Ex-parish council chairman, 69, says DNA tests will prove he didn’t send hate mail7 min read

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Douglas Staples has now said that a DNA could prove that he didn't send malicious letters to Dawn Taylor

Douglas Staples has now said that a DNA could prove that he didn’t send malicious letters to Dawn Taylor 

An ex-parish council chairman who has been convicted of sending malicious hate mail has said DNA proves he didn’t send the messages.

Douglas Staples was found guilty of sending malicious communications to widow Dawn Taylor and had penned a congratulations letter to the village garden society stalwart following the death of her husband.

The 69-year-old has now asked Judge Sarah Campbell to consider whether there is DNA proof it was his saliva on the envelope which contained the offensive letter Mrs Taylor received just days after husband Peter’s funeral.

He had also previously been involved in a spat with villager Marilyn Ray – after he was accused of enrolling her on a dating site without her knowledge. 

The ex-parish council chairman has launched an appeal at Reading Crown Court against his conviction by magistrates in the town on April 2 when he was given a restraining order, told he must do 200 hours of unpaid work and was required to attend 15 days of rehabilitation activity.

He was also ordered to pay costs of £960, compensation of £200 to Mrs Taylor and to pay a victim surcharge of £115.

The poison pen letter case has rocked the leafy village of Enborne, Berkshire – population 735 – and residents have described it as ‘all very upsetting.’

A Parish Meeting in which Douglas Staples is off to the right waving his arms in protest

A Parish Meeting in which Douglas Staples is off to the right waving his arms in protest

Mrs Taylor, who organises the Enborne Garden Society and lives just a stone’s throw from crusty former councillor Staples, called in police when she received the distressing letter which, according to the prosecution, was ‘welcoming her late husband’s death.’

Staples, was later charged by police with sending a malicious communication to Mrs Taylor on May 26 2018, days after her husband died.

He appeared before magistrates in Reading and despite denying the charge, was convicted and sentenced in April.

On Friday he appeared at Reading Crown Court where details of his appeal against that conviction and sentence were briefly outlined to Judge Campbell by lawyers for the CPS and Mrs Taylor and for Staples.

Representing the prosecution and the respondent Mrs Taylor, Christopher Hewertson told Judge Campbell about the offence which had taken place on May 26 last year.

‘Very simply, Dawn Taylor is a widow,’ he said.

‘She received, the day after her husband’s funeral, a malicious communication by a letter within a card in an envelope. It is, the prosecution says, prima facie [at first sight] sent from the appellant [Staples].

‘It is malicious, welcoming the death of her husband,’ said Mr Hewertson.

‘The prosecution says it is within the background of issues between them, they live in close proximity. A summary SFR1 forensic report describing the defendant’s DNA to the usual probability, is relied on by the Crown,’ he told Judge Campbell.

Andrew Hill, representing Staples, told the judge that experts for his client would examine the Crown’s DNA evidence, which would look at whether saliva on the envelope Mrs Taylor received matched Staples’ saliva and they would then prepare a report for the Crown Court at the full appeal hearing in November.

Speaking outside the appeal court on Friday, Staples dismissed supposed DNA evidence found in saliva which a police report said linked him to the malicious letter.

‘I did not lick that envelope or have anything to do with it,’ he maintained.

Mr Staples has launched an appeal at Reading Crown Court (pictured above) against his conviction by magistrates in the town on April 2

Mr Staples has launched an appeal at Reading Crown Court (pictured above) against his conviction by magistrates in the town on April 2

Speaking about his conviction for sending a malicious letter to Mrs Taylor, he said: ‘It is people linked with a previous case against me. It is people that were annoyed by changes I made when I took over as chairman, running the parish council. I started running things properly, including proper management of the funds of the council.

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‘Some people missed out. Draw your own conclusions.’

Mrs Taylor is a popular organiser for the Enborne and Hampstead Marshall Garden Society which was re-created in 1984 from a society dating back to 1910. Members pay an annual subscription of £5, which entitles them to garden centre discounts. They also organise an annual flower show and fete, featuring a range of flower exhibits and children’s handicrafts.

Mr Staples pictured leaving court following his conviction of posting malicious communications

Mr Staples pictured leaving court following his conviction of posting malicious communications 

Members and guests meet four times a year, usually on a Wednesday evening: once in spring either at a garden centre or in the village hall to hear a talk; once in summer usually as an evening visit to an interesting private garden; once in autumn for the AGM, wine & cheese and quiz evening; and once in December for a Christmas-themed talk.

A village source close to Mrs Taylor said: ‘It was all very upsetting at the time. To have that so soon after your husband dies is terrible. I think it was very raw.’

Staples, a former engineer and father-of-one, is no stranger to controversy in Enborne.

After a spat with villager Marilyn Ray, a former woman chairman of the same parish council, he was accused of enrolling her on a dating site without her knowledge and, in his capacity as council chairman, sending the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service to her heritage-status cottage to make an unwarranted fire safety inspection.

Staples was hauled before magistrates accused of maliciously setting up dating profiles to harass former councillor Mrs Ray.

It was said during those proceedings that an advertisement for ‘Sexy singles in Wiltshire’ had appeared on the local council website and he clicked on it and registered the the username ‘Marshal Wellington’ (MW) – which was a fictitious name and email address originally provided to the council by Mrs Ray’s friend. Three introductory messages welcoming MW to the dating agencies were then sent to that address.

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After Mrs Ray resigned as parish council chairman for health reasons in 2006, leading to Staples taking up the chairman post, the widow launched a series of complaints alleging that she had not received minutes for certain meetings, had falsely been accused of interrupting proceedings and also criticised the standards of the council’s board.

Staples had admitted requesting the fire safety assessment of Mrs Ray’s cottage and misrepresenting the fire brigade response but later said he only made the admission because he had been given poor legal advice.

At an appeal court hearing in 2014 District Judge Andrew Vicars found that the then 64-year-old chairman of Enborne Parish Council, who had had a restraining order made against him to stop harassing 65-year-old Mrs Ray, had no case to answer.

Staples said after being cleared: ‘Winning the case was a life-changing event for me. I was a parish councillor for five years and it was a rather sad ending to five years of public service.’

Speaking on Friday outside Reading Crown Court, Staples, of Vanners Lane, Enborne, near Newbury, accused the Crown Prosecution Service of delaying providing details of the saliva tests at his trial, so that he did not have time to properly challenge them.

He said: ‘They incurred the wrath of the authorities for non-disclosure. They effectively now have been ordered to release the information so a major forensic examination can properly check the evidence.

‘Despite what they said, there was in fact no saliva on the envelope. There is no evidence at all of saliva. That is what this is all about.’

Judge Campbell told Staples: ‘You have listened to our discussions, your appeal is fixed for November 15, that is when you are due back at this court.’

If the appeal is upheld, it was expected to be listed as a one day ‘de novo’ appeal hearing, which would hear the case afresh and be presided over by a new panel constituting at least two magistrates and a Crown Court judge.