A brutal murder and a woman scorned - how a wife's dark secret eventually led to justice

Brian Garrity
-Credit: (Image: Lancs Police)

In November 1977, garage assistant Charles Gunn was brutally attacked with a claw hammer on the forecourt of a Lancaster filling station.

The 72-year-old war veteran worked part time at the Dutton Forshaw garage on the A6 at Beaumont, to top up his pension. Mr Gunn died in hospital on December 2, but it was another 25 years before his killer was caught and brought to justice.

Mr Gunn's death sent shockwaves through the local community. A team of 80 detectives were involved in the inquiry and more than 10,000 people were spoken to during the course of the investigation. A hammer, thought to be the murder weapon, was found in undergrowth near the scene.

Dutton Forshaw offered a £1,000 reward for anyone who could provide information to catch the killer. Detectives widened their search nationwide, but believed the person responible lived locally. More than 100 calls were made to a confidential phoneline, set up to assist the investigation, and officers took more than 3,000 statements.

Then, in 2001, a woman walked into a police station on the day of her divorce, and revealed a secret she had harboured throughout her marriage.

Charles Gunn, 72, died after being attacked with a hammer at the garage where he worked
Charles Gunn, 72, died after being attacked with a hammer at the garage where he worked -Credit:BBC

Janet Garrity was 18 at the time of the murder. As a young wife, she was pressured to provide a false alibi for her husband Brian, and told the police they had been together on the night Mr Gunn was attacked.

In truth, she had seen her husband leave their home that night, carrying her father's claw hammer. When he returned, several hours later, he was carrying a bag of money and was covered in blood. There was no sign of the hammer.

Advances in DNA profiling allowed detectives to forensically link Garrity to samples taken from the scene. In March 2002, 25 years after the murder, he was sentenced to life at Preston Crown Court.

During the hearing, before the Recorder of Preston Judge Peter Openshaw QC, the court heard Garrity had gone to the petrol station intending to steal money. When he arrived, the pensioner startled him, and he struck him three times to the head with the hammer.

Mr Gunn, a war veteran, was found the following morning by a cleaner. He was lying in the pouring rain on the forecourt, with injuries to his skull and jaw. He was still moving and bravely tried to get up.

Garrity, of Woodacre Road, Preston, swore his wife to secrecy but for more than two decades feared she would expose his dark secret. But when he left his wife for another woman, his fear came to fruition.

The defendant was 21 when he committed the crime. By the time he stood in the dock he was 45.

Judge Openshaw QC said: "I well remember the shock and outrage that this offence caused in Lancaster. No doubt the reason you then escaped arrest and conviction was that you attacked the only eye witness who could have described and possibly later identified you.

"The brutality and savagery of this murder have not been lessened by the passage of time. You must expect to serve very many years in prison before even being considered for release."

Speaking outside court, Janet Garrity said: "It has been on my mind for the last 20 years. I am glad to get it off my chest and now I want to get on with the rest of my life."

In a later interview with the Lancashire Evening Post, she described how her husband was a violent man who would hit her "for no reason". She said Garrity "beat her senseless to keep her quiet" and was also violent towards her mother.

On one occasion he smashed her face when she bought the wrong flavour of crisps. She had feared she may become his second victim, she said.