By 1988, Lynette White had been a prostitute for 6 years. Since she was 14 years old, to save you working it out for yourself. She was bright and bubbly, but had never progressed beyond the very bottom end of the ‘trade’. She worked the dockland area of Bute, in Cardiff.
Her friends, neighbours, and customers were exactly as you would expect of that most run down inner city area. None terribly bright, some with decidedly below average intelligence; some petty criminals, some downright dangerous rogues. Not one of them with any great love for the forces of law and order that society expects will maintain some sort of order amongst the thieves, drug addicts, pimps, and general na’er-do-wells that the general public believe should be not seen and not heard of.
Thus when she was found in the early hours of a dark February night with her throat cut from ear to ear and a total of 69 stab wounds to her body, there was a distinct absence of the sort of ‘upright citizens’ in the vicinity that the police might have been called upon to give evidence leading to the conviction of the perpetrator.
Lynette herself had been due to give evidence in a forthcoming case against two of her neighbours, something which put the fear of God into her – retributions were certain to be short and swift. Others who happened to be out and about in those grimy streets at that hour of the morning had longstanding grudges against their pimps, their next door neighbour, the gay couple downstairs – take your pick. None of them were inclined to make statements based on the absolute truth, more a question of ‘the truth as it best suited their purposes at that time’.
To take just two of the witnesses; Paul Atkins(PA) and Mark Grommek (MG): Grommek lived upstairs from the victim, Atkins was his ‘occasional boyfriend’. Over a period of several days, they gave vastly differing statements, implicating each other in the murder, PA confessing to the murder at times, both claiming that the other, despite being homosexual, had had sex with the victim, claiming they hadn’t seen anything, they had seen four other men, they hadn’t heard anything, they hadn’t even been there….
The Police were faced with this carry on from over 100 different individuals. Not one of the potential witnesses could be considered ‘trustworthy’. Eventually, after months of painstaking work, consuming hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax-payers pennies, they arrived at a series of statements which more or less implicated five men. A jury later agreed with their evidence and convicted three of the men.
Four years later, those three men were acquitted, after having served several years in prison, with the judge strongly criticising the manner in which they had been interviewed. It was claimed as ‘the greatest miscarriage of justice ever’. The saga of the ‘Cardiff Three’ became a byword for police corruption, and several conspiracy theories. Unsurprising really, considering the pool of people that the three had been drawn from.
A belief grew up that the police had deliberately selected them to answer for this murder – though reading through the 210 page ‘summary’ (a summary which took six months to write!) from the latest episode, it becomes clear that they had either ‘selected themselves’, or been ‘put forward’ by their friends and neighbours in an orgy of lies and score settling. I wouldn’t argue with the claims that some thoroughly frustrated policemen had helped them on their way to the dock via bullying and coercion. I don’t condone that at all – the police are supposed to be professional – not come down to the level of those they are dealing with.
That is still a long way from the popular meme that the only reason the three were ever in the dock was a group of corrupt police engaged in a conspiracy. Sympathy for the police engaged in an impossible situation doesn’t sell papers or books though.
After the acquittal of the three, the investigation continued – and through diligent police work, the murderer, Jeffrey Gafoor, was eventually traced, confessed, convicted and is now serving a life sentence.
In the background, the story of corrupt police practices continued to fill column inches. Gafoor’s barrister called for an inquiry into the original investigation. Gafoor had been traced via a blood stain that could not have been found in 1988. It was later developments in forensic science that had made their discovery possible.
Even so, there was a rumour going around that the police had ‘planted’ Gafoor’s blood in this unfindable manner in 1988 – and then proceeded to select three other men to protect Gafoor. The logic of ‘why would they plant the blood there if their intention was to protect Gafoor’ entirely escaped the conspiracy theorists. ‘Everyone knew’ that all police officers were corrupt and intent only on locking up entirely blameless citizens of the realm for no reason…nobody ever bothered to look back at the trail of statements, the lies, the evasions and the score settling that had gone on whilst the police were trying to investigate.
There were no less than three inquiries into the behaviour of the police. They received maximum publicity. Less publication was given to the fact that three of the original witnesses were sent to jail for 18 months each, now that the police knew for sure they had been lying all the time.
The CPS decided that they had sufficient evidence to charge 12 of the police officers who had originally investigated the murder, taken statements, and thus were involved in the incarceration of the ‘Cardiff Three’ with variously ‘false imprisonment’, ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’ and ‘misconduct in public office’. Needless to say, it was a done deal as far as the media and the local community were concerned – finally those corrupt police officers that had conspired to lock up their friends and neighbours for ‘no reason at all’ outside of their base evil natures were going to get their just desserts.
When that trial collapsed because some documents were found to have gone missing (documents later found in the South Wales Police store in an unopened box) there was uproar.
The collapse of a £30m trial centred on allegations of police corruption in a Cardiff murder investigation had raised “serious issues of serious concern”, a senior judge has said.
The conspri-theorists foamed at the mouth – here was even more evidence that the police were corrupt – now they had conspired to protect their colleagues from a well deserved prison sentence!
Meanwhile, 15 police officers, and police staff, who had themselves been arrested over the original investigation were not best pleased. Undoubtedly they had resorted to some rough tactics in dealing with the original witnesses, they were dealing with some tough characters, so the temptation was obvious – that is not to condone those who gave in to it.
You can forgive them for thinking that now they were the victims of some pretty rough justice themselves – the ‘Cardiff three’ were after considerable compensation for the time they had wrongly spent in jail – the Cardiff three weren’t suing their friends and neighbours who had originally named or implicated them – they were suing the Chief Constable and the Home Secretary.
Each of those 15 policemen and police staff have now resigned from the force. Or put it another way – society has lost 15 individuals who were prepared to trek down the back alleys of Bute, do their best to sort out the truth from the lies and evasions of the some of the less savory inhabitants there; I wouldn’t want to do it, nor I suspect would most of you. They have left the force because they have been used as political footballs in a game played by the media and politicians.
Yesterday they were refused compensation for what has happened to them, their loss of reputation, their careers, their curtailed pensions. Mr Justice Williams has held that it was correct that they be investigated for the parts they played in the original faulty investigation. I can’t argue with that – yet another investigation was the only practical route to shutting down the continual claims that it was corrupt.
Faulty yes, in that they patently got the wrong people. But corrupt?
The full judgment is one of the most extraordinary documents I have ever read – and read, and read. All 210 pages of it. It is a masterpiece. It has taken Mr Justice Williams six months to write up his notes of all the evidence he heard.
I do suggest you have the patience to read the entire thing before you jump to the conclusion that a ‘faulty investigation’ is the same thing as a ‘corrupt investigation’.
We are happy to support military personnel when there is any question of them being held to criminal charges arising from the dirty job they do on our behalf – and far too ready to fail to support police officers in similar situations.