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.

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.

The Bullseye Killer

John Cooper is one of the most notorious criminals in British history.

He burgled, raped and murdered during a 15-year reign of terror, which included four executions by shotgun. And, far from keeping a low profile between crimes, he even took time to appear on the gameshow Bullseye.

This year, he was jailed for life. ITV Wales had exclusive access to the police enquiry and forensic science which finally trapped Cooper.

An hour-long programme The Bullseye Killer was transmitted the night Cooper was jailed in May. But it’s still on-line. Follow this link to watch it now.

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.