In the late 1980 and 90s much of my work was around fighting for justice for those wrongly convicted of crimes. Back then the police favourite modus operandi was to ‘fit people up’ if there was a lack of compelling evidence.
Officers would lie and plant evidence to secure their convictions at any price. People will remember the iconic miscarriage of justice campaigns such as the Tottenham 3 or the M25 3 and cases such as the Birmingham 6 campaigns.
The most notorious case for me was the case of the Cardiff Three campaign. I was fortunate enough to be involved in this campaign and provided support through the radical black network the National Black Caucus. I became involved after being contacted by one of the families involved.
Working alongside an outstanding community activist and relentless force of nature Satish Sekar we toured the country highlighting the injustice suffered by those arrested. Satish learned every aspect of forensic science to help in disproving the crowns case, he assessed every line dot and comma of the evidence pointing out inconsistencies in witness accounts, timings and many other evidential flaws he came across.
Today in an unprecedented move eight retired South Wales Police Officers and two civilian staff are being sent to trial charged with conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice that saw three innocent black men go to jail for a murder they did not commit. Those men came to be known as the Cardiff Three. Another four will go to trial late this year. This is the biggest trial of police officers ever seen in British history.
The Cardiff Three were convicted of the murder of Ms Lynette White a white prostitute who was murdered in Wales, Cardiff in the early hours of February 14,1988.
At the time of the murder witnesses saw a white man covered in bloodstains near the scene in the early hours of that morning. In addition the police had strong evidence to suggest a white paedophile with a string of convictions for violent sexual assault was responsible. They chose to ignore that evidence.
Lynette suffered a brutal death after being repeatedly stabbed mutilated and slashed. The murder was gruesome and bloody. For some inexplicable reason rather than focusing on looking for the white man seen at the scene of the crime, the South Wales Police began to change the focus of their investigation.
Nine months later eight people, seven of them black, were arrested. All were tested for blood found at the scene of the murder but with no positive result. Three were released.
One of the five was Steve Miller, from Brixton. He had made a confession as a result of being worn down by oppressive interview tactics. Miller finally gave them what they wanted after his 19th interview with police and he implicated his acquaintances.
Five men were in the dock. Of these, two cousins, Ronald (who has since died R.I.P.)and John Actie, were acquitted whilst the rest, Yusef Abdullahi, Tony Parris, and Steve Miller who all came to be known as the Cardiff Three were convicted and jailed for life at Swansea crown court in November 1990.
Three weeks after they were convicted of murder, Geraldine Palk, was murdered in the Fairwater district of Cardiff, two miles from Bute Town. In an almost copy cat murder she had been horribly stabbed 83 times and just like Lynette, she suffered deep slash wounds to her chest, throat and wrists.
At that point we turned to the radical human rights solicitors Birnbergs and campaigning barrister Mike Mansfield QC to fight the case in the courts and we set about winning the case in the court of public opinion.
We toured the entire country alongside Malik Abdullahi, brother of Yusef and Lloyd Parris brother of Tony. We set about highlighting the fact that there was no forensic evidence associating the Cardiff Three with this murder despite the gruesome and bloody nature of the murder. We began to attract the attention of serious campaigning journalists. The BBC Panorama Team covered the case in their series Unsafe Convictions.
First point we made was that Steven Miller had a very low IQ and had been oppressively coerced into a confession as a result of police harassment.
Second, that a prison informer, Ian Massey, who claimed Mr. Parris had confessed to the murder whilst on remand in Cardiff prison was a liar. Mr. Parris had witnesses that he was collecting glasses at the Bute Town's Casablanca nightclub. Peter Scott, who ran it, was adamant he was there that night.
We pointed out that at the original trail two white women Angela Psalia and Leanne Vilday both prostitutes who claimed to have been forced by the Cardiff Three to take part in the grisly murder of Lynette White were not credible. Miss Psalia was in custody for 42 hours before she made her statement. First they said they found the body of Lynette and called the police before then claiming that they were forced to mutilate her body by the Cardiff Three.
The original trial judge was not impressed and had in fact told the jury, that in his view these women were not credible witnesses. They were subsequently jailed for perjury.
It then emerged that a number of critical alibi witness statements to which the defence were entitled were not given to them before the original trial. Then we discovered the killer blow to the case against the South Wales Police. There was crucial forensic DNA evidence at the scene of Lynette’s murder that did not belong to any of the Cardiff Three and that evidence was withheld from the defence team.
In June 1991 after a nationwide campaign and dogged legal work we managed to get the case referred to the Court of Appeal. In 1991 I arranged for the Rev Al Sharpton to lead a march of the campaign in Cardiff attracting worldwide publicity for the case. Billy Power of the Birmingham 6 Campaign spoke out, David Rose of the Observer wrote extensively, the Voice Newspaper and Caribbean Times newspaper pushed the campaign.
After four more years of campaigning the Cardiff Three were eventually released on appeal in 1994. Later their convictions were quashed. In 2003 a security guard, Jeffrey Gafoor, 38, from Llanharan, south Wales, pleaded guilty to the murder of Lynette White after he had been linked to the killing as a result of DNA developments.
The lives of the falsely accused were ruined destroyed by the actions of South Wales Police and the trails of these officers will bring little comfort to the families of the Cardiff Three.
Yusef Abdullahi, one of the three men wrongly jailed, sadly died in January this year aged 49 due to a burst ulcer.
Nevertheless justice is about to be served and I for one feel good having played a small part in making that happen.
From left to right: Tony Paris,Stephen Miller and Yusef Abdullahi