The destructive effect of one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice was laid bare yesterday as the surviving members of the "Cardiff Five" joined together to demand a public inquiry into the collapse of Britain's biggest police corruption trial.
Stephen Miller, Tony Paris and John Actie told The Independent how they have struggled to find work, form relationships and suffered from psychological problems after being wrongly accused of the 1988 killing of Lynette White, a Cardiff prostitute.
The case against eight former police officers accused of fabricating evidence against them was abandoned in disarray this month after documents in the case were destroyed. The scrapping of the trial, which cost the the taxpayer an estimated £30m, is currently the subject of two official inquiries.
Mr Miller, 45, who spent four years in prison before being freed on appeal, said yesterday that he felt cheated after the case collapsed. "I spent four years in prison for something I didn't do. It nearly sent me crazy," he said.
"The whole legal system has let me down from 1988. It's been a nightmare from that day. They expect me to melt into the background. But for 23 years I have been fighting this case and I have thought about it every day. Everything has been on hold: friends, relations and family. For as long as I can breathe, I am going to be a thorn in their side."
The three men made the joint appeal for a judge-led public inquiry after the collapse of the corruption case raised questions about the ability of the criminal justice system to investigate itself.
In a letter to the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, Home Secretary Theresa May and the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, they called for an inquiry that was "robust, expeditious and truly independent" from the police corruption case. The inquiries are being carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which from 2004 oversaw the police inquiry that led to the aborted corruption trial.
Mr Miller and Mr Paris, 54, who also spent four years in prison, both gave evidence at the corruption trial and felt they had been "violated all over again" during cross-examination, according to the letter. Mr Paris said: "I was devastated. I couldn't understand how this could happen. We will always be connected to this case. If the police did their job properly first time round, we'd never have been charged or gone to jail."
He said his marriage broke up while he was in prison, and that he now sees a psychiatrist once a month. "You don't trust anyone, you don't go anywhere, you're a recluse," he continued. "We're left in limbo. It's like watching a movie and when you get to the best part, it stops. You think it's going to come back on – but it doesn't. You're stuck and there's nothing that you can do."
South Wales Police launched the original inquiry after Ms White was found stabbed more than 50 times in her flat near the docks. Police were hunting for a white man based on initial witness accounts – but the five black men were arrested. Mr Miller was subjected to days of hostile questioning until he made a "confession" after more than 300 denials. After a long trial, Mr Miller, Yusef Abdullahi (who died this year) and Mr Paris were found guilty of the killing – in part based on the accounts of witnesses who had been bullied by police. Two other men, cousins John and Ronnie Actie, were acquitted. Ronnie Actie died in 2007. John Actie said: "Although I was found not guilty by the jury, since coming out I have been attacked, bottled and called a murderer."
The convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal in 1992, when Lord Chief Justice Taylor ruled: "Short of physical violence, it has hard to conceive of a more hostile and intimidating approach by officers to a suspect."
After a second investigation, Jeffrey Gafoor, a client of Ms White, pleaded guilty to her murder. He is currently serving a life sentence.
An investigation into police corruption was then launched, conducted by the same South Wales force. The trial against the officers was ended after the senior investigating officer, Chris Coutts, told junior officers to dispose of files. Mr Miller, who co-operated with police during the corruption trial, felt let down. "It's like I have been assaulted twice," he said. "I know these officers aren't going into court again but something needs to be done. I'm still going through my nightmare and I don't know when I'm going to wake up."
Matthew Gold, Mr Miller's solicitor, said despite the huge cost of the inquiries and a dedicated team appointed to ensure documents were properly recorded, mistakes were still made. "That has to be of real public concern. A public inquiry must be held to help police and prosecutors from ensuring that this does not happen again," he said.
South Wales police said a public inquiry would not be appropriate because of the other ongoing inquiries.
Rough justice: The Cardiff Five
Mr Miller, was 22 and Lynette White's partner at the time of her death. He "confessed" to the killing after being subjected to aggressive police questioning. Now aged 45, he lives in London but cannot work and avoids socialising.
Mr Actie, now aged 50, was charged with the murder but acquitted by a jury but only after spending two years in custody. He lives in Cardiff but says that he has been attacked because of his involvement in the case.
Ronnie Actie died in 2007. Like his cousin, John, he was cleared by a jury at a trial in 1990. Kate Maynard, of Hickman and Rose solicitor which acted for four of the men, said: "Right up until they died, they were engaged in a continuing fight for justice."
Mr Actie, now aged 50, was charged with the murder before being acquitted by a jury, but only after spending two years in custody. He lives in Cardiff but says that he has been attacked because of his involvement in the case.
The third man convicted of the killing. He died this year at the age of 49 from a heart attack. Mr Abdullahi's solicitor said that he had struggled to come to terms with life outside of prison despite being cleared by the court.