On The Eye our Editor Phil Parry 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, making clear that ‘calls’ to emergency services and court cases are central to any media operation, as well as the vital role of the accurate quotation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the importance of expenses, and about some of those he has interviewed for the now-defunct 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.
Here Mr Parry talks about one of his most famous stories.
As a journalist (especially an investigative one) you are often asked ‘what is the story you most remember?’.
The answer is easy – an episode of the BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series I presented for 10 years Week In, Week Out, called A Night To Remember from 1997.
We discovered new evidence which led to the release from prison of the Cardiff Newsagent Three who had been wrongly convicted of murder.
Three young South Wales men, Michael O’Brien, Darren Hall and Ellis Sherwood, were out one night and had been arrested by the police later for the murder of a Cardiff newsagent and stealing his takings.
They had no reliable alibi for their correct whereabouts and unfortunately one of the three, Darren Hall, ‘confessed’ to the murder and also claimed that the other two were involved too.
Mr Hall said that after the newsagent was attacked, the three had run from the scene of the crime and divided up the stolen money in a nearby church yard.
A succession of prosecution witnesses in the ensuing court case ‘corroborated’ the ‘confession’.
But we felt something was not right with the case.
We carefully looked at all the evidence, found a solicitor for them, and a sceptical barrister who examined it for us.
I interviewed Mr Hall in prison, permission for which is rarely given now, and asked him directly: “Did you do the murder?”.
“No, I didn’t and nor did the other two”, came the reply.
I talked to, and recorded, over the telephone, Mr O’Brien who said a terrible injustice had been done, both to them and the loved ones of the murdered newsagent.
We filmed Mr O’Brien’s family in the Ely area of Cardiff, whose lives, needless to say, had been devastated.
We tracked down all the ‘witnesses’ who were, to a lesser or greater extent, unreliable.
We discovered that Mr Hall during or after one of his interviews, he claimed, had been manacled to a radiator.
Crucially, we found new medical evidence in records that proved Mr Hall’s story could never have happened.
His legs were bad and he could not have joined the others in running away from the scene of the murder to divide up the spoils, as had been claimed.
The original court case was totally flawed, and after being at one time the longest miscarriage of justice case in Wales, the men came out of prison.
I pay tribute in this to my producer at the time, who went on to edit the series, Karen Voisey, who assembled much of the evidence, and to the Editor of Week In, Week Out, Adrian Davies, who commissioned the programme and continued in his confidence of us, even though one of the lawyers rang him at home to say there was not enough evidenc
There were, of course, many very dark moments.
I clearly remember taking Karen for a chat on a bench outside the BBC after one of them, and telling her we should stick with it, because we were right.
The three men were ultimately released after 11 years in jail, and I felt it had been a job well done.
It is nice to think that occasionally journalism can do some good…
Phil Parry’s memories of his 35-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), will soon be released in a major new book.
Also on The Eye – more disturbing revelations made exclusively by us of the dirty tricks campaign at a controversial university where an investigation is underway and the Vice-Chancellor has been suspended.
Tomorrow – the hypocritical reaction of politicians to news that controversial plans for a giant new nuclear power plant in Wales have been ‘halted’.