No further action in Newsagent Three case

There will be no action taken against witnesses in one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice from the 1980s.

The Crown Prosecution Service has been considering action against a number of civilian witnesses who gave evidence in the hunt to find the killer of Cardiff newsagent Philip Saunders in 1987.

Three men, Michael O’Brien, Ellis Sherwood and Darren Hall, were wrongly jailed for the murder and spent more than a decade behind bars.

At their successful appeal the credibility of more than one witness was called into question. One had admitted telling “a pack of lies from start to finish”.

But the CPS has now decided not to take action in the case.

“[I] have now completed my review of the evidence obtained during the investigation that took place following allegations against civilian witnesses who gave evidence at Mr O’Brien’s trial at Cardiff Crown Court in 1988,” says a Crown Advocate in a letter to Mr O’Brien’s legal team.

“I have decided that there is insufficient evidence to charge any of those individuals with the offence of perjury or perverting the course of justice.”

The letter adds:  “I have carefully considered all of the available evidence and whether it is sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of convicting any person of either offence.

“All of the suspects have given starkly contradictory and inconsistent accounts at different times.  In order to prove the offence of perjury or perverting the course of justice it is necessary to prove, to the criminal standard, which of the accounts of each suspect is false.  The absence of any significant independent evidence means that it is not possible to do this.”

* The story of the Newsagent Three case is told in the book, The Death of Justice.

Living With Dementia

“Seventy-five per cent of my life I can keep in a normal context. I have to confess that the 25 per cent is my bogey man… It’s the place where I don’t like to linger for long.”

Those are the words of former Methodist minister Jim McWade.

His bogey man is the Alzheimer’s disease he has battled with since 2002.

He was given five years to live. Almost a decade on he is still going strong.

He lives in the moment. He paints and plays a little golf.

But he can no longer read or follow the news. He does not remember what he did last night.

The recent 10th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks meant nothing to him. He had no memory of the day which was said to have changed the world.

It was the diagnosis of dementia which changed his world and that of his wife Maureen.

“We do know what the future holds but there’s nothing we can do about it,” says Maureen, a former nurse. “We can’t change the pattern of this disease… Once you’ve had that diagnosis there is no turning back.”

For the last year, the Wales This Week team has been filming with Jim and Maureen. The couple talk with remarkable courage and clarity about the challenges posed by dementia.

As does Peter Oldacre, who cares for his wife Ann and tries to remember her as she was: “She was the girl that would go cartwheeling across the dance floor and, you know, be up at the first toot of the horn and still be wanting to go when everybody was ready to go home. She was just the life and soul of everything really. She would try anything once, absolutely bonkers but lovely.”

In 2005, aged just 57, Ann started showing signs of confusion and memory loss. In 2007 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The speed of her decline was rapid.

“Up until just over two years ago she was still walking and talking and in that two year period she’s stopped walking completely and in two years now, she hasn’t spoken a single word to me,” Peter explained when we visited him in January.

“And now, because she doesn’t communicate with me in any way, writing or speaking, I don’t have any real knowledge of quite what she knows. It’s really strange, you sort of ask her questions but I don’t get a reply. I used to get a thumbs up sometimes, but that’s, in the last six months, that’s disappeared as well, so you sort of hope really that you’re getting whatever it is right.”

We filmed with Peter and Ann again this month when they took part in the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk in Cardiff. It is now three years since Ann last spoke.

Peter’s description of the deterioration of the person he has loved for more than 40 years is heartbreaking.

Their stories represent a growing problem in our communities, with the Alzheimer’s Society estimating a dramatic rise in the number of us with dementia. Wales currently has an estimated 38,000 sufferers, and Ian Thomas, director of the Alzheimer’s Society in Wales, says: “What we are expecting to see is around about a 33 per cent increase in dementia by 2020.”

Bob Woods, professor of clinical psychology in the elderly at Bangor University, describes dementia as the “single largest issue that faces both the health service and social services in Wales”.

It’s a battle which the whole of society is facing. But people like Jim and Maureen, Peter and Ann, are at the forefront of it.

Wales This Week: Living with Dementia’, ITV Wales, Tuesday, September 27, 7.30pm

The Bullseye Killer – and the Llangolman deaths

Further links are now being made between Welsh serial John Cooper and the murder of an elderly brother and sister from Pembrokeshire.

Forensic psychologist Dr Clive Sims said there are enough similarities between Cooper’s crimes and the deaths of Griff and Patti Thomas at their farmhouse in Llangolman in 1976 to suggest “he may at least be a suspect in this case.”

Cooper was jailed in May for the shotgun murders of Richard and Helen Thomas and Peter and Gwenda Dixon in the 1980s. Richard and Helen Thomas were a wealthy brother and sister living in a manor house near Milford Haven, while the Dixons were a married couple enjoying a holiday walk on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.

The deaths of Griff and Patti Thomas, aged 73 and 70, in December 1976 were initially treated as murder.

But Dyfed-Powys Police later concluded that Mr Thomas had argued with his sister before hitting her on the head with a blunt instrument, and setting himself on fire.

No weapon was ever found.

In February 1977 an inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter in the case of Miss Thomas and an open verdict for her brother. The pair had lived together all their lives.

Last week, on BBC Wales’s Taro Naw programme, Dr Clive Sims said he believed the inquest verdicts were “unsafe”.

“I feel that there would be substantial evidence for looking at this case again as a cold case,” he said, adding that he believes they were killed by an intruder following a “botched burglary”.

“There is an empty cash box, the bureau has been broken into, the back door is unlocked and certain aspects of it simply do not make sense,” he said.

It was reported that Cooper had no record of criminal activity at the time of the deaths at Llangolman in 1976.

However, that is not quite the case. During research for an hour-long special on Cooper, The Bullseye Killer, on ITV in May, the Wales This Week team discovered that Cooper had first come to the police’s attention in the 1960s.

Firstly, as a 17-year-old when he was caught with an offensive weapon and then for assault on police officers and a man outside a nightclub.

As Dr Sims said during Taro Naw: “It’s quite probable that he would have been offending earlier [before 1985]. It would be extremely unusual for someone to start that late in life on a criminal career, and to start with that level of violence.”

Perhaps the most convincing links between Cooper and a further suspicious death remain those with Florence Evans.

Mrs Evans, known as Flo, who was found fully clothed in the bath of her home in Rosemarket in February 1989, shortly before the Dixons were shot.

She was a 74-year-old widow, but was active and fit.

Friends and neighbours were deeply concerned by the strange circumstances of her death.

She had been found fully dressed and lying face down in a bath of freezing cold water.

There was no sign of forced entry at the house and an inquest recorded a verdict of accidental death.

However, Flo Evans employed a local gardener and handyman – John Cooper.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers are reviewing whether he was connected to any other murders, and are liaising with South Wales Police over any possibility “connectivity” with the deaths of Harry and Megan Tooze who were shot at close range at their farmhouse at Llanharry near Bridgend in 1993.

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