Trial of Cardiff Three police collapsed due to human error, inquiry finds

Official report rules out corruption in disappearance of crucial evidence against 15 police staff accused of framing three men

The collapse of a trial of police officers accused of framing innocent men for murder collapsed due to human error, not corruption, an official report has concluded.

The report was prompted by claims that police wrongdoing contributed to 13 police officers and two police staff walking free from court in the Cardiff Three case in 2011, after crucial evidence was lost. It was later discovered after they had been formally acquitted.

The Cardiff Three case was a miscarriage of justice in which three men – Yusef Abdullahi, Stephen Miller and Anthony Paris – were convicted of the 1988 murder of a Cardiff prostitute, only to be cleared on appeal and a fresh suspect identified and convicted.

The review into why the cases against the 15 police employees collapsed was set up by the home secretary in 2015 and carried out by Richard Horwell QC.

Horwell describes the Cardiff Three convictions as “one of the worst miscarriages of justice in our criminal justice system”. Two other men were originally charged by police but not convicted.

Horwell concludes that the case against the police fell apart because of blunders, and not because of a conspiracy: “[Abdullahi, Miller and Paris] have always suspected that the trial collapsed due to yet further police corruption. Such suspicion is entirely understandable but has not been supported by the evidence.”

Horwell adds: “It is human failings that brought about the collapse of the trial, not wickedness.”

Lynette White, 20, was stabbed more than 50 times at the flat where she worked in 1988. Abdullahi, Miller and Paris were convicted of her murder in 1990 and jailed.

The case against them rested on witness testimony, some of which was recanted.

Their convictions were quashed two years later and the men were released. In 2003, Jeffrey Gafoor admitted murdering White and is now serving a life sentence.

Horwell’s report, published on Tuesday, said: “The case against [the Cardiff Three] comprised accounts from eyewitnesses, confessions to civilians and a single recorded confession by Stephen Miller to police officers. Following the convictions, the main eyewitnesses withdrew their evidence, as did most of the civilians to whom confessions were alleged to have been made.

“The court of appeal quashed the three convictions in 1992 because Miller’s confession to police officers had been obtained by oppression involving bullying, hostility and intimidation at a level that had horrified the three court of appeal judges.”

In 2011, police officers were tried for “acting corruptly together” to make a case against the Cardiff Three.

Horwell said: “The case against the police officers was that they had ‘moulded, manipulated, influenced and fabricated’ the evidence against the five innocent men.”

His report makes 17 recommendations for the disclosure process – the way by which information gathered during an investigation is preserved and made available to the prosecution or defence in a criminal trial, in case it is useful to their case, or undermines the case of their opponent.

“Disclosure problems have blighted our criminal justice system for too long and although disclosure guidelines, manuals and policy documents are necessary, it is the mindset and experience of those who do disclosure work that is paramount.”

The reforms include national standards and better training for officers about disclosure.

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said Horwell’s finding of human error was “deeply troubling” but that she was pleased the causes had been explained.

“The Home Office will write to both the police and CPS to bring the attention to the report’s recommendations and every effort must be made to ensure they are acted upon,” she said.

Kate Maynard, a solicitor for Abdullahi and Paris, criticised the errors in the disclosure process, which included not having enough officers who knew what they were doing. “This was a monumental error, and a false economy that lead to the collapse of a £30m prosecution,” she said.

“The reality is that chronic errors in disclosure right across the criminal justice system is undermining prosecutions to the detriment of all. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary reported today that 22% of evidence schedules are ‘wholly inadequate’. Hopefully, this exposure of very high-profile failure will reinvigorate calls for real reform.”


Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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