by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 13th 2011)
“The science is important”, said Mark Evans QC in his closing argument on behalf of John Pope, in his retrial for the murder of a 34 year-old Karen Skipper. “That’s why you have the experts. It is important you understand the purpose of it and the limits of it. As far as science is concerned, you can take it from them. What deductions you make, is entirely for you. Where they and I part company is where they cease to talk about science and resort to amateur sleuthing”.
He criticised forensic scientist Michael Appleby in particular. Mr Evans said that Mr Appleby was emphatic that the blood-stain on Mrs Skipper’s knickers was wet and not dilute. “That’s important”, Mr Evans said, “as that is based on his observations. How could it not be diluted? We know that the clothes were damp from a heavy dew that night”.
Mr Evans advised the jury to apply their common sense to all of the evidence. “When it comes to looking at dew and its effect on clothes, you know better than anyone”, he said. He pointed out that both the pocket of the jeans and the knickers which contained the blood-stains were exposed to the elements. “How could they not be dilute?” he asked before informing the court that the scientists said they were not.
Mr Evans conceded that the older the stains were the harder it is to rehydrate. He conceded that liquid would leach out. He questioned the size of both stains that had been reported. Every attempt to photograph the blood-stain on the knickers failed, but fluorescence would be obtained when exposed to different types of light. He suggested that there was fluorescence and that it was consistent with a smaller stain on the knickers that liquid (blood) had leached out from. This, he suggested, was evidence of rehydrated blood.
“The prosecution case is that it was deposited in attack, but in all probability it will be damp already”, Mr Evans said. He told the jury that the effects of leaching of fresh blood would have been noted and mentioned by the scientists. They did not. “Doesn’t it point to stain being much older?” Mr Evans asked. “Some diluting effect was inescapable [but] they will not accept it; did not see it”.
As Good as Any Other
Mr Evans told the jury that when Mr Pope was interviewed by police in 2007 he was told there was forensic evidence linking him to the murder of Karen Skipper, but nothing specific. That Mr Evans said, meant that Mr Pope, a man of limited intelligence, had to guess correctly that it was blood and concoct an explanation of it on the spot.
He told the jury that hands go into pockets at an angle and that the position that it landed in was consistent with Mr Pope’s account. [Nigel] Hodge and [Gillian] Leak had, said Mr Evans, accepted that the two spots will have coincided, but could only have done so when the jeans are being worn and done up and therefore, if the two spots had coincided at same time, the “only possibility is through the pocket and that is exactly what Mr Pope says”.
Mr Evans told the jury that if a blood-stained hand had been inserted in the pocket, then it would be elsewhere, but we are talking about tiny amount of blood. He invited the jury not to reject Mr Pope’s explanation of the earlier encounter with Mrs Skipper and how his blood could have got onto her clothing. “We can’t say, ʻthis is what happened’, all we can do is point out the possibilities”. He invited the jury to put their hands in their pocket. “Why can’t it be done?” he asked. He suggested that a tissue is like a sponge that could absorb blood and expunge it if pressure was applied and then soak it up again. When that process is finished, Mr Evans argued, more blood would be on the outside than the inside. Mr Pope’s account was he submitted, therefore, a perfectly credible explanation.
“Mr Murphy [Ian Murphy QC – the prosecutor] is quite wrong when he submitted that consensus of scientists is that you can consider this as incredible”, said Mr Evans. If something can happen, he suggested then, sometimes, invariably it will. “If the potential is there, the possibility is clearly there. They [the prosecution] have to prove that it did not happen in this case”.
Mr Evans insisted that the reconstruction conducted by Mrs Leak showed that it was possible for the jeans and knickers to have touched each other, thereby accounting for both stains. “Anything’s possible”, said Mr Evans, who insisted that it was for the prosecution to prove that it did not happen. “The point I made was for that to have happened by pure accident, both garments, both spots had to touch each other”. He told the jury that the opportunity existed. The jeans and knickers had been packaged together while damp with the belt. They had been taken out to retrieve the belt, which had been taken out before they were repacked. This, Mr Evans suggested, provided ample opportunity contact and therefore transfer. “The odds of it happening in that way are, I suggest, pretty high”, said Mr Evans.
He then highlighted what he contended was a real problem with the direct contact theory. He told the court that the jury had been assured that both blood-stains were direct contact stains from a pin-prick of blood, but while one was a smear the other was not. That, he suggested, was a real problem. The stain on the knickers had been produced by a wiping action that left no blood on the ridge, but on the pocket-lining it was a smear. “Ask yourselves how can it be that there is a wiping action with smearing on knickers, but with pocket, the same action, but no smear?” said Mr Evans. “There is a basic inconsistency”. He pointed out that anyone depositing the stains in the way the scientists and Mr Murphy had claimed would have had to remove the shoes, belt and trousers before getting access to the knickers. “Where’s the rest of the blood?” Mr Evans asked. “[It’s] extraordinary that there is no blood, you may think”.
“There are other possibilities in this case which you have to take on board and for this reason: if Phillip Skipper was the killer, then the blood-stains on the clothing doesn’t matter, does it?” said Mr Evans. “If you think Phillip Skipper could have been the killer, then that’s the end of it”.
Mr Evans detailed the circumstantial case against Mr Skipper that included the apparent lack of interest he had shown in the whereabouts of Mrs Skipper after she went out with the dogs that night. “So where does all this point you?” asked Mr Evans. “The prosecution tell you John Pope’s story is lie after after lie, but could a man like Pope really have made all of that up on the spur of the moment? We suggest, not in a million years. At the end of the day, you have to be sure that all of the other explanations fail and it must have been John Pope. Can you possibly do that in this case?”
“You don’t get a pin prick of blood from a dog-bite”, Mr Evans told the jury. “If that dog [Samson] had attacked, you would not get a pin prick of blood”. Mr Evans reminded the jury that there was plenty of evidence that Samson in particular was fiercely protective of Karen Skipper. Mr Skipper, he reminded them, had suggested that the killer must have been known to her [he had mentioned Jimmy Turner and the man known as Steve in that context] or that there had been two killers.
While the prosecution dismissed Mr Pope’s explanation of the blood-stains as a “complete fantasy”, Mr Evans said that it had “the ring of truth about it”. Mr Pope did not know what forensic evidence the police had linking him to the murder when he was questioned. It could have been anything, Mr Evans said, but he gives them an account that explained bloodstains being found. Mr Murphy had previously told the jury that Mr Pope knew that it was blood because he had attacked Karen Skipper and been bitten by one of her dogs. He had then transposed that event to an invented incident three weeks earlier.
“Where does all the scientific evidence take you?” asked Mr Evans. “You can’t be sure of very much at all, save it (bloodstains) was there. The prosecution has to prove Mr Pope’s explanation has to be wrong. It’s as good as any other”.
He had previously said that there were no consequences for Phillip Skipper if the jury thought it might be him and that there were none for Richard Mead either, but it was a different story for Mr Pope. “Remember, the consequences are serious”, said Mr Evans. “He has already been through one trial and an appeal process. It is so important that you get this right. If you think the forensic evidence was flawed, then convicting him on that basis would be wrong”.
The Honourable Mr Justice (Sir Roderick) Evans KT is summing-up. The jury is expected to be asked to begin considering their verdict on Friday. John Pope denies murdering 34 year-old Karen Skipper, whose body was discovered submerged in the River Ely in the morning of March 10th 1996.