Which Brian Parsons is responsible for the death of Mrs. Ivy Batten? It is a story of mistaken identity, of mishandling evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, and the fight to get someone to listen to you. Lucky for Brian David Parsons, reporters Neil Young and Aislinn Simpson were listening.
These reporters have re-investigated this controversial case. Brian David Parsons served 15 years of a life sentence before being released on license in 2003. He has always denied the charge.
Parsons was convicted in 1988 after fibers (from a hammer and gloves used in the break-in and the murder) were found in the glove compartment of his car and in a coat he used. But the case has always aroused controversy, with Devon and Cornwall police conducting three internal reviews before an external inquiry by Hampshire police produced a highly critical report of the original investigation.
Since there is a lot of information on the web about this case, I have not made a summary of the entire case. Instead, I have opted to highlight issues concerning evidence and inconsistencies.
Neil and Aislinn revealed a series of factors that could cast doubt on the conviction. They uncovered evidence to show:
- a lack of motive;
- potential errors in the forensic evidence used to support conviction;
- that on the day before Parsons’ arrest, police questioned another suspect with the same surname;
- the evidence that convinced Parsons’ defense team he was innocent also led them to believe they had found the real killers;
- undisclosed evidence not presented to the defense team;
- how two traveling burglars were named by several people as Mrs. Batten’s real killers; and
- that the time of Mrs. Batten’s death casts doubt on the possibility that Parsons could have been her murderer.
Brian Parsons, now living with his wife on the south coast in England, said he was hopeful that the new developments would “bring all the facts out into the open…This murder conviction has devastated my life and, I believe, it sent my father to an early grave. These new developments will bring hope to my mother who is determined that my name will be cleared before she dies.”
Let’s explore this case further.
In 1988, Brian David Parsons was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Mrs. Batten. Her body was found by her niece on Saturday, November 28, 1987. Detectives investigating the murder claimed at the time that they were looking for burglars or travelers.
Mrs. Batten had been killed by seven hammer blows to her head when she interrupted a burglary in her home. The intruders had cut off the electricity and disconnected the cable from the telephone. It was the time that the fault in the telephone line was recorded by British Telecom that eventually enabled police to establish a time of death.
Three days after Mrs. Batten’s murder, Brian Parsons responded to police requests for assistance. He told a clerk at Seaton Police Station that he drove past the gates of Mrs. Batten’s house at about 6.30pm on November 26, when a blue van almost forced him off the road. The police clerk wrote the phone number of the Incident Room on a slip of paper for him in case he later recalled any more information.
Five weeks after Mrs. Batten’s murder, police appealed again for help from the public to track the whereabouts of a number of vehicles including a white Vauxhall Viva with a black top. By coincidence, Brian Parsons had owned a Vauxhall Viva until four days after Mrs. Batten’s murder when he had written it off in an accident. Brian’s car, however, was NOT white but yellow and did NOT have a black top.
Six weeks after Mrs. Batten’s murder, police questioned Parsons about the information he had supplied. Police had been unable to trace any drivers of blue vans who could recall the incident he had mentioned. While he was being questioned, Parsons volunteered information that police later used against him. He admitted that he knew Mrs. Batten since childhood. He also told police he had once visited her home a few weeks prior to her murder to use the phone to call for help after his car broke down.
The prosecution used this information to argue that Brian had visited the bungalow at that time to survey the property prior to a burglary. When Mrs. Batten disturbed him during the break-in, he had to kill her to stop her from later identifying him.
The police retrieved the wreckage of Brian’s Vauxhall Viva. On inspection, the police found fibers in the glove compartment that matched the fibers of the gloves found near the murder scene. They had also found the hammer that was used to kill Mrs. Batten. Scientists found the glove fibers inside one of the pockets of a coat used by Brian together with a yellow slip of card with the telephone number of the Murder Incident Room.
To convict Brian of the Batten murder, police must prove that
- Brian had been in the car at the time of the murder
- that he owned the incriminating gloves, and
- that he had been wearing the gloves at the time of the murder.
By his own admission, Brian was in the area at the time police believed the murder took place. The glove fibers in the car seemed to establish Brian’s ownership of the gloves. The yellow card with the Murder Incident Room phone number found in a coat used by Brian seemed to prove that Brian had been wearing the coat, and by implication the gloves and fibers, around the time of the murder.
At the beginning of the trial it became clear that the murder had not taken place on Thursday night but had in fact occurred on Friday morning. A British Telecom engineer admitted that he made a mistake when he reported to police that the line was defective at 6.23pm, Thursday, November 26. In reality, the line was defective some 12 hours later at 6.23am, the morning of Friday, November 27.
This admission was crucial because it gave police a more accurate estimated time of death. If police were conducting their investigations based on an incorrect time of death, then all subsequent enquiries could be useless. Twelve hours is too big a difference to ignore. It is possible that genuine suspects may have been dismissed from the police investigations because they had water-tight alibis for the wrong time of death!
Since Brian’s trial, evidence has surfaced that supports the theory that Mrs. Batten died on Friday and not on Thursday. As luck would have it, Mrs. Batten’s electricity meter had been read on Wednesday. The electricity used between the meter reading and the time the police read the meter would indicate that the time the electricity was disconnected was around 5-6am on Friday morning. In addition, the pathologist who took Mrs. Batten’s body temperature concluded that she died on Friday. A trauma consultant stated that the small patch of blood and the nature of Mrs. Batten’s injuries indicated that she died within 15 to 30 minutes of the assault. It is therefore NOT possible that she was attacked on the Thursday evening and had died on Friday morning. She was attacked on Friday morning and died shortly afterwards.
This more exact time of death gives Brian Parsons an alibi. His parents can vouch that Brian was at their home getting ready for work at 6.30am on the morning of Friday, 27 November. Now, any skeptic will say…right! His parents will do everything that they can to help their son, so this alibi is not airtight. Unfortunately for Brian, I agree. But there is more!
Detectives went to see the clerk at Seaton Police Station and showed her the card with the Murder Incident Room’s phone number on it. She denied that the card was in fact the slip of paper she had written the number on. In court, the Prosecution called a policeman’s wife who claimed that she had written down the number on the card when Brian had reported the blue van incident to her. This she claimed took place at EXACTLY the same time that police records and the clerk’s statement prove that Brian was at Seaton Police Station reporting the blue van incident to the clerk. Whether the clerk really did not recognize the slip of paper or card remains a mystery.
The biggest hurdle for me is the handling of the forensic evidence.
Former Scenes of Crimes Officer, Terry Merston, examined film footage showing the Scenes of Crimes Officer in Brian’s case. This man is seen taking the gloves and hammer into his possession. In the opinion of Mr. Merston, that officer may have contaminated the hammer with glove fibers when he opened up one evidence bag, put his arm inside the bag (possibly to completely open the evidence bag), and placed the gloves inside the first bag. He then opened the second bag by placing his arm inside before placing the hammer inside that bag. I have not found anything that proofs that Mr. Merston was wearing gloves and/or changes gloves before handling the hammer and opening the second bag. It is therefore possible that the gloves may not have been connected with the hammer at all but that the officer cross-contaminated the hammer.
Television Station West County TV hired a forensic expert to examine the fiber evidence for their Trial and Error program. Dr Angela Gallop concluded that while there was a good spread and match of the fibers in the glove compartment and the coat pocket with the gloves. The small number of glove fibers overall however, suggests that the gloves were either placed inside the glove compartment and the pocket once only or they were remnants from old contacts that had been left behind. The small number of fibers found in the coat pocket indicates that whoever had been the habitual wearer of the coat was not the habitual wearer of the gloves or was not the habitual wearer of the gloves and the coat at the same time.
Since the Trial and Error program, Devon and Cornwall Police have refused to cooperate with Brian’s solicitor who asked them to allow Ms Gallop to examine all the forensic evidence. No explanation has been offered.
In addition to the above, information surfaced that calls into question the reliability of the officer in charge of the case, Detective Superintendent Essery. Using spread sheets charting the movements of the gloves, it was discovered that on the day that the fiber takings were being obtained from Brian’s car and the day Brian’s coat was seized, Detective Superintendent Essery had possession of the gloves and transferred the gloves from one box to another.
To date, Detective Superintendent Essery has offered no explanation for the breach of police procedures or any reason why he transferred the gloves from one box to another. Since this came to light, police informed Brian’s solicitor Nunn that the tag attached to the evidence box containing the gloves had gone missing so allegations concerning the movement of the gloves cannot be substantiated. Stephen Nunn found out other pieces of evidence in this case have been withheld. Had everything been disclosed, he believes there would not even have been a trial.
And then this happened. At the end of Brian’s trial, a member of the public approached one of Brian’s legal representatives and told him that he had come to watch the trial because he had mistakenly believed that the Brian on trial was a well known burglar from the Bristol area. That person’s name? Brian Neville Parsons. Could it be that the police made the same mistake?
Brian Neville Parsons turns out to be a professional thief who worked with a team of burglars that operated in strikingly similar ways to the break-in at Mrs. Batten’s home. They worked in the east Devon area targeting elderly victims, usually women living alone in isolated buildings, on the edges of wealthy villages. During the course of the burglaries, the electricity would be cut off and the telephone would be disabled. Sounds familiar? In addition, one of the members of that team had a reputation to be violent and allegedly, he detests old women.
Another member of that team, Dave Meaker, had the rather unusual habit of vomiting shortly before a burglary. When West Country TV uncovered this information, John Kiddey (West Country TV reporter) and Brian’s solicitor, Stephen Nunn, asked police if any vomit had been found at the crime scene. Even though colleagues testified that they had been informed by the police that vomit had been discovered, police claimed that there was no vomit. However, since the West Country TV program aired, police informed Brian’s solicitor that they do have a video showing vomit.
John Kiddey has also found out that Devon and Cornwall Police actually held Dave Meaker and Alan Lewis (two members of the gang) for 10 days after the murder. During that time, the two men gave alibi evidence for their whereabouts for the original incorrect time of death but refused to give any other information about their whereabouts between Wednesday and Saturday. Why were they so reluctant to give details about their whereabouts if they were innocent? Could it be that the burglars Dave Meaker and Alan Lewis were the true murderers? Could it be that all Brian David Parsons is guilty of is having the same name as one of those team members? You almost wish his parents had called him Apple…
We need to wait until the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission releases their opinion. What disturbs me most in this case is the mishandling of the investigation and forensic evidence, prosecutorial misconduct for withholding evidence, police misconduct for denying certain evidence was present and for not seeking alternative explanations for the facts as soon as they discovered discrepancies.
I anxiously awaits the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission report! Until that time, I do not consider the case closed!