Described as “explosive” by the Irish Post and an “important” book by the Guardian ‘The Death of Justice’ continues to get five-star reviews on Amazon.
This is the inside story of a brutal murder as revealed by Michael O’Brien, one of the men wrongly jailed for more than a decade. The miscarriage of justice which followed sent shock waves through the British legal system.
The book contains a detailed analysis of the murder and police inquiry, a no-holds-barred view of life in jail and an essential guide for anyone trying to prove their innocence.
“An extraordinary, shocking and moving tale that climaxes in the triumph of the ordinary man against an incompetent and complacent Hydra-headed monster of society.” Western Mail
‘The Death of Justice’ is now available not only in paperback but as an e-book on Amazon. It is published by Y Lolfa.
This is a book everyone should read. It tells the story we do not want to really think is possible. How does an innocent person end up in prison? The police behaviour is undefendable. A very readable, unputdownable, book.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Dr. Charles Smith EVERYONE should read Michael’s book. You’ll be appalled at the things the police did, but don’t believe their story about ‘bad apples’. This behaviour was systemic, and recent events indicate that the CPS to this day is ill equipped to cope with it.
It is definitely the most informative book I have EVER read about our British Justice System. The book describes in detail how easy it is for any one of us to be falsely accused by our ‘trusted plod’ Huge eye opener but what a fantastic read, I will never look at the justice system the same ever again.
For anyone in doubt about the terrible damage done by a justice system which gets it wrong, this book is a must read.
For anyone fighting a wrongful conviction, Michael’s book offers hope, and the encouragement to never, ever give up. For anyone who thinks British Justice is the best in the world, this book will open your eyes. An incredible story, and a remarkable man.
I think that the content of the book would be beneficial to anyone who is helping to fight a wrongful conviction, as out of this harrowing story there is hope and encouragement. It would also be an eye opener to law students and those interested in the judicial system in our country. The only way we will learn and gain knowledge of how things can and do go wrong is by listening to and reading the accounts of those who have walked the walk, when the system gets it completely wrong.
UPDATE: Received a message from Dr Rolf Ebhardt, the Luftwaffe nightfighter ace, who features in ‘Welsh Heroes of World War 2: Airman on the Run’. Rolf came to the UK to meet the programme’s main character, John Evans.
Have viewed the film, Rolf says: “I was impressed about the marvellous outcome of the interview. So the two old men are still “going strong” (at least more or less!). I am glad I could represent the former enemy in a dignified manner to your countrymen,which in turn helps for good relations between our two nations, to come together also in future in friendship.”
I filmed a long interview with Rolf, which has never been shown anywhere: this was his first TV appearance. We are now working on plans for another documentary.
A veteran of 41 Commando has made an emotional return to the beaches of Normandy.
Ted Owens, aged 88 and from Pembroke Dock, Wales, returned to the spot at which he had been wounded during the landings as part of filming for an upcoming television programme.
Ted also made an astonishing visit to a town in the Netherlands where civilians paid a terrible price – not only at the hands of the Germans but of the British too.
“It was an amazing trip into the past for me,” said Ted. “I was able to walk near Sword Beach where I landed and was wounded.
“We also went to the Walcheren Islands where I took part in a commando landing exactly 68 years ago this November.
“I spoke to many local people there. That was very moving indeed.”
Ted’s trip was filmed for the first in a special three-part series, titled ‘Welsh Heroes of World War 2’, which will be broadcast on ITV Wales on Thursday, November 1.
Ted attended a special service at Bayeux War Cemetery and was invited to the village of Maizet, along with other Welsh veterans.
Maizet holds a service every year to honour the Welsh soldiers who liberated the village in 1944.
From France, Ted travelled to Westkapelle, a town in the Dutch Walcheren islands, which were the scene of a crucial battle late in 1944.
Ahead of the invasion by troops, including Ted, the RAF bombed dykes to flood the island and weaken the German defences.
In Westkapelle, Ted met people who remember the destruction that the bombing caused.
* Watch WELSH HEROES OF WORLD WAR 2: D-DAY COMMANDO online now. D-DAY COMMANDO
The Wales This Week special ‘The Bullseye Killer’ has won a British Academy Cymru Award (Bafta Cymru).
The hour-long documentary won a Bafta in the Current Affairs category of the awards at the Wales Millennium Centre.
The programme documented the crimes of John Cooper, one of the most notorious criminals in British history.
Cooper 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.
ITV Wales had exclusive access to the police enquiry and the forensic science which finally trapped Cooper.
‘The Bullseye Killer’ was transmitted the night Cooper was jailed in May 2011.
In early 1942 a courageous band of Welshmen found themselves fighting side by side against the all-conquering Japanese army.
The men, who had joined up to provide air defences for Cardiff, Newport and Barry, had been sent to the Far East as the Japanese bore down on Britain’s “impregnable fortress” at Singapore.
But the battle-hardened Japanese swept through the jungles, mountains and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula and took Singapore in seven days.
So, instead, the men of the 77th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment were diverted to Java (now part of Indonesia).
Many of the 77th were sportsmen. A large number of the pre-war Cardiff RFC team were among its ranks. There were Glamorgan cricketers and footballers too, including a veteran of Cardiff City’s 1927 FA Cup winning team.
Like all sports people, they’d sometimes had to chase lost causes – but not like this one.
They were forced to put down their guns and begin more than three and a half years of captivity.
The focus of attention on prisoners in the Far East is understandably often drawn to the Thai-Burma ‘Death’ Railway, built by the forced labour of prisoners of war.
But many prisoners captured on Java were sent to Japan and some found themselves in a camp not far from the city of Nagasaki.
They would eventually, after years of hardship, witness the unleashing of a new weapon by the Americans, the plutonium bomb.
Among them was Les Spence, who had captained Cardiff RFC in 1936-37 and would go on to be a president of the WRU during the 1970s.
A keen observer of human nature, Spence – who was promoted from sergeant to sergeant major soon after his arrival in Java – decided to keep a secret diary, which has now been published as a hardback book, “From Java To Nagasaki”.
Spence’s writing takes in the surrender of Allied forces on Java, the conditions and life in the camps and the growing death toll.
It shows how the prisoners learned to survive: bargaining for food, playing football and rugby, and maintaining a sense of discipline.
One of the most intense sections covers the prisoners’ journey in the suffocating hold of a so-called ‘hellship’, taking them from Java to Japan via Singapore.
The 77th had trained to fight the Germans in the deserts of the Middle East but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, meant they were diverted to the Far East.
Their troopship, part of a large convoy, arrived in Batavia (now Jakarta) on Java on February 3, 1942.
Before they even arrived on Java, Spence confided to his diary: “It will be no picnic. I am afraid some of us will not see the end of next month.”
What he writes for the next few years is a remarkable testament to courage and endurance in the face of hardship and cruelty – and a firsthand account of how to hold on to hope when all seems lost.
The 77th’s defence of Java got off to a terrible start as the army tried to move many of them by train to defend the east of the island.
Les Spence writes:
“February 4/February 5, 1942
We left by train for Surabaya at 6.30am, all in wonderful spirit… We stopped at our last station at 11pm and on leaving we sang Cwm Rhondda. Then at 3am in the morning a terrible catastrophe befell us.
A head-on collision with a goods train loaded with bombs and petrol. It was terrible. I found poor old Ken dead. Jimmy Boxall, Stoodley, and Capt McMillan. Some had terrible injuries and I do not think they will live.”
The troop train had crashed into an ammunition train. Around thirty members of the 77th were killed and nearly one hundred injured. The cause of the crash remains unknown, although some suggest a signalman loyal to the Japanese might have been responsible.
The “poor old Ken” referred to by Spence was Battery Sergeant Major Ken Street, a well-known Welsh rugby forward. He had played alongside Spence and Wilf Wooller, an officer in the 77th, for Cardiff Rugby Club.
For several days the remaining men of the 77th tried to defend Java. But for both British and Dutch forces on the island, the situation was hopeless.
“March 8, 1942
A day that will live in my memory. The Dutch army surrendered and we were left with the baby. We were ordered to fight on but later on the order was countermanded… I never thought I would live to see this day out.”
The following day, Spence noted: “We’ve surrendered after being on this island for six weeks… So the war is over as far as we are concerned. Just prisoners of war.”
But surrender was to be just the start of Spence’s story.
For the first 18 months Spence and his comrades were kept in two prison camps on Java. Spence keeps a daily account of how they coped with their new life and with the ever-present fear of death from starvation or disease.
He noted onMay 28, 1942:
“Another death occurred today. It’s very, very serious this dysentery. I think we are in for a very rough time and many good people will die with this disease. I pray to God that I will come out safely.”
Spence makes regular notes in his diary about news received from outside, which he codenames ‘ice cream’. It’s unclear but the news may have come via an illicit radio.
“June 8, 1942
Ice-cream good but must not be too optimistic. Long argument re what we should do to Germany after the war. I think we should spilt the country up and put a government in charge of the state. I think we will be here at least another 12 months.”
The sportsmen in the camp quickly got round to organising rugby ‘internationals’ and a football ‘league’.
“July 2, 1942
Played soccer for the camp and beat number 3 camp 4-0. I did not enjoy the game. I lost my gold identity disc. Am feeling very despondent. I do hope I will find it.”
Also playing these strange games behind the wire fence in Java were Welsh international Ernie Curtis, who had been the youngest member of Cardiff City’s 1927 FA Cup winning side; former Cardiff City and Wales centre half Billy James and Cardiff City goalkeeper John ‘Jackie’ Pritchard.
Perhaps the most dominant player, according to the diaries, was Lieutenant Wilfred Wooller. Wooller was one of Wales’ greatest all-round sportsmen. Before the war he had not only captained Wales at rugby, he had played cricket for Glamorgan, briefly played up front for Cardiff City and represented his country at squash.
After the war, he went on to captain Glamorgan to its first County Championship and to become a test selector for England. He would also become a distinguished writer and broadcaster.
Spence and Wooller were to spend a lot of time talking about the old days. At one point in his journal Spence remembers April 22, 1939, a “big day in the history of Cardiff Rugby Club”, when they had been in the team which won the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham.
Remembrance of good times past would be important to the prisoners. After all, they had no idea when they might get out, if they got out at all. “I look back on my past life and deplore the time I’ve wasted,” Spence wrote in October 1942, while also wondering if his girlfriend, Babs, was well. He wished he had proposed before he left and feared he had now left it too late.
In September 1943 Spence and some members of the 77th were loaded into the hold of a ship called the Ussuri Maru. After brief stops in Singapore and Formosa they arrived in Japan a month later.
For the next two years Japan would be Spence’s home. He and other members of the 77th were housed in what the Japanese designated Camp 8 Kamo near the village of Inatsuki or Inatsukimachi, in Kyushu, Southern Japan.
Stanley Roberts, of Barry, was in the same camp. He remembers the huts there were “the low-weather boarded type with felted roofs and raised floors of ‘tatami’ straw matting… Partitions divided the huts into separate rooms, housing four, six or eight men, depending on size, and each was lit by a single light bulb.”
This was a coal mining camp producing fuel for the Japanese war machine. The prisoners were forced to work in the mine.
“January 17, 1944
I narrowly escape death today when I was carrying a girder, struck by trucks and all came off line just in front of me. Severely shaken. I thank God for being still alive.”
Others were not so lucky.
Terrible tragedy this evening. Rabinovitch fell down shaft, instantly killed. Very popular fellow. Cast gloom over camp.”
Liberation for the prisoners came following the dropping of the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki, a city less than 100 miles from Spence’s camp.
“We had rather exciting morning, going down [the air-raid shelter] no fewer than four times,” he writes on August 9, 1945. “We saw no planes.”
Only four planes flew on the raid that destroyed Nagasaki, and the camp did not understand what had happened at first. The Japanese guards were in a state of confusion for days.
“We hear from the guards that one bomb blew up Nagasaki,” Spence wrote. “The huge cloud we saw must have been big oil wells catching fire. We must now take over the camp.”
On August 18, 1945, Spence’s diary marks his 1259th day as a POW. But it is more than a month before he leaves Camp 8.
“September 21, 1945
We left camp today… I left at 8am in charge of 215 English. The whole village turned out to see us off. I was the last man to leave the camp and the first to come in. We had uneventful train journey to Nagasaki and then we saw the result of the atomic bomb. It was simply astounding, nothing left standing for miles, everything flat and burnt out.”
The prisoners were taken by sea to San Francisco. They then travelled east by train and boarded the Queen Mary in New York on November 13, 1945.
As the luxury liner began its trip to Southampton, the soldiers received a distribution of letters from home.
And with that Spence made the final entry in his diary: “I received five letters. Pleased to see that Babs is still waiting. I hope that she will accept my proposal. Lovely day, beautiful sunshine.”
After the war, Les married Babs. His friend and former fellow POW Wilfred Wooller was his best man.
As well as running the family china and glassware firm, Les returned to his love of sport.
He was to become chairman of Cardiff Rugby Club and joint secretary of Glamorgan County Cricket Club.
By the time he died in 1988, aged 81, Les Spence had become one of the leading administrators in Welsh sport. Memorial gates were installed at Cardiff Arms Park in his name.
It had been in perhaps his greatest role, as president of the Welsh Rugby Union, that he had helped take a small step to heal the wounds opened between the UK and Japan during World War II.
In 1973 he had formed a firm friendship with Shiggy Konno, manager of the visiting Japanese rugby side. And two years later he led the Welsh rugby team on a tour of Japan.
As the South Wales Echo reported: “[Les] learned to forgive if not forget the tragedy of war.”
* ‘From Java To Nagasaki’ is published by Magic Rat Books (www.magicrat.co.uk) and is priced £16.99.
A few years ago while working on a book called ‘Airman Missing’, a short biography of RAF evader John Evans (no longer in print!), I became intrigued with those who had helped him evade capture in occupied Belgium.
John, who was originally from Goodwick, Pembrokeshire, evaded the Germans for 114 days after his Halifax was shot down in May 1944.
His helpers included Emile Roiseux and Vincent and Ghislaine Wuyts-Denis, but for the purposes of this article I’d like to concentrate on the Biernaux family of Hasselt. I am currently working on a TV documentary of John’s life (and an expanded version of the book) and am hoping to interview relatives of those who helped John.
John and fellow crew members Doug Lloyd and Bill “Robbie” Robertson were guided from a makeshift camp in a wood to Hasselt by Florent Biernaux on Sunday, May 20, 1944.
I did not realize when writing ‘Airman Missing’ just what a hub of Résistance activity the four-storey townhouse at 16 Boulevard Thonissen, Hasselt, had become.
Since the book came out I have been contacted by fellow researcher Jo Ann Michel, whose uncle, RCAF gunner Walter Mullaney, passed through Hasselt in June 1943.
Jo Ann’s documents include affidavits regarding the Biernaux family’s involvement in clandestine actions, including the production of undercover newspapers.
Florent Biernaux had been born in Hasselt on April 3, 1896, and had served with distinction during the Great War. He had been decorated with the Chevalier de l’Ordre de Leopold II avec glaives and the Croix de Guerre avec palmes. (He would receive another Croix de Guerre as part of a WW2 haul of medals which also included a Médaille de la Résistance, a King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, from Britain, and a Freedom Medal from the Americans.)
Florent’s wife was no less remarkable. Olympe Doby was born at Cambron St Vincent on January 24, 1900. One US document reads: “In addition to shouldering the responsibilities of chief of her group, Madame Biernaux also sheltered an estimated fifty Allied fliers in her own house, where she fed, clothed and cared for them over varying periods of time.
“From her home in the center of Hasselt, surrounded by German occupation forces and police agents, she supervised the multiple tasks of her group, gathering retrieved airmen from the surrounding area and providing them with food, civilian disguises, false papers and circulation permits…
“Disregarding all danger to herself and to her family, who worked closely with her, she inspired her associates by her own courageous acts. Whenever the opportunities for evacuation of aviators involved highly dangerous risks, Madame Biernaux personally conveyed the airmen along German-patrolled roads to Brussels or Liege.”
She led the organisation, it said, for a “year and nine months” until her and her family’s arrest. (She appears to have taken over control of the group following the arrest of its leaders Lucien and Tina Collin in June 1943.)
Her medals included a Croix de Guerre, a Médaille de la Résistance and a Freedom Medal.
The couple had two children. John has no recollection of seeing their daughter, Elaine (born March 1930) but he remembers their son, Raymond (born May 1924).
Raymond was affiliated to the Groupe Hoornaert-Dirix from August 1940 and, although arrested with his parents, was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre de Leopold II avec glaives and the Croix de Guerre avec palmes. These awards, sadly, would be made posthumously.
John remembered that food and medicine were in good black-market supply at the Biernaux household and, although the town also seemed “well-stocked” with Germans, some of the dangers came from closer to home.
“The day after we arrived the Americans sent over some Thunderbolt fighters to dive bomb the bridge across the Albert Canal which runs through Hasselt,” said John.
For three days, the men watched the raids from Biernaux’s backyard. On Wednesday, May 25, Florent Biernaux took them by tram to Liège where they waited in a café while Florent went to make a phone call. Fifteen minutes later a man and girl came in. “They talked for a while and then Biernaux told us that we would now go with these new friends. He wished us good luck, said goodbye and left.”
In a letter to John Evans after the war, Florent explained that his family, along with other members of the organisation, including friend Jacques Constant Bertels, had been arrested on August 5, 1944.
Florent was tortured by the Gestapo while, on August 14, Olympe and two other members of the group, Mrs Degueldre and her daughter, were moved to St-Gilles and from there to Ravensbrück. Florent was able to escape on September 2 but his family was to suffer for some time to come.
The three women came home on May 24, 1945. Olympe had lost 45 pounds in weight.
The family already knew that Jacques Bertels had perished in Neuengamme concentration camp, near Hamburg, but, as Florent wrote, “we know nothing of my son”.
He added: “I hope that God will give us back my son Raymond and then we can begin again a new life.”
Sadly, that was not to be the case. Raymond had died in Neuengamme on March 3, 1945. He was 20.
Medals and citations aside, the real testament to the bravery of the Biernaux family was the lives they saved. The family helped around 60 airmen before their arrest.
He is one of Wales’ greatest explorers – but few remember his name and there is no national monument in his honour.
There is a story behind why Wales may have tried to forget Edgar Evans – but it concerns a sense of misplaced shame.
ITV Wales’ Wales This Week has turned the clock back 100 years, to 1912, when Evans stood at the South Pole with Captain Robert Scott.
Scott’s party was defeated first by the Norwegians and then by a terrible Antarctic winter which came in early and closed over them like a shroud.
Evans was the first of the five men to die. He was malnourished and a cut in his hand was festering.
On February 17, 1912, his exhausted body gave up.
The second to die, Captain Oates, had a leg wound which had turned gangrenous. His leg needed amputating. He crawled from the expedition tent in a blizzard around March 17th and was not seen again.
The remaining three – Scott, himself, Bowers and Wilson – died about 10 days later.
It took a year for the news of their deaths to reach Britain.
“People were initially very sad, then proud but then they had to try and find an explanation,” Dr Isobel Williams, author of a new biography on Edgar, called ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant’, tells us.
“In some newspapers they focused on Edgar as not only failing and slowing them down but by his failure and slowing the party he caused the death of all the expedition.”
The men had left Britain in 1910, sailing from Cardiff on board the Terra Nova with South Wales’ coal lighting its boiler.
Two nights before they left, the crew had celebrated at the Royal Hotel in St Mary Street. A century later the Captain Scott Society still meets there. Its chairman, Dr Peter Lloyd Jones, says Wales contributed about half of the funds needed for the expedition.
But when news reached Britain of the men’s deaths, some began to feel a little ashamed of Evans.
Says Edgar’s grandson, John Evans, from Swansea: “I think it was based on snobbery a bit because they made him the scapegoat in the beginning.”
John is leading the campaign for a national memorial to Evans, who is described in the programme as “Wales’ leading Antarctic explorer”.
Evans had been on not only the mission to the South Pole but Scott’s 1901-1904 Discovery expedition which had helped prove Antarctica was a continent and not a massive pack of ice.
Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica, according to Tom Sharpe, curator of a new Terra Nova exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, “laid the foundations” of Antarctic science for a century to come.
And Roger Gale of Swansea Museum, where there is currently an exhibition dedicated to Evans, says: “Had Swansea had an astronaut who reached the moon and perished in the attempt I’m pretty sure there would be a commemoration of him. Edgar in his own way and his own time was journeying to the outer reaches of the world as we knew it.”
*There are currently two museum exhibitions in honour of the Terra Nova expedition in Wales. ‘South for Science’ runs at the National Museum of Wales until May 13.
The man who advises both the Crown and the UK Cabinet on the law has expressed his “huge regret” at the collapse of the Lynette White police corruption trial.
The UK Solicitor-General Edward Garnier QC was answering questions from MPs about 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, last month, IPCC commissioner Sarah Green released a statement to say they had not been destroyed after all and were still in possession of South Wales Police.
This week, Media Wales reported that former barrister and Conservative MP Robert Buckland tackled Mr Garnier about the decision to let South Wales Police investigate itself.
Mr Buckland asked: “Is not the lesson of the disclosure debacle in the Lynette White case this: when criminal allegations are made against police officers in one police force, disclosure should be handled by officers from an entirely independent police force?”
Mr Buckland called on him to ensure “such reforms take place so that such a disaster does not happen again”.
The Solicitor-General said: “Clearly – particularly in large and complex cases such as the one we are talking about – the need to get disclosure right is key.”
But he added: “[Mr Buckland’s] point about other police forces dealing with the disclosure in such cases must, surely, be a matter for the chief constable of the relevant police area.”
Mr Garnier stressed that an inquiry into the Lynette White case is underway with the Independent Police Complaints Commission carrying out a review of police conduct; he also noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions has “separately asked the inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review of the actions and decision making of the CPS in relation to disclosure in that case”.
Cynon Valley Labour MP Ann Clwyd said: “There is considerable shock at the conduct of this case, in south Wales and elsewhere. In the past, there have been a particularly high number of miscarriages of justice under the South Wales police force.
“Is the Attorney-General aware of any other similar cases in which the disappearance and re-emergence of key evidence has led to a retrial?”
Mr Garnier said: “Off the top of my head, I am not aware of any such cases, but the right honourable lady is right to point out that the collapse of the Lynette White case in South Wales just recently, which affects her constituents and neighbours… is a matter of huge regret.
“It is now being subjected to two inquiries. Once they have been completed, further announcements will be made.”
Blaenau Gwent Labour MP Nick Smith asked what assessment had been made by the CPS about the prospects of a prosecution and reminded the Commons of the scale of the case.
He said: “It took nearly 10 years and cost the taxpayer about £30m to bring eight former South Wales police officers to court on charges of perverting the course of justice and fabricating evidence. The case collapsed when the key documents were thought destroyed, but they have now been found.”
The Solicitor-General said the CPS “will not make an assessment until the two inquiries are completed”.