"Beyond Reasonable Doubt?"
The Rather Doubtful Case of
Derek Gordon Christian
By Simon Regan

On the face of it, it seemed like a classic piece of detective work by Humberside police. And, after the guilty verdict, Detective Chief Inspector Martin Midgely, in charge of the murder investigation, felt free to bask in the limelight of victory. In fact, it was a glorious swan-song for him because he retired from a long and distinguished career on the following day.

When the police began their investigation of a brutal and senseless murder, they had only the scantiest of clues to go on, and not even a shadow of a motive. It took a full thirty-three months of painstaking detective work before they were able to produce enough interwoven, but completely circumstantial, evidence to convince a jury "Beyond Reasonable Doubt" that ex-soldier Derek Christian had brutally murdered loving and popular great-grandmother Margaret Wilson, aged 66, in a country lane near the East Yorkshire village of Burton Fleming.

For all that time the picturesque village had run on high emotions. It was the unique purposelessness and savagery of the murder which had frightened and frustrated the whole community. In court, people wanted to see a conviction.

"Beyond Reasonable Doubt" is as fundamental a principle of British law as the "Man on the Clapham Omnibus." As it is in most of the western democracies.

What would an ordinary man going about his ordinary business make of the evidence? If that man had absolutely no doubt concerning the facts, then a guilty verdict must be found. But a trial judge is duty-bound in any summing up in a contested trial to warn the jury that if any one of them feels that the facts are in dispute or that the evidence could have a perfectly plausible alternative explanation, they must find for the defendant. That seems simple and straightforward enough, and so it should be.

In fact, as any good lawyer knows, it is a flawed concept. It can go astray, for example, if one forensic expert is better or more informed, or even more persuasive than another. It can go astray if, through negligence, defence lawyers simply don’t spot an alternative explanation of the "facts" which could put a completely different light on matters.

The fate of a defendant can also sometimes rely on the gifts of a barrister, especially if, as in all murder trials, it is a Queen’s Counsel. Naturally, a QC will be conversant with the law. He is paid for his expertise. But cases can be won or lost on oratory, guile, bullying, and presence. It can also depend hugely on a judge’s summing up. If he has made his own mind up, he may gloss over things that may be doubtful. To a large extent, a contested trial is a lottery depending on many elements which are not finite.

Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that common human fallibility throughout the entire judicial system - from lawyers, and judges, to the jury itself - is often all too prominent. The law itself may be finite - but the way it is explained is often a matter of intense human flexibility.

Sometimes, (many people think too rarely), the Court of Appeal will recognise this if it is blatant enough. As recently as 15th February 1999, for example, the Court quashed a guilty verdict on a woman who had been accused of an arson attack which had resulted in multiple deaths.

Lord Justice Kennedy ruled: "In reality there was not sufficient evidence to prove the case against her." And: "The cross-examination had distorted the conduct of the case. A wholly unacceptable cross-examination technique [had been used]."

So, how did the defence lawyers allow this to happen? How did the trial judge condone it? How were twelve ordinary citizens led to believe, "Beyond Reasonable Doubt", that the woman was guilty? Unfortunately, this kind of miscarriage is not so uncommon.

Can there be anything more tragic than to be incarcerated for life by a flawed system for a crime you did not commit? The files of the Citizen’s Commission on Scandals in Justice are a sorry catalogue of legal misfortunes.

One of the anomalies of British law is that those who are found guilty are very rarely given leave to appeal merely on a basis of "Beyond Reasonable Doubt" without fresh evidence. But, surely, if a case is built almost entirely around "circumstantial evidence" in which alternative explanations are available, there must be "reasonable" doubt to any ordinary citizen.

In the case of Derek Christian, there was eventually some convincing circumstantial evidence as to his guilt - all of which, however, could have been argued by the defence. There was, in every case, a reasonable, alternative set of explanations.

In the end, it all hung on two words: "microscopically indistinguishable". How that was explained to the jury meant the difference between Christian leaving court a free man or, in his case, facing two decades as a guest of Her Majesty.

The nub of the matter rested on some 77 examples of seven different fibre types found on the victim’s clothing which "matched" clothes worn by Christian. The prosecution argued convincingly that as the fibres came from three different items of clothing worn by Christian on that fateful day, "it must have been him". On Christian’s clothing there was also a single fibre which "matched" the skirt the victim wore.

One clothing item could well have been a coincidence - but three, the prosecution argued, was a clincher. Yet the circumstantial evidence - which we will examine later - may very well not have been the clincher they claimed.

One particular fibre alone was argued by the prosecution, as conclusive proof that it had to be Christian.

A millimetre of cloth was hailed by the prosecution as "proof absolute" of Christian’s guilt. What the jury did not appreciate, perhaps because the defence did not properly explain it, is that the very same fibres could have come from a multitude of clothes, including a skirt worn by Derek’s mother. This had been washed with Derek’s clothes in the same washing machine many times between the murder and his arrest. The police eventually eliminated it, but it serves to indicate the tenuous nature of the forensic fibre evidence.

"Even if you have doubts about all of the other testimony," intoned prosecuting counsel Andrew Campbell QC, (tacitly accepting that all the other evidence could well be doubtful), "the forensic evidence of the fibres is irrefutable." The jury apparently agreed with him, and, amid much whooping from the victim’s family, Derek Christian was sent down for life, with a recommendation to serve a minimum of twenty years.

Derek Christian’s family and those campaigning on his behalf, on the other hand, are convinced that he was wrongly convicted because of an unpersuasive defence which did not properly hammer home the alternatives to a jury which had struggled with the evidence for more than three weeks. The fight to prove a wrongful conviction - particularly in a murder case - is an uphill struggle.

Let us consider the facts, and their two alternative interpretations, for if the defence had been thorough, then the jury simply must have had reasonable doubt.

The Murder

At almost exactly three-thirty, on 9th February 1995, two tractor drivers in a field adjacent to the lane where Mrs Wilson was enjoying a walk to her home in the village saw a white estate car stop and a large white man walk about 100 yards towards Mrs Wilson. The two disappeared from view behind a hedge for a few moments then the man ran back to the car and drove away at speeds reaching 80 mph. The murderer, it was discovered when the labourers ran to her aid, had slashed the defenceless victim twice around the throat, killing her instantly. It was all over in seconds. The two men had unfortunately been too far away to give a proper description of the assailant. Unfortunate for the prosecution, certainly, but also for the defence. For the two men knew Christian and could have given a cast-iron identification either way, i.e. that it was or wasn’t him. (It also begs the question of whether a man known in the locality, as Christian was, would have exposed himself to identification in broad daylight, especially as Christian knew that his mother was also in the immediate area that day).

Pathologist Dr John Clark testified that Mrs Wilson had been killed "instantly by two slashes, one from ear to ear which severed the carotid artery and jugular vein. Probably by a right-handed person from behind with the victim kneeling at the time of the attack. She would have lost several pints of blood."

It was the kind of ritualistic slaying that could only have been perpetuated by a sadistic and unbalanced man, almost certainly a psychotic and/or disturbed psychopath. It was a random, insane, vicious, completely motiveless slaughter.

At the scene of the crime there were two footprints on the verge next to the body, and some tyre marks in the road where the car had been seen to speed away from. At that time the police only had the testimony of the two men that it was a large white man driving a Montego estate car.

The following day, the police found a J. Adams industrial vegetable knife at the scene of the crime. It had been discarded and was covered in blood. It was quickly established as the murder weapon.

As a huge murder inquiry got underway, the police quickly made casts of the footprints, noted the tyre-marks, and put a description out, such as it was, for other eye-witnesses to come forward if they had seen such a man driving such a car in the area during that fateful hour. Eventually several did. Subsequently it was revealed that the ‘scene of crime’ logbook was seriously flawed and incomplete. It was not properly recorded, for example, just who had handled the body when it was eventually put in a body-bag and transported to the mortuary. Later, this would have some significance. While the ‘scene of crime’ officers had seen the tyre marks, they did not subject them to any kind of forensic tests. There was no subsequent feasible explanation as to why they did not. As this was a quiet country lane, and the car had been seen roaring away and quickly gaining a speed of some 80 mph, it would seem logical that the marks came from the murderer’s car. Yet a police witness said on cross-examination that he had not made casts nor taken photographs, having taken the view that the marks were "useless from an evidential point of view".

Curiously, the footprints were never offered in evidence by the prosecution simply because they could find no shoes belonging to Christian which fitted the footprints, i.e. if the footprints were, as the police were at first convinced, those of the murderer, Derek Christian quite clearly could not have done it.

It turned into a manhunt par excellence. According to the Hull Daily Mail more than 6,000 people were interviewed. There were 2,600 different lines of inquiry and 3,000 vehicles were checked, including both of Christian’s. Five hundred separate statements were made and pored over by an army of detectives.
Then there was a Crimewatch BBC programme appealing for more witnesses. More than a thousand phone calls were received. An amateur forensic scientist came forward and asked if he could examine the knife.

Derek Christian was interviewed at an early stage of the inquiry - after only three days - as part of the police’s check on all Montego owners. He gave a statement along with hundreds of other people as a matter of police routine. For various reasons, the police at first felt it very unlikely that Christian was the murderer, but he remained "on the books". In March 1996, more than a year later and armed with further (completely circumstantial) evidence, the police arrested Derek Gordon Christian.

They had initially been put off him as a suspect because all the eye-witnesses had described the assailant as a clean-shaven man, while Christian, when interviewed by police a mere three days after the event, had clearly sported a mature goatee beard, and because the Montego car he drove on the day of the incident had been silver, not white.

On the day of the murder, it soon emerged, Christian had clocked off from his work at McCains - a large frozen chip manufacturing plant at Scarborough some 21 miles from his home in Driffield - at exactly 15.01, and at 16.06 a cash dispenser had recorded him taking out £30. Theoretically, as the place of work, the murder scene and the bank were all equidistant (about 30 miles in total), Christian could have reached the point of the murder and then the bank all within the fateful hour. That evening he drove his wife to work and they stopped off to do some shopping at a local Kwik Save. Not, you might agree, the normal behaviour of a man who had just savagely slashed a woman to death in a gruesome carnage of blood.

In fact the murderer would have had to have been a psychopath indeed to have been completely normal at work, go to a bank, take the wife shopping, and go home to look after the kids, when he had just, quite irrationally, carried out such a dreadful and macabre act. Yet, when Christian was eventually examined by a police psychologist, the doctor could find "nothing wrong with him [psychologically]".

The Alibi

When first arrested in March 1996, Christian repeated the alibi he had given to the police three days after the murder, namely that he had driven home, but there was no one to corroborate this. He was hazy about the details. It was, after all, some 13 months later. After his release on unconditional bail, Christian and his parents-in-law, Jean and George Green, discussed the matter and came to the conclusion that they had moved some boxes during the afternoon of the murder. He gave the police, in a further statement, minute-by-minute details of this family expedition. (Christian at that time was still with his wife Diane, and his in-laws lived within easy driving distance).

With Christian being able to establish a copper-bottomed alibi the police case against him began to falter. DCI Midgely, however, still had uncertainties. He began to check out the alibi. The police first hit upon the idea of a timed run in a car, and established that Christian couldn't get to the cash dispenser in time. By the simple expedient of checking the British Telecom files for the Green household on that day they eventually ascertained that calls had been made from the Green’s house at 16.15 and, on being confronted with the record, (only three weeks before the trial was to commence), the Greens agreed they must have made the calls and have been at home at the time. The moving of the boxes, they then recalled - blowing Christian’s alibi to smithereens - was on the following day, the afternoon of 10th February. It was also the police who ascertained that he had visited the bank, something which Christian had forgotten. It was a thorough piece of detective work.

At trial this became hugely significant because the prosecution was able to play heavily on the fact that Christian had consistently "lied and lied and lied" to the police - notwithstanding that two other people had also got it wrong. Anyone who has witnessed a murder trial will know that if the accused "admits" to a lie, even if it is an insignificant one in a police statement where he is not on oath, then all his testimony can be brought into disrepute.

An alibi that can be substantiated and cannot be disproved is a cast-iron defence. Not having an alibi is merely circumstantial. He could prove where he was at both 3 pm and 4 pm, but could not prove where he was at exactly 3.30 pm - the time of the murder. If, however, it was a simple mistake of timing, (the police did not argue that the moving of the boxes had happened) then why did the defence not bring Mr and Mrs Green (who were in court) into the witness box to testify that it was all three of them that had simply got the dates confused?

Derek Christian

Derek Christian was 31 at the time of the murder. To his family and to the police, he was the first to admit his shortcomings. Despite thirteen years of marriage, most of it very happy, he had from time to time been a bit of a tearaway, a womaniser and a heavy drinker. In the army where he was a sapper with the Royal Engineers, he had on several occasions seen the inside of a guardhouse. Despite this, when he left the army after 15 years in the ranks, he took voluntary redundancy with an "exemplary record." That meant, despite his occasional drunken outbursts, in the eyes of the army he had done nothing to seriously damage his good character. Is it conceivable that a man serving in the British army could have hidden deep pathological tendencies for a full fifteen years?

Like many men who had spent a large part of their formative years in the forces, he found it difficult to adjust to civvy life. He missed the camaraderie the army enjoys among soldiers working and fighting together. Christian had never seen active service and had never been given any specific combat training. Engineers build bridges and tunnels, unlike, say, the marines, who are specifically trained to survive and to kill.

Despite his admitted womanising, most of his marriage was harmonious and he had an adoring relationship with his three sons. On most Saturdays, they all went to the football together. It was only after the murder - but before his arrest - that his wife and he separated and he went to live with his parents. Even then, his relationship with his children was sustained.

At work he was not known as a particularly sociable man. He was a labourer earning "good money" and he kept himself very much to himself. His workmates found him "aloof". He did have the odd pint, but he had few drinking acquaintances in local pubs. In Civvy Street he was never a socialite. When he and his wife parted this had led at one stage to him becoming depressed. His doctor had prescribed some anti-depressant tablets, but he didn’t like the side effects and gave them up after only three days. There is no other medical history.

He often visited his parents, got on fairly well with his in-laws, and always had the companionship of the children. He was in rather a dead-end job where he was not particularly happy. But it paid the mortgage. His over-riding passion was football, and in particular, Sheffield Wednesday, where he and his sons rarely missed a match, despite an 80-odd mile journey there and back. He spent most of his available leisure hours glued to Sky Sports, especially if there was a match on. As a mark of his fanaticism for his home team, he never left the house without his black woolly Sheffield Wednesday supporter’s hat.

Christian was an "ordinary" man who had probably not made the very best of his life but was generally content. He was described by those who knew him as being "home-loving".

Even though the police trawled through his half a dozen girlfriends, army records, interviewed all his work mates, and did an intimate profile of him, and even though they tried to make great play of his shortcomings, they were unable to produce a single shred of evidence that he had any kind of psychotic or psychopathic tendencies. There was just nothing there to ever indicate a man insane enough to have spontaneously jumped out of a car between his work and his home and ritualistically murder an innocent grandmother for no reason at all. Had he ever shown any kind of pathological tendency you can bet your life that the intrepid DCI Martin Midgely would have ferreted it out and pounced on it. He had been looking for a man capable of a "ferocious and frenzied attack." He stated clearly on the eve of the manhunt that he was looking for someone who was "pathological".

Indeed, the first place he went to look was criminal records, and he started with psychopaths who may be at liberty.

Interviewed by the Hull Daily Mail just after the verdict, crime-expert Professor Keith Bottomley told the paper it was very rare for someone like Christian to murder anyone without a reason and especially if he did not know the victim. No research evidence has ever been produced to explain such extreme motiveless violent behaviour. "A no-motive killing," he went on, "suggests the murderer has some form of mental history. It is an established fact that most murder victims are killed by someone known to them. The case is as difficult to understand for (crime) experts as it is for the man in the street. There is no research evidence into motiveless murders. I am at a loss to explain Christian’s behaviour, but it seems to suggest that there is some mental history."

Armed with such expert testimony and coupled with a proper psychiatric report, the defence could well have put up an argument that the murder was done by a clear psychotic or psychopath and Derek Christian was clearly not one. Midgely later told the Hull Daily Mail that throughout the investigation Christian had appeared at all times to be "as cool as a cucumber". In another curious aside, Midgely told a newspaper, "he didn’t protest his innocence enough".

Despite the fact that he did not seem particularly close to his siblings (he has two brothers and two sisters) they are waging a massive campaign to clear his name. Along with the rest of his family. Even his wife, Diane, who knew him intimately for thirteen years, is convinced that he was incapable of murder. She still allows the children access to their father.

The army had taught Derek Christian to live by routine and at home he was generally habitual. He liked regular meals, and had his favourite "football-watching" chair.

On the day of the murder he got up, as he always did on a workday, at 5.30. He got dressed in the bedroom in the dark so as not to disturb Diane. Every morning he made a cup of tea but did not eat breakfast. He would have made a cup of coffee to take with him as he drove to work. He can remember the morning of 9th February very distinctly because on the evening before Sheffield Wednesday got beaten 4-3 on penalties. He left the house around 6 am, never woke the family and arrived at work to clock on at 7 am.

He worked all day on fairly mundane labouring tasks, lunching in the canteen, and clocking off at 15.00 hours. He nearly always - as he maintains to this day - drove straight home to welcome the kids when they got back from school. On this day he did so, and then remembered he had promised to take Diane shopping so he went to the bank.

In the days before, during and after 9th February the police could find no one who had met Christian in any capacity who could recall that he behaved strangely in any way at all. Andrew Campbell even turned this into a crime. In a brilliant piece of oratory, which was basically claptrap and had absolutely no bearing on the evidence before the jury, he whipped up some fever in the court by saying: "Don’t be misled by his behaviour. Pathological killers don’t wear a sign on their heads or have five ears. They are as, in appearance, just like you and me. Don’t be misled that because Christian did not attract suspicion in the days afterwards the killer can’t be him."

Campbell, in his summing-up, said: "It seems that no one had a motive for ending her life. She was loved and loving. It is without doubt that her killer struck in bizarre and, you may think, chilling circumstances. What is going on in his mind? Only he knows. That the killer was clearly oblivious to the risks he was taking. His mind was solely concentrating on his target. The defendant has found it necessary to lie and lie and lie. He has clearly been shown to be the murderer of Margaret Wilson."

No facts presented at the trial indicated in any way at all, that Derek Christian had ever demonstrated pathological tendencies. It was absurd to suggest, as Campbell did, that because he had never shown pathological tendencies it only went to prove he just had to be the murderer.

After the collapse of his alibi, there were two main factors used in evidence which the prosecution claimed led to "Beyond Reasonable Doubt": The murder weapon and the fibres.

The Knife

The bloodstained murder weapon found at the scene of the crime was a vicious looking, short, stubby, tough and very sharp industrial knife in general use by food producing factories, farmers, fishermen and professional cooks. Thousands are made and sold by the Sheffield firm of J. Adams. Other northern firms to use the knives extensively were Walkers Crisps and Jacob’s Bakery. They are also sold by Boots nationally. At McCains 1,800 knives were supplied to the factory over a two-year period spanning the murder. They were used almost exclusively for cutting up potatoes and other vegetables. Many were regularly stolen from the factories where they were used.

Christian claimed he had never seen such a knife. For his own work he sometimes used an 18-inch long-pin for cutting twine. But he had no reason in the work he did to use such a knife. The police established that during November 1994 he and several others cleared out some 200 lockers. During this clear-out, 50-60 knives were found. The prosecution claimed that Christian must be lying if he said he had never seen such a blade. But the police could not produce a single witness to testify that they had ever seen Christian with a J. Adams knife. They alleged that during the locker clear out Christian could have secreted one of them away for his own use. It would not, they suggested, be missed. But so could any of the other six men who helped in the garbage disposal. Indeed, so could any of the approximate 1,000 factory workers at McCains who did use such a knife on a daily basis. The plain fact is that while the knife is distinctive, it could have been shown that thousands of them were in use in East Yorkshire at any given time. The knife had no traces of fingerprints. The murderer, then, must have been using gloves, which have never been traced.

After the BBC Crimewatch programme a metallurgist at Sheffield University, Allan Wirth, came forward and offered the police his expertise. Obviously, with Sheffield being the centre of the British steel industry, the local university would be well primed up on metallurgy. It was considered a coup for the police because Wirth, after forensic analysis, claimed that a dark stain on the knife almost certainly came from cutting up potatoes. The only large local users of the knife who produced chips were Walkers Crisps and McCains. So Christian’s name popped up again in police files.

However, Midgely was astute enough to accept that this was still only circumstantial evidence. The knife could have come from McCains, and Christian could have acquired it. But it was a long way from being proof positive.

Other Evidence

Much had been made of the imploding alibi, and the knife but it was inconclusive. On the first arrest, they visited Christian’s home (he was by now living with his parents in Bridlington) and they came across an old newspaper in a cupboard. It was, says Christian, one of several that had accumulated in the course of time. Why he had kept this particular one was because 7th February, two days before the first anniversary of the murder, was his birthday. Having separated from his wife, he had decided, on his 32nd birthday, to "treat" himself to a visit to a massage parlour, and that edition of the Hull Daily Mail listed massage parlours. Unfortunately, it also splashed a prominent story on the anniversary of the murder hunt. This, the police argued, indicated a macabre interest in the murder. They conveniently could not recall that there were other publications with no connection to the murder.

This find was "circumstantial evidence" of the scantiest kind. An item, you may feel, where the police were clutching at straws. But after 13 months of frustration, Midgely and Co., were relieved to have made an arrest.

The "silver/white" car still bugged them. All the witnesses, except one of the farm labourers and a woman who had driven past the assailant in his car, had claimed it was white. But the police put this down to the fact that a silver car "could look white" in strong sunshine. On a cold February afternoon when the sun would have been almost at its lowest at 3.30 pm this was rather dubious. So was the whole claim. One eyewitness, Marie Cundall, had looked at the assailant and his car close up for twenty to thirty seconds only five minutes prior to the murder. In her statement she clearly described him sitting "upright in a white estate car". Even accepting the fact that a silver car flashing by in sunlight could look whitish, silver is simply not white. While this discrepancy existed, it was again only "circumstantial evidence".


There was the testimony of the two farm labourers. But as they were so far off at the time, they could give no further ID than that the man was large and white. Marie Cundall had been walking her dog near the murder scene five minutes before the murder. She described how a large man with "frenzied eyes" in a white car had pulled up alongside her. It was on the basis of her vivid description that police produced an "Identikit" picture of the murderer. It was used extensively to try and find other witnesses. While there was a resemblance between the Identikit picture and Derek Christian, it had one fatal flaw. Her picture had no beard and the police did not dispute that the kind of goatee beard which Christian had sported three days after the event simply could not have been full grown in three days. Also, there was the oddity of the Sheffield Wednesday hat. The suspect was hatless. The police had ascertained that Christian rarely ventured forth without it. While the police could not establish exact timings for these sightings, it appears that the murder suspect had spent some time in the area, driving around looking for someone to kill. It would have been virtually impossible for Derek Christian to have got from work to the bank, via home, and also be seen driving around during most of the ‘missing hour’.

Another witness was Karen Holloway who saw a white car and a man sitting in it as it was parked on a nearby verge. She did not see the man’s face. Louise Gray came forward after the police appeal and later helped with the Identikit. Both she and Cundall were satisfied that the photo was a "real likeness" to the murderer. Karen Holloway’s description matched the others. But there was a curious anomaly. On oath she denied ever knowing Derek Christian, yet they had grown up in the same area, gone to the same school and worked together only months before the murder. Christian certainly knew her. If she had indeed seen the murderer, which she claims, surely he must have at least looked familiar?

If the police claim they had eyewitnesses, why then, in a most odd inconsistency, did they not mount a proper ID parade, so that the women could pick out Christian? It was never explained and the defence never exploited this in any meaningful way. Karen Holloway stated that the man she saw "in the white car looked very like a sales rep". Is it conceivable that Christian, in his quite distinctive and bulky army-style working clothes, could look anything like a sales rep?

The Fibres

The identification of the fibres on the clothes of both the victim and Christian, described by Andrew Campbell as "total proof", was indeed the point at which the police were convinced they had got their man. They had been homing in on him for some months by then, but they accepted everything they had until then was circumstantial.

In one of the many bizarre aspects of this case, Christian inadvertently helped the police in his own destruction. When they felt strong enough to haul him in for the main interrogation some 13 months after the murder, the police naturally questioned him for many hours during several interviews. Meanwhile, they searched his home and returned with bags full of exhibits, including many of his clothes which they intended to subject to scientific examination.

Prior to this, they had ascertained that his car did not have a single trace of blood, or any other kind of forensic evidence, including fibres, to link it to the murder. The car was manifestly "clean". As there was a pool of blood at the scene of the crime, and as it was alleged that Christian had deposited 77 fibres of seven different types from his clothes onto the clothes of Mrs Wilson, was it conceivable that his car did not show even a micro dot of a blood stain? If, in fact, Christian had come into contact with Mrs Wilson enough to have picked up a fibre, why was there not a micro dot of blood on any of the clothes they claim he was wearing?

Christian saw the clothes the police had seized and volunteered the information that the jogging bottoms they produced were not the ones he was wearing on that day. Being the complete man of habit that he was, he knew exactly where the actual clothes were. His "town" clothes went in one place. His working clothes another. And so on. The police quickly sped back to the house and found the joggers. It was these joggers that, after forensic analysis, revealed some of the fateful fibres.

One may ask, under the circumstances, if this was the act of a murderer who knew he had done it? If he had done it, surely he would have been cock-a-hoop that they had discovered an item of clothing which could not possibly link him to the crime. Would even the most insane and negligent murderer have actually led police to the item of clothing that only he knew at the time could show he was the murderer? This was most certainly not properly pointed out by the defence which by now appear to have been mesmerised by the "three clothing items" prosecution claim. It also begs the question of why Christian should have kept the clothes in the first place. If he had presumably disposed of the gloves, why not all the other clothes which could have incriminated him. Certainly, at least after the police had first visited him to examine his car.

Anyway, after the forensic examination, Midgely was frantically excited by the fact that he now believed they had finally "clinched it" - "Beyond Reasonable Doubt". This is the very point that the phrase "microscopically indistinguishable" came onto the horizon and was used dramatically and successfully by the prosecution.

But it quickly emerged that even the fibres constituted nothing more than "circumstantial evidence." They were by no means conclusively "Beyond Reasonable Doubt."

In order to allay meaningless court time in petty argument the Crown made several important admissions at the end of the trial.

They admitted that:

  • The blue-grey jogging bottoms which Christian wore on the day of the murder were manufactured in Dubai six or seven years before in their tens of thousands and had been distributed largely through discount stores and market stalls.
  • Mrs Wilson’s skirt removed by the pathologist had come from cloth woven in Germany in 1991 and that, apart from wide distribution elsewhere, at least three thousand metres were bought by a skirt manufacturer in Manchester who had bought them from an agent in London.
  • A "Regatta" jacket which had figured in the police inquiries was one of 250,000 sold each year, of which about 50,000 are green.
The Crown Prosecution Service seemed completely undaunted by this, relying on the fact that fibres similar to those from three items of clothing worn by Christian were found on Mrs Wilson and that three amounted to irrefutable proof. Only someone wearing identical clothing could have possibly done it. It was a convincing argument which held much sway at the trial. Indeed, it was the only real evidence which apparently could not be disputed. Or could it? Was it really "Beyond Reasonable Doubt"?

Curiously, the defence decided not to bring in their own forensic expert, even though he was in court - relying instead on a vital cross-examination of the Crown’s expert, Robin Falconer, a widely acknowledged expert. Led first by the Crown, Falconer left no doubt in the minds of the court that the evidence was irrefutable.

But when Roger Keen QC cross-examined, Mr Falconer was much less certain. As this is the nub of the conviction, and we are discussing the real meaning of "Beyond Reasonable Doubt," it is worth going into his further evidence in some summary detail.

Falconer had found seven different fibre types taken from Derek Christian’s clothing which were "microscopically indistinguishable" to fibres found on the victim’s clothing. But, under cross-examination, Mr Falconer accepted that:

  • He had searched for a "highly distinctive population of fibres that may prove useful." No such population existed.
  • No single fibre or group of fibres can be attributed to a garment to the exclusion of all other garments.
  • Fibre testing is not an exact science and is not comparable, in this regard, to DNA testing or blood samples.
  • In forensic fibre tests 20% of the microscopically indistinguishable fibres are put through further, more rigorous tests. Even after this, it does not necessarily mean they came from the same garment. "Garments are not unique," he averred.
  • Most fibres found on clothing come from the wearer’s own environment, especially their home. (For reasons that are not clear, Mrs Wilson’s other clothing was given to charity before the police had an opportunity to check them for fibre evidence.)
  • In the body-bag used to transport Mrs Wilson from the scene of the crime to the mortuary, Mr Falconer subsequently discovered several other fibres which did not match either Christian’s or the victim’s own fibres.
  • Under cross-examination Mr Falconer said, quite emphatically: "The findings cannot produce an unequivocal link between Derek Christian’s clothing and those found on the victim’s clothing."

Mr Falconer’s evidence and cross-examination was lengthy and extremely detailed. Despite the efforts of counsel to try and make difficult expert scientific opinions understandable to the layman, it is an area notorious for a jury to get lost on the sheer amount of detail. Every judge knows this and in his summing up it is customary for him to give a legal resume of the expert opinion. Indeed, while Mr Falconer was under cross-examination the judge said, almost as an aside, that in his summing up he would instruct the jury that the identification of the single fibre from Mrs Wilson’s skirt, should not be "over-emphasised". In the event he did not do this. As the prosecution claimed that this single fibre was "the clincher", surely this was a serious oversight?

At one stage, Christian’s family looked on in horror as one juror, during the cross-examination, nodded off. This alone should be grounds for an appeal.

It was also put to the court that an item purchased independently, for elimination purposes and therefore with no connection to the accused, shed three of the seven fibres found on the victim’s clothing. They, and fibres found on other clothes, were "microscopically indistinguishable" to the seven known fibre types.

In the event, what Mr Campbell had claimed was "conclusive" was nothing of the kind. It could all be argued. As such, how was the jury led to believe that there were no doubts?


The situation at present is that Derek Christian’s brother Kevin and his sister Tracey are leading the fight to have the whole case re-examined and Derek’s name cleared. Leave to appeal on the grounds that one witness called Linda Rounding had admitted to committing perjury (she was subsequently jailed) was turned down by the Lord Chief Justice. Unless fresh evidence can be found, it is unlikely that the case of Derek Christian can go back before the courts.

Lord Bingham, however, on reviewing the trial notes, stated that "... it is difficult to recommend ANY punitive sentence with complete confidence." He suggested that the case was so bizarre and held so many strange elements that he would recommend a minimum sentence of 16-17 years, not the 20 suggested by the trial judge. Under the circumstances, it was rather an odd opinion, which has never been fully explained. Meanwhile, still vehemently protesting his innocence, Derek Gordon Christian languishes in HMP Frankland.

The place to start would be a proper transcript of the trial, but the family have found out that this is not as easy as it may sound. Despite an Act of Parliament that prohibits any trial judge altering transcripts in criminal cases, in reality he may do so when the shorthand writer submits the transcription for ‘corrections.’ If the police order a transcription of the shorthand writer’s notes - and pay for it - and the original notes are destroyed - that ‘official’ transcript becomes the only documentation of the trial. These procedures have, on previous occasions known to the Citizen’s Commission on Scandals in Justice, led to the production of heavily edited and thoroughly sanitised ‘official’ transcripts.

In fact, the Christian family have, over the past year, learned an awful lot about the frailty of English law. It is a minefield, which does not lean towards a convicted killer.

Serial Killer?

In a rather macabre twist to this story, whilst Derek Christian has been held in prison two murders chillingly similar to that of Mrs Wilson have been committed in the West Country. They both involved women who were slashed to death with a knife while walking on lonely country roads. The case of Kate Bushell, aged only 14, took place two days after the commencement of Christian’s trial on 13th November 1997. The almost identical case of Linda Bryant took place in October 1998, only a few days after Crimewatch had featured Christian's trial and conviction. The most bizarre aspect of the Bryant murder was that, months later, the murderer returned to the scene of the crime to replace her missing glasses at the spot where she was murdered. It was a wholly grotesque act which has completely baffled the police. They report that it is as if the murderer is taunting them. A scarf Mrs Wilson was known to be wearing at the time is also missing. No trace of it has ever been found.

If it is ever returned to the scene of the crime, will the British judiciary accept "Reasonable Doubt"?

If you have arrived here from the Beyond Reasonable Doubt website: The late Simon Regan wrote many articles on miscarriages of justice, a number of which may be found in the Guest Feature Writers section of Scandals in Justice.

If you have arrived here from the Guest Feature Writers section of Scandals in Justice, the story of Derek Christian starts here ...

Number of days Derek Christian
has now spent in prison

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