Three could be freed over Welsh killing

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THREE MEN jailed for life 10 years ago for murdering a newsagent have had their cases referred to the Court of Appeal, in what is expected to emerge as the latest major miscarriage of justice.

Darren Hall, Ellis Sherwood, and Michael O'Brien - known as the Cardiff Newsagent Three - were teenagers when they were convicted of battering Philip Saunders to death with a spade outside his Cardiff home in 1987.

New evidence, including the retraction by Hall of an alleged "confession", which formed the main thrust of the prosecution case, will now be examined by the Court of Appeal. A new report by a senior forensic psychologist also supports claims by Hall's lawyers that he made a voluntary false confession under police pressure.

The report found that at the time of the murder, Hall was highly emotionally unstable and below average intelligence.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission's decision to refer the case, revealed last night, is a strong indication that the men will be cleared. All the convictions so far referred by the commission have been quashed.

On October 12 1987, Mr Saunders was viciously battered with a spade and the takings from his kiosk were stolen. He died five days later.

The chief suspect was a man described as 6ft tall with dark, curly hair. The three men charged were Hall and Sherwood, both aged 18 and petty criminals, and O'Brien, then 19, who had no record. They were all of slight build and about 5ft 5in tall. No forensic evidence linked them to the crime. They later said that at the time of the killing they had been breaking into cars in the area.

But Hall, who was interviewed on 12 occasions by South Wales police, mostly without a lawyer present, eventually gave a statement that he acted as a look-out and that O'Brien had held the victim down while he was beaten.

He gave evidence against the other two and pleaded guilty at Cardiff Crown Court to manslaughter, but his plea was not accepted and all three were jailed for life in July 1988.

One of the key pieces of new evidence is a statement admitting he lied in his statements, saying he did so because he wanted to "be someone". He retracted his original confession despite being almost due for parole. A number of witnesses who were facing criminal charges have also admitted their evidence was untrue.

Angela Irish, a barrister working with the campaign, said: "We are relieved and extremely pleased that the case has been referred to the Court of Appeal. We would have been surprised if it wasn't, because the evidence is overwhelming.

"The evidence was always unsafe because you had a confession from a vulnerable, emotionally unstable young man. He has now retracted his evidence on camera, as have other prosecution witnesses."

One of the key police officers involved in the case was now being investigated by the Police Complaints Authority over a separate case and she hoped that this might help the appeal.