Men convicted of 'one-armed bandit' murder were 'victims of miscarriage of justice', filmmaker says

Two men who were convicted of a brutal murder in Durham which inspired the iconic cult film ‘Get Carter’ were victims of a miscarriage of justice, a filmmaker has said. Cash collector Angus Sibbet’s bullet-riddled body was discovered in the back of his Jaguar Mark 10 at 5.15am on January 5, 1967. Michael Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford were sentenced to life in prison but filmmaker Neil Jackson claims to have evidence which he said should clear the name of Luvaglio, who died in November.

Neil, 46, from Consett, is the man behind a hard-hitting documentary due to be shown this year about the infamous execution and has worked for 13 years studying every last detail of the case. And to mark the 54th anniversary this week, he has told of the compelling argument that Luvaglio and Stafford were victims of a miscarriage of justice. Stafford, 88, who uses the surname Scott and is still living in County Durham, said: “If this evidence were presented now, our case would never have come to court.”

Yet just three months after the murder, he and Luvaglio – described as a “gentle soul” who “would not harm a fly” – were sentenced to life in prison.

‘167 statements were never put before the jury’

No forensics linked the pair with the crime, no motive was put forward at trial and no weapon ever found. Neil has examined 167 witness statements which were never put before the jury. Fingerprint evidence – showing others had been present at the scene of the murder – was also withheld from the defence, in the days before full disclosure was required by the prosecution, as it is today.

One statement from Detective Sergeant Midgley of Durham Police, never presented to the jury, read: “We examined inside the vehicle where there were a large number of fingerprints. The fingerprints we did get were reasonably good. There were no fingerprints we could detect from either accused.”

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A cigar packet and cellophane wrapper (Angus was a non-smoker) vanished after being captured in official police photos inside the car.

Angus’ leather cash bag, also seen in scenes of crime images, were never logged as evidence. Detectives could establish no motive for the shooting. On the night of the killing, it was said the E Type, which belonged to gaming firm boss Vincent Landa but was being used by his brother, Luvaglio, and Stafford, had collided with the Mark 10 Jag driven by Sibbet.

Vince supplied London gambling clubs after gaming machines were legalised. He shipped over reconditioned one-armed bandits from Vegas casinos and installed them in clubs and pubs in the north. Get Carter director Mike Hodges managed to gain access to Landa’s former home, Dryderdale Hall, near Durham, for some of the scenes in the film.

The ‘missing hour’ in their alibis

One of the men accused of the murder of Angus Sibbet sits, head hid under a blanket, in the back of a police car

Stafford, a self-confessed ‘fun-loving’ criminal who twice escaped from prison, and Luvaglio were said to have a ‘missing hour’ in their alibis during which time it was said the shooting must have happened.

But in that time, they had to get from Newcastle to the scene of the crime in South Hetton, crash into Sibbet’s car, shoot him, dump the vehicle – and get back to Newcastle, with the journey alone timed at 45 minutes. There were dozens of statements gathered by police which contradicted the prosecution case – and were never presented in court. For the two men to be guilty of the crime, the shooting had to take place in that missing hour but they had alibis for the rest of the night.

They had left Stafford’s home in Peterlee at around 11.30pm for a meeting with Mr Sibbet at the Birdcage Club in Newcastle at 12.30am. The pair arrived at the club on time having first gone to Luvaglio’s home in Newcastle. He was expecting to receive a midnight telephone call from his brother in Majorca.

Men convicted of 'one-armed bandit' murder were 'victims of miscarriage of justice', filmmaker saysMark X Jaguar saloon car, owned by murder victim Angus Sibbett, in which he was found lying across the back seat, dead, January 1967

Mr Sibbet’s body was found, splayed across the back seat of his Jag, at Pesspool Bridge in South Hetton, a mining village several miles from Peterlee.

It took more than 46 minutes at high speed even in the police reconstruction – leaving little if any time for the murder to have taken place. Neighbours at Luvaglio’s home in Newcastle insisted they had seen him around midnight. Crucially, the judge at trial, Mr Justice O’Connor suggested those witnesses could have been “mistaken” about the time of the sightings.

Sibbet’s body was taken from the scene – still in the back of his Jag – on a tow truck. A medical examination was then carried out at Peterlee police station.

Witnesses who walked past between 12am and 2am ‘did not see a body in the car’

There were miners (South Hetton pit was a busy, 24-hour operation in those days) who walked past the car between midnight and 2am. They had examined it closely, yet never saw the body of Angus Sibbet in the back seat, the bullet-shattered window or damage to the bodywork.

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, said at one of the later appeals that the witnesses “may not have seen the body because they were not looking for one”. Police officers gave statements to say Mr Sibbet’s car was not near Pesspool Bridge at the time the prosecution alleged the killing took place – about 11.50pm.

Men convicted of 'one-armed bandit' murder were 'victims of miscarriage of justice', filmmaker saysCash collector Angus Sibbet was found murdered on January 5, 1967

PC 1502 Grierson and PC 1435 Hafferty both say the road was deserted when they travelled through South Hetton. PC 319 Ainsworth saw a Jaguar car heading towards South Hetton with a Mini following it at 12.20am – half an hour after the killing is supposed to have taken place.

Yet Luvaglio and Stafford were said to have followed Mr Sibbet’s Jag, crashed into him, shot him, and then to have taken his car and body back to South Hetton, where it was found. Paint flakes from Sibbet’s green Mark 10 Jaguar were found on the back of the red E Type Jaguar. Several theories have been put forward to explain the damage, some suggesting Stafford was ‘framed’ for the killing.

One customer at the Birdcage Club gave evidence in which she said the E Type was outside as she arrived at 12.35am, but not there when she left at 1.15am even though Stafford and Luvaglio were still inside. It was suggested the killer took the car, returned it without either of the two men knowing, or Sibbet’s Mark 10 was driven to the club and the collision happened there.

The crash

Club doorman Matthew Dean, recalled hearing a crash outside the nightspot at some point during the night. Just before 2am, Stafford went to his car to get some cigarettes, and returned saying: “Someone has hit the back of my car.”

It was alleged that damage to the Mark 10 forced the killers to abandon the car near Pesspool Bridge. But the car was parked parallel to the kerb, about 1ft away, with the ignition key in the “off” position and gear lever in “parked” position, according to one police statement from an officer at the scene. Photographs from Mr Sibbet’s car show his cash collection bag behind the driver’s seat and a packet of cigars on the dashboard.

Luvaglio said the bag would have contained a substantial amount of money and a list of pubs and clubs he had visited to collect it. The cigars may have been left by the killer and even carried his fingerprints. Two police photos of the car are clearly taken at different times of the night, with the lights on the vehicle still on in one shot – yet it was said the police photographer shot both within a matter of minutes.

Police say ‘nothing is being covered up’

It was the police case that the lights had run down as the vehicle had been abandoned for so long by the time the body was discovered at 5.15am.

Back in 2004, Luvaglio said of the missing evidence: “If this was capable of convicting the real killer and the police had already charged us, then the best thing to do to avoid embarrassment would be to make it disappear – which is exactly what happened.”

Men convicted of 'one-armed bandit' murder were 'victims of miscarriage of justice', filmmaker saysMichael Luvaglio leaving his fathers funeral, to be taken back to prison to continue his life sentence for murder

The late former Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg told Neil in a 2013 interview for the documentary: “There are some real concerns that there has been a miscarriage of justice here. Some photographic evidence… was very disturbing really. “The forensic and medical evidence does seem to be highly questionable.

I came away very disturbed because of the questions that it raised. “Information which challenges the conviction needs to be disclosed.” But he stressed: “Nothing is being covered up”, and said there was no one still working for the force from 1967.

Neil has vowed to clear Luvaglio’s name, and hopes to take the case to the Criminal Case Review Commission, which declined to send the case to appeal in 2017. Neil would like anyone who is still alive and can recall anything of the events of that night to get in touch with him directly. He said: “The judge systematically destroyed every witness for Michael and Dennis, including the two people who saw the E Type at Chelsea Grove, Michael’s house in West End of Newcastle, at the time they were supposed to be at the scene of the murder.

“There is no doubt in my mind that his name would be cleared if all the evidence went to the Court of Appeal.”

Anyone with information can contact Neil at neil@media-arts.co.uk.

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