Life for wife's fake robbery murder

Tuesday 19 April 2011 15:09 BST

A shopkeeper who bludgeoned his postmistress wife to death then blamed an armed robber was jailed for life today.

Robin Garbutt, 45, knew his wife Diana had been unfaithful and feared his theft of thousands of pounds from the post office they ran was about to be discovered.

A jury at Teesside Crown Court rejected his story that a raider with a gun told him "don't do anything stupid, we've got your wife" before robbing him as he worked, and that moments later he discovered her body in bed.

Garbutt shook his head as he was convicted by the jury of eight men and four women by a majority of ten to two.

His sister collapsed in tears as the verdict was announced. Diana Garbutt's mother Agnes Gaylor also wept.

The panel had been deliberating for nearly 13 hours.

Mr Justice Openshaw sentenced Garbutt to life in prison and told him he would serve a minimum of 20 years.

Garbutt hit his wife three times over the head with a metal bar in the living quarters above the Melsonby Village Shop and Post Office in North Yorkshire the early hours of March 23 last year.

He then opened the shop as normal and served around 60 customers before closing again.

He dialled 999 and claimed his wife had been attacked, crying hysterically.

When a paramedic told him rigor mortis had already set in, he challenged this, insisting: "She's still warm."

He told police a raider had robbed him and when he ran upstairs his wife was motionless, face down on the bed.

His story unravelled after officers delved into the secrets of his seemingly happy marriage.

They found the couple had £30,000 in credit card debts and despite their long hours were making little profit in the bustling shop at the heart of the community.

They were due to go on holiday to the US, where his wife's father was from, and Garbutt is thought to have feared a relief postmaster would discover the money was missing.

Police also discovered his wife, 40, had become involved with three other men, having a drunken "intimate" encounter on a sofa with one, flirting on Facebook with another and kissing a third - the husband of her cousin.

Mrs Garbutt, who the killer claimed had a higher sex drive than him, was also looking online for men to date.

The couple had discussed splitting and Garbutt faced a future with no assets as what they had was in his wife's name.

A crucial piece of evidence came from a meal of fish and chips they had the night before she died.

An expert on digestion told the jury Mrs Garbutt stopped processing the meal around six to eight hours after she finished eating it - giving a likely time of death in the early hours rather than when Garbutt claimed the robber struck.

Mr Justice Openshaw said Garbutt's lies had been exposed as "pure humbug".

He said the defendant had shown no remorse over his wife, adding: "He has always accompanied his lies with sanctimonious lies of his love for her.

"By their verdict, the jury have exposed this as pure humbug.

"This was a brutal, planned, cold-blooded murder of his wife as she lay sleeping in bed."

Outside court, the victim's mother Agnes Gaylor said: "I am not thinking about Robin now.

"I'm not going to let Robin enter my head after today."

In a statement read on her behalf, she said: "Diana meant the world to us and we are still struggling to come to terms with what happened to her on that awful day.

"We loved her with all our hearts, our loss is unbearable."

Detective Superintendent Lewis Raw, who led the inquiry for North Yorkshire Police, said: "It is satisfying that we have been able to secure justice for Diana Garbutt and her family in this most tragic and distressing of cases.

"I hope the murder conviction of her husband Robin Garbutt will provide a measure of comfort and closure, allowing her family to start rebuilding their lives after a very traumatic year.

"The murder of Diana - and the subsequent arrest and charge of Robin Garbutt - has also caused a great deal of upset and distress to the residents of Melsonby.

"In particular, the original circumstances that she was killed during an armed robbery which turned out to be a bogus scenario made up by Garbutt to cover his tracks. I would again like to reiterate North Yorkshire Police's sincere thanks to local residents who have supported the police throughout the investigation.

"As for Robin Garbutt, he has shown himself to be a calculating and deceptive individual who attempted an elaborate cover-up after he violently ended his wife's life as she lay asleep in bed.

"His actions that morning not only killed Diana, they also devastated the lives of Diana's family and plunged a small, close-knit community into fear.

"That he did not have the decency to admit his guilt from the outset and therefore spare Diana's family the pain of reliving the tragic events in full during a trial, demonstrates the type of selfish and deluded individual that Robin Garbutt really is."

Xanthe Tait, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire and Humberside, said: "Diana Garbutt's life was cut brutally and tragically short. Her family is left to forever mourn her loss.

"She was violently bludgeoned to death by her husband as she lay sleeping. It was a callous crime motivated by the basest of human characteristics.

"Robin Garbutt went to great lengths in creating a cover story involving a robber with a gun, bludgeoning his wife to death: a story which he maintained throughout the trial - lying about his finances, lying about his relationship with his wife and lying about the robbery - to conceal his appalling crimes.

"We have worked closely with North Yorkshire Police to build a robust prosecution case and secure justice for Diana. Our thoughts are with her family and we hope that today's conviction will bring them some measure of comfort and peace."

Garbutt, looking thin, did not look at his family and friends in the public gallery as he was led away.

The judge believed the murder was motivated by Garbutt's fear of being exposed for stealing from the Post Office.

It was significant that his wife had been looking at the business accounts on the night he killed her, though he did not want to speculate about what exactly happened that night.

Garbutt planned to kill his wife with a metal bar as she slept.

"There was no struggle, she never awoke," the judge said.

"He struck three savage blows, smashing her skull and causing her immediate death as clearly he intended."

Garbutt hid the weapon across the road on a wall, then opened shop as normal.

"He feigned cheerfulness as he served customers as he attempted to deceive them that all was well."

The judge said Garbutt had told the same "ludicrous story from beginning to end".

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