11 Jul 2014

Gillian Clemo fake will conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal

On the 10th July the Court of Appeal ruled that the conviction of Gillian Clemo was not safe, quashing the conviction and refusing to order a retrial.

Gillian Clemo was accused of faking Christopher’s will by his ex-wife, Helen John, after his death on 29th September 2008.

Helen and Christopher married in 1986 and the marriage broke down in 1994, with a financial settlement not reached until September 2001, after nearly four years of litigation.

Gillian and Christopher started their relationship around 1999, when she worked for Christopher’s family estate agent, Chris John and Partners.

Christopher was admitted to hospital on 28th September 2008, after he was found collapsed on the bathroom floor of his mansion, Penhill House in Cardiff.

The following morning Christopher’s relatives were informed that he was clinically dead, following a brain haemorrhage he sustained in the fall.

After Christopher’s death, no will could be found. On the 30th October 2008, it was revealed that Christopher and Helen had never technically divorced, their Decree Absolute never having been properly registered.

In November 2008, Helen John claimed that she had discovered a codicil, which appointed her as an ‘executrix and trustee’, and lowered Isabelle’s age of inheritance from 27 to 25. Paul Weatherill, one of the executors of Christopher’s estate, expressed concern about the authenticity of the codicil. Paul subsequently contacted Barry Police in South Wales, expressing concern that the codicil was forged.

On 4th April 2009, Helen John was arrested by Barry Police. During her interview, Helen admitted forging Christopher’s signature and also one of the witness signatures on the ‘codicil’.

Helen subsequently received a caution on her record for fraud, the particulars being that she made a false representation to make a gain for herself or another, or to cause loss to another or expose another to risk, contrary to s.1(2) & s.2 of the Fraud Act 2006.

In November 2008, Gillian found Christopher’s will amongst his daughter Isabelle’s drawings, cards and photographs.

Christopher’s ex-wife Helen John subsequently lodged a complaint with South Wales police accusing Gillian of forging the will she had found.

Gillian was arrested on 10th September 2009 on suspicion of making a false instrument, using a false instrument, and perjury. She was charged on 7th April 2010 with the two offences of using and making a false instrument. The Crown subsequently did not proceed with the allegation of making a false instrument, in recognition of the fact that the Crown could not say who (on their case) had forged the document.

Gillian Clemo first stood trial on 1st November 2010 but the trial was later abandoned and the judge discharged the jury. The decision by Judge Rowlands to dismiss the trial came as a devastating blow to Gillian, as it meant she would have to wait at least another six months with the threat of a criminal conviction hanging over her.

Gillian’s retrial started in May 2011 at Newport Crown Court, and despite the evidence of a handwriting expert who found that the will Gillian discovered was an original one, and that Christopher’s signature had not been forged, Gillian was convicted of using a false statement with intent, contrary to s.3 of the Counterfeiting and Forgery Act 1981. She was subsequently sentenced on 17th June 2011, and fined £1,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs.

In 2012, another copy of the will was found by Christopher’s sister, Melissa John. The will had the same typeface and signatures as the will originally found by Gillian Clemo. This will was taken for examination by one of the world’s foremost authorities on handwriting, who was confident that the documents were genuine.

In light of this expert opinion, Gillian’s solicitors, Corker Binning, made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) for permission to appeal her conviction, on 4th December 2012. The CCRC eventually decided on 30th August 2013 to refer it to the Court of Appeal, on the basis of the new evidence from the handwriting expert and the discovery of another, similar will.

The CCRC usually receives around 1,000 applications for reviews each year. Typically, only around 4% – or one in 25 – of all applications are referred to the appeal courts.

Gillian Clemo said: “I am delighted to have been vindicated today. My life has been a living hell since these false allegations were first made, five years ago. I feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders, but I am also angry that this meritless case has gone so far. I would like to thank the huge number of people who have believed in my innocence and supported me.”

Gillian Clemo’s solicitor, Jemma Sherwood-Roberts from Corker Binning solicitors said: “I am delighted with this result for Gillian, who has had to live under the weight of a false accusation and wrongful conviction for so long. She has been very strong and we are pleased that justice has been done today.”