The day continued with a presentation from Michael O’Brien, one of the wrongfully convicted Cardiff Three, who detailed his struggles both in prison, and after his release. O’Brien successfully challenged a Home Office diktat forbidding journalists from interviewing prisoners. He also won a very substantial award of compensation against the police for misfeasance in public office, after the Three’s convictions for the murder of a newsagent were quashed in 1999. 

David James Smith of CCRC outlined its work. Dennis Eady commented later that its success rate was hovering around the 1% mark. The biggest problem was that people are being convicted on no evidence at all, so where is a challenge to a conviction to start?

The Centre for Criminal Appeals has set up a new campaign called “Show Us The Evidence”. Eady said that it is good that lawyers are becoming more political, with slogans like “When the law is broken, it’s time to fix it” and “Help us fix British justice”.

Eddie Gilfoyle, released in 2010 after being sentenced to 18 years for the murder of his pregnant wife – a crime which he and his family insist never took place, and that his late wife had committed suicide – said his life ended when he was sent to prison. His attempt to judicially review the CCRC was dismissed in 2017, after two previous appeals failed. He was bitter about his experiences: “our justice system is dishonest, rotten and cruel”. Professor Felicity Gerry QC commented that the idea that Britain ever had a “gold standard” criminal justice system is plain wrong.

Susan Caddick, Jan Cunliffe and Lorraine Allan (Liam’s mother) then described the effect on families of wrongful accusations. Caddick pointed out that “disclosure” is a namby-pamby word for hiding evidence. It is “blatant dishonesty”, she argued.  Cunliffe said that if she had allowed herself to cry, after her son was convicted on 16 January 2008, “I don’t think I’d ever stop”. Lorraine Allan explained that she became so preoccupied with her son’s case that she stopped asking the usual motherly questions, instead probing him for updates.

Liam Alan explained that he coped by not becoming emotional: “I cried twice in two years”. His message was positive: politicians are paying attention, and he was due to meet the CPS next year. He said: “people are listening”. He said the police want to be in on this as well (well, of course they do). Today’s event had drawn an audience of 150. He urged everyone to get five of their friends to support Innovation of Justice – that way, the movement can grow.

There was then a panel discussion (I had to leave before it concluded, so this is just a portion). Speaking from the floor, Jonathan King said that the CPS and police were taking deliberate steps and choices, which are excused as “mistakes”, or blamed on cut-backs. In reality, he argued, this is conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

Mark George QC castigated the College of Policing’s absurd “believe the victim” approach. You don’t self-certify as a victim in the criminal justice system, he said. And what happens if the police are trained to “believe the victim” is miscarriages of justice. This was absurd and, frankly, disgraceful. We have to have balance. The police are obliged to investigate and the first thing is to see if a crime has been committed. As for false accusers, he asked how is it that such people are allowed lifelong anonymity? “They’re hiding”. 

It is time that the Court of Criminal Appeals is tackled, he said. They adopt the wrong approach. It should not be: “how can we uphold this conviction?” He said that the old idea of “a lurking doubt”, which earlier generations of judges used to allow appeals where they thought that something had gone wrong, even if they couldn’t pinpoint it, had been abolished. There needed to be a hard conversation with the judges. Politicians are now listening.


Note: these reports are not intended as a verbatim account, but rather a summary.