28 November 2005

Did her husband really kill her?

By FIONA BARTON


DIANE BOWMAN sobbed in the witness box as she recalled the horrific scene she had witnessed 24 years earlier. Through tears she told a hushed court how, as a five-year-old, she had watched her father punch her mother Mary and hurl her against a fireplace, force-feed her sleeping pills and alcohol, and then strangle her with his bare hands.

It was compelling testimony and earned Miss Bowman, a 29-year-old mother of two, the judge's praise for her courage and an accolade from the police for her 'outstanding' commitment and dignity in bringing her father to justice.

For it was her extraordinarily detailed evidence, backed by a pathologist's report on Mary's exhumed body, which sent Thomas Damien Bowman to prison for life, for murder.

It also marked a moment of legal history. Bowman, a 60-year-old former welder and publican from Birkenhead in Merseyside, became the first man in this country to be convicted of murder on the evidence of a 'recovered memory'.

Until that day, the death of Mary Bowman in July 1978 had been officially recorded as the result of 'alcohol and valium poisoning'.

Her husband claimed to have found the 44-year-old mother of five, who worked in a soft furnishing shop, unconscious on the floor at home in Wallasey, Merseyside.

She had been drinking heavily the night before and the couple had decided to sleep downstairs. But at 3am, Bowman said he awoke to find her collapsed, and carried out mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before an ambulance arrived.

Mary died in hospital and an open verdict was recorded by an inquest into her sudden death.

After the funeral, her widower had to bring up his young family as a single parent and their life struggled on.

Diane left home to stay with relatives in Ireland as a teenager after a relationship broke down, but she went on to have two children with another partner. And pictures taken at the christening of the eldest child show the close and happy relationship Diane then had with her father.

But within a matter of months, everything changed dramatically. In 2000, Diane Bowman told police she had suddenly 'remembered' that when she was a child, she had witnessed her father killing her mother.

As a result, Merseyside Police ordered the exhumation of Mary Bowman's remains from her grave at Bebington Cemetery. A second postmortem examination was conducted by a Home Office pathologist, who pronounced the dead woman had been strangled. Within hours, Bowman was charged with murder.

At the trial, in 2002, Diane's explanation for more than two decades of silence was that she had been so traumatised by the murder, she had subconsciously suppressed the memory of that night for more than two decades.

She also revealed that she had recovered long-buried memories of Bowman brutally attacking her and her younger brother with a belt.

It was little wonder that as Bowman was sentenced to life imprisonment, he was described as a 'menace to society' who 'ruled his household with fear, backed up by a willingness to use violence'.

AS THE Merseyside police officer heading the case concluded: 'He is now in the best place and will be there for a long time to come.' It must be made clear from the start that Bowman is not a blameless individual. At the time of his arrest for murder, he was already serving a jail sentence for a completely unrelated sex offence involving an underage girl. But the rest of his family have always refused to believe that he killed his wife and was a sadistic father.

Bowman's sister, Yvonne Westerman, who calls him by his middle name, Damien, said: 'We were totally incredulous when Damien was charged. He was devastated when Mary died. They had their ups and downs like any married couple, and Mary had a drug and alcohol problem.

'She had been married before and she felt guilty about leaving two of her children behind. But Damien looked after her -- he did the cooking and cleaning because she was incapable.

'He was devoted to his family. He is nothing like the monster they have portrayed.'

For two-and-a-half years since his conviction, Mrs Westerman and her family have been fighting to clear his name, and now remarkable new evidence has emerged that challenges every aspect of the case against Bowman.

An appeal at the High Court in London to overturn the murder conviction will today be asked to hear an expert describe the recollections of Diane as 'wholly implausible' and the product of fantasies produced by the influence of 'recovered memory' self-help guides.

The court will also be given evidence aimed at demonstrating that the vicious attacks alleged by the two children never took place.

And seven eminent Home Office pathologists, including two instructed by the prosecution, have found that there was no conclusive evidence that Mary Bowman was strangled.

AT THE heart of this astonishing case is the controversial recovered memory syndrome, a condition which emerged first in America in the Eighties and has since destroyed hundreds of families in Britain, splitting parents and children in a welter of accusations and recriminations.

The syndrome is most often linked with suppressed memories of physical or sexual abuse suffered as a child and suddenly recalled as an adult during psychiatric therapy.

At its root is a theory espoused by some psychiatrists who believe that troubled adults must have been the victims of abuse as children -- even if they cannot remember it. Patients are encouraged to 'remember' with the help of therapy, dream diaries and self-help books.

These include the million-selling bible of 'abuse survivors', The Courage To Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, which advises: 'If you think you have been abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were.'

A decade ago, the Royal College of Psychiatrists -- the profession's ruling body -- commissioned a report on recovered memory therapy because of the controversy it provoked.

The report concluded: 'We can find no evidence that apparent memories of long-forgotten, prolonged and repeated child abuse have ever been proven to be true.'

And the respected psychotherapists, forensic psychiatrist, sexologist and psychiatrist who investigated the therapy condemned its techniques as 'powerful and potentially dangerous methods of persuasion'.

Today that therapy -- and its devastating consequences -- will once again be in the dock.

Diane Bowman, a single mother, is understood to have consulted a psychiatrist for depression at the time her father was jailed for his sex offence. Her statements about her recovered memories were made over a period of four years and contain striking inconsistencies.

In a statement made in 1998, she denied that her father had ever ill-treated her, but in 2002 she accused him of horrific attacks. Her explanation was that she genuinely thought her first statement was accurate at the time.

As for the murder, Diane Bowman said under cross-examination that the memories came 'flooding back' in 1998 after she started counselling.

She told the jury at Preston Crown Court: 'I suppressed the memories because I didn't realise what had happened to me. It was when my memories started coming back to me that I was told this could happen.'

The young mother, who lives in County Wexford, told the court: 'It is not something that just comes into your head. You actually feel everything when you remember the memories.'

But Professor Martin Conway, who has spent 25 years researching memory and is professor of psychology at Leeds University, has another explanation. In his report for Bowman's appeal, seen exclusively by the Daily Mail, he says: 'My view is that the accounts given by Diane and her brother Damien are wholly implausible as childhood memories.

'They are adult narratives with marked beginnings, middles and endings. They contain language and concepts that no five-year-old would be able to grasp, and they contain a level of detail I have never encountered in childhood memories recalled by adults, for either nontraumatic or traumatic events.'

The defence will argue that an adult recalling events that happened when they were five years old can draw on no more information than was available to them then, even if they express the memories in adult language.

Children of five, Professor Conway maintains, would be able to appreciate neither their own nor others' feelings, nor processes of reasoning.

He quotes from Diane Bowman's various statements to underline his concerns. On August 24, 2000, Diane told police: 'She [her mother] was lying on the ground with her hand to her head and trying to rationalise . . .' and 'his [her father's] manner changed from the pretence of caring'. She also remarked: 'She seemed to be trying to bring him back to his senses.'

According to Professor Conway: 'These are adult thoughts and not the thoughts of a five-year-old . . . what exactly are they based on? What memory supports, for example, the claim that the mother was "trying to rationalise"?'

He refers to scientific research that has shown memories from those under seven years old should be treated with caution, because they are formed during a period of 'rapid and intense development' in the brain.

THE PROFESSOR is also sceptical of the language used by Diane, and her apparently verbatim recall of what her father said 24 years previously,

including: 'God, Mary, you are a beautiful woman -- if I can't have you, no one can.'

He says there is a 'clear possibility' that the striking inconsistencies in Diane's various accounts may be due to her basing them on 'fantasy images' rather than memories.

Damien, Diane's brother, gave evidence at the trial to support his sister, but claimed his memories were not recovered; he had always recalled his father's brutality. He made a statement in February 2001 saying he had been beaten by his father from the age of two, but had never seen Diane being ill-treated.

However, ensuing statements became more and more lurid and contradictory, claiming he now remembered having witnessed horrific physical abuse of his sister.

He said under cross-examination at Bowman's trial: 'I knew she [Diane] would make a statement and it would have made her a liar if I didn't make a statement. I had to. I hoped she had forgotten it.'

Professor Conway adds: 'I find it implausible that two children could undergo such extreme abuse and not reveal signs of emotional disturbance at school -- signs any teacher would have noticed.

'The significance of the lack of any independent evidence means the accuracy of the abuse memories cannot be established.'

And he warns: 'I note some use of terms that have technical meanings in the psychology of memory. The phrase "vividly recall" crops up in several places, as do the terms "flashbacks" and "suppression".

'Given that Diane has read The Courage To Heal and other books of a similar nature, which use this sort of terminology to promote the "recovery" of memories, I do wonder whether that is the source, rather than her memory. It is especially worrying this particular literature has been consulted by Diane.'

The lack of any medical or corroborative evidence of the children being so viciously ill-treated will also be highlighted by the defence.

Mrs Westerman, Bowman's sister, is adamant that she never noticed any bruises or welts, despite seeing the children almost every day. But more damning is the absence of any proof that Diane and her brother were taken to the family doctor or to a hospital accident and emergency department for treatment, as they claimed.

At the original trial, the prosecution explained medical notes relating to these visits were missing or lost. But investigations have confirmed there is no gap in either child's records.

Bowman's lawyers will contend that the notes never existed because the incidents did not take place.

The second crucial plank of the appeal case will be an attack on the evidence of the Crown's principal expert witness, pathologist Dr Alison Armour.

On March 21, 2001, Dr Armour, who carried out a post-mortem examination on the exhumed remains of Mary Bowman, pronounced there was 'no doubt death was due to strangulation' because bones in the neck were broken.

However, the certainty of Dr Armour's findings will be challenged next week.

There will be great emphasis laid on the initial post-mortem examination of Mary, which could not have been more explicit.

NONE of the telltale signs of strangulation were recorded. These include small, pinpoint blotches or dark red spots on the face, typically around the eyes, where blood vessels have burst, and bruising to the skin around the neck.

Dr Gordon, who carried out the examination but has since died, wrote: 'No petechial skin haemorrhages, neck bruising or mucosal lip lesions were observed . . . the larynx, trachea and main bronchi were normal.'

Dr William Lawler, president of the British Association in Forensic Medicine, advised the prosecution at the original trial and warned then: 'I think Dr Gordon's unequivocal and uncompromising comment constitutes an enormous hurdle to a successful prosecution.'

He pointed out that in his 18 years of experience, including 900 murder victims, he had come across only one case where the outward signs of strangulation were not present.

Others agree, and support the original cause of death, pointing out levels of alcohol and valium in Mary's body were 'consistent with a fatal outcome' and claim the broken bones in her neck could have been caused during the post-mortem dissection or the exhumation.

In the defence corner there is quiet optimism about the appeal, but Bowman's solicitor, Chris Saltrese, will only say he has 'grave concerns' over the murder conviction.

Yvonne Westerman [Bowman's sister] nods in agreement. 'This case has destroyed us,' she says. 'I am not a psychiatrist, but it just doesn't make sense to send someone to prison on the evidence of something someone suddenly remembers after 20 odd years. It is simply unbelievable.'

 

Click for related article Recovered memory appeal halted

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