freegordon.com

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Case Summary

Introduction

Gordon Park, was convicted of the murder of his first wife, Carol Park, on the 28th January 2005 at Manchester Crown Court. He was given a life sentence at the age of 61 with the recommendation that he serve at least 15 years.

Gordon has always maintained his innocence and it is the firm belief of his family and friends that his conviction is a grave miscarriage of justice. The case against Gordon is based on weak, circumstantial evidence.

There is no evidence linking Gordon to the murder of his first wife and the profile of the killer could match any number of individuals.

Background

Carol Park, a schoolteacher, disappeared from the family home in Leece, Barrow-in-Furness, on the 17th July 1976. The family had planned a trip to Blackpool that day, as it was the beginning of the school holidays. Carol complained of feeling unwell and didn't go with the rest of the family.

When Gordon and their three children returned home from Blackpool, she had left. There was no sign of a robbery or a struggle of any kind, Carol had also left her wedding ring behind and had possibly taken some clothes.

Several people, friends and family had seen her, in the week leading up to her disappearance. Some of these individuals reported that she seemed down or depressed, she had also spoken of tracing her real parents as she was adopted.

Sightings

On the day of her disappearance, one neighbour recalled seeing her at the bottom of the drive leading up to the house; she seemed to be hanging around. Another neighbour saw a blue or grey VW Beetle go up the drive to the house and come back down again approximately 20 mins later.

The neighbour was aware that the family had gone out for that day and that it wasn't Gordon driving the car and it seemed odd to her that the car should apparently stay 20 minutes at the house.

Despite police enquiries, the car and its driver have never been traced.

An acquaintance of Carol's saw her later that day at approximately 6pm at the south bound Charnock Richard services on the M6, though Carol appeared to ignore her. This sighting indicates that Carol was alive on the evening of the 17th July and that she was possibly heading south.

Character of Carol Park

It was not out of character for Carol to leave the family home; she had done so previously on several occasions, often without warning, for short or long periods of time.

She had also had relationships with other men during her marriage, including a police officer, and had left them without warning. However, Gordon had always taken her back and they had tried to make a go of things.

Up until her disappearance they had been living together 'as man and wife in every sense of the word', as Gordon put it, for over a year. As a school teacher Carol had had a tendency to time her comings and goings with the start and end of school terms.

Gordon believed she would return to her teaching post at the start of the new term in September. When she didn't, Gordon reported her disappearance through his solicitor and informed her family.

1976 Missing Person's Enquiry

In 1976 a missing person's enquiry was launched but failed to produce any leads, however the police did inform Gordon that if a body were recovered he would be the main suspect.

In August 1997, 21 years after her disappearance, Carol's body was recovered from Coniston Water by amateur divers. Gordon was charged with her murder but the charge was subsequently dropped in January 1998.

In the course of the police investigation it emerged that the files from the 1976 enquiry had gone missing. Following further police inquiries Gordon was re-arrested in January 2004 and charged with Carol's murder.

Probable Cause of Death

Given the length of time that Carol's body had been in Coniston Water, it was not possible to complete a full post mortem. Dr Edmund Tapp (Home Office Pathologist) concluded that the probable cause of death was drowning and inhalation of blood due to severe facial injuries. The facial injuries were probably caused by a heavy, blunt or sharp instrument.

Despite extensive forensic investigations there was no evidence to suggest that the murder took place in the family home and the murder weapon has never been located.

The prosecution did suggest that it might have been an ice axe, as Gordon owned one. Given that such an implement is very light it is difficult to see how it could have inflicted such severe blows. The wooden handle of the ice axe was tested for blood stains; none were found.

Timing and Place of Death

The prosecution argued that Gordon hadn't gone to Blackpool; it was simply a fabrication to cover his tracks, despite the fact that one of the children recalled seeing his mother that morning and of visiting Blackpool.

The prosecution claimed that Gordon drugged his wife possibly on or around the 17th July, tied her up and stored the body in a chest freezer before dumping it Coniston Water.

This is pure speculation; there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

Motive

In terms of motive, the prosecution limply suggested it might have been jealousy, possibly that Carol had a lover. Gordon had no previous history of violence as family, friends and other witnesses testified; he had always taken his wife back after her affairs and, on at least one occasion, had demonstrated his ability to remain calm in the face of his wife's volatile behaviour.

There is no evidence to suggest that Carol was having an affair at the time of her disappearance. Given that Carol had had several relationships; it is possible that any one of these men could reasonably be considered as suspect along with Gordon.

Knots

Several knots were used to tie the packaging on Carol's body. The police believed that Gordon's knowledge of knot tying linked him to those found on the body and that they were rare enough to require specialist knowledge. Gordon certainly had experience of tying knots from his days as a scout and later hobbies such as sailing.

However, the experts who appeared for the prosecution and defence at the trial could find no link with the knot samples taken from Gordon's home and previously his boat in 1997 and 2004. Rather than being rare, such knots were in fact commonplace and widely practised by a number of different people engaged in work in the local shipyards or in hobbies such as scouting, climbing and sailing.

The string and rope fibres taken from Gordon's home were tested for a match with the ropes found on the body package. No match was found.

It is significant that the findings of one of the experts used in the 1997 investigation, and which were instrumental in bringing the case to trial, were later discredited by experts in 2004, though the jury were never made aware of this fact.

Boats

The police also claimed that Gordon owned a boat at the time of Carol's disappearance and used this to dump her body in Coniston Water. Gordon had in fact sold his 505 dinghy in the June to an instructor on a sailing course he was attending at Windermere; his sailing log corroborates this.

The argument that Gordon did possess or have access to a boat at the time of his wife's disappearance was one largely fuelled by misinformation. During the 1997 investigation, the commodore at Coniston Sailing Club wrongly told the police that Gordon had a boat at the sailing club during the 1970s. This information was later proved to be incorrect by the sailing club records.

Lead Piping

Carol's body had also been weighted down with some lead piping. The prosecution argued that some marks on the piping matched a hammer in Gordon's possession, again linking him to the crime. Expert evidence concluded that there was no evidence to prove, or even suggest that any of Gordon's hammers could have made the marks in the lead piping. The lead piping could have been hammered by anybody with a sharp-edged and flat-surfaced hammer.

Tests were carried out to compare the lead piping with that found at the family home. There was no match; the lead at Bluestones was from a different manufacturer. Paint marks found on the lead piping were also tested against paint marks found on a toilet bowl in the garage at Bluestones in 1997; again there was no match with the paint.

The Rock PDB5/19

Perhaps the most significant piece of evidence from the prosecution's point of view was a rock allegedly found on the lakebed next to some clothing and approximately 70 metres away from where the body was located. It was argued that this rock contained a particular type of mineral and this rock was linked to those in the wall at the family home in Leece, thereby linking Gordon to the murder.

The police diver associated with the discovery of the rock stated at the trial that he did not remember collecting a rock; that he wasn't looking for a rock and had he found one he would have placed it back on the lake bed. He also could not recall emptying a rock out of his net bag into a container after completing his dive. The rock only appears in police records several days later.

When recovering items from the lakebed as part of the 2004 investigation it was clear divers were relying heavily on 7-year-old memories to locate the place where the body was found rather than accurate recordings. The judge himself pointed out that the recording of exhibits removed from the lakebed was not to the standard that should be expected.

The exhibits were handled by 5 or 6 different officers and there were inconsistencies in signatures when recording exhibits at the police station. At best, the expert for the prosecution could only state that it was more probable that the rock came from Bluestones (the family home) than Coniston.

The expert for the defence disagreed with this argument and with the geological source of the rock. He also questioned whether the rock had been in the lake at all due to the absence of diatoms or growths on its surface. One would expect these to be present on material which has been resting on the bottom of a lake for a considerable length of time as the crown argued it had.

Suffice it to say the two experts disagreed with each other's findings in court, so what were the jury to make of this evidence?

With regard to the clothing which was also recovered from the lakebed, none of this could be identified as belonging to Carol Park.

Eyewitnesses

Despite arguing that the memories of the Park children, neighbours and family friends were unreliable due to the passing of time, the prosecution put forward the testimony of Joan Young who claimed she had seen a man fitting Gordon's description dumping something over the side of a boat on Coniston Water around the time that Carol went missing.

Mrs Young and her husband were parked at Matchells Coppice, a car park near Coniston Water. This was located one mile north of where the body was actually found. In her testimony, Mrs Young couldn't be sure how far from the shore the boat was. She was unable to say what height the man was but that he had dark brownish auburn hair, had a moustache and was thin faced.

Giving evidence at the trial, Mrs Young said the man was wearing glasses, under cross-examination by the defence she said she couldn't be sure. She stated that the man kept looking at the car. He had a heavy bundle which he toppled over the side of the boat, which she thought was small and white. Mrs Young was unsure as to whether she had used binoculars or not when looking at the man.

Mrs Young's husband said that he had seen a man throwing something overboard but could recall no more details. This leaves a memory from almost thirty years ago and a vague description of a man which could match any number of individuals.

It was apparent from Mrs Young's testimony that the man seemed to be looking at the car, if so why would someone attempt to dispose of a body in daylight if they thought they were possibly being observed?

At the time Mrs Young did not report this incident to the police. She also failed to come forward during the 1997 investigation and only contacted the police following Gordon's arrest in January 2004.

Confessions

The prosecution also put forward two so-called 'cell confessions' which were alleged to have taken place whilst Gordon was on remand at Preston in 1997.

Michael Wainwright came forward after having seen a Channel 4 documentary featuring the case which was broadcast in 2000. Michael Wainwright claimed that Gordon had confessed to the murder. Gordon has stated unequivocally that he has never met Michael Wainwright.

A heavy drug user, Michael Wainwright admitted at the trial that he suffered from memory loss and claimed that he heard voices; significantly he changed his story whilst giving evidence. At one point Michael Wainwright claimed that Gordon had come home, gone upstairs and found his wife in bed with another man and killed her in a fit of rage. The family home was a bungalow - there were no stairs.

Forensic samples taken from the home in 1997 indicated that there was no evidence to support the argument that the murder took place there.

Glen Banks was approached by the police and they took a statement from him. He claimed that Gordon had confessed to him, Gordon had briefly shared a cell with Glen Banks. Glen Banks' story differed in detail from Michael Wainwright's and he changed it several times during police interviews.

At one point he claimed Gordon had taken his wife and family in a boat and had sailed to Blackpool on the sea. He said that Gordon had given his wife some white powder and she had then fallen overboard into the sea. He later claimed that Gordon had killed his wife on a boat, placed her body in some bags with some weights and dumped her in a boating lake.

Several psychology experts were involved in legal arguments over the admissibility of Glen Banks' evidence. Glen Banks had learning difficulties and was therefore 'suggestible', needing to be kept away from leading questions, authority and body language.

He was proven to have been suggested several keywords during a video interview in 2001/2 with one police officer. He was proven to have changed his story during this interview after the first break in the tape. He was proven to have had access to media coverage and prison gossip and to have been spoken to by Michael Wainwright, before volunteering his story. He was proven to have been encouraged on points during interview by his social worker.

Glen Banks claimed that Gordon's alleged 'cell confession' had been causing him distress yet his social workers failed to provide any evidence of his being anxious or affected mentally by any aspect of Gordon's alleged 'cell confession' until after the Channel Four documentary had been broadcast in 2000.

At the trial, the prosecution argued that neither Mr Wainwright nor Mr Banks were motivated by other factors, for example financial gain, both were also now out of prison by this stage. However, it is important to point out that a £5,000 reward was offered as part of an appeal for information as early as January 1998 when the charge against Gordon was dropped.

Subsequent appeals were also made in July of that year during the inquest in to Carol's death. A fresh appeal was also made in the August on the first anniversary of the discovery of Carol's body. The reward and appeals were reported in the press and also mentioned at the end of a Granada Television documentary featuring the case which was screened in 2000.

It is fair to say that anyone who knew some details of the case would be aware of these appeals and that a reward had been offered in return for information leading to the conviction of Carol's killer.

Press Coverage

The press coverage of the case in 1997 and 1998 was negative, prejudicial, sensationalist at times and contained numerous inaccuracies. Gordon was on holiday in France when Carol's body was discovered. The police therefore had to wait three days before arresting Gordon on his return to the UK.

During this period, the attention from the press was overwhelming, one family member recalls about twenty or thirty reporters and several high-powered cameras in the street outside Gordon's home as the media speculated on the case and on Gordon's innocence.

Given the press coverage, it would appear that the police were under intense pressure to arrest someone for Carol's murder. Despite flimsy circumstantial evidence, their attention was focused entirely on Gordon when in fact there were other suspects, some of who were interviewed formally.

It is arguable that such negative media coverage during that period, much of it still available on the internet, may have been prejudicial to Gordon's defence during his trial in 2004.

The Daily Mail Article

In 1998, Gordon cooperated with the Daily Mail for an article about his experience.

Though the murder charge had been dropped the press continued to harass both him and his wife. On the advice of his solicitor at the time Gordon agreed to do an article in order to try to stave off further harassment from the media. His former solicitor corroborated this at the trial.

Despite a protocol between the prosecution and defence not to put this matter before the jury, as it was not relevant, the prosecution raised the issue of payment for this article at trial arguing that Gordon was prepared to profit from his wife's death. In fact, much of the fee from the article was used to pay the journalist who wrote it.

Gordon had spent a short period of time on remand and then a number of months living away from his home as part of his bail conditions, some of the fee was used to pay for costs incurred during that time. Gordon and his wife also replaced the car, this had been featured during the media coverage and they did not wish to be identified by it. The remainder was used to make small gifts to family members. This is hardly behaviour one would associate with someone wanting to profit from another person's violent death and it was totally irrelevant in terms of the charge against Gordon.

One has to ask if this information prejudiced the jury in any way.

The negative media coverage continued after Gordon's conviction in January 2005, in which spurious claims emerged in order to further the character assassination of Gordon. As an example, in a national newspaper it was alleged that Gordon and a police commander had been freemasons, the implication being that the files from the 1976 missing person's inquiry were removed or destroyed deliberately.

Gordon has never at any time in his life been a freemason. This allegation only emerged after the trial, it has never been subjected to the full scrutiny of the court and as yet no evidence has been put forward to substantiate it.

At the very least, this is tantamount to an admission of police corruption.

Character of Gordon Park

The prosecution portrayed Gordon as a cold, calculating and violent killer who had lied to his family and was continuing to do so by not admitting his guilt. He was described as a disciplinarian who would beat his children; in fact Gordon was a very loving father, as his three children testified at his trial.

Gordon had been awarded custody of his children whilst he and his wife were separated. It was highly unusual during the 1970's, as now, for men to be awarded custody and this was therefore a vindication of Gordon's good character and his capability as a parent.

His two stepchildren also gave evidence as to Gordon's good character. Friends, neighbours and other individuals who appeared at the trial were adamant that they had never witnessed any violent behaviour; instead they spoke of Gordon's ability with young children and his patience and willingness to discuss different topics and to help out with jobs such as decorating and DIY.

These friendships had lasted over fifty years in some cases. Gordon had no previous convictions and, as his defence barrister stated at his trial, he had led a life that was unimpeachable.

Our Conclusion

We believe Gordon Park is innocent and that the evidence presented to the jury was so thin and circumstantial, it could match several other suspects.