TWO men found guilty of a notorious North-East murder were the victims of a miscarriage of justice after key evidence was ignored by police and prosecutors, claim investigators who spent two years examining the case.
On the 47th anniversary of the murder of gaming machine collector Angus Sibbet, The Northern Echo can reveal that a witness told detectives that he met an armed man hours after the killing who confessed to the brutal murder.
The astonishing claim was ignored for more than 30 years and then dismissed because it did not fit with the police’s version of events.
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Paint sprayer Tom Fellows was never contacted by detectives after making an initial statement at Darlington police station in the early 1970s, but thanks to an extraordinary quirk of fate he was last year tracked down by investigators Ian Wright and Neil Jackson.
Despite the murder taking place almost half a century ago, the grandfather vehemently stood by his account and was able to give a detailed description of the potential killer.
Three months after Mr Sibbet’s body was found on the backseat of his car under Pesspool Bridge, South Hetton, County Durham, on January 5, 1967, his colleagues Michael Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford, now known as Dennis Scott, were convicted of his murder.
All three men worked for slot machine entrepreneur and Luvaglio's brother, Vince Landa.
Mr Fellows told police that on the morning after the killing he was working at the Fleet Buyers garage in Whessoe Road, Darlington.
The business belonged to brothers Stuart and Colin Dunn, who also worked for Mr Landa’s company Social Club Services.
Mr Fellows said a clearly agitated man in his early 30s and speaking with a London accent came into the garage asking to speak to Colin Dunn.
According to the witness, the man had black, slicked-back hair with a widow’s peak, a broken nose which had been reset and a distinctive scar on his forehead.
The man was holding an automatic pistol and his right leg was badly injured.
According to Mr Fellows, the gunman claimed his leg had been crushed between his car and the Jaguar Mark X belonging to the murder victim.
At the trial of Luvaglio and Stafford, prosecutors claimed that damage to the front of the Jaguar had been caused by a collision with the defendant's X-Type Jaguar.
Mr Fellows claimed that the man, who gave the name Darren Reynolds, said he had been ordered to frighten Mr Sibbet, but had feared the heavily built collector was about to attack him so had shot him dead.
The witness said: “I thought why broadcast it if you’ve just killed someone?
“I just stared at him. I think he thought I was one of the mob. I asked ‘do you want me to phone for an ambulance?’ He yelled ‘no’.
“He was very anxious. He was perspiring and I could see the beads of sweat on his forehead.
“He repeated again ‘where the hell is Colin?’, then he loosened off a shot into asbestos cladding on some piping running along the wall, then began waving the gun in my face.
“My reaction was to put my arms in front of my face and duck down like a boxer.”
According to the witness, the man said he had been told to go to the garage if anything went wrong.
Mr Fellows added that Colin Dunn, who died in 2007, appeared after several minutes, telling the self-employed paint sprayer “that man's never been here”.
Although fears for his own safety initially prevented him reporting the incident, Mr Fellows contacted police after seeing media coverage of a forthcoming Court of Appeal bid by Luvaglio and Stafford in 1973.
Mr Fellows, now aged 77, said he went to Darlington Police Station, but the detective taking the statement was hostile, even threatening to arrest him for wasting police time.
“When I left to walk home I was totally shattered at the degrading experience,” he said.
Although it is believed Mr Fellows' statement was never passed to defence barristers for Luvaglio and Stafford at the time of the appeal, it was mentioned in a 2007 Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) examination of the case.
However, it was rejected because it did not fit with other evidence and because police claimed that Mr Fellows had a business arrangement with Mr Landa, who died in 2011.
Mr Fellows said that the only time he had had any dealings with Mr Landa, a one-time associate of the notorious Kray twins, was when he examined a sick horse belonging to the entrepreneur at his home at Dryderdale Hall, near Hamsterley Forest.
Mr Fellows points that although the garage has since been knocked down, it stood for many years after he made his statement and police could have easily corroborated his account by searching for the bullet fired by the man.
It is also believed police never attempted to interview Colin Dunn regarding Mr Fellows’ statement.
“I'm not bothered if anyone believes me or not,” Mr Fellows said.
“I can't prove if this man killed him or not – I'm just saying that this is what happened to me.”
Mr Fellows was tracked down after Mr Wright, a former Northern Echo photographer who now lives and works in Las Vegas, had a chance meeting while lecturing on board a trans-Atlantic liner.
After the lecture, he was approached by Darlington businessman Tony Wardrop.
Over drinks they discussed the Sibbet case and Mr Fellows’ name was mentioned.
Until then Mr Wright had no idea where to find the potential witness, but Mr Wardrop said he had recently seen him in Barclays Bank, on Darlington High Row.
Once they knew Mr Fellows still lived in Darlington, they were able to look him up in the phone book.
As well as asking him to recount his evidence, the investigators brought in former Metropolitan Police artist Jan Szymczuk to work with the witness.
Mr Szymczuk, who has trained the FBI on how to question and recover information from witnesses and victims, described Mr Fellows as an “A+ witness” who appeared to be telling the truth.
Inquiries by documentary film maker Mr Jackson, from Consett, and Mr Wright have uncovered numerous other potential discrepancies with the prosecution evidence given in court.
The two men, who are working on a book and documentary on the case, have handed their findings to the CCRC, which is assessing whether to recommend a new appeal hearing.
The application has the backing of both men convicted of the murder.
Mr Luvaglio said: “I'm so grateful for the belief shown in me by Ian and Neil in their quest to find out the truth.
“I only wish the judge and jury at my original trial in 1967 could have seen the evidence they have uncovered.
“If they had done I do not believe they would have found Dennis Stafford or myself guilty. I'm now 76 and in ill health. I just hope that this new application to the CCRC will ensure I don't die a convicted murderer.”
The investigators have revealed their findings to Durham Police crime commissioner Ron Hogg.
Although he denied there had been a cover up, Mr Hogg said he was concerned there had been a miscarriage of justice.
He said on camera: “Some of that photographic evidence you showed me was very disturbing really. It does question what did actually happen, how thorough the investigation was at the time.
“The forensic and medical evidence does seem to be highly questionable in all of this. I certainly came away very disturbed by what you had shown me because of the questions that it raised.”
The two investigators have acquired several documents from Durham Constabulary using Freedom of Information powers, however recent requests have been rejected after the Chief Constable Mike Barton sealed police files pending the CCRC ruling.
A Durham Constabulary spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that the file for this case has been sealed on the Chief Constable’s authority.
“This means it is currently unable to be accessed for any non-policing purposes. This is to allow for the current, pending Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) Investigation to be carried out in line with their powers outlined in the Criminal Appeal Act 1995.
"If any new evidence were made available in relation to this case at any point in the future, it would be considered by the relevant parties."
Luvaglio, from London, and Stafford, who lives in a flat in Stanhope Castle, in Weardale, served 12 years in prison for the murder of Mr Sibbet before being released on life licence in 1979.
Both men continue to protest their innocence for the murder, which inspired the cult film Get Carter starring Michael Caine.
* This article, photographs and illustrations are based on information provided by Ian Wright and Neil Jackson. No part of this copyrighted property may be reproduced, copied, quoted, broadcast or stored in any way without specific written consent of its owners. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com