Evidence destruction key to police corruption trial collapse review

 

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The Independent Online

An urgent review into the dramatic collapse of a multimillion-pound police corruption trial will look at why vital evidence was destroyed.

Eight former police officers walked free from court today after hearing that top cold case officer Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Coutts had ordered the destruction.

Ten people in total were on trial accused of fabricating a case which led to the wrongful jailing for murder of three men.

The 10 were formally found not guilty today after judge Mr Justice Sweeney discharged a Swansea Crown Court jury, telling them the accused could not get a fair trial.

Britain's top prosecutor added to the sense of urgency when he spoke of his own "extreme concern" at the collapse of the case.

South Wales Police Chief Constable Peter Vaughan is backing calls for a "full and detailed review" of the circumstances in which the decision to end the trial was made.

It is all a long way from the brutal murder of a prostitute in a seedy flat in Cardiff in 1988.

Lynette White, 20, was found with more than 50 stab wounds in her body.

Police eventually arrested Stephen Miller, Yusef Abdullahi, Tony Paris and cousins Ronnie and John Actie for murder.

The cousins were cleared but the three other men went on to serve two years in prison before being released on appeal.

In 2003, Jeffrey Gafoor, a client of Miss White, pleaded guilty to her murder and is now serving a life sentence.

Mr Abdullahi, 49, died earlier this year.

The Swansea trial, which began in early July, was expected to last well into 2012.

Gafoor's admission was the catalyst for the investigation into the officers behind the original case.

Arrests were made in 2005 and the 10 defendants went on trial accused of bullying witnesses into agreeing to fabricated accounts of the killing.

Senior among them are ex-superintendent Richard Powell, 58, and former chief inspectors Thomas Page, 62, and Graham Mouncher, 59.

They were accused of conspiring with Michael Daniels, 62, Paul Jennings, 51, Paul Stephen, 50, Peter Greenwood, 59, and John Seaford, 62, to pervert the course of justice.

Civilians Violet Perriam, 61, and Ian Massey, 57, together with Mouncher, were also accused of two counts of perjury.

The collapse of the long-running trial comes today after proceedings were adjourned on October 28.

In that time extensive research into the way the case was run before it got to court revealed that material had been destroyed.

Chief prosecutor Nicholas Dean QC said in court today that when he learned of the destruction of material it set "alarm bells ringing".

The file that Mr Coutts, who headed the cold case review, had given the order to destroy was a copy of material relating to a complaint made by John Actie to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Mr Dean stressed that the prosecution was certain that Mr Coutts was an "honest and honourable" man.

But the circumstances in which the trial collapsed brought immediate criticism and concern.

Keir Starmer, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Britain's top prosecutor, spoke of his "extreme concern".

Andrew Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives at the Welsh Assembly, said: "I would urge the CPS to establish an independent inquiry into the serious errors that have emerged in the collapse of this case, and that they make the scope and scale of the inquiry public at the earliest opportunity.

"This has the potential to be very damaging for public confidence in the police and leaves the eight men accused in a state of limbo following an unsatisfactory conclusion to their trial."

Simon Clements, the Crown Prosecution Service's reviewing lawyer, said prosecutors were satisfied before the trial that the case should go before a jury.

It was a review ordered by the trial judge into unused material which revealed files were missing.

"This information related to complaints made by one of the original defendants to the IPCC and another complaint relating to the investigation," Mr Clements said.

"On inquiry, it was found that these copies 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.

Mr Clements said that the trial was stopped because the new information meant it was not possible to say for certain that other material had not been destroyed.

"The destruction of those copies, along with the non-recording of the destruction, meant that it would be impossible to give meaningful re-assurances that no other material had been treated similarly, thus undermining the defence's confidence in the disclosure process."

PA