999 Frontline

NHS workers across Wales report around 7,000 incidents of violence and aggression every year.
Nurses, doctors, paramedics and other healthcare staff are spat and sworn at, punched, attacked and verbally abused.
And these are just the cases they report.
When I asked an A&E nurse recently how many incidents go unreported she suggested “a huge amount, absolutely huge”.
“Certainly verbal abuse and lots of anti-social behaviour like that. People will urinate up against the walls outside (and) up against equipment. You will give people a bowl because they’re going to be sick. They are quite capable of using that bowl but they’ll vomit on the floor. They’ll choose to spit at you. All of that I would say has gone unreported.”
* ITV Wales current affairs series Wales This Week is featuring a special programme on violence against hospital staff. ‘999 Frontline’ is on ITV Wales, at 7.30pm tonight (Thursday, January 28).

** The programme is available to view here.

Lady in the Lake

Prison snitch evidence is a central feature of many alleged and proven miscarriages of justice.
This sort of evidence was important to the conviction of Gordon Park, the so-called ‘Lady in the Lake’ killer, who was found dead in his prison cell on Monday.
Today, in the Daily Mail, Bob Woffinden explains why Mr Park’s family will continue to fight to prove his innocence in spite of his death.

O’Brien to talk miscarriage of justice at Hay

Michael O’Brien is set to appear at the 2009 Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye.
O’Brien will take part in a question and answer session on his autobiography, The Death of Justice, which describes his wrongful conviction for murder, his battle to clear his name and an examination of what he believes went wrong in the investigation of the still unsolved murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders.
The 41-year-old, who served more than a decade behind bars for the murder, continues to campaign for other victims of miscarriage of justice.
South Wales Police has had a difficult week, having to issue two apologies in the space of 48 hours – the first to a 63-year-old musician who was mistakenly arrested and strip-searched by armed police officers and the second to a grieving widow to whom officers returned the rope her husband had used to kill himself.
O’Brien has never received an apology from the force.
: The time of the Hay Q&A is to be confirmed but it is likely to take place on Saturday, May 23.

Cutting back on the old bill

South Wales Police Chief Constable Barbara Wilding has had a busy week.
Her anger at her own police authority’s decision not to grant the 9.8 per cent rise in the council tax precept she demanded has put her into media overdrive.
Ms Wilding is due to step down from the role in December and told the South Wales Echo earlier this year that she was unlikely to “stay home and do nothing” as she would miss “having…influence… My husband says I should go into politics but that would be dreadful.”
Perhaps something semi-political, then? A job on a quango for instance? There must be some reason for all this activity.
During the last few days she has raised the possibility of cutting back policing of major events at the Millennium Stadium, the Ryder Cup and the M4.
One AM said “frankly, her attitude beggars belief.”
“The public is struggling to make ends meet, jobs are being lost across the region so it is not acceptable to ask people to pay three times the inflation rate,” said Plaid Cymru’s Chris Franks.
He might also have noted that Take That concerts and football matches are not the only items which have put strain on the force’s purse strings during the last few years.
There was, for instance, the embarrassing defeat the force suffered at the hands of one of its own officers at the High Court.
Neath Detective Timothy Hodgson, a “professional, efficient and effective” specialist in tackling complex fraud cases, retired in December 2006 after 30 years.
His case revolved around a programme called the 30-plus scheme, which is designed to encourage highly skilled officers to stay in the force after 30 years – the point at which they can take retirement.
Hodgson was accepted on the scheme but was forced out of the force months later.
With the support of the South Wales Police Federation he took his former employer to court – and won.
In June 2008 a High Court judge ruled that the force had acted unlawfully in not giving him a fair hearing before he was kicked out.
Fighting High Court cases is not cheap – and there were other officers too who were forced out.
Then there was the estimated £100,000 of taxpayers’ money thrown down the drain keeping another of the force’s own officers under surveillance after it wrongly suspected he was faking post traumatic stress disorder following a soccer riot in which he was hit by bricks and bottles.
The force used 11 officers to spy on PC Mark Pugh, a dog handler, even filming him as he put out the rubbish at home. He took his case to the Police Medical Appeal Board which confirmed his condition was genuine and awarded him a 100 per cent disability pension.
Its judgment stated: “It is the board’s view that the surveillance tapes in themselves did not constitute any form of credible psychiatric assessment.”
Going public with his findings in September 2008, Mr Pugh said: “I feel I have been treated very badly. I was astounded when I became aware of the level of surveillance on me. I have been told that it will have cost around £100,000 of public money.”
The case was defended in the press by Dougie Woods, the then director of human resources for South Wales Police, who said the force had a “duty to manage and ultimately reduce sickness levels”. He added: “I am sure that the public of South Wales would expect us to reduce sickness of officers and staff so that we continue to provide a value for money service and keep our communities safe.”
But what of Mr Woods himself?
Formerly a HR director at food manufacturers Coldwater Seafoods, Mr Woods took the £78,000-a-year police job early in 2007. However, in October 2008, he resigned suddenly after only 18 months.
Mr Woods was the third director of human resources with South Wales Police to be suspended from duty and then either resign or be dismissed within the space of a couple of years.
The South Wales Evening Post noted upon his departure: “Since he took the post he has been responsible for trying to save £11 million of force money over three years, regardless of the recent losses the force suffered due to the Icelandic banks collapse. His cuts have included retiring officers who have served on the beat for 30 years or more, as well as replacing officers who provide ‘back room’ tasks with civilians at cheaper cost.”
Disputes with its own staff aside, the force has also had to stump up a fortune for wrongful arrests. Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood discovered last year that during the previous two years South Wales Police had paid out £556,700 in compensation for wrongful arrests and other civil claims.
The pay-outs, which related to claims stretching back to 1997, dwarfed those made by the three other Welsh forces.
“It is a matter of concern that large sums of public money have been paid out by South Wales Police to resolve claims made by members of the public,” the AM noted.
Plenty of areas, then, for what organisations these days like to call efficiency savings.

Questions over opposition to inquiry

Cardiff Lib Dem councillors have reportedly added their support to the longstanding campaign for an inquiry into a number of miscarriages of justice in South Wales.
But the latest campaign calls – sparked by Plaid Cymru councillor Neil McEvoy – have caused a row.
If Cardiff council agrees to back the public inquiry then, as the South Wales Echo reports, it would force the city’s two representatives on the South Wales Police Authority into an embarrassing position.
Jacqui Gasson, the Caerau Liberal Democrat councillor who is Cardiff’s longest serving representative on the police authority, is said to be “furious” and is particularly concerned about an inquiry’s costs.
“This smacks of old Labour,” she told the South Wales Echo. “I will not be mandated to do anything. I want to know what the public thinks. Would the public agree for their policing suffering to pay for a public inquiry that should have been held more than 10 years ago?
“I agree in principle with what Neil wants but this should have been done 10 years ago and not at a cost to the police authority purse.”
Coun Gasson’s statement raises two points.
Firstly, the campaigners have indeed been calling for an inquiry for the last decade. Michael O’Brien, of the Cardiff Newsagent Three, for instance, did so on the steps of the Court of Appeal in December 1998 – virtually 10 years to the day. His voice joined those of South Wales Liberty (now South Wales Against Wrongful Conviction) and fellow miscarriage victims Jonathan Jones and Annette Hewins.
Should those who suffered the miscarriages and the families of those who lost loved ones in the unsolved crimes be denied answers simply because the police and politicians keep batting the issue into the long grass?
Secondly, we don’t have to go back 10 years to find a dedicated and experienced councillor, and a member of the South Wales Police Authority, saying she was “embarrassed and uncomfortable” about the oppressive actions of some officers in the cases.
She said she had been “horrified” at the appeal court judges’ comments in the Newsagent Three case, for instance, and added: “I am one of those people who believes the police cannot investigate themselves and because of the number of cases here I support a public inquiry.”
The councillor was speaking at a cross-party press conference in Cardiff in July 2002, and was reported in the South Wales Echo.
The councillor’s name? Jacqui Gasson.
Maybe Coun Gasson should go back to seeing this as a matter of principle. One of her roles as a police authority member, after all, is to ensure the force is “effective, efficient and accountable to the public”.
Coun McEvoy says of his motion on the inquiry: “Even if we aren’t successful in forcing a public inquiry, it is important that the capital city of Wales is saying what went on is unacceptable.”

DNA database ruling

The storage of innocent people’s DNA by the UK government “could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society”, according to the European Court of Human Rights.
Court judges made the comment as they ruled that two British men should not have had their DNA and fingerprints retained by police.
The men’s information was held by South Yorkshire Police, although neither was convicted of any offence.
The judgment is likely to have major implications on how DNA records are stored in the UK national database.
The details of about 4.5 million people are held and one in five of them does not have a criminal record.
Under present laws, the DNA profiles of everyone arrested for a recordable offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are kept on the database, regardless of whether they are charged or convicted.
The European court found that the police’s actions in the case of the two men were in violation of Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life – of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The judges ruled the retention of their DNA “failed to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests,” and that the UK government “had overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard”.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “The government mounted a robust defence before the court and I strongly believe DNA and fingerprints play an invaluable role in fighting crime and bringing people to justice.
“The existing law will remain in place while we carefully consider the judgment.”
Phil Booth, of the NO2ID group, which campaigns against identity cards, said: “This is a victory for liberty and privacy.
“Though these judgments are always complicated and slow in coming, it is a vindication of what privacy campaigners have said all along.
“The principle that we need to follow is simple – when charges are dropped suspect samples are destroyed. No charge, no DNA.”
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics reports on the ethical questions raised by recent advances in biological and medical research.
Its director, Hugh Whittall, said: “We agree wholeheartedly with this ruling. The DNA of innocent people should not be kept by police.
“People feel it is an invasion of their privacy, and there is no evidence that removing from the DNA database people who have not been charged or convicted will lead to serious crimes going undetected.
“The government now has an obligation to bring its own policies into line.”
Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood said the ruling “should signal the start of a process whereby the police should destroy DNA and fingerprints of all those who have not been convicted”.
“We are living that people living in a so called democratic society yet these two men had to take their case to a European Court to defend their human rights,” she said.
“This decision comes just before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the December 10. Now more than ever we must be vigilant about our rights. This case shows why we must remain vigilant about our rights.”

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.

More than just the usual suspects

A bill presented by Cardiff Central MP Jenny Willott has had its first reading in the House of Commons.
Ms Willott wants information about innocent people removed from the Government’s ever-growing DNA database.

Unfortunately, I’m told by people who understand these things, the bill has no chance of becoming law.

At the moment one million people who have not being convicted of any crime have their names on the database. More than 100,000 of them are children.

“As well as the loss of civil liberties, all the evidence shows that continuing to take, analyse and store innocent people’s DNA has not improved crime detection rates,” said the Lib Dem MP. “In fact the cost of doing so means fewer resources for frontline policing.

“Our criminal justice system was built on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. We need to bring that principle back by allowing innocent people to get their DNA removed from the database.”

Last October, Preseli Pembrokeshire Tory Stephen Crabb raised the case of 75-year-old Geoffrey Orchard.

Mr Orchard had been wrongfully arrested and had received a written apology from the police – but he couldn’t get his DNA removed from the database.

Mr Crabb tackled Meg Hillier, of the Home Office.

“Does she really understand the enormous extent to which good will and support for the police and for her department are being undermined by a system in which DNA information is being recorded aggressively, but removed in a haphazard way and on a discretionary basis, dependent on police force area?” he asked in Parliament.

He added recently: “I have never questioned the usefulness of this tool for the police, but have grown increasingly concerned at the energetic way in which DNA profiles are collected, even from completely innocent parties with no connection to a crime scene.”

In Wales, the use of DNA technology in eventually solving the murder of Lynette White, killed in Cardiff in 1988, is often highlighted in support of the database.

But it’s worth noting that Lynette’s horrific murder was not solved because an innocent person’s DNA was held.
During that
re-investigation officers and forensic scientists made a partial match of DNA found at the murder scene with that of a teenager from whom a sample had been taken following arrest.
The match meant the teenager – not even born when Lynette was killed – had to be related to the killer.

Mrs Hillier told Stephen Crabb last year: “It is worth stressing that a person’s DNA being on the database does not suggest guilt.”

Worth stressing also that we are citizens, or subjects even, but not suspects.

:: Big Issue Cymru, June 30 – July 4, 2008
:: Update of ‘Protecting Our DNA’

Protecting our DNA

Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Willott was today due to present a private Bill in the Commons to reform the way the DNA register is run.
The Cardiff Central MP says innocent people should have their DNA taken off the Government database.
Ms Willott told the Western Mail: “If you are not charged or you are acquitted then your DNA should be removed. People who have voluntarily given samples, say to help in a police investigation, can’t have their DNA taken off the register either, so potentially there are a lot of people affected.
“I don’t think the public realise quite how far it’s going.”
The Western Mail also reports that: “Although the use of DNA technology has led to the clearing-up of several unsolved murders, including that of Cardiff prostitute Lynette White, killed in 1988, there are fears that the database is a breach of civil liberties.”
But it’s worth noting that Lynette’s horrific murder was not solved because an innocent person’s DNA was held.
During that re-investigation officers and forensic scientists made a partial match of DNA found at the 1988 murder scene with that of a teenager from whom a sample had been taken following arrest.
The match meant the teenager – not even born when Lynette was killed – had to be related to the killer.

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