Lynette White: Fresh concerns raised over investigation

Lynette White

Fresh concern has been raised about the way the inquiry into officers involved in the miscarriage of justice surrounding the Lynette White murder in Cardiff in 1988 was set up.

The officer leading the inquiry investigated, amongst others, his ex-boss, a BBC Panorama programme found.

Three men jailed for her murder were cleared on appeal and another man was convicted in 2003.

The case raised concerns about how the original murder inquiry was conducted.

The programme - produced by the same team that covered the case 20 years ago - was following up concerns expressed by a number of former South Wales Police officers.

This latest twist will now be examined by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Battered morale

In 2004 an inquiry, overseen by the newly-formed Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), allowed South Wales Police to investigate what had gone wrong in the original inquiry.

A source close to the inquiry told Panorama that the decision was taken to allow South Wales Police to investigate themselves in order to restore the battered morale of the force.

Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Coutts was tasked with investigating, among others, his former immediate boss Inspector Dick Powell - who had been involved in the original murder inquiry.

The two had worked together at Rumney police station.

Conflict of interest

The investigation conducted by Coutts and his team was extremely thorough and efficient. But the events that occurred when the case reached Swansea Crown Court remain controversial.

The case collapsed in December 2011, after repeated errors were made in disclosure.

Eight former police officers accused of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice were found not guilty, after the judge was told files of evidence had been destroyed.

Two months later the files were found in the possession of South Wales Police.

Lord Carlile, QC, represented one of the witnesses interrogated by police in the original investigation.

He said: "I blame the police first because it is absolutely clear, it cannot be avoided that the police had possession and control of those documents for a long time. And within a very short time at the end of the trial, the documents had been found. Well it's self-evident that something went very badly wrong. This is the largest scale of injustice in a single case, certainly in my working lifetime."

The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the trial are now the subject of two separate inquiries - one of which is being conducted by the IPCC, who are due to deliver a report next month.

This summer the House of Commons announced an in-depth investigation into the IPCC, chaired by Keith Vaz MP.

He told Panorama: "Frankly if people had written a work of fiction about this they would not have believed it, but this is fact."

When asked whether the investigation should have gone ahead, given the senior investigating officer had worked under one of the men he was investigating, he said: "Conflicts of interest of this kind need to be examined extremely carefully. I think this is a matter for proper investigation and I hope that when we get to look at this case we will be able to get to the truth."

Despite the two officers knowing each other, Coutts and his team would investigate their former colleagues thoroughly and efficiently.

For the surviving members of the five men originally charged - and acquitted - with killing Lynette White, the collapse of the trial at Swansea Crown Court was a devastating blow.

Matthew Gold, lawyer for Stephen Miller, who was Lynette's boyfriend at the time of her murder, says: "They continue to suffer from serious emotional and psychiatric scars of a terrible miscarriage of justice. The reasons for the collapse of the trial are a serious indictment of our criminal justice system.

I hope the Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into the Independent Police Complaints Commission will investigate the role of the IPCC in this case, including its lack of independence in carrying out its current investigation, due to its prior long-term involvement in the prosecution."

Panorama, Justice Denied: the Greatest Scandal? BBC One, Monday, 13 August at 20:30 BST then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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