Police in court over framing of Cardiff Three

The largest police corruption trial in British criminal history began yesterday, 20 years after five innocent men were jailed for the murder of a prostitute. Thirteen policemen are accused of agreeing to "mould, manipulate, influence and fabricate evidence" to frame the group for the Valentine's Day killing of 20-year-old Lynette White in 1988.

Stephen Miller, Yusef Abdullahi and Tony Paris were jailed for life two years after she was found in a Cardiff flat, having been stabbed 50 times. Cousins Ronnie and John Actie who also stood trial, were acquitted.

In 1992, the convictions of Mr Miller, Mr Abdullahi and Mr Paris were quashed by the Court of Appeal and they were released, after a miscarriage of justice so profound that they became known as the "Cardiff Three". The real killer, Jeffrey Gafoor, a client of Ms White's, pleaded guilty in 2003 to the murder and is now serving life in prison.

But yesterday eight of the original squad of 13 now-retired policemen – including three high-ranking officers – appeared at Swansea Crown Court accused of conspiring to pervert the court of justice.

Former superintendent Thomas Page and ex-chief inspectors Graham Mouncher and Richard Powell joined officers Michael Daniels, Paul Jennings, Paul Stephen, Peter Greenwood and John Seaford in the dock. Civilians Violet Perriam and Ian Massey are each accused of two counts of perjury, as is Mr Mouncher.

The other five defendants will be tried at a second trial, because the courtroom was not big enough to fit them and their legal teams. The defendants deny all the charges.

Jurors heard how, nine months after failing to track the real killer, the defendants invented a fictional scenario that was "almost entirely a fabrication and largely the product of the imagination". The police's case appeared to have reached a dead end when suddenly Ms Perriam, who knew some of the officers through her work as a barmaid at a local yacht club, came forward with what looked like "the key that would unlock the door".

She identified five men she claimed she saw arguing near Ms White's flat on the night she died. "Those five men, all of those five men, were innocent of the murder – indeed they were more than just innocent, they simply had nothing at all to do with the killing," Nicholas Dean QC, for the prosecution, told the court.

"The prosecution say that [the eight officers] acted corruptly together and with other police officers to manufacture a case against the five men who were charged," he said.

He claimed that Ms Perriam and Mr Massey "told clear and deliberate lies about one or more of the five men". "They told those lies under oath – they perjured themselves," he added.

"As you will see, the story – and it was a story, a fiction – that was to emerge between mid-November and mid-December 1988 was absolutely extraordinary."

The case continues.

Corruption cases

* In 1975, The Guildford Four – Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson – were wrongly convicted of IRA bombings on two pubs in London, but were released after it emerged police tortured them to confess.

* Norman "Nobby" Pilcher was jailed for four years for perjury in 1973. He became infamous in the Sixties for arresting celebrities such as Mick Jagger and John Lennon on drug charges.

* Flying Squad commander Kenneth Drury was convicted of five counts of corruption and jailed for eight years in 1977. He was accused of "the harassment of witnesses until he got what he wanted".