Murder, mistakes and inquiries: how the Lynette White case still haunts us

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Crime, Miscarriages of Justice, TV
Tags: , ,

It was meant to be the case in which South Wales Police drew a line under some of the difficult times from the past.

Instead, the force and the Crown Prosecution Service in Wales are waking up to difficult headlines about the collapse of the largest alleged police corruption trial ever seen in the UK.

The back story to the Lynette White corruption trial is long and complicated. The legal issues impenetrable to many.

The saga stretches back 23 years to the bloody murder of a 20-year-old woman and takes in two trials and an appeal, featuring the men who did not kill Lynette, and a trial of the man who did.

The details of this have been explored at length elsewhere.

What was at question in the corruption trial was what went wrong in the initial police inquiry which saw five innocent men in the stand and three – the so-called Cardiff Three – wrongfully convicted of murder.

I spoke to one of those men, Tony Paris, yesterday. He has spent years putting his life in order.

Many of the dark times from the past were dragged up during the trial when he was called to give evidence. But the main thing for him is that the real killer of Lynette White – Jeffrey Gafoor – is behind bars.

The police saw to it that Gafoor was finally locked up in 2003. With his conviction, the initial case of the Cardiff Three became what legal watchers have called the first “proven miscarriage of justice” in British history.

That meant the force had to investigate what had gone wrong back in 1988 when officers first set out to find the killer.

The inquiry led to eight former police officers and two civilians facing trial for perverting the court of justice. Charges of which they have now been found not guilty.

However, the way in which the case collapsed leaves plenty of questions for the rest of us.

Even during these straitened times, we don’t balance the value of justice against its cost. But tens of millions of pounds have been spent on the inquiries in this case – and now more public funds are being set aside to find out how we got here.

The issue at the heart of the collapse was what lawyers call ‘disclosure’. In British legal trials both the prosecution and defence have to tell each other what evidence they have.

Crucially, this includes the evidence they will use in court and any which they won’t.

In this case, evidence – for whatever reason, and the case stretched back many years, remember – had been destroyed.

How and why this happened will now be the subject of a major review. In cases like this it seems there can be endless mistakes and inquiries involving the same organisations. A cat chasing its own tail.

A story which started in the most violent of circumstances in a small flat in Butetown, Cardiff, continues to haunt Wales more than two decades on.

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Comments
  1. […] Eight officers were cleared of perverting the course of justice after a judge at Swansea Crown Court ruled they could not get a fair trial. […]

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