The director of public prosecutions has expressed his concern at the collapse of Britain’s biggest trial involving former police officers – after a judge ruled they could not get a fair hearing.
Eight former officers from South Wales Police were accused of fabricating evidence and perverting the course of justice, leading to the wrongful conviction of three men for murder.
In 1990 Stephen Miller, Yusef Abdullahi and Tony Paris were jailed for life for the killing of Lynette White, who worked as a prostitute in Cardiff – but freed two years later after their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal.
After new evidence emerged, the case was re-opened, and the police complaints watchdog began examining what had gone wrong with the original police investigation into Ms White’s death.
Eight former officers and two civilians were eventually arrested – but afer months of evidence, the trial ended after it emerged that two files relating to the case had been destroyed.
The judge at Swansea Crown Court said the trial had become “iredeemably unfair” and the only option was to offer no evidence and end it immediately.
All 10 defendants have now been cleared. Outside court, former chief inspector Thomas Page said he was relieved it was all over, but demanded an investigation into the way the whole process had been handled.
This is a very sad day for the criminal process and the rule of law. Matthew Gold, solicitor for Stephen Miller
But the lawyer for one of the ‘Cardiff Three’, Stephen Miller, called it a “very sad day for the criminal process and the rule of law”. He said Stephen’s life continued to be drastically affected by his wrongful imprisonment, and the end of the trial meant there was no hope that justice would be achieved.
The whole investigation into the former officers, and the trial, is likely to have cost millions of pounds. There will now be a detailed review of the circumstances which led to the judge’s decision – with the full co-operation of South Wales Police.
A second trial of four other defendants linked to the same case will now not go ahead as planned next year.
Channel 4 News’ Home affairs correspondent Simon Israel thinks the the Director of Public Prosecutions is right to be extremely concerned.
“This is not just about costs, which runs into millions of pounds. What’s more worrying is police officers walking away, without a trial even completing its course, and without a jury delivering a verdict. It raises questions about whether the authorities can handle large scale cases going back many years, especially around corruption.
This one had amassed eight hundred thousand documents with just a handful having been destroyed – in what the prosecution told the court was probably error, rather than something more sinister.
Those wrongfully convicted of Lynette White’s murder are right to be doubly aggrieved. They gave evidence, some reluctantly.
In the words of Stephen Miller it’s a sad day for rule of law.”