A film-maker who appealed for £2,000 on Kickstarter towards a documentary about Stafford & Luvaglio has received no support at all.
The film was and indeed is to be called Footsteps In The Snow. I hadn’t intended to write about Stafford & Luvaglio ever again but after the response to my last article, I feel I must. As you will see from the comment section, there were a number of responses including from people who claim to be and doubtless are the offspring of self-styled fun-loving criminal Dennis Stafford. * Clearly the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
I do not propose here to relitigate yet again the merits or otherwise of their appeal; this has already been decided by the courts all the way up to the House of Lords. Dennis Stafford and Michael Luvaglio have had due process and then some. Instead I will give the documented facts about Dennis Stafford in particular and allow the reader to do the rest.
In his autobiography, Stafford admits/claims that as a young man he was engaged in dubious money-making ventures before embarking on a “lucrative career” in housebreaking, in other words breaking into people’s homes and stealing their money and, property, which may include irreplaceable artefacts, perhaps a family heirloom handed down from father to son or mother to daughter. He is clearly proud of this “career”, but says that in 1956 he was “grassed up” by a police informer who planted a handgun in his car. We have only his word that this gun was planted. At that time there were still quite a few guns around from the Second World War; murder was also capital. Toss a coin and decide if the gun was really planted.
The Times of October 16, 1957 reports that Stafford and co-defendant Anthony Hawkes stood trial at Newcastle Assizes for deception while being unlawfully at large. That earned him a further 18 months at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Apparently the authorities did not learn their lesson either, and sent him to a less than secure prison, Dartmoor, from which he and another inmate escaped. The Times of January 6, 1959 reports on this escape; it reports too that in May 1958, the High Court found that Stafford was “two-thirds to blame for a road crash in November, 1955, in which a 27-year-old woman was killed the day she became engaged”. The Times of February 21, 1959 reports that the man who escaped from Dartmoor with Stafford drowned in a reservoir, but he had better luck until he was arrested in London “dressed in an expensive suit and a well-cut overcoat, and had a few pounds in his pocket”. As I’ve said before here, there are broadly speaking two types of professional criminals: the recidivists – men like Jamie Robery who know no better, can do no better, and end up serving a life sentence on the instalment plan. Then there are the real professionals: men like Charles Ponzi, Peter Sainsbury, and clearly Dennis Stafford. How many men who even if they could escape from prison would be arrested dressed up to the nines? Incidentally, Stafford claimed to have attempted to save his fellow escapee when the man fell in the water. We have only his word for this however, and it is most likely they went their separate ways after the break-out, with someone picking up Stafford in a vehicle. Now we fast-forward to the present day when our valliant film-maker tells us that: “An extensive four-year investigation by Professor Ian Wright and Neil Jackson has revealed shocking new evidence, new witnesses and uncovered a conspiracy to keep the truth hidden. In a legal first, Ian and Neil have now presented a dossier to the Criminal Cases Review Commission in an effort to get the case re-opened at the Court of Appeal.”
This is not a legal first. It is not even a legal third. After their conviction for the murder of Angus Sibbet, Stafford & Luvaglio appealed. Their appeal was dismissed. They appealed again, and the Court of Appeal heard fresh evidence, a rarity, but occasionally it does. New witnesses were heard, their second appeal was dismissed, and they were refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. The Law Lords thought differently, and they were granted leave to appeal direct. Their appeal was given very careful consideration, and just for you dear reader, here is the full judgment with some added commentary.
Stafford & Luvaglio have already been to the CCRC, who found no merit in their appeal, so the claims of the film-makers promise more than they deliver. The truth is, they deliver nothing. What of their claims to have found a new witness, who actually saw the murderer after the killing? And how about a conspiracy to hide the truth?
Anyone who uses the word conspiracy in my presence is dicing with death, but let us pursue this. In 1967, the claim that the police had effected the convictions of Stafford & Luvaglio or indeed any defendant(s) by conspiracy would have been given short shrift. After plebgate, even senior politicians know better. I knew better already because aside from my researches I have personal and painful experience of this on more than one occasion. I will now give two instances from the same case. In 2001, the Metropolitan Police raided my poet’s garret and seized two computers. At the time I was running the machines in tandem, suffice it to say they were a lot less powerful than the single machine I use today.
The reason for this raid and seizure need not concern the reader, I will say only that it was nothing to do with child pornography, obscenity or even politics.
Some time later I returned to Islington Police Station where I handed the arresting officer a print-out I had found after the raid. I gave this to him in the presence of four other detectives. Five years later in the civil action I brought against the police he denied under oath ever having seen it. I didn’t bother to call the other four because I knew they would echo his perjury.
In 1993, I had suffered a similar arrest and seizure, and my computer was busted, so this time I asked my solicitor to write to the police to confirm both that no information had been retained and that neither machine had been damaged. The arresting officer wrote directly to me confirming both these points. For reasons I won’t go into here I knew he was lying about the second point, and when I recovered the machines, sure enough, one of them had been trashed.
During the civil trial, the police claimed this machine had been damaged when it was seized, and in order to “prove” this lie they called an expert witness, a computer technician who testified that he had examined the backups the police assured me had not been retained, and that these had indicated the machine was damaged prior to their seizure. This outrageous and brazen dishonesty was waived aside by the judge as if it were of no consequence at all. People who come up against real police duplicity can expect this from the courts and from their collaborators in the CPS.
An interesting aside here is that any time the Met or any UK police force seize a computer they back it up and retain the backup. Who is to say that five, ten or more years down the line they won’t “find” incriminating evidence on one of these hard disks linking the person from whom it was seized to a major criminal or terrorist cartel?
I could say a lot more here about how the police cajole witnesses into giving “correct” evidence, and how on one earlier occasion they actually invented a witness, so yes, I do know all about both police lies and police conspiracies, but if the police in Newcastle at this time had wanted to fit up Stafford & Luvaglio, there was a very simple way they could have done it, namely they could have verballed up either or both of them. If they had verballed up Stafford in particular, as a career criminal with a conviction for possessing a firearm, he wouldn’t have had a prayer. (If you are not au fait with the practice of verballing and why the police no longer use it, check out this short paper). All the evidence in this case indicates that the police acted impeccably, intelligently and promptly. Let’s give them credit for once, because often they don’t deserve it.
Does all this mean there was no conspiracy here? How about this for a conspiracy, shady businessman Vince Landa realised his former close friend Angus Sibbet had been ripping him off big time. Seething with rage he decided not simply to punish him but to exact a deadly revenge, so after arranging to absent himself from the country at the material time, he recruited his own brother and Stafford to carry out the murder, which they did, but were apprehended partly because they bungled the hit and partly due to excellent detective work. Does that or does that not sound more plausible? This is the perceived wisdom, and it is undoubtedly what happened. It is also almost certainly the reason Michael Luvaglio severed all connection with his brother and did not even attend his funeral two years ago.
Returning to the House of Lords judgment, it will be seen from this that new witnesses were indeed found, but their testimony was considered insufficient to shake the verdict. It is always possible to find new witnesses, but these witnesses must be credible. Likewise it is always possible to find inconsistencies in a case of any complexity or even a simple one. If 10 witnesses to a murder claim the man who wielded the knife was wearing a red shirt and two say otherwise, is that enough to bamboozle a jury? Not with a proper direction by an experienced trial judge. For those interested in pursuing this subject I can recommend the classic 1908 book On The Witness Stand... by Hugo Münsterberg and the contemporary works of Elizabeth Loftus, and that without mentioning case law.
One final point should be noted about Mr Stafford. No, I do not mean his other criminal activities alluded to in my previous article, nor his trial 4 years ago in relation to a car that mysteriously caught fire. Rather while his partner-in crime has always protested his own innocence, Stafford has not. In 1980, he confessed to the murder of Angus Sibbet, selling his story to the News Of The World. Then he retracted his confession to a rival newspaper. If nothing else this shows a cavalier attitude to the truth, but that has always been the case with Dennis Stafford.
[The above op-ed was first published December 12, 2013. * The comments did not save to my hard disk, nor did they archive.]
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