In the Media

Lynette White police corruption trial evidence found in south Wales

PUBLISHED January 26, 2012

Documents thought to have been shredded, leading to collapse of case against eight former police officers, discovered

Important documents thought to have been shredded by detectives, which led to the collapse of the multi-million pound Lynette White police corruption trial, have been found.

Eight former police officers were found not guilty last month after it was claimed that the senior detective in charge of the case against them had ordered colleagues to destroy documents that could have helped prove their innocence.

On Thursday, it emerged that the documents had not been shredded at all but had been discovered in boxes being held by South Wales police.

The revelation will cause further embarrassment to the police and prosecutors, who have already been heavily criticised over the failure of the case.

Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, has now asked the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate to examine the handling of the case.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is also investigating how South Wales police dealt with it. The trial of the eight officers and two civilians was the largest case of alleged police corruption ever brought before the British courts. It centred on an investigation into the murder in 1988 of Lynette White, a 20-year-old woman working as a prostitute in Cardiff.

Three men, Stephen Miller, Yusef Abdullahi and Tony Paris were convicted of her murder in 1990. Their convictions were quashed two years later and they were released. In 2003, Jeffrey Gafoor, a client of White's, admitted murdering her and is serving life.

During last year's trial at Swansea crown court, eight former officers were accused of "acting corruptly together" to make a case against the so-called Cardiff Three. The prosecution claimed the accusations were "largely the product of the imagination and then the theories and beliefs of police officers".

The trial was hugely complicated and beset with problems, many relating to the disclosure of documents. The prosecution is obliged to disclose certain documents even if they are not relevant to its case because they could help the defence.

At the start of December, the case against the 10 defendants collapsed and the trial judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, formally recorded not guilty verdicts.

Sweeney said the trial had become "irredeemably unfair" because of the way the disclosure of documents had been handled.

At Swansea crown court the most damning accusation against the detectives who probed their former colleagues was that the senior investigating officer, Chris Coutts, may have ordered documents to be shredded.

But the IPCC revealed those documents had been found. IPCC commissioner Sarah Green said: "The Independent Police Complaints Commission has now verified that the documents that the Lynette White trial at Swansea Crown Court on 1 December, 2011 was told may have been destroyed have been discovered and were not shredded as first thought."

The court was told that the documents related to complaints made to the IPCC by another man arrested but not convicted over White's murder. "It seemed these documents may have been shredded on the orders of senior investigating officer Chris Coutts," said Green.

She said the documents had been sent in boxes by the IPCC to South Wales police in 2009. The documents had now been found in the original boxes.

"These boxes were still in the possession of SWP [South Wales police] and have subsequently been verified," said Green, adding: "The IPCC investigation has not yet concluded and will also need to establish what happened to these files of documents. We have of course informed the director of public prosecutions about the discovery of these documents."

One of the criticisms the police and prosecutors faced was their apparent inability to manage the hundreds of thousands of documents the case generated. The role of the IPCC may also come under scrutiny as it helped supervise the investigation into the eight former officers.

Alun Michael, the MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, said the reviews should "leave no stone unturned". "We need to know why things went wrong, why so much money was spent on the investigation and then it wasn't carried through."

A friend of one of the men originally arrested over White's death, who asked not to be named but spoke with the knowledge of the former suspect, said: "The whole thing gets more bizarre by the minute. Did this whole trial collapse because they lost a box or two of documents? It beggars belief. It would be laughable if it wasn't so depressing."

Starmer said: "Shortly after the collapse of this trial, I initiated a full and detailed review of the circumstances in which the decision to offer no further evidence was made. I asked leading counsel for the prosecution to prepare a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for the decision.

"I have now considered that analysis and as part of the review have decided to ask Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, an independent statutory body, to consider the way in which the prosecution team conducted the disclosure exercise in this case."

The inspectorate will examine:

? Whether the prosecution team [CPS and counsel] approached, prepared and managed disclosure in this case effectively, bearing in mind the history, size and complexity of the investigation and prosecution.

? Whether the prosecution team complied with their disclosure duties properly, including all relevant guidance and policy relating to disclosure, in light of the extensive material generated in this case.

? Whether the existing legal guidance is appropriate for cases of similar size and complexity.

A South Wales police spokesman said: "This is an ongoing IPCC investigation and, as such, it would be inappropriate to comment." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds