Here’s an update on Michael O’Brien’s appearance at the Hay Festival by Duncan Campbell of the Guardian and here’s a recent interview by David James of the South Wales Echo with one of Mr O’Brien’s co-accused Ellis Sherwood.
The Michael O’Brien event at the Hay Festival has been confirmed for 10am on Saturday, May 23.
O’Brien will be talking with The Guardian’s Duncan Campbell about the book The Death of Justice and his 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
I understand the event may already be sold out but there are some details here.
UPDATE: Mike will also be signing books at the Y Lolfa stall at around 3pm.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Barbara Wilding, Chief Constable of South Wales Police, has responded to the Wales This Week programme on Michael O’Brien by publishing a statement on the force’s website.
In the statement she refers to the civil action which the force settled out of court with Michael O’Brien and his co-accused Ellis Sherwood in 2006.
O’Brien and Sherwood had started proceedings to sue the force for malicious prosecution back in 2001.
Mrs Wilding states that the force made the settlement – and paid the accompanying damages – “without any admission of liability”.
She then says that they “chose to accept the payments on that basis rather than going to trial” and that both they and their legal advisers “were fully aware that this made an apology inappropriate”.
The force’s unwillingness to apologise to O’Brien, Sherwood and the third member of the Cardiff Newsagent Three, Darren Hall, has been a major motivating factor behind O’Brien’s continuing campaign.
It is something he describes in detail in his new autobiography, The Death Of Justice. It would help him move on after an 11-year jail sentence which he did not deserve.
In Monday’s programme on ITV Wales, O’Brien’s lawyer claimed that he clearly deserved an apology from South Wales Police, and most observers with knowledge of the murder investigation into Phillip Saunders’ death in 1987 and of evidence put before the Court of Appeal in December 1999 would surely have to agree.
Today, Ms Ofer has responded to the South Wales Police statement. In a letter to the press (see Western Mail) she states that O’Brien “did not reach an out-of-court settlement willingly”.
He was forced into a financial situation which meant he had no choice but to settle out of court.
“He was desperate for the case to go to trial, but once the police paid £300,000 into court he was forced to settle against his will as his legal aid would be stopped as a result,” she explains.
“Legal rules mean that if he had gone to trial and won and been awarded £300,000, all of the legal costs of both sides would come out of his damages. He therefore had no choice but to accept a settlement.”
She adds: “South Wales Police were quoted as saying that an apology would be inappropriate. This is completely incorrect. Apologies are made by police forces as part and parcel of settlement on some occasions and one was requested in this case.
“South Wales Police chose to make a payment into court a month before trial because they realised that there was a real risk that they would lose at trial.
“Had they simply wished to save money they could have made a payment five years earlier, instead of spending these years and a huge sum of money on legal costs fighting the case all the way to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.”