WE take a look at what was said at the collapse of the biggest alleged police corruption trial ever held in the UK. We really couldn’t make it up.
Calls have been made for an investigation into the investigation of an investigation that led to three men being wrongly convicted of murder – as the trial of eight former policemen collapsed.
The eight former South Wales Police officers walked free from Swansea Crown Court as the UK’s biggest ever alleged police corruption trial cracked due to the police having destroyed evidence against the retired coppers in the dock.
The retired officers were accused of having fitted up five men of the murder of a Cardiff woman in 1988. When the Swansea Crown Court trial collapsed this week, after sitting for four months, the former officers claimed they had been fitted up.
Three of the five original defendants, who were all black, were convicted at the original 1990 murder trial and their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1992. All five also served two years on remand awaiting trial. In 2003 a sixth – totally unconnected white man – confessed to the killing after new DNA evidence led to his charge and conviction. He is now serving a life sentence.
Prosecutor Nicholas Dean told the court mistakes by officers investigating their former colleagues had scuppered their trial as a handful of the 800,000 documents generated in the case were destroyed by mistake.
“Deliberate destruction of documents by the senior investigating officer appears to have occurred,” said Mr Dean adding: “It would be impossible for me to give reassurances that similar evidence has not been treated the same way.
“I can no longer continue to prosecute and recommend the jury bring in a not guilty verdict.”
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and South Wales Police agreed to conduct their own full and detailed review of the circumstances, which should hopefully kick it into the long grass and out of harm’s way.
Chief Constable Peter Vaughan said the investigation will have the full support and co-operation of South Wales Police. This time a paper shredder won’t be made available to the investigating team.
The case, brought because innocent men were tried and convicted of a crime they had never committed, is estimated to have already cost more than £30 million and costs could rocket as the former officers, without any sense of irony, sue their former constabulary for wrongful arrest.
Top QC Gregory Bull, who represented one of the policemen, told reporters: “Legal proceedings will be initiated against South Wales Police alleging false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. We shall be seeking exemplary damages.”
Outside court, his client, retired chief inspector Thomas Page called for an inquiry and moaned he and his colleagues were treated like suspected criminals: “I would like an investigation into the way this investigation was conducted because there were dawn arrests, we’ve had our phones tapped, we’ve been followed, we’ve had surveillance on us.
“We were treated completely different to every other witness,” added Page who was so excited that he and his former colleagues were cleared on the judge’s direction he seemed to forget they were defendants NOT witnesses in the trial and that dawn raids are common practice for the police who also tend to use covert investigative methods in complex cases.
Prosecutor Mr Dean said everyone should remember the spectacular collapse of a major trial, was all down to a mistake – a simple error. He insisted the destruction was nothing ‘more than a serious error’.
The prosecution have no doubt whatsover, Mr Dean told the court, about the honesty and integrity of the alleged corruption case’s senior investigating detective.
He did have to acknowledge that the situation gave a ‘bad appearance’.
Simon Clements, the CPS reviewing lawyer in the case, said it was really important that everyone understood blame doesn’t lie with the legal eagles: “It was found that some documents had been destroyed and no record of the reason for their destruction had been made by the police officers concerned. This was the first time that prosecution counsel or the CPS had been made aware of this destruction.”
Walking free from court with the officers today were two civilian defendants, including convicted armed robber Ian Massey – who was accused of having lied in court over a deal he had allegedly cut with South Wales Police for a favourable report to put before a parole board.
The officers on trial, and all now acquitted, were alleged to have coerced statements from witnesses to fit their case against their five suspects. Three witnesses in the original trial were convicted in 2008 of perjury. At the time the court accepted they had been pressured by the original investigating officers into making false statements.
To add a touch of humour to the proceedings the trial had earlier been disrupted when a juror was asked to leave after it emerged she was the mother of a convicted murderer and a second female juror was accused of assaulting a male juror.
For a full report on the trial and its collapse see: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/2011/12/01/lynette-white-police-corruption-trial-collapses-91466-29877522/