15 October 2000
Pressure grows for South Wales police to face inquiry over misconduct and wrongful imprisonments, reports Tracy McVeigh
Britain's worst case of institutionalised corruption involving a single police force is set to burst into the open this week as pressure mounts on the Home Secretary to launch a public inquiry.
Jack Straw is to be formally asked by the Welsh Assembly to investigate the action of South Wales Police, which for almost two decades has been at the centre of allegations that at least 19 people have been wrongfully imprisoned.
Nine murders remain unsolved after those originally charged walked free amid accusations of faked police interview notes, false or missing evidence, bribes and intimidation.
The estimated cost to the taxpayer of 10 cases highlighted by campaigners, in court costs and probable compensation payouts, is £20 million. Campaigners will also be asking Straw to overhaul the compensation process under which none of the claims of those wrongfully convicted in the past two decades in South Wales has been settled.
With no hard and fast rules on compensation, it is down to the Home Secretary to decide who should receive a payout.
Up to 30 South Wales police officers have been subject to temporary suspensions since 1982, although no disciplinary action has resulted. Some, like former Detective Inspector Stuart Lewis, have taken early retirement on full pension despite a catalogue of complaints against them.
Lewis was involved in at least five major cases, including two murder investigations, where police faced allegations of serious misconduct and where convictions were later quashed. A coroner took the unusual step of openly criticising him over the investigation of a suicide.
A court heard evidence of Lewis handcuffing Darren Hall, then 18, to a hot radiator and denying him access to a solicitor. Hall, now 31, along with Michael O'Brien, 33, and Ellis Sherwood, 30, served 11 years for the 1987 murder of newsagent Philip Saunders.
The case against them centred on a confession by Hall, suffering from a personality disorder, who said he was lookout for a robbery that went wrong. The prosecution's own expert said Hall's confession - later retracted - was 'at risk of being unreliable'.
The Criminal Cases Review Body said South Wales police had shown a 'systematic disregard' of proper procedure. The convictions were quashed last year.
Since then O'Brien has been spearheading the campaign for an inquiry with Adrian Stone, acquitted with four others in 1982 of involvement in a Welsh nationalist bombing campaign after a jury heard how a police officer had planted evidence in his home.
Stone said: 'We have been fighting against what is effectively a whitewash. When reviews have been made after cases went wrong, they have never been made public, how do we know that police have learned the lessons.
'In O'Brien's case the prosecutor said "clearly monkey business" had occurred with police notes. In interrogation I was offered £10,000 to testify against an innocent man.
'I welcome that people are beginning to listen to us as our meeting last week with Welsh Assembly members proves.'
The cases have devastated bereaved relatives who believed that the killers had been imprisoned only to learn later that the wrong people were convicted. Many feel let down by the police and the judiciary.
This week Johnny and Myra Jones will lay flowers on the graves of their daughter Diane and granddaughters, Shauna, two, and one-year-old Sarah-Jane on the fifth anniversary of their deaths.
In 1997 Annette Hewins and her niece Donna Clarke, a petty thief, were jailed for the arson attack on a Merthyr Tydfil flat which left the three dead.
The murder trial was the second-longest in Welsh legal history and cost £2m. The convictions were quashed within two years.
Hewins was pregnant when she was first jailed. Her son Joshua was taken from her when he was nine hours old.
'Even now he is not the same as my other three children. He is the only one who will not come into our bed in the mornings for a cuddle,' she told The Observer.
Hewins was convicted of buying the petrol used in the arson attack. The garage's CCTV footage shows that the petrol she bought that day was leaded, but the fire was started with unleaded petrol.
'So many people have suffered wrongful convictions, the mental scars go deep.
'I have no respect for South Wales police. I hate every one of them. They are given a job to investigate crimes fully. But again and again they had tunnel vision.
'They targeted one person and built a case around them. They convinced themselves someone is guilty and ignored any evidence that points to other perpetrators. That is a strong pattern with all the cases. Yet innocent people, and the victims' families, have their lives ruined.'
Wayne Darvell, 35, and his brother Paul were jailed for life for the 1985 murder of Swansea sex shop assistant Sandra Phillips, 38. Wayne had a history of confessing to offences he could not have possibly committed. The pair were cleared in 1992. Three South Wales officers involved in the case were later charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Tony Paris, Yusef Abdullahi and Stephen Miller were sentenced to life in 1990 for the murder of Cardiff prostitute Lynette White. Two others who were charged spent months in jail on remand before being acquitted at the trial. Investigative author Satish Sekar exposed serious concerns about the police inquiry and the three were released by Court of Appeal judges in 1992.
In 1994 Jonathan Jones was convicted of murdering his girlfriend's parents, Harry and Megan Tooze, at their isolated farmhouse. His conviction was ruled 'unsafe' in 1996.
'What took place still has a big influence on my life,' he said. 'All those certainties about honesty and integrity and our police force being the best in the world are shattered.'
He believes the campaign for an inquiry may soon succeed. 'It would be difficult for the Home Secretary to ignore a cross-party group of assembly members,' he said.
One lawyer told The Observer : 'When you are seeing people walking out of the Court of Appeal on such a regular basis it's got to merit a public inquiry. The legal community here has been very concerned for years about a general attitude of contempt for justice by certain officers, and we all knew who they were.'
13 June 1999
Shame of force that decided it was above the law
It has been responsible for some of the worst miscarriages of justice and faces the embarrassment of two more cases going back to the appeal courts within months. With some justification, lawyers and civil rights campaigners will this week accuse South Wales police of corruption and incompetence on a massive scale. Greg Swift investigates the force with a reputation in tatters
They are among the worst miscarriages of justice ever witnessed by the British legal system and are likely to be joined later this year by two more - the Newsagent Three and Patrick McCann.
The cases, all fundamentally flawed murder investigations, provide shocking and powerful evidence that South Wales CID has been plagued by a core of officers operating beyond the boundaries of the law they were employed to embody.
An investigation by the Sunday Express has discovered that no fewer than 16 officers worked on three or more cases involving proven miscarriages of justice, potential miscarriages or inquiries later thrown out of court because of questionable methods used to obtain evidence. Many of those officers are still working today.
One, Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Lewis, now retired, was involved in eight cases where the police's handling of the inquiry has been, or will be, questioned. He is currently being investigated by the Police Complaints Authority.
The details of all the cases are harrowing - linked by common threads of verbal and physical bullying of vulnerable suspects and witnesses, falsely obtained confessions, non-disclosure of vital evidence and the loss or falsification of key notebooks and records.
Later this year, the Court of Appeal will hear the case of Patrick McCann - only recently referred back to the courts by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. It was an unusual move as the 43-year-old has already finished his 10-year sentence imposed in 1990 for the manslaughter of Richard Holdsworth.
There was no forensic evidence linking him to the murder scene, and of the 167 items tested, none were connected to him. The fingerprints of his sisters, Susan and Bridget, however, were found in the flat and they were known to have spent money stolen from the victim.
Amazingly, they were allowed to accuse their brother of killing Holdsworth by suffocating him with a pillow. What the jury, and the defence, did not know was that Bridget McCann was slowly dying from alcoholism. When her condition threatened their ability to put her on the stand, two CID officers placed her in a clinic for treatment.
Withheld evidence now suggests she suffered from a condition called Korsakoff's Psychosis, an illness in which alcoholics not only suffer memory gaps but fill those gaps with invented memories. Against this, transcripts of interviews showing police officers deliberately leading her are telling.
The case of the Newsagent Three is perhaps more alarming. Michael O'Brien, his brother-in-law Ellis Sherwood and Darren Hall were jailed in 1988 for the murder and robbery of Cardiff newsagent Philip Saunders, despite the absence of evidence linking them to the brutal crime.
After 11 years in jail, the men were released on bail late last year pending an appeal after the CCRC outlined a number of inconsistencies. The Commission reached its conclusion after reading a report compiled by the Thames Valley Force, called in to investigate South Wales police's handling of the inquiry.
The report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Sunday Express, is scathing of the flagrant breaches of police practice. The report shows how Darren Hall, an emotionally vulnerable teenager, was handcuffed to a radiator and bullied until confessing that he, Sherwood and O'Brien were guilty of the murder. It highlights how they were denied legal assistance for days and how they would often go "missing" for hours from the station's custody records - plainly indicating they were subjected to lengthy off-the-record interviews.
It says that in the course of the inquiry, access to vital notebooks and contemporaneous records of interviews was denied because they had either been destroyed or lost.
Most damningly, the report highlights how the then Det Insp Lewis noted down an allegedly overheard cell confession between Sherwood and O'Brien on the back of an expenses form. The report then highlights other cases involving Stuart Lewis, where prosecutions failed or were overturned at appeal because of questionable evidence, including non-verified cell confessions.
The Newsagent Three note was not disclosed to the defence and not produced as evidence until halfway through the trial. Efforts to trace the note have so far failed.
The report says: "This was a substantial piece of the prosecution case and in any estimation must be seen as a vulnerable piece of evidence.
"There are serious concerns about the way in which this evidence, in the form of the original note of the conversation, was dealt with, and concern that it has unaccountably disappeared."
Yet until recently, South Wales police denied it had a problem in its ranks. The public were repeatedly assured of the integrity of the Force's officers amid claims that convictions were overturned on appeal for varied reasons. This month, however, it took a significant step towards acknowledging the errors that had condemned innocent people to years behind bars by setting up a special team to review past and current murder inquiries.
Assistant Chief Constable Tony Rogers, employed two years ago to restore the reputation of the South Wales force, insists public faith can be restored.
He said: "We are aware of the allegations being made against us but I have absolute faith in my officers to prove that we are a force in which the public can have faith."
That he is pursuing his lofty ideal with integrity is not in doubt, but last week's Inspectorate of Constabulary report makes grim reading. It shows that last year South Wales had 10 officers suspended - including four for alleged offences of dishonesty, perjury and deception.
Two were convicted of criminal offences and one retired while under investigation. Against this backdrop, three leading defence lawyers and a civil rights campaigner will meet Mr Rogers later this week to voice their concerns.
Lawyers Stuart Hutton, David Evans and Bernard de Maid have been involved in many of the region's worst cases. Mr Hutton described the Newsagent Three case as one of the worst miscarriages of justice he had ever encountered. Mr de Maid said: "There has been, over the years, a corrupt clique of South Wales police officers who have been responsible for various miscarriages of justice. Most of these officers came from one station." Civil rights campaigner Satish Sekar said: "There has been a methodology that far too often leads police up the wrong track. They seem to decide who is guilty and then seek evidence to fit that scenario instead of allowing the evidence to lead them to the guilty."