By Bob Woffinden, from insidetime issue July 2011
Leading investigative journalist Bob Woffinden explains the case of the Cardiff 3 and its implications
Since the Cardiff 3 case has now been ongoing, in one form or another, for 23 years, it is possible that some readers may not have been able to stay abreast of this extraordinary saga. With that in mind, here is the briefest of guides to the story so far.
The original crime took place in the old docks area of Cardiff once called Tiger Bay and by then known as Butetown. Lynette White, a 20-year-old woman who’d been working as a prostitute for the past year or so, was murdered at about 1.45am on what was by then Sunday 14 February 1988: Valentine’s Day. It appeared likely that she was murdered by a client. Witnesses reported seeing a white man in his mid to late thirties with blood on his clothes fleeing the area. One witness specifically placed the man outside the block of flats where the murder took place. South Wales police failed to trace this person, however, and later that year arrested five black men.
They were Tony Paris, Yusef Abdullahi, Stephen Miller; and John Actie and Ronnie Actie, who were cousins. Over the course of four days, Miller underwent a total of nineteen interviews, with a docile solicitor in attendance for seventeen of them. The latter did not object to what most people would have regarded as very oppressive questioning. Miller admitted involvement with the crime. He and the others were charged, remanded into custody and, after an old-style committal, were sent for trial.
The trial at Swansea Crown Court could not start until there had been a voir dire hearing into the admissibility of Miller’s confessions. Dr Gisli Gudjonsson, the leading forensic psychiatrist, had concluded that Miller was highly suggestible and so his evidence was unreliable. However, the judge, Mr Justice McNeill, declined to admit his evidence and instead held that the interviews of Miller were admissible.
If there had ever been an appeal, this ruling would have been one of the main grounds. However, there was no appeal because the trial did not finish. As it was drawing to a close, after five months, Mr Justice McNeill suffered a fatal heart attack. The trial was stopped.
A second trial began on 2 May 1990. Again, there was a voir dire and again the judge, this time Mr Justice Leonard, allowed in the Miller evidence. This trial concluded on 22 November 1990 which, for those with a sense of history, was the day Mrs Thatcher resigned.
Miller, Paris and Abdullahi were convicted.
‘I wasn’t even in Cardiff’, shouted Abdullahi, before breaking down. ‘You took my life away from me. You took my life away from me.’
The Actie cousins were both acquitted and, outside the court, they straightaway let the world know that this case was another major miscarriage of justice.
As appeals were being prepared, defence lawyers finally received from the prosecution previously undisclosed alibi statements. Although many were now irrelevant (as they referred to the Acties), others provided what amounted to complete alibis for the three convicted men.
It was, of course, merely the first of the scandalous aspects of this case that two separate juries should have been expected to waste months of their lives (five in the first instance, six in the second) deliberating on matters which they could not possible determine correctly as cogent and highly relevant material was deliberately withheld from them.
Every aspect of the criminal justice process so far had failed completely, and the appeal process also failed. Yes, the main objective was achieved: the men were freed, the appeal being allowed mainly because of the controversial interviews.
‘It was hard to conceive of a more hostile or intimidating approach by officers to a suspect’, said Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice. He said that Miller was ‘bullied and hectored’ until he confessed.
However, by this stage, several witnesses had signed affidavits alleging police malpractice: either they were deceived about the strength of the case against the men; or were themselves put under duress; or things they had never said were inserted into their statements. Yet most of the evidence exculpating the men was not heard, and so no one understood the full background to the case. The men received neither compensation nor even acknowledgement of the injustices that were done to them. On the contrary, for a time the illusion was fostered that the men had been freed merely on a technicality.
The case might have been left to rust in this wholly unsatisfactory and unresolved state (where, indeed, many miscarriages of justice cases do reach the end of the road) were it not for the determination and pertinacity of the journalist Satish Sekar, who had been involved with the case from almost the start.
He saw that there was forensic evidence available – albeit that there was none linking any of the five men the CPS had chosen to prosecute either to the victim or to the scene of the crime. Therefore, even at this late stage, the crime could still be solved. He obtained a report which made it clear that the forensic science evidence had been mishandled and misinterpreted, and that there was still a chance of obtaining good quality DNA evidence. He took this report to Peggy Pesticcio, the bereaved mother of Lynette White, and together they set about persuading the reluctant authorities (who had scant interest in solving the crime and every interest in sweeping such an embarrassing case under the carpet) to conduct a proper investigation into the murder.
With developments in DNA science, a profile was at length obtained from a crime-scene sample, although it was another year before this could be matched. The culprit was finally unmasked not because he got himself on the DNA database, but because one of his relatives did. Jeffrey Gafoor was identified as the murderer. He pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.
As a result of Sekar’s work, this had become the first miscarriage of justice murder case in British history in which not only was the injustice remedied but the crime itself was then properly solved.
There was then an internal South Wales police investigation (assisted by officers from four outside forces, under the aegis of the Independent Police Complaints Commission) to investigate how five innocent men came to be put on trial for the crime.
As a result of this investigation, three of the alleged eyewitnesses were put on trial for perjury. In their defence, they wished to argue duress (that the police had forced them to say what they did), but were convicted after the judge ruled that this defence was not available to them. They were sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment. One lawyer commented that the three were ‘yet more victims of this miscarriage of justice’.
Now, at the start of July 2011, further trials are about to begin. There will be two trials of twelve police officers, many of whom are now retired, as well as two further trial witnesses, on charges of perverting the course of justice. The trials, which will be consecutive, could last into next year, by when the timescale for this case will be an astonishing 24 years. When they are over, in this case concerning the murder of one woman, there will have been six trials, an old-style committal, and an appeal: eight separate court hearings. Maybe there will be more hearings subsequently. Sir Walter Scott’s oft-quoted verse – Oh, what a tangled web we weave/when first we practise to deceive – needs to be taken to heart by the CPS.
Even today, the UK authorities lack understanding of the tremendous damage caused by miscarriages of justice, and of the work initiated by forensic psychiatrists such as Dr Adrian Grounds into the psychological consequences of wrongful imprisonment. This was firmly demonstrated by the Supreme Court’s judgment on the subject of compensation for those wrongly convicted.
In fact, the Cardiff 3 did receive ex gratia compensation – although today they would have received nothing, after the Labour government abolished the scheme overnight. Nevertheless, two of the men who were victims of the original prosecution have not survived to see it through to its long-drawn-out finale. Ronnie Actie, who had spent two years in custody before being acquitted, was never able to resume a normal life, and died aged 49 in September 2007.
Yusef Abdullahi died this year, in January, also at the early age of 49. He also never recovered from the emotional trauma of his wrongful imprisonment. He was right: they had taken his life away from him.
New evidence grows for Cardiff Three
The second of our series examines a community’s concern over three men’s convictions for the grisly murder of a prostitute
Murder appeal in prostitute case
The cases of two of the three men jailed last November for the murder of the prostitute Lynette White have been referred to the Court of Appeal.
Cardiff murder appeal man ‘beaten over head verbally’
How police found Gafoor
A link with a teenage boy led to the arrest of Gafoor
When Lynette White was found murdered on Valentine’s Day 1988, few forecast it would take 15 years to find her murderer.
Killer’s ‘death-bed confession’
Overdose attempt: Gafoor wanted to die – then changed his mind
Murderer Jeffrey Gafoor tried to kill himself when he realised police were closing in.
Gafoor the loner
Murderer Jeffrey Gafoor had no known girlfriends or friends.
‘Cash dispute’ led to murder
Life for Lynette White murder
A 38-year-old security guard has been sentenced to life after pleading guilty to murdering Cardiff prostitute Lynette White on Valentine’s Day 1988.
Jailing of Cardiff Three witnesses raises questions over law on duress
• Trio bullied into perjury over murder of prostitute
• False evidence led to miscarriage of justice
Three jailed for murder case lies
Police corruption trial collapses
The director of public prosecutions has expressed his concern at the collapse of Britain’s biggest trial involving former police officers – after a judge ruled they could not get a fair hearing.
Eight former police officers are cleared of corruption as £30m case collapses
Britain’s biggest police corruption trial collapsed yesterday at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of £30 million.
Police accused of orchestrating miscarriage of justice walk free
Officers cleared of perverting course of justice over men wrongly convicted of 1988 murder
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