that Steel left Delius at 8:45 - "at a rough guess". Considering the amount of walking the two had to do and the preparations of their work, this seemed more likely. This would bring him into Ranelagh Avenue too late to see Carol if she had left at 8:30.
In fact the police made a gross error in reading the statements on timing - and that may account for why Helen Rigby's timings were brought back by ten minutes or so.
The confession has Steel supposedly leaving Delius Avenue at around 8:30. But that is not the actual time written in the statement. The time quoted is 8:20 - that being the time when he left the works depot. Anyone simply glancing at the statement may well come to the conclusion that he set off towards Ranelagh Avenue at 8:20.
Were the police hiding something else by not disclosing Helen Rigby's statement?
The motive for hiding the Helen Rigby statement may be more sinister. One reason may be that Helen Rigby - and perhaps Brenda Whitley - gave details in their 1977 statements which did not accord with the story that Steel saw Carol somewhere near Carol’s home.
When Helen Rigby was interviewed, the police were routinely asking witnesses, particularly women, about any men they had seen around at the time. It would be surprising if they had not asked Helen Rigby this question - and indeed Mrs Whitley also.
According to all the evidence, when one of these two witnesses, or both, saw Carol, they should also have seen Anthony Steel walking to the junction outside Carol’s house.
If, as we can reasonably assume, they were asked about men in the area and they replied that had not seen anyone, this would have denied the prosecution a vital point of evidence.
Neither woman can now remember whether or not they were asked such a question, nor what they replied. But the undisclosed 1977 statements must still exist. And there must be some reason why they were not used, and never disclosed.
We can only know the truth of this when we see the 1977 statements of Rigby and Whitley. The Home Office would not give them up. Perhaps the CCRC will find them.
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