Posts Tagged ‘Lynette White’

Important documents, whose disappearance led to the collapse of Britain’s biggest ever corruption trial, have been found in boxes held by South Wales Police.

Yesterday, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, ordered a full inquiry into the collapse of a trial of eight police officers accused of perverting the course of justice during the 1988 hunt for the murderer of Lynette White in Cardiff.

The trial collapsed in December and the officers were acquitted after the judge ruled they could no longer get a fair trial as certain documents were thought to have been shredded.

Then later yesterday IPCC commissioner Sarah Green released a statement to say they had not been destroyed after all.

“The Independent Police Complaints Commission has now verified that the documents that the Lynette White trial at Swansea Crown Court on 1 December 2011 was told may have been destroyed have been discovered and were not shredded as first thought,” she stated.

“The court was told that some enquiries had been made about documents relating to complaints made to the IPCC itself and that it seemed that these documents may have been shredded on the orders of South Wales Police  Senior Investigating Officer Chris Coutts.

“The documents were found in the original boxes that the IPCC had sent through to SWP as part of the trial disclosure process in 2009. These boxes were still in the possession of SWP and have subsequently been verified.

“The IPCC investigation has not yet concluded and will also need to establish what happened to these two files of documents. The IPCC will also continue to liaise with the review being carried out by the Director of Public Prosecutions. We have of course informed the Director of Public Prosecutions about the discovery of these documents.

“The IPCC will of course publish its findings in due course.”

A friend of one of the men originally accused of Lynette White’s murder during the botched investigation told The Guardian: “The whole thing gets more bizarre by the minute. Did this whole trial collapse because they lost a box or two of documents? It beggars belief. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing.”

And a close friend of another of the men, Tony Paris, who was wrongfully jailed for the murder and had given evidence to the police corruption trial before its collapse, said: “This is just unbelievable. How much pressure can they put these men under? It all defies belief.”

The question for the authorities now is whether, following the discovery of the “shredded” documents, the police officers can be re-tried.

A major review has been ordered into the way the prosecution in a police corruption trial was handled.

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.

It had been alleged that the former South Wales Police officers had manufactured the case against five men – three of whom were jailed for life before being released on appeal.

The retired officers all pleaded not guilty to the charge and were cleared after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) offered no evidence against the defendants.

It emerged that files relating to complaints by a murder trial defendant had been destroyed – a revelation which called the trial’s disclosure process into question.

The trial – relating to the 1988 hunt for the murderer of Lynette White in Cardiff- had already been sitting for five months when it collapsed in December and had cost an estimated £30m.

Today, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, ordered a full inquiry into the trial.

“Shortly after the collapse of this trial I initiated a full and detailed review of the circumstances in which the decision to offer no further evidence was made,” said Mr Starmer. “I asked leading counsel for the prosecution to prepare a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for the decision.

“I have now considered that analysis and as part of the review have decided to ask Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, an independent statutory body, to consider the way in which the prosecution team conducted the disclosure exercise in this case.”

Mr Starmer said the HMCPSI’s “independent review” would consider:

*Whether the prosecution team (CPS and counsel) approached, prepared and managed disclosure in this case effectively, bearing in mind the history, size and complexity of the investigation and prosecution;

*Whether the prosecution team complied with their disclosure duties properly, including all relevant guidance and policy relating to disclosure, in light of the extensive material generated in this case;

*And whether the existing legal guidance is appropriate for cases of similar size and complexity.

HM Chief Inspector, Michael Fuller, said: “It is important that the public can have confidence in the way the CPS conducts its cases and the Inspectorate will examine the issues with the utmost thoroughness. Inevitably this will take time but will be completed as soon as is practicable and a report prepared for the DPP.

“South Wales Police has decided to refer their part in this matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and we will work in tandem with the IPCC inquiry into what happened. Both organizations are committed to sharing all relevant information with each other and arrangements are being made to ensure there is meaningful liaison between the two inquiries.”

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.