CPS and police responsible for collapse of trial - victims renew call for public inquiry

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service (HMCPSI)  has today published his report into the collapse of the prosecution against R v Mouncher and Others.

Eight former officers of the South Wales Police saw charges against them of perverting the course of justice and perjury dropped at Cardiff Crown Court in December 2011.  A further group of officers who awaited a second trial were also told that similar charges would not proceed.  Eighteen months later, HMCI has reported on the circumstances which led to the cases being dropped.  

The report finds significant failures in the disclosure process at all levels by experienced police officers, CPS lawyers and counsel, including the failure in management and supervision, dysfunctional decision making and a failure in communication and joint working between them. 

Also published today is the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report into the handling by South Wales Police of the disclosure issues which led to the collapse of the trials.  This report also reveals failings although it finds no police misconduct.   Lawyers familiar with the case say it is sadly lacking in critical analysis

The Home Secretary must decide by 16 September 2013 (for a second time) whether to hold a public inquiry into this case, taking into account today’s reports and the representations of those who suffered at the hands of the police.

Background

Late in 2011 Mr Justice Sweeny presided over the trial of eight former police officers and two civilians who faced charges resulting from the wrongful prosecution of five defendants for the murder of Lynette White in 1988.

On 1 December 2011 Mr Justice Sweeney halted the trial.  His reason for doing so was a series of failures in disclosure by the prosecution team, which included four files that were found during the trial to be missing altogether.  The four missing files were ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ as far as disclosure failures were concerned. The estimated cost of the collapse of the trial was about £30 million.

The missing files were found after the trial had collapsed in the office of the senior investigating officer, DCS Coutts.

The failure to bring police officers to justice was a devastating blow to the three surviving miscarriage of justice victims, who had been framed by the police for the murder of Lynette White in the 1988. They had  given evidence at the Mouncher trial before it collapsed, painfully re-living the terrifying experience of wrongful arrest, conviction and prison time. 

Since December 2011, the victims have continued to seek a public inquiry to investigate the failings that led to the collapse of the trial.  In March 2012 they applied for a judicial review of the decision of the Home Secretary to await the results of the IPCC Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service (HMCPSI) rather than to set up up a public inquiry. The reports of those investigations have finally been published today.

Mismanagement of high profile case – victims demand more answers and accountability
Such a large scale prosecution of police officers and civilians was always going to be a complex and intricate process.  The history of the Lynette White case went back to 1988, including a vast amount of material arising from four prior criminal trials and associated investigations.

The victims maintain that separate investigations by the HMCPSI and IPCC could not provide public accountability for what went wrong, and they have been proved right. There remain significant issues of public importance that have yet to be fully investigated, such as:

  1. The full circumstances in which the four missing files were stored in DCS Coutts’ office; whether  an alleged instruction to shred them was actually issued
  2. The precise nature of the inquiries made during the trial about the four missing files and the quality and truthfulness of the information given to the Court
  3. The circumstances behind all the other failings in police disclosure apart from the four missing files (the IPCC investigation was limited to these files and not wider police disclosure failings)
  4. Failures in communication and relations between the CPS, counsel and police
  5. Identification of individuals responsible for any failings, consideration of professional conduct issues and lessons learned (the IPCC report is particularly inadequate in this respect).

The victims have pressed the Home Secretary to now make the decision to hold a public inquiry, which will include measures to ensure public scrutiny and their own participation.

Tony Paris said:

“In December 2011 I was robbed of the chance to see justice done to the police officers who stood accused of fitting me up for murder. I was let down by the system all over again and I had no confidence that these inquiries, which I was shut out of, would give me the answers that I deserved. I have been proved right. Only a public inquiry stands the chance of getting to the truth and of bringing those that have failed me to account”

John Actie said:

“It seems that it is impossible for people like me to get true justice against the police where they have seriously abused their power and devastated peoples’ lives. These investigation reports do not get to the bottom of all that went wrong.”

Their solicitor Kate Maynard said:

“The investigations indicate a disturbing degree of complacency and incompetence on the handling of disclosure by the prosecution team. This is hard to understand in a trial of such importance and expense, following an investigation that had dragged on for years. However, the investigation reports do not provide the accountability and answers that the victims and public deserve, particularly the report of the IPCC which is too narrow and lacks any critical analysis. It is clear that further inquiry with judicial or other independent oversight is required for my clients and the public to have any confidence in the findings.”

For more information please contact:

Kate Maynard, Partner, phone: 00 44 (0)7812 974613 

Further information

In 1990, Tony Paris, Steven Miller and Yusef Abdullahi (now deceased) were framed by police for the high profile murder of Lynette White in Cardiff.  They were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. John Actie and his cousin Ronnie Actie (now deceased) were also tried but acquitted after spending almost two years in prison. 

Two years later, in 1992 the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions and set the men free.  At the time the police said they were not looking for anyone else.  However, in 2003, following a cold case review which utilised sensitive new DNA tests, Jeffrey Gafoor was identified as the killer of Lynette White.  Gafoor pleaded guilty to the murder and is himself now serving a sentence of life imprisonment.

Since 1990, all five men had to fight for justice over the case that was fabricated against them.[1]  It has had a devastating effect on their lives, and on those of their families. Their prolonged and difficult struggle to establish the truth finally resulted in charges being brought against police officers and civilians for fabricating evidence and committing perjury.  That trial began in front of Mr Justice Sweeney in July 2011.  It should at last have established who was responsible for the miscarriage of justice which had occurred, but it was halted due to failures in disclosure by the prosecution.

[1] Stephen Miller is represented by Matthew Gold & Co.  From 2002 this firm has acted for the other four, Tony Paris, John Actie, Ronnie Actie (who died in September 2007) and Yusuf Abdullahi (who died in January 2011).