During 23 years with the BBC, and 40 years in journalism (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon), our Editor Welshman Phil Parry was often forced to deal with the police, and now comes news that their controversial ‘union’ is to fight plans to make it easier to sack rogue officers.
Earlier Phil has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of history and teaching the subject is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdownplayed havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
Controversial organisations have always made good copy.
One such is the Police Federation (PF), which is effectively the union for ordinary police officers. They have not covered themselves in glory recently (so journalists have been able to latch on to their shenanigans), and headline-grabbing events have only served to underline this salient fact.
In his most recent annual assessment of policing in England and Wales, Andy Cooke, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said that public confidence in policing “hangs by a thread”.
Only this week it was reported how an investigation by The Independent has revealed that the bulk of Metropolitan Police (Met) officers and staff accused of violence against women remain on the force, as campaigners call for a blanket suspension.
The paper showed that three-quarters of police officers and staff accused of violence against women are not suspended by their force despite the allegations against them.
Hundreds of rogue officers should be sacked, according to the Met’s Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, and the Home Office has agreed to grant that wish. On August 31 it said that police chiefs would once again chair misconduct hearings, (those serving in the police may be disciplined in various ways, but can be fired only if they admit or are found guilty of gross misconduct for a range of offences, from wrongful arrest to using excessive force).
The law would also be changed so that officers are vetted throughout their careers, and those who fail such tests could be dismissed.
Yet these alterations have met huge opposition from the PF, and Steve Hartshorn (chair of the federation), has described them as a “return to kangaroo courts”.
Investigating some of the many miscarriages of justice cases that South Wales Police (SWP) have been responsible for, I have myself come across the intransigence of the PF many times.
The miscarriages include: The Cardiff Three (Five), The Cardiff Newsagent Three , The Darvell Brothers, Jonathan Jones (The Tooze Murders), as well as Annette Hewins. However this shameful list does NOT have on it all those innocent people, who were convicted of less important crimes than murder, but who now have a record which will affect them for the rest of their lives.
There is a powerful argument for getting rid of SWP completely, amid growing concern that a country of only 3.1 million people has FOUR police forces! Calls have also mounted for a judicial inquiry to establish the truth about what happened.
An Early Day Motion (EDM) in the UK Parliament has been tabled and was signed by several MPs, which declared: “…this House notes the series of cases since the 1980s investigated by South Wales Police force that resulted in wrongful convictions; further notes the devastating impact that wrongful accusation and imprisonment can have on people subject to miscarriages of justice; expresses concern that many of the perpetrators of these crimes have yet to be found; and calls on the Ministry of Justice to organise a judicial inquiry into all miscarriages of justice that took place between 1982 and 2016”. The motion was immediately signed by three Plaid Cymru (Plaid) MPs, including the party’s leader in the House of Commons (HoC), who tabled the motion, Liz Saville-Roberts.
A Media Conference (MC), was held last year (at which I spoke) also demanding the judicial inquiry (it has since been refused, but as the EDM, and the recent news about the PF show, there are now increasing calls to hold one). Following the MC some then marched to the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC), and Welsh Government (WG) buildings, with a number of politicians backing a Statement of Opinion to support the calls for an inquiry. A rally was also held on July 20 outside Cardiff Crown Court.
At the MC, I said to the audience that I was regularly approached by solicitors during the 1990s, who said the police were doing bad things, and that something had to be done. On one occasion I was told to put away my notebook because I was informed that no record should be made of the conversation. I described, too, how other forces had been put in ‘special measures’ (including the Met), but that this was the least that should be done with SWP. I stressed, as well, the disturbing fact that areas with a greater population, have FEWER police forces. “It is ridiculous that in a population of 3.1 million people we in Wales have FOUR forces”, he said: “Scotland is much bigger, but only has ONE. London has almost nine million people yet has just TWO . Think of the public money that is wasted duplicating resources, to pay fat salaries to all those Assistant Chief Constables, and Chief Constables!”. The MC was organised by Mike O’Brien (of the The Cardiff Newsagent Three), who talked movingly about how his fitness had been badly affected after he spent 11 years inside prison, for a crime he did not commit. He told The Eye: “My health has been ruined, and there has been long-lasting damage. My miscarriage of justice case has caused a huge family rift”.
On the VERY DAY that Jeffrey Gafoor was jailed for the awful murder of Lynette White (after which he even apologised, through his barrister, to the others who had been incorrectly jailed), I was offered an appalling insight into the mind of a PF official. “The others were involved”, he said outrageously, referring to The Cardiff Three (Five) – the innocent people who had been put behind bars originally for the crime.
At a UK level too the PF has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A few years ago an extraordinary feud at the top of the federation claimed the scalps of its two most prominent figures, the then chair Steve Williams and General Secretary Ian Rennie, who simultaneously announced their departures.
For example, it has been revealed that they own a luxury hotel in Leatherhead where members and their families can go to relax paying preferential rates, but, we are told, the price is: “£65.00 (single occupancy) / £80.00 (double occupancy)”.
Yet the police cannot escape the terrible controversies of the past, and the behaviour of the PF only adds to them.
A website highlighting one of the miscarriage of justice cases has been launched called “Justice for the Cardiff 5”. It exposes the failings by SWP investigating officers, and bolsters demands for a judicial inquiry.
Several programmes have been broadcast looking at the events in which the police played such a major part, and a number are in production now. Early last year, another was transmitted (although it is still available to be streamed) examining in detail, the story of Mr O’Brien. The promotional material before one of them, proclaimed: “Episode One Monday 23rd May at 9pm Raphael Rowe delves into the brutal murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders in 1987. The episode examines the investigation that led to the conviction of three innocent men, which resulted in their wrongful imprisonment. The episode reveals shocking police threats and coercion that led to the arrest and incarceration of Michael O’Brien, Ellis Sherwood and Darren Hall. After the men had spent more than a decade behind bars, a court appeal quashed the original verdict, but the unsolved case continues to haunt the city. Plus, for the first time ever, the victim’s sister and nephew break a 35-year silence and reveal exclusive insights into the case”.
Adding to the woes of SWP, and stressing the EDM as well as the recent worrying information, is that a former head of CID was recently jailed. A highly complex sting operation trapped one time Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Jones, which involved the bugging of cars, and deploying of decoy ‘clients’ who made out they wanted to pay for information. It climaxed in Mr Jones admitting to paying an ex-colleague to supply him with information from police databases, after he retired from SWP to run a private investigations agency in 1997.
Even before these terrible details emerged, Sky documentaries were broadcast, called Murder in the Valleys (MITV), looking into the horrific Clydach murders in 1999, when four people (Mandy Power her elderly disabled mother Doris, and two young children) were brutally beaten to death. This, too, has been put under the microscope by what has happened, despite the fact it is not (in theory) a miscarriage of justice case, although the man convicted of them (David ‘Dai’ Morris) died in jail still protesting his innocence. They were nominated for two awards at the BAFTA Cymru ceremony, including one for best Factual Series.
Another television programme late last year on 5Star (which pretended to be looking into ‘cold cases’), though was VERY different. and incurred the wrath of many close to what had happened. 5Star is a free-to-air television channel owned by Paramount Networks UK & Australia and a sister to Channel 5, which specialises in documentaries. One of the daughters of Mr Morris, Janiene Marie O’Sullivan, publicly declared to her dedicated website group: “I am finding it difficult to put into words how it made me feel….Basically it was a whole hour of Martin Lloyd-Evans (who led the investigation into the Clydach Murders) talking rubbish!…South Wales police have done themselves no favours again with this one”.
It was also said on the site: “Can you believe the utter verbal diarrhoea Martin Lloyd was spouting in that cheap channel 5 program…I also know the journalist is on this group so I hope and pray she gets to read this.” And: “What disgraceful journalism!! They should hang their heads in shame”.
The website Mrs Thomas helped set up, along with her niece, questions her brother’s guilt and has almost 31,000 members. On it she published a reply from Channel 5 to her complaint about the programme, but above the letter she wrote: “What research did they do????”.
The successful prosecution case against Mr Morris was that he had gone to Ms Power’s looking for sex, high on drink and drugs, been spurned and beat the entire family to death, leaving his chain there in the process. Yet the evidence suggested Doris had been killed first, NOT her daughter, when presumably it would have been the person doing the spurning who would have died FIRST!
Mr O’Brien appears on MITV saying that he believes the conviction of Mr Morris is another miscarriage of justice (although this is firmly denied by the police). He told the MITV documentary-makers: “When I was released from prison I remember…saying ‘I’m going to be South Wales Police’s worst nightmare for what they did to me’, and I meant every word of it”.
In a formal interview for MITV (they wouldn’t do one with ME!), Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) of SWP, David Thorne, made a startling admission, about the mistakes that were made by the police in the earlier miscarriages of justice. During filming for the programme Mr Thorne appeared on, a forensic review found traces of DNA on a sock which it is believed was used to hold the murder weapon, that were “more likely than not” to have come from Mr Morris, and SWP trumpeted the finding. They effectively said: ‘We know we got it wrong in the past, but this time is different. Trust us’.
Yet a long-running campaign has been launched to establish his innocence, and after the first trial when Mr Morris was convicted, his sister Debra gave a tearful press conference with her parents when she stressed her belief that he was NOT guilty. She said: “He just didn’t do these things…they’ve got the wrong man”. ACC Thorne, though, insisted on MITV, that Mr Morris was the RIGHT man, but acknowledged that mistakes had been made in previous police inquiries. He proclaimed: “It’s safe to say we got it wrong (in the past). We absolutely got it wrong. (There were) HUGE errors in the way investigations were conducted (but) we HAVEN’T found that in this case. This is not a miscarriage of justice”.
However I had made a BBC Panorama television programme about the shocking Clydach Murders a few years after they had been committed, and I was the first to question the police actions during THIS investigation too. As I said in the opening of the programme: “One police force in Britain has a disturbing record of locking up the wrong people in murder cases”.
During MITV, Mr Evans (who mixed up ‘subdued’ with ‘sublime’ on camera!) is questioned about the apparent mistake of not releasing to the public a witnesses E-Fit constructed soon after the murders, which, it said, had a 90 per cent likeness. He replies that because the man seen was carrying a bag, and it was believed the killer did not have one, it was not put out.
Mr Evans said: “I didn’t think it was relevant”, but the E-Fit matched almost exactly the face of the first senior police officer on the scene, Inspector (at the time) Stuart Lewis, who (against all procedure) had only stayed there a matter of minutes, or that of his identical twin brother (another police officer, Sergeant [also at the time] Stephen Lewis, whose wife was having a gay affair with one of the victims). Inspector Stuart Lewis, had changed his shift to be on that night, however at crucial hours during the murders his whereabouts were unknown. He was driving a red Peugeot diesel, and a car similar to this was spotted near the murder scene. So to say the E-Fit was ‘not relevant’, appeared ridiculous, to critics of the police.
In the MITV films Mr Evans’ boss as the then head of SWP CID, Wynne Phillips, also said something incredible: “We can’t manufacture evidence”. However events before the murders, showed that SWP have done EXACTLY that. To take just one of those cases (in which I was intimately involved, because I had made ANOTHER programme questioning THAT conviction [The Cardiff Newsagent Three]), the police MANUFACTURED (as Mr Phillips said they DIDN’T do) an overheard ‘confession’ between the young men they had arrested, when an admission was effectively made to the murder of the newsagent, and they presented before the court ‘EVIDENCE’ that the group had run from the scene, yet one of the three had bad legs and couldn’t run at all!
This kind of ‘evidence’ might fall into a depressingly familiar pattern for the PF, if they are opposing plans to make it easier to sack rogue police officers…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades-long award-winning career in journalism (during which the Police Federation always figured prominently) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.
Tomorrow – how blunders (or ‘gaffes’), whether wilful or not, have always featured prominently for Phil, and this is now highlighted by US President Joe Biden’s latest slip, when he was cut off by his advisors half-way through a rambling speech in which he made a mistaken reference to a John Wayne film.