After 23 years with the BBC, and 38 years in journalism (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry knows better than most how important information he has revealed can have implications years later, following news that a media conference is now to be held calling for an inquiry into the number of innocent people who have been been given long jail terms, with the actions of South Wales Police (SWP) at their heart.
In the past he 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 Cymru Wales (BBC CW) 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’ 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.
It is clear to me now (although wasn’t at the time I made the television programmes), that my work (along with that of others) can have profound implications years after the event.
At the end of the last century and beginning of this one, extremely disturbing facts were emerging about Wales and elsewhere, with the police at their centre.
They were miscarriage of justice cases, and the list is endless.
On it are The Cardiff Three, The Cardiff Newsagent Three, The Darvell Brothers, Jonathan Jones, as well as Annette Hewins, but this does NOT include all those who were jailed wrongly for less important crimes than murder, yet who now have a record which will affect them for the rest of their lives.
Innocent people were being imprisoned for serious crimes they did not commit, and now we hear that a news conference is to be held in the Autumn calling for a judicial inquiry into the number of miscarriages of justice there have been from 1982 to 2016 in Wales.
Some of those who were falsely locked up will be speaking, as well as academics and authors who have examined what happened.
I too will be talking. Sky television programmes were broadcast earlier this year, called Murder in the Valleys (MITV), looking into the appalling Clydach murders in 1999, which is not (in theory) a miscarriage of justice case, although the man convicted of them (David ‘Dai’ Morris) died last year still protesting his innocence.
As I said in the opening of the BBC Panorama programme, looking at the safety of the conviction of Mr Morris in 2002: “One police force in Britain has a disturbing record of locking up the wrong people in murder cases”.
At the time of the terrible Clydach murders, a highly credible witness had come forward, telling how she saw someone wearing a black bomber jacket which looked like a police coat, near the scene in the small hours of the night in question, and gave a statement to officers, from which an ‘E-Fit’ was constructed (she even pointed out a jacket which was similar in the interview room!).
The police picture which was shown in the MITV documentary films (as well as in my BBC Panorama programme), said it had a ’90 per cent’ chance of likeness.
The witness studied the man closely, because, as I said on MITV, she quite FANCIED him! This E-Fit, however, was NEVER released to the public.
During MITV, the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) at the time, Detective Superintendent (DS) (Retd.) of South Wales Police (SWP) Martyn Lloyd Evans, is questioned about this apparent mistake. 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 I thought this was bizarre in the extreme.
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 drove an unmarked police car which was similar to one spotted outside the house where the murders happened, but with a log book which went missing, and he didn’t report the deaths as suspicious, even though he was known for meticulously playing by the book, and was called by his colleagues ‘Inspector Perfect’.
To say it wasn’t ‘relevant’ for the public to see the E-Fit, I thought was UNBELIEVABLE!
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”.
But events before the murders, showed that SWP have done EXACTLY that.
In a formal interview for MITV (they wouldn’t do one with ME!), Assistant Chief Constable of SWP, David Thorne, made a startling admission, about the mistakes that were made by the police in the earlier miscarriages of justice.
He acknowledged: “It’s safe to say we got it wrong. 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”.
Now that is an incredible acceptance of what has been an AWFUL situation, from a senior SWP officer, and I would suggest an apology might be in order to all those who have been affected by the miscarriage of justice cases his force has been responsible for. This is the FIRST TIME SWP have EVER mentioned past blunders!
There is a powerful argument for scrapping his police force altogether and starting again. Perhaps the opportunity should be seized to create ONE police force for the whole of Wales, instead of the FOUR we have at the moment (for a population of 3.1 million!).
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.
During filming for MITV, a forensic review found traces of DNA on a sock which it is believed was used to hold the murder weapon, that were “likely” 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’.
However ‘trusting them’ is difficult after all that has gone before.
During the period the press conference is to highlight, I was regularly approached by solicitors saying their client was totally innocent, and that BAD things were happening!
On one occasion that I remember, I took out my notebook (which I always carried with me) and the solicitor told me to put it away, because he didn’t want a record made of the conversation. For me, at this time, the police were OUT OF CONTROL!
In the Cardiff Newsagent Three case, for example, we had cast doubt on the supposed ‘confession’, and discovered medical records that showed a key member of the gang, suffered with bad legs, so he couldn’t run at all!
The media conference about what has taken place is on October 12 in Cardiff’s Norwegian Church Arts Centre at 11, and has been organised by Michael O’Brien to coincide with the murder 35 years ago of the Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders, for which he was wrongly incarcerated, before his innocence was established.
This followed ANOTHER television programme I made for the BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) current affairs series, Week In, Week Out (WIWO).
Mr O’Brien (one of the so-called Cardiff Newsagent Three), has been severely affected by being imprisoned for 11 years, and appears on MITV saying that he believes the conviction of Mr Morris is a FURTHER miscarriage of justice.
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”.
He (and I) will mean every word of it it too, at the news conference in the Autumn about all those miscarriage of justice cases, and the lives which have been ruined because of them…
The memories of Phil’s decades long award-winning career in journalism (including some of the miscarriages of justice he has uncovered) as he was gripped by the rare neurological condition, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!
Publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.