Cumbria

'Lady in the Lake' murder: Gordon Park's conviction 'unsafe'

Gordon Park outside court Image copyright PA
Image caption Gordon Park killed his wife with an ice axe, his trial heard

The conviction of the so-called "Lady in the Lake" murderer was unsafe, the Court of Appeal has been told.

Gordon Park was found guilty of killing his wife Carol, whose body was found wrapped in bags and tied with rope, in Coniston Water in the Lake District in 1997, 21 years after her disappearance.

Park always maintained his innocence and killed himself in prison in 2010.

Judges were told evidence the prosecution failed to share in his 2005 trial cast doubt on the conviction.

The posthumous appeal, brought by Park's son, Jeremy Park, was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Park said he did not report Carol as missing for six weeks because he thought she had left him for another man

Mrs Park went missing aged 30 in Leece, near Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in July 1976 and her husband claimed she had gone to live with another man.

Park was arrested and charged with her murder, but the case against him was dropped in 1998.

Fresh forensic and geological evidence said to link him to the murder emerged and he was found guilty at Manchester Crown Court in 2005.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers contend there was "compelling" evidence against Park and his conviction is therefore safe.

However, lawyers for the CCRC said the CPS did not disclose evidence in the 2005 trial which would have undermined the credibility of a prison inmate who claimed Park had confessed to his wife's murder.

Henry Blaxland QC said details about the inmate's use of heroin and involvement in drug trafficking - which indicated the prisoner had been "lying to the jury" - had not been shared.

The prosecution also failed to disclose evidence which undermined suggestions the murder weapon was an ice axe belonging to Park, Mr Blaxland said.

Two dental experts agreed injuries to Carol Park's teeth could not have been caused by such a weapon, he said.

Analysis

Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

Wrapped in a plastic bag, and propped up against a seat near the back of the courtroom, is the item which arguably holds the key to this highly unusual, posthumous, appeal.

It's the wooden-handled axe, used by climbers for cutting ice, which was recovered from Gordon Park's home when he was arrested in 1997 after his wife's body had been found.

Park's legal team claim evidence, not heard at his trial, casts doubt on suggestions the axe, with a blade on one side and a pick on the other, could have been used as the murder weapon.

The Crown disputes that, saying it had never been implied that the axe was used on Carol Park.

It'll be for the three senior judges to decide; like all criminal appeals, the bar to overturning a conviction remains high.

A link between the family home and rock found near her body had also been discredited and Park's DNA had not been preserved within knots of the rope used to bind her body, Mr Blaxland said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Gordon and Carol Park were married for nine years

Park hanged himself in his prison cell on his 66th birthday while serving a life sentence at HMP Garth in Lancashire.

His family continued to campaign for his conviction to be overturned.

The appeal will continue on Wednesday. The judges are expected to give their ruling at a later date.

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