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Sunday, 21 September 2014

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Crucial blunders that put Carlisle killer behind bars

The police officers whose work put a brutal killer behind bars have been formally commended.

Jamie Armstrong photo
Jamie Armstrong, left and Luke Hollingsworth

After a three week trial at the city's crown, 21-year-old Jamie Armstrong was led away to begin a life sentence for stabbing to death his former best friend, bar worker Luke Hollingsworth, 23.

The murderer, of Warwick Road, Carlisle, must serve at least 25 years.

Moments after he was led away, Judge Paul Batty QC - the city's most senior judge - spoke in glowing terms about the challenging investigation, which so conviced the jury that they returned a guilty verdict in under two hours.

"Any objective observer could only be but impressed by the meticulous and thorough investigation of this case by the police. The depth and breadth of this investigation was truly impressive," said the judge.

He went on to formally commend the following officers: Detective Chief Inspector Lesley Hanson; Detective Sergeant Martyn Park; Detective Superintendent Mike Forrester; Detective Constable Gary Watson; PC Tim Pragnell; Detective Sergeant Peter Proud; Detective Constable Andy Teasdale; Detective Constable Bev Barnes and Detective Constable Mo Addison.

Meanwhile, friends and relatives of Armstrong launched a social media campaign claiming that he has been wrongly convicted and asking "Where is the evidence?"

From day one, Jamie Armstrong gambled on winning his freedom by claiming his friend was murdered not by him but by two knife-wielding strangers, their gloved hands a convenient way of explaining any lack of forensic evidence from them.

But Judge Batty described the prosecution evidence against him as "clear, unequivocal, and overwhelming".

Senior police officers have now spelled out the nine blunders made by Armstrong that convinced the jury of his guilt. They were:

The locked doors
When the victim’s girlfriend clambered up a ladder and into the bedroom through an open window, it was the only route into the house at Etterby Lea Road, Stanwix. Inside, the usual entrance – the back door in the conservatory – was locked, with the key still in the lock. The other potential way into the house, the front door, was also locked, with a shoe rack up against it. There was no key.

In court, prosecutor Brian Cummings asked Armstrong: “How did the attackers get out of the house, Mr Armstrong?” He replied: “I don’t know.”

Evidence of cleaning
Glove-wearing attackers would presumably not need to worry about leaving DNA evidence at the scene.

Yet forensic analysis showed that somebody had cleaned away blood from the kitchen floor, while traces of Armstrong’s blood – heavily diluted – were found in the sink. The dishwasher had also been through a cycle that day. Police believe Armstrong may have washed the murder weapon and put it back in a drawer, where there were three knives that could have been used.

The house search
Throughout his account, Armstrong insisted intruders, and not he, had searched the house for drugs and money. Again, in a back bedroom in the house, police found a CD with his fingerprint on and a hammer, with traces of his blood. There were also traces of his blood in the front bedroom, where Armstrong had probably moved a bed. “He’s substituted the intruders he talked about for things he did himself,” said Detective Superintendent Mike Forrester.

The stolen cash
When police quizzed Armstrong about the cash found in his sock, he had no idea how much there was. Why did he not know? “The reason was simple,” said prosecutor Brian Cummings QC. “It’s because what you had down your sock was money you had stolen from Luke Hollingsworth.” Luke’s fingerprints were on one of the notes, as well as Armstrong’s blood.

The mobile phone
Luke Hollingsworth’s girlfriend told police she saw Luke Armstrong reach for his mobile phone and slip it into his pocket as he lay - seemingly semi-conscious - on the bathroom floor. Why did he not use it to call for help?
By the time the girlfriend found them, Luke Hollingsworth had been dead for between two and three hours, according to the expert evidence of a patholgist.

Memory loss
Armstrong explained his inability to answer many key questions - including how his friend came by some of his wounds - by claiming he had blackouts. Experts said he had not lost enough blood to induce unconsciousness while stress related memory loss does not typically occur in the way he claimed to be affected. He had good apparent memory for the early parts of the alleged attack and then again for finding himself and Luke injured in the bathroom.

Struggle outside the bathroom
The prosecution believe Armstrong forced open the bathroom door as Luke Hollingsworth tried desperately to hold it shut. Once inside, he finished off his former friend, say the prosection. Traces of the defendant’s blood - probably diluted by spittle - were found at head height on the outside of the door. Experts say they were probably left there, mixed with tiny amounts of spittle from Armstrong’s mouth, as the killer yelled at his friend.

Armstrong’s lies
Time and again, Armstrong was caught out as he lied. Explaining £3,500 he had stashed at a relative’s house, he claimed to have had a£1,500 win at a local bookies, even urging the police to check out his claim. They did check and it was a lie.

Armstrong’s hand injuries
In his evidence, the defendant claimed one of the intruders twice sliced his hands, as he raised them to protect his face. Yet he had five hand wounds. The deepest crossed the palm of his left hand, yet his thumb was untouched, suggesting rather that the injury happened as Armstrong grabbed a blade held by Mr Hollingsworth. Another smaller cut on a finger, police believe, happened as the defendant’s hand slid over the blade which hit bone as he thrust it into his friend’s body.

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