The BBC’s new three-part documentary series A Killing in Tiger Bay airs for the first time on Thursday evening and tells the story of one of the most shocking miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
Directed by Marc Evans and written by Helen Walsh, the team behind ITV’s The Pembrokeshire Murders, the series concerns the brutal murder of prostitute Lynette White, the wrongful conviction of five innocent men and the eventual exposure of the real killer thanks to a breakthrough in forensic technology.
White, 20, was found dead in her flat above a betting shop at 7 James Street in Butetown in Cardiff’s seedy docklands area on Valentine’s Day 1988, having been stabbed 69 times by an unknown assailant in an assault police pathologist Bernard Knight would subsequently categorise as “a mutilating attack with sexual overtones,” according to Satish Sekar’s book about the case Fitted In (1997).
Eyewitnesses reported seeing an agitated white man near the scene with blood on his clothing on 14 February and an E-FIT of the suspect’s likeness was duly released and broadcast on the BBC’s Crimewatch UK as part of a South Wales Police investigation that ran for 10 months but proved fruitless.
It emerged during the probe that White was due to be called as a witness for the prosecution in two upcoming criminal trials and had disappeared for several days prior to her death, perhaps to avoid having to give evidence in court. Persons connected to both cases were briefly considered as murder suspects before that avenue of inquiry was abandoned.
Then, in November, five black and mixed-race men were unexpectedly arrested in response to local yacht club secretary Violet Perriam telling detectives she remembered seeing a number of suspicious black men near the flat where White was killed.
The five were swiftly accused of the murder, despite the police having previously said they were looking for a lone white male.
One of the five was Stephen “Pineapple” Miller, White’s boyfriend and pimp, a cocaine addict said to have a mental age of 11, who was interviewed by South Wales Police 19 times over a period of four days and, after 13 hours of interrogation during which he had denied involvement in the killing on 307 occasions, finally - and falsely - he confessed.
Miller had also implicated the other four men: John Actie, Ronnie Actie, Tony Paris and Yusef “Dullah” Abdullahi.
The first trial of the five accused at Swansea Crown Court, beginning on 5 October 1989, had to be halted after 82 days when the judge, Mr Justice McNeill, died suddenly of a heart attack.
Resuming in May 1990, the trial finally concluded the following November with cousins John and Ronnie Actie cleared by a jury after two years in custody and Miller, Paris and Abdullahi all found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
The trio came to be known as the Cardiff Three as a major public campaign got underway calling for their case to be revisited, their cause boosted by media interest and programmes like Panorama and Channel 4’s Butetown: The Bridge and the Boys casting fresh light on the story. They were duly acquitted by the Court of Appeal in December 1992.
After hearing an audio recording of the police’s interrogation of Miller, Judge Lord Justice Taylor, presiding, said that the suspect had been “bullied and hectored” into falsely confessing during what had been a “travesty of an interview” and that “short of physical violence, it is hard to conceive of a more hostile and intimidating approach by officers to a suspect”.
Miller, who had spent four years in jail before his acquittal was later awarded £571,000 in compensation for his ordeal, and now lives in London but cannot work and is “said to avoid socialising”.
“Why did I accuse innocent men? That’s something I have to take to my grave with me,” he says in the new documentary.
“I’m a 22-year-old sitting in a police station, and they put me in this room and they just started flinging things at me - allegation after allegation - I mean it was so intense.
“I was a sorry soul - I think if they’d said God was in there with me, I’d have said yes. I felt like a prisoner of war. They just took me off the streets, and told me I done this.”
John Actie, known as a “hard man” in Cardiff who had previously been badly beaten after a confrontation with 11 police officers, also received hefty compensation for his experiences - £300,000 - and has since spoken out to accuse the regional constabulary of fabricating his involvement.
His cousin Ronnie passed away from deep vein thrombosis in his garden in 2007 aged just 49 and was known to have found it difficult to readjust to life after prison, according to the BBC.
Tony Paris received £250,000 for his wrongful imprisonment but lost his marriage during the case and reportedly continues to see a psychiatrist every month to help him cope with the legacy of his trauma.
His father also passed away just weeks before he was freed by the Court of Appeal in 1992 and Mr Paris blames the police for his death, telling the documentary-makers: “That’s what killed my old man, they took his boy away, said he did something he didn’t do, and we know it.”
Yusef Abdullahi, like Ronnie Actie, was known to have found it particularly tough to return to normal life after his experiences as part of the Cardiff Three and was hospitalised after enduring a nervous breakdown caused by post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of a public speaking tour on the subject of injustice.
“Until it happens to you, no-one can have any idea what it’s like to be convicted for a murder you didn’t commit, Abdullahi said in 1996, according to The South Wales Echo. “We’ve been really messed up by what we’ve been through. We needed counselling, but no one offered us any help. Being inside really did my head in.”
He died of a burst ulcer in January 2011, aged 49.
Lynette White’s real killer - local man Jeffrey Gafoor, who matched the original E-FIT - was arrested in February 2003 and jailed the following July after new DNA evidence of his blood at the scene came to light.
Gafoor, a security guard by profession, confessed to fatally stabbing White having paid her for sex up front, changed his mind and then demanded back his £30, which she refused.
“For 15 years, you kept your guilty secret and evaded justice even while others stood trial for the murder you knew that you had committed,” he was told by Mr Justice John Royce, who sentenced Gafoor to life in prison with a minimum sentence of 13 years.
Jeffrey Gafoor was recently rejected for parole in June 2021.
The other major development in the case came in 2011 when eight South Wales Police officers involved in the original investigation were put on trial for alleged corruption, accused of manipulating evidence to pervert the course of justice, a charge they denied.
But the £30m investigation ended in failure when key documents went missing, presumed shredded, only to resurface a matter of weeks after the trial had collapsed.
“The whole legal system has let me down from 1988,” Mr Miller told The Independent at the time. “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.”
Then-home secretary Theresa May announced in February 2015 that Richard Horwell QC would be conducting an inquiry into the police corruption trial, saying: “There are still unresolved questions surrounding the reasons why no one was found responsible for this appalling miscarriage of justice.”
This was later delayed until the resolution of civil actions brought by 15 members of South Wales Police over damage done to their reputations.
In response to A Killing in Tiger Bay, the former chief constable of South Wales Police, Matt Jukes, apologised to the Cardiff Five, saying he was “sorry for the effect on their lives”.
“I joined the police force in the mid-90s, so it was after a series of miscarriages of justice, of which this case was one,” said Mr Jukes, now an assistant commissioner in London.
“I have to recognise that the Cardiff Three and the five originally arrested as victims.
“It’s a time for listening but also a time for acting, a time for the whole of the public sector and the whole of wider society to recognise that racism is still very real in our communities.
“The disadvantage experienced through the criminal justice system by black communities is real and present and stands to be addressed... and I know will remain a huge focus for South Wales Police.”
John Actie has since thanked him for his comments, adding: “The truth is important - the truth will set you free - and freedom is priceless. You can’t buy your freedom.”
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