Sheila Bowler was cleared of drowning her elderly aunt on 5 February 1998 after having spent four years in prison. Trial and Error featured her case twice, and more than 800 people joined the campaign to have her conviction overturned. The case was sent back to the Court of Appeal by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, on the basis of new evidence that the old lady was capable of walking 600 yards to the edge of a river where she fell to her death. Sheila Bowler said her four years in prison had changed her. ‘It has made me more tolerant. There are so many people in prison who shouldn’t be there.’
The Trial and Error program on the case was presented by David Jessel, who examines the case in Chapter 11 – Sheila Bowler: Murder in Toytown – of his 1994 book TRIAL AND ERROR, (now, alas, out of print). This is a long article, and has, therefore, been presented as a printable version in pdf format. Click here to view the PDF.
‘Murderess’ is found not guilty
A 68-year-old music teacher has been cleared at the Old Bailey of murdering her elderly aunt for her inheritance.
Sheila Bowler spent four years in prison after being found guilty of pushing Florence Jackson into the River Brede near Rye in East Sussex in 1992.
Mrs Bowler always maintained her innocence. After two Appeal Court hearings, her conviction was quashed and a retrial ordered.
New medical evidence had emerged, not put before the original jury who had found her guilty by an 11 to one majority at Hove Crown Court in July 1993.
Retrial reveals lack of evidence
The prosecution alleged that Mrs Bowler, from Rye, had murdered 89-year-old Mrs Jackson in May 1992 while driving her from a residential home to her own house.
Prosecuting, Anthony Glass QC alleged that Mrs Bowler killed Mrs Jackson on the journey then covered up her deed by pretending her aunt – who normally needed help to walk – must have made her way to the river and accidentally fallen in.
However, Mrs Bowler said she had left Mrs Jackson in her car when she went to get help for a flat tyre. When she returned her aunt had disappeared.
Defending, Jeremy Roberts QC said the prosecution “had not produced one shred of direct evidence to connect Mrs Bowler with whatever it was that happened to Mrs Jackson that night”.
He told the jury: “No witness claims to have seen Mrs Bowler or her car at the pumping station or in Station Road that night. There is no scientific evidence suggesting Mrs Bowler had ever been in that area.”
He said that the circumstances in which Mrs Jackson died “were likely to remain a mystery to which none of us will ever know the answer”.
The court heard that Mrs Jackson was the aunt of Mrs Bowler’s late husband, and that her only asset was a flat in Rye, which she was leaving to her niece.
Mrs Bowler had power of attorney and was responsible for arranging the payment of fees at Greyfriars, a residential nursing home at Winchelsea where Mrs Jackson lived.
Prosecuting, Mr Glass alleged that Mrs Bowler had a financial interest in Mrs Jackson’s death. But Mrs Bowler said that she received £17,500 a year from teaching at private schools and pensions, the mortgage on her home was paid off and she had savings.
The jury returned an unanimous verdict of not guilty.
BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/53842.stm
`If I had been sent back to prison, I would have died’
She is still bemused how she could have changed overnight from respectable widow to callous murderess. The Daily Mail’s headline, “The aunt, the black widow and a murder most English”, summed up the coverage when she was sentenced.
Jailed woman is cleared of killing her aunt for legacy
Anthony Glass QC, for the prosecution, alleged that Mrs Bowler killed Mrs Jackson on the journey then covered up her deed by pretending her aunt – who normally needed help to walk – must have made her way to the river and accidentally fallen in. Mrs Bowler said she had left Mrs Jackson – known as Aunt Flo – in her car when she went to get help for a flat tyre. When she returned she had disappeared.
In the first few hours of the inquiry, Bowler had no idea she was chief suspect. She thought some of the police’s questions insane, and her responses were accordingly brusque. “They had these preconceived ideas about me. I was Flo’s nearest family member, and the last person to see her alive. I think they just went all out to get me.”
TV ARCHIVE – THE CASE OF SHEILA BOWLER
Trial and Error documentary about the case of music teacher Sheila Bowler convicted on flimsy circumstantial evidence of murdering her aunt. At her second appeal, a re-trial was ordered. She was acquitted in 1998. No murder had taken place.
ITV made a film, starring Patricia Routledge, about this case: https://itvstudios.com/programmes/anybody-s-nightmare