Mother's Italian mystery death case 'smells bad'
When a British woman was found dead near her house in Italy with 10 knife wounds to her neck, her death was put down to suicide. However, her parents believe she was murdered. Now they hope government backing will persuade police to reopen the investigation.
Claire Martin had moved to Italy with her partner Diego.
She was living near Naples with his family and her parents Pat and Ray, from Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, said she was happy in her new life.
But one morning in 2012, a telephone call shattered the dream.
"It had just gone three o'clock in the morning when I got the telephone call from Diego to say 'come quick, come quick, Claire is dead'," Mr Martin said.
Events were as confused as they were gruesome.
Ms Martin had left her one-year-old with Diego's mother and used an external staircase to climb down to her car.
Shortly afterwards screams were heard and Ms Martin staggered back up to an outside balcony, bleeding from several wounds to her neck.
The 30-year-old collapsed but apparently gasped "it was a man" to her mother-in-law and gestured to land at the back of the house. Within minutes she had bled to death.
Her car keys were on the ground outside, while nearby was a bloodstained kitchen knife - which had not come from the house.
Post-mortem examinations showed 10 wounds to her neck - but none elsewhere.
Italian police initially investigated the death as a murder but closed the case 15 months later, saying Ms Martin suffered from post-natal depression and much of the evidence pointed to suicide.
They pointed to a lack of defensive injuries on her hands or any obvious motive. The 'neat' parallel nature of some of the cuts, a possible delay of about 10 minutes in her seeking help and anxiety over a prospective move to Germany were also cause for doubt.
However, experts have now rejected this hypothesis.
Criminology lecturer and retired senior police officer, Tony Blockley, has reviewed the case, though not all of the files have been translated.
Various elements of the original investigation, such as how the scene was examined and the loss of potential DNA, have been criticised.
- Was the alternative hypothesis - robbery/murder - seriously examined?
- Were all lines of inquiry e.g. a mystery man on CCTV, her dying words, origin of knife and possible DNA traces on it, pursued?
- Why were forensic protocols not followed rendering any potential evidence useless?
- Crime scene interpretation - why were certain objects where they were?
- Experts did not attend the crime scene and yet provided 'expert' opinion eg blood patterns supporting suicide.
- Evidence describing Claire as depressed was not checked.
- No interpretation of Claire's injuries.
- Why did one pathologist change his opinion from murder to suicide?
Source: Tony Blockley, criminologist
"If we're not careful we just accept what's happened without questioning it and where do families like this go?," he said.
His scepticism is shared by Dr Stuart Hamilton, a Home Office pathologist who has studied evidence from the post-mortem examination of Ms Martin.
"If I was briefing a senior investigating officer at this autopsy, I would be suggesting that you need to go and find the murderer," he said.
He said while it was "physically possible" for someone to inflict such injuries on themselves, big doubts remained.
"The simple fact is that stabbing oneself in the neck is a very, very rare form of suicide," he added.
"There are no obvious defensive injuries on the hands or forearms where someone warded off or grasped at another assailant - but if you are taken by surprise or overcome from behind then you wouldn't necessary expect to see them."
His intervention has helped persuade the Foreign Office to push for a meeting between British officials, the family and the Italian authorities. Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan has said the case deserves to be looked at again.
"This just looks wrong and there's a smell about it which is not nice," he said.
"Just to close the case and say 'Oh it was suicide' is clearly not true and therefore I think we have to do all in our power to challenge that verdict," he added.
The Foreign Office has now told Ms Martin's parents that a meeting with the acting chief prosecutor concerned with the case could take place in April.
A previous attempt to reopen the case in 2014 was rejected by the Italian authorities, but the family are now hopeful of progress.
The BBC contacted the Italian Embassy in the UK but it did not respond to a request to comment on the case.
"I feel as though we are going to the next step on a very large staircase," Mrs Martin said.
"It has caused us such lasting effects that I don't know whether we'll ever get over everything.
"Five years on... it just wants starting from the very beginning and working right through."