Collapse of £30m police corruption trial 'down to human errors, not wickedness'

A major review into the collapse of the UK's biggest police corruption trial has found it fell apart "because of human errors by the police and Crown Prosecution Service rather than a deliberate attempt to cover up any crime".

More than £30 million of taxpayers' cash was spent before the investigation, into whether eight former South Wales Police officers perverted the course of justice over the 1988 murder of Cardiff woman Lynette White, was aborted.

The murder resulted in three innocent men being jailed before their convictions were quashed. The real killer was caught more than a decade later.

The 2011 trial of the former police officers was halted over fears that documents had been lost. They were eventually found in a storage unit, but by that time legal proceedings had been halted.

A major review into the collapse of the trial was announced more than two years ago and carried out by Richard Horwell QC.

On the evidence it is clear that very few emerge with credit: too many aspects of the investigation and prosecution were poorly managed. But my principal finding, from which much flows, is that bad faith played no part in the errors of either the police officers or the prosecution lawyers. It is human failings that brought about the collapse of the trial, not wickedness.

Richard Horwell QC

South Wales Police say they participated fully in the investigation undertaken by Richard Horwell QC and that they welcome the findings of the report.

Before my election as Commissioner, I was Member of Parliament for the area where Lynette’s murder took place and I have followed events with care from the start. 29 years after this tragic murder took place, we now have a far greater understanding of all the events, and of the role of each organisation leading up to the collapse of the criminal trial into alleged police wrongdoing in the original murder investigation. I welcome this comprehensive review of the history of this case as it has looked at the role of all parties, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and at what happened during the court process. This has not been subject to the same close scrutiny as the work of South Wales Police which has been studied in detail from the very earliest the early stages. I have seen the enormous care with which the current Chief Constable and his team have left no stone unturned in efforts to get to the bottom of the whole affair. I hope the thoroughness of this report will now have addressed all the concerns that have been raised over recent years and provide reassurance to all those affected by Lynette’s murder and subsequent events.

Alun Michael, South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner

The review was announced in February 2015 by then-home secretary Theresa May, who said there were still many questions surrounding this "appalling miscarriage of justice".

The report makes 17 recommendations - 14 for the police and three for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - to improve the process of disclosure of evidence.

The case against the police officers was that they had "moulded, manipulated, influenced and fabricated" the evidence against five innocent men, but the trial was beset by problems especially concerning prosecution disclosure.

It was presumed the lost document had been destroyed on the order of the senior investigating officer, and as a consequence, the prosecution decided it could no longer have confidence in the trial and criminal process, and the case was aborted.

Although it was later found, Mr Horwell's report details another document that was discovered to have been destroyed, but he said the destruction of this "irrelevant" digital document was a "world away from a corrupt police officer destroying an original document that undermined the prosecution case".

The evidence reveals a rather chaotic trail of poor management by police officers and the prosecution lawyers, particularly the CPS. There were too many disclosure failings which by 28 November 2011 had brought the prosecution case to a 'knife's edge'.

Richard Horwell QC

Among the recommendations for police, Mr Horwell said he would like to see a national training programme for disclosure, while there should be national minimum standards and a national accreditation process for disclosure officers.

He said "disclosure officers must, in addition to being trained to adopt the appropriate mindset and approach to external material received by the investigation, be better trained to appreciate that they may come into possession of internally generated information that requires to be recorded, registered, reviewed, and revealed", and any note of relevance must be submitted promptly into the disclosure process.

He said the CPS should consider whether almost every contact with a witness should be disclosed.

"Disclosure problems have blighted our criminal justice system for too long and although disclosure guidelines, manuals and policy documents are necessary, it is the mindset and experience of those who do disclosure work that is paramount.

"No one can ever say that there will not be disclosure errors in the future, but if these recommendations are implemented and if they and the changes already introduced are followed in both letter and spirit, the prospects of disclosure failings will be significantly reduced."

Stephen Miller, John and Ronald Actie, Yusef Abdullahi and Anthony Paris stood trial in 1990 for the murder.

Mr Miller, Mr Abdullahi and Mr Paris - known locally as the Cardiff Three - were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment but were acquitted in December 1992 after an appeal court quashed their convictions.

In 2003, advances in DNA technology saw the real killer, Jeffrey Gafoor, caught. He confessed to stabbing Ms White more than 50 times.

An investigation into police handling of the case took seven years by a team of specialist detectives under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The eight officers who stood trial had all denied bullying or intimidating witnesses.

I welcome the publication of this report on the issues that led to the trial's collapse in 2011. The report's finding that human errors led to the collapse of the trail is deeply troubling, but I am pleased the causes have now been fully revealed. The Home Office will write to both the police and CPS to bring their attention to the report's recommendations and every effort must be made to ensure they are acted upon.

Amber Rudd MP, Home Secretary