Wife killer seeks appeal breakthrough

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to prove the innocence of a former RAF squadron leader convicted of murdering his wife have been given renewed hope for his release after fresh evidence came to light.

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to prove the innocence of a former RAF squadron leader convicted of murdering his wife have been given renewed hope for his release after fresh evidence came to light.

One of the country's leading pathologists claims the jury presiding over the trial of Nicholas Tucker may have been "misled and confused" by "highly prejudicial" evidence when no signs of homicide existed.

Professor Derrick Pounder, head of the Forensic Medicine department at the University of Dundee, also said he believed key elements of the prosecution's case were scientifically "unsupportable".

His report has been produced for presentation to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) - which will decide if Tucker's case can be returned to the Court of Appeal.

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It comes after years of controversy surrounding his conviction for the murder of his 52-year-old wife Carol. Tucker, who was sentenced to life imprisonment at Norwich Crown Court in 1997, has always maintained his innocence, and had a bid for freedom through the appeal courts thrown out in 1998.

He has now been told he must produce fresh evidence if his case is to be heard again. His supporters hope Prof Pounder's report could prove the breakthrough they need.

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In it, the expert says: "The case is clearly quite extraordinary from the point of view of the pathology, since there is essentially an absence of pathological evidence to support the allegations of homicide.

"Although most of the critical elements in pathology were dealt with at the trial, some appear to have been dealt with in a way which was likely to have been confusing or misleading to the jury.

"No anatomical evidence was found of strangulation or any other form of mechanical asphyxiation.

"In this case, strangulation could be excluded with reasonable medical certainty. Consequently there was no basis whatsoever for the prosecution to suggest that strangulation had taken place, either to the point of unconsciousness or to the point of death."

Carol died on July 21, 1995 after her car - which was being driven by her husband - veered off the A1101 into the River Lark at Lackford, near Bury St Edmunds.

Tucker, who suffered a gash to the head and was apparently unconscious as a result of the accident, said the vehicle had plunged into the water after he swerved to avoid a deer.

But the prosecution at the former officer's trial claimed the accident had been elaborately staged, with the father-of-two then strangling or drowning his wife.

A short-lived affair with 21-year-old Serbian interpreter Dijana Dodukovic, who he met whilst serving in Croatia, was cited as his motive.

However, Prof Pounder's evidence, which supporters hope can be presented to the courts at a second appeal hearing, throws fresh doubt on this case.

He continued: "Not only was the prosecution position that strangulation had caused death unsupportable on the pathological evidence, but the prosecution contention that strangulation leading to unconsciousness had preceeded drowning was equally unsupportable on the pathological evidence.

"It is difficult to understand how such a prejudicial and unsupportable allegation came to be presented to the jury.

"It appears that the jury was seriously misled by the presentation of pathological evidence so as to believe that the absence of typical signs of drowning in the deceased was in some way suspicious.

"The autopsy findings provided no physical evidence to give rise to an allegation of homicidal drowning.

"There can be little doubt that the pathological evidence presented at trial was in some areas wrong and above all both misleading and highly prejudicial."

Tucker's legal team had originally planned to take the CCRC to judicial review over its refusal to grant a second appeal hearing. Although a provisional date for a May hearing remains, it is hoped this can be vacated if the CCRC accept Prof Pounder's evidence.

"We have been in discussions and are still in discussions and correspondence with the CCRC to see if we can persuade them there are other lines of inquiry that can be pursued," said Campbell Malone, Tucker's solicitor.

"This is a very complex case and there has been an enormous amount of time spent on it, both from those of us on Nick's side and also by the Commission.

"The simple fact is the CCRC have not yet felt it was a case they could properly send back under the terms of their criteria, but they do recognise it is a difficult and complex matter.

"It may well be if these other inquiries bear fruit, they would consider the matter again. We will see if there is a way of pursuing the matter in a way that might lead to a successful conclusion."

A spokesman for the CCRC confirmed the body was in discussion with Tucker's legal team regarding his case, saying: "The Commission will always consider submissions based on new arguments or new evidence which have not been raised before.

"There is no limit to the amount of applications that can be made to the Commission and the Commission will, of course, consider all new submissions."

He added that 70% of cases returned to the appeal courts by the CCRC resulted in a quashed conviction.

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