Found: 'Lost' evidence that let police walk free

Collapse of £30m corruption trial under fresh scrutiny
  • @peachey_paul

Investigators have discovered four intact files of supposedly "shredded" documents that caused the collapse of Britain's biggest police corruption trial and allowed eight officers accused of framing innocent men to walk free.

A victim of one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice reacted furiously last night to the latest revelations and demanded a public inquiry into a case that has raised serious doubts about the ability of the criminal justice system to investigate itself.

The officers were accused of fabricating evidence following the murder of Lynette White, a prostitute, in 1988, resulting in the wrongful convictions of the so-called "Cardiff Three". The officers' trial collapsed in disarray last month when prosecutors revealed that files had been destroyed.

But the police watchdog said last night that the files had been discovered in their original boxes and were still in the hands of South Wales Police, which had investigated the case against officers from the same force.

Stephen Miller, 45, who spent four years in prison before being freed on appeal, told The Independent last night: "There has to be a public inquiry. This is ridiculous. When is it going to stop? Those officers are never going to be seen back in court. Some of my co-accused have now passed away – where is the justice for them?"

The officers were acquitted in December of perverting the course of justice. A judge at Swansea Crown Court ruled that they could not get a fair trial because evidence was believed lost.

The court heard that the senior investigating officer, Chris Coutts, instructed junior officers to get rid of files that prosecutors had earlier said were relevant to the case. The prosecution told the court that the destruction of the files would "inevitably be fatal to this case", which followed a decade-long inquiry and trial that cost an estimated £30m.

A second case of four other officers, who were due to stand trial this year, was also dropped. All the officers have consistently denied all charges.

Amid an outcry over the failed prosecution, the force referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which said the documents were found this week. The files were believed to be at the force's headquarters. The force last night declined to comment.

Mr Miller's solicitor, Matthew Gold, said: "It seems to be another very important error by South Wales Police adding to the catalogue of errors and mistakes made during the prosecution.

"If that [the destruction of files] was wrong then the officers have walked free when they should have continued to face trial."

Yesterday the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, ordered an inquiry into prosecutors' role in the collapsed trial. The inquiry will run alongside the investigation by the IPCC into the part that police played.

The solicitors for the three surviving men said they have no faith in the inquiry by the police watchdog. They wrote to the Government last month to demand a judge-led public inquiry. Kate Maynard, who represents two of the men, said: "This case is just getting murkier and murkier."

South Wales Police launched the original inquiry after Ms White was found stabbed more than 50 times in her flat near Cardiff docks. Police were hunting for a white man based on initial witness accounts – but five black men were later arrested.

Mr Miller was targeted by police and subjected to days of hostile questioning until he made a "confession" to the killing after more than 300 denials.

Mr Miller, Yusef Abdullahi (who died last year), and Tony Paris were convicted in 1990 of the murder of Ms White, 20, in part based on witnesses bullied by police into giving false accounts against them. Two other men, cousins John and Ronnie Actie, were cleared. Ronnie Actie died in 2007.

The men were acquitted at the Court of Appeal in 1992. Following a second investigation, Jeffrey Gafoor admitted her murder and is serving life.

Case history: Officers in the spotlight

14 February 1988 Lynette White, 20, is murdered.

November 1990 Yusef Abdullahi, Stephen Miller and Anthony Paris found guilty of murder and jailed. John and Ronald Actie are acquitted.

December 1992 Appeal quashes the three men's convictions.

July 2003 Jeffrey Gafoor pleads guilty to murder and is jailed for life.

April 2005-November 2006 Several police officers arrested on charges including conspiracy to pervert course of justice and misconduct.

July 2011 Eight ex-officers stand trial for perverting course of justice.

December 2011 Case against eight former police officers collapses.

26 January 2012 Police watchdog reveals 'destroyed' files are found.