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White House Farm: what are the facts about the murder case?

Learn more about the true story behind White House Farm here

Emmy Griffiths

Fans have been gripped by ITV's new true crime drama White House Farm, which chronicles the deaths of four members of the same family. While it was initially considered to be a murder-suicide, with Sheila Caffell suspected of murdering her parents and twin sons, and then herself, Sheila's adoptive brother Jeremy Bamber was soon the prime suspect of the heinous crime. Find out everything you need to know about the true story behind the murder case that shook the country…

The initial murder-suicide theory

After Sheila was found with the shotgun responsible for murdering her parents, Nevill and June, and her six-year-old sons, Daniel and Nicholas, next to her, police made the assumption that the mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, had murdered her family. However, there were distinct oddities about the case, including that Sheila wouldn't have been able to reach the trigger with the gun should the silencer have been attached in order to shoot herself. The silencer was also found flecked with blood in the cupboard, meaning that she would have had to have used it on her family before placing it back into the cupboard to kill herself, an unlikely scenario. She was also shot twice, and a pathologist had claimed that while both wounds could have killed her, the first might not have killed her straight away. She had been taking anti-psychotic medication, and her hands lacked the amount of lead that a scientist testified she should have had, should she have handled 18 cartridges.

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The prosecution claimed that Sheila was innocent

The mistakes in the police investigation

DCI Taff Jones, played by Stephen Graham in the TV show, considered that Sheila was responsible for the murders, and newspapers even printed the news that Sheila had killed her family. As such, the crime scene was poorly preserved, with bloodstained bedding and clothing burned by the police just a few days after the murders had taken place. An officer had moved the shotgun without wearing gloves and the family were given the keys to the house, which is where one of the relatives found the silencer in a cupboard that was flecked with blood and red paint, as well as a scratch on the red mantelpiece, proving that the silencer had been used. There was also a hacksaw that had been left in the garden for months, which could have given the killer entry to the house.

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The White House Farm in Essex, where the murders took place

Suspicion on Jeremy Bamber

So why and how did Jeremy become implicated in the murders? The adopted son of June and Nevill had called the police to say that his father had rung him and said that Sheila had "gone berserk", and that she had a gun. However, there was never any evidence that Nevill had made the phone call to his son, which would have meant that Jeremy already somehow knew that the murders were taking place.

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Jeremy following his arrest

His family members had also expressed concern by his behaviour in the days following his family's murder. While he was distraught at the funeral, he was seen laughing during the wake. He also travelled to Amsterdam and St Tropez after the funerals, sold his parents' cars and attempted to sell nude photos of his sister to The Sun.

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Jeremy was distraught at the funeral

Julie Mugford's evidence

Julie Mugford, Jeremy's girlfriend at the time, came forward to the police to say that Jeremy had previously spoken about planning to kill the family. She alleged that he had told her he wanted to "get rid of them all", and that they thought they were trying to "ruin his life". According to Julie, Jeremy had also spoken about plans to sedate his parents then kill them, then set fire to the farmhouse. He also said that he would place a call to his home from the farmhouse, so that it would be recorded. On the night of the murders, Julie said that Jeremy had telephoned her to say it was "tonight or never". He rang again at 3am, according to Julie and her housemate, to tell her that something was "wrong" at the farm. When Julie arrived at Jeremy's home the next day, she claimed that he had said to her: "I should have been an actor."

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Jeremy is played by Freddie Fox in the TV show

She also said that Jeremy had told her he had paid off a friend £2,000 to commit the murders, and had told him how to get into the farmhouse undetected. However, after he and the friend in question were arrested, the other man provided a rock solid alibi that accounted for his whereabouts.

The outcome

A jury found Jeremy Bamber guilty of five counts of murder in October 1986, and he was subsequently convicted to five life jail sentences. At the time, the judge said: "Your conduct in planning and carrying out the killing of five members of your family was evil, almost beyond belief." Jeremy has always claimed his innocence, and has appealed the decision several times.