The Death of Justice: Michael O’Brien’s autobiography

Michael O’Brien spent 11 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit.
In December 1999, after judges quashed his conviction, he asked me to write a piece about his two-week appeal.
That request turned into a plan to write a complete book of Mike’s life.
It is an incredible story.
Mike’s arrest and life sentence for the murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders is just the start.
Locked up in some of Britain’s toughest jails, with inmates like Charlie Bronson, Mike had to learn how to act tough to survive.
He did not ask friends and relatives for ordinary presents like many others: he wanted law books.
He knew that to overturn his conviction he had to educate himself and organize his own campaign.
He had a lot to overcome. There was personal tragedy: the death of his baby daughter while he was on remand and his step-father while he was in jail.
And there were the legal obstacles. His conviction was based largely on the confession of one of his co-accused Darren Hall and the evidence of a policeman who claimed to have overheard a conversation between Michael and the third member of the so-called Cardiff Newsagent Three, Ellis Sherwood.
Michael’s cell-block campaign urged MPs and journalists to take an interest in the Newsagent Three case.
And after Darren Hall retracted his confession, the case caught the eye of the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
They referred the case to the Court of Appeal and just before Christmas 1999, Michael O’Brien, Ellis Sherwood and Darren Hall were able to declare themselves innocent men.
But it wasn’t the end for Michael. He has continued to champion other people’s causes as well as seeking what he believes is further justice for himself.
And, of course, there was the book. Now, complete, The Death Of Justice comes out on Monday, September 1, with a launch at Borders in The Hayes in Cardiff at 10am.
Crucially, it describes not only that decade in jail, but the ten years since: ten years in which Michael has struggled to come to terms with what has gone before.
Part of that has been the sense that in some people’s minds there is no smoke without fire, that the stench of that murder conviction hangs over Michael despite the Court of Appeal ruling.
He takes frankly about that on ITV at 8pm on Monday in a special edition of Wales This Week. For many years he has wanted to take a polygraph to put the doubts to an end.
On the programme he finally gets the chance to take the lie detector test.

Recycling history

The International Olympic Committee awarded Germany the 1936 Games before Hitler came to power.
But once German Chancellor, he seized the Olympics as a powerful propaganda tool.
Governments, including those of the United States and the UK, rejected calls for a boycott, even though Jewish athletes had been removed from Germany’s Olympic and Davis Cup teams.
However, international opposition to the Berlin games was great and it is a little known fact that ‘counter-Olympics’ were planned in a number of places.
The biggest of these was to be in Spain. History has forgotten it, not least because the proposed People’s Olympiad never took place.
In the summer of 1936 Spain saw the rise of its own branch of fascism. General Franco moved to seize power and the Spanish Civil War began.
The People’s Olympiad had to be cancelled.
Seven decades on, though, and with another Olympics underway, the spirit of the event is being recalled.
Members of the National Clarion Cycling Club had been expected to take part in the alternative Olympiad in Spain.
After it was cancelled – and with the war in full swing – two decided to undertake an amazing ride from Glasgow to Barcelona to raise money for the Spanish Republic (two other club members were to be killed in the civil war).
That was in 1938. On Wednesday, July 30, 2008, a group of 14 riders left Scotland to begin a 20-day ride on the cyclists’ 70-year-old trail.
They are due to arrive in Barcelona on Tuesday, August 19.
Anna Martí and publisher Alan Warren, who have done so much to keep alive the memory of Welsh veterans of the Spanish Civil War, are on the team.
Maite de Paul Otxotorena, who was born in Spain’s Basque country but now lives near Ammanford, is there in support and has organised the Spanish leg of the route.
Maite says the event ties together not only the 1936 Olympics and those currently being held in Beijing (which have been controversial in their own way too) but also Barcelona’s Games in 1992.
“I was a child in Franco’s military Spain when our memory of our history had been lost,” she says. “Events like the 1992 Olympics and the Expo put an international focus on Spain. People started to research our history.
“But as I have been contacting the mayors and the cycling clubs in the places we will be travelling through no one has heard of the other Olympics planned for 1936.
“Events like this are part of the end of our amnesia.”
I spoke to Anna Martí before the ride as she took a break in her training for the 2,000km journey.
“I have been told to take plenty of clothes for Scotland,” she told me. “But when we get to Spain we come through an area which is like a desert.
“It will be like cycling towards the centre of the Earth.”
:: First published in The Big Issue Cymru, July 28, 2008

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