INVESTIGATORS say analysis of gruesome official police photographs casts further doubt on the conviction of two men for the notorious One-Armed Bandit murder. Joe Willis reports.
NEW research suggests fruit machine collector Angus Sibbet was shot up to six times - not three as claimed by prosecutors at the 1967 trial of Michael Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford.
Photography expert Ian Wright and documentary film maker Neil Jackson believe their analysis also suggests Mr Sibbet was tortured before being murdered.
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The pair, who have submitted an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to seek a fresh Appeal Court hearing for Luvaglio and Stafford, claim chilling crime scene photographs reveal other discrepancies with the evidence presented in court.
Although the two investigators say they have no explanation for why the jury was apparently misled in this way, they claim their research suggests the prosecution case was flawed and the convictions were unsafe.
Angus Sibbet's bullet-ridden body was found in his Jaguar Mark X under Pesspool Bridge, South Hetton, County Durham, on January 5, 1967.
His colleagues, Luvaglio and Stafford, were convicted of his murder three months later.
The pair served 12 years in prison before being released on licence, but continue to protest their innocence.
Last month, The Northern Echo revealed how a witness claimed a mystery man confessed to the killing of Mr Sibbet hours after the murder in a Darlington garage.
The witness' evidence was never passed to the defence teams at the time of the first Court of Appeal hearing, and was subsequently rejected by the CCRC.
Today, the Northern Echo reveals further findings by investigators Mr Wright and Mr Jackson which have been submitted to the CCRC for fresh consideration.
Prosecutors told the jury that on the night of his death, Mr Sibbet left a Newcastle nightclub at 11.15pm hours and was murdered at around 11.50pm on the roadside near South Hetton.
But by analyzing the official exhibit book of photographs, the investigators claim Mr Sibbet could not have been killed at the time and place claimed by the prosecution.
As well as examining police photographs, Mr Wright and Mr Jackson looked in detail at the journey Mr Sibbet would have had to take from the club to South Hetton.
They believe that in order to be in the County Durham village at the time the murder took place, he would have had to drive through Newcastle and Gateshead on a snowy and icy January night at an average of more than 60mph.
The investigators believe that their evidence suggests that rather than driving to South Hetton, Mr Sibbet was abducted after leaving the nightclub.
He was then taken to an unknown location before being undressed, tortured and murdered.
The investigators took their findings to Durham Constabulary police and crime commissioner Ron Hogg who told them he was “very disturbed” by the evidence because of the questions it raised.
He added: “If this evidence had come to light at the time it would never have got to court.”
The police’s One Armed Bandit murder file was sealed last year by Durham chief constable Mike Barton until the CCRC investigation had concluded.
After leaving the Echo, Mr Wright went on to work for media outlets including The Sunday Times, The Times and the BBC.
Now living in Las Vegas, the former Professors of Journalism at Baylor University, in Texas, is an expert in darkroom techniques.
Mr Wright began his career as a 15-year-old darkroom boy at The Northern Echo and estimates he handled over a quarter of a million prints and negatives.
He has used his 50 years of experience in the industry to examine the six exhibit books containing 44 photographs submitted as evidence during the trial.
As part of his analysis, he used the multi-million dollar Cashmans photographic laboratory in Las Vegas to enlarge the police prints without quality being affected.
At the trial of Michael Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford, prosecutors alleged that Mr Sibbet was shot three times – in the chest, shoulder and through the wrist.
However, Mr Wright believes he was actually shot six times. He claims his close examination of the police photographs has revealed a further wound to Mr Sibbet's knee, suggesting he was “kneecapped” before his death.
As well as a gunshot wound, he believes there is clear evidence of inflammation around the knee when the photographs are enlarged.
At the trial, police claimed a wound on the victim's face resulted from his body being dragged along the road by the killer or killers.
But the investigators claim the marks were actually left by a gun being fired across his face at very close range, with the bullet scraping his nose, leaving a crater and the signs of tattooing from the gun's gas explosion.
As well as these wounds and three highlighted in court to his chest, wrist and shoulder, it is claimed Mr Sibbet was shot just below his armpit, although in several police photographs the wound was hidden by the victim's arm.
According to Mr Wright, the images – which the Echo has seen but are too graphic to print - also reveal wounds to Mr Sibbet's groin, which he suggests is further evidence he was tortured shortly before his death.
It is claimed that further scrutiny of the enlarged photographs suggest Mr Sibbet sustained a severe blow to the mouth resulting in his front two teeth being knocked out.
The investigator also unearthed other potential discrepancies with the evidence from the photographs.
These include evidence that some of Mr Sibbet's clothing, including shoes and socks, were changed at some point in the hours after his body arrived at Peterlee police station and the pathology examination at Thorpe Hospital in Easington.
In one photograph, Mr Sibbet’s leather collection case was clearly visible behind the driver's seat in the Jaguar.
However, Mr Wright points out that it was never seen again once the car was towed to the police station.
He also points out that his wristwatch, believed to be a solid gold Omega given to him by Luvaglio, is missing on the images, despite a tan line suggesting he had worn the watch recently during a foreign holiday.
“Was it a vital piece of evidence?
“Was it smashed during the murder? It's highly likely that after what Sibbet endured, the time would have stopped and given away the time of the murder,” said Mr Wright.
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 neil@media-arts. co. uk or ian. wright.photographer@gmail. com