Top detective to lead investigation into murder inquiry

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A top detective was appointed today to head an investigation into claims that police falsified evidence in a murder hunt.

A police watchdog has brought in Superintendent Chris Hobley from the Norfolk Constabulary to spearhead the inquiry.

He will be heading the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into claims South Wales Police fabricated evidence.

Newsagent Phillip Saunders, 52, of Cardiff, south Wales, was violently robbed as he reached home in the early hours of October 1987.

He suffered a fractured skull in the brutal beating and died from his injuries in hospital five days later.

A major South Wales Police (SWP) murder investigation resulted in the trial, conviction and jailing for life of three men in 1988.

Michael O'Brien, 41, Darren Hall, 41, and Ellis Sherwood, 40, were jailed, insisting they were innocent and went on to became known as the Cardiff Newsagent Three.

Their convictions were quashed on appeal after a lengthy campaign to clear their names, but by then they had served 11 years in jail.

Mr O'Brien brought a civil action against SWP claiming false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, later receiving a £300,000 out-of-court settlement.

He also continued to insist that SWP fabricated evidence over the killing.

IPCC Commissioner for Wales Tom Davies said: "The public airing of the IPCC investigation into all of these matters is going to be very difficult for all those affected by the murder of Phillip Saunders and the subsequent police investigation.

"I know this will prove difficult for all those individuals, but it is important that we are as open as we can be so that the public can have confidence that these complaints have been properly investigated.

"Mr O'Brien had his conviction quashed by the court of appeal in 2000 but by then had already served 11 years in jail. Miscarriages of justice strike at the heart of public confidence and these are very serious complaints he has made.

"I have met with Mr O'Brien and his legal representative, and this meeting was also attended by Superintendent Hobley and South Wales Police to explain how Mr O'Brien's complaints are to be investigated. We also explained why there are two separate investigations by the IPCC and SWP."

He added: "My thoughts are also with the family and friends of Mr Saunders today and we have contacted Mr Saunders' family and will be offering to meet them to explain to them what the IPCC investigation will cover and how we will keep them informed of any developments.

"The three complaints from Mr O'Brien that are being investigated relate to alleged fabrication of evidence by the police during the investigation into the tragic murder of Mr Saunders.

"South Wales Police have also started a criminal investigation into complaints about the evidence provided at the original criminal trial.

"There is merit in having the same investigating officer in charge of both separate investigations.

"I have decided that the IPCC investigation will be carried out by Superintendent Hobley under IPCC direction and control and reporting to me using officers from South Wales Police. Superintendent Hobley will also lead the SWP criminal investigation.

"These complaints require proper answers and the public in Wales need to have confidence that Mr O'Brien's complaints have been fully investigated with independent scrutiny."

Detective Superintendent Chris Hobley said: "I do understand the sensitivities involved in dealing with these two separate investigations and ensuring that these two investigations are thorough and proportionate.

"I have been given a thorough briefing on these complex matters and will ensure that the investigations address all of the issues subject of the complaints."