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.”

Sorry, the hardest word?

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.”

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’

Fighting for liberties

Can there really be a person of integrity at the heart of British politics?
Shadow home secretary David Davis has resigned as an MP to force a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden constituency.
He’ll fight the by-election on the issue of the new 42-day terror detention limit and as a fight against the Government’s erosion of civil liberties.
“I will argue in this by-election against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government,” he says.

Swansea lifer speaks from jail – UPDATE

The programme on Swansea’s Richard Davies, who is serving a life sentence for murder, is now available to watch on the internet.
If you would like to see it go here and follow the link for Wales This Week, March 17, 2008.
Richard’s family – along with the family of John Roden, convicted of a double murder in Risca – last night attended a meeting of South Wales Against Wrongful Conviction (formerly South Wales Liberty).
This campaigning group is always looking for new members. If you might be interested post here and I’ll put you in touch.

Swansea lifer speaks from jail for first time

Wynford and Joan Davies believe their son is innocent of the murder for which he is serving life in jail.
Richard Davies was jailed six years ago for the 2001 killing of his friend Jason Williams in Loughor. Williams’ body has never been found.
The couple spent the first few years of his sentence in a state of shock but, after attending a meeting of Liberty, they learned of the Innocence Project at Cardiff Law School.
Lecturer Julie Price is overseeing the only such project in Wales. On it, law students give their time to investigate possible miscarriages of justice.
After reading notes on Richard’s case they took it on.
What Is Wales? reported on the case last year. This Monday, ITV Wales’ Wales This Week programme continues to follow the students as they work to uncover fresh evidence.
There are major developments – including a five-figure reward for new information and the first ever interview with Richard Davies as he talks from Gartree Prison about coping inside and about the night he is alleged to have killed his friend.
::Wales This Week, ITV Wales, Monday, March 17, 8pm

A Little Legal Aid

Banging people up occupies our society’s thoughts a great deal.
We focus our minds less on prisoners who might be innocent.
High proportions of those sweeping our overcrowded cellblocks claim they didn’t do it.
They would, wouldn’t they, you might say.
But it’s interesting to note that a recent ministerial response to a Parliamentary question revealed that 285 people have had their murder or manslaughter convictions quashed during the last ten years.
We are familiar with many of these cases in Wales, from the Darvell brothers and Jonathan Jones to the Lynette White case and the Cardiff Newsagent Three.
I understand that another high profile Welsh case is poised to be referred to the appeal court.
It may have been made public by the time you read this, although the wheels of justice turn slowly.
Newsagent Three man Mike O’Brien and I have often discussed how hard it is to motivate yourself from a prison cell.
It was Paddy Joe Hill, of the Birmingham Six, who inspired him to stop feeling sorry for himself – and to fight for his freedom.
“Pull yer socks up,” Paddy said, although not quite in those terms.
O’Brien began by writing to every MP across Britain, to every newspaper, to as many public figures as he could.
Return letters, sometimes from seemingly unlikely sources like Lady Mountbatten, arrived like rays of sunshine through the cell bars.
But it’s a hard slog. Prisoners have to find fresh evidence to persuade the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer their case to appeal. All help is gratefully received.
At Cardiff Law School 77 students are now looking at 10 cases in which prisoners claim their innocence.
The students step away from law theory and delve into a real case, real lives.
A dozen of them are working on the case of Richard Davies, jailed for killing a friend Jason Williams at a house in Loughor back in 2001.
Davies admitted fighting with Mr Williams but denied killing him.
Mr Williams’ body has never been found, adding to the trauma for his family.
But Davies’ parents have suffered too. I worked with Wynford and Joan Davies on a recent edition of Wales This Week for ITV Wales.
Like all good parents, they want to do anything they can for their son.
They hope the students can help.
There is a lot of pain in these cases.
Each time questions are raised about a conviction, the fresh publicity is bound to hurt the victim’s family.
But it is in everyone’s interest that the right person is behind bars.
It is essential we ask questions and the criminal justice system must be robust enough to take criticism and, on occasion, to be proved wrong.

::Big Issue Cymru, June 11-17, 2007

Blog at

Up ↑