It takes a shocking case to alter the public’s appreciation and understanding of what happens to defendants every day of the week. There was probably nothing in the case against the original five defendants in Cardiff that does not happen daily. The investigation involved the police having a clear idea and the resources to prove it of the likely murderer of Lynette White. He had all the hallmarks of a single killer affected by deep psychological problems with a battery of distinctive psychiatric features and a history of violence which could not have been contained for his entire life and, in addition, was probably a client of Lynette’s.
Instead, however, ignoring strong leads in the logical direction, the police adopted an approach which has repeatedly proved almost certain to provide false and unreliable evidence, namely pressurising potential witnesses until they give an account that helps the police ‘towards a solution’ of the crime and then, on the basis of an unreliable and deeply flawed series of improbable allegations, detaining persons not fitting the known information, but who then are ‘fitted in’ to the police’s scenario.
It is frighteningly and spectacularly easy to obtain ‘evidence’ and prosecute a case to a conviction on such a basis. This, after all, was the basis for prosecuting Judith Ward, the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and Tottenham Three. Although tried and tested and found to be disastrous, nevertheless, it continues daily and once again bore tainted fruit in the sad case of what eventually became the Cardiff Three.
Stephen Miller could no doubt have asserted until the end of his days that he had been bullied in the police station and he would not have been believed. It would have been said to him that the police were entitled to question him as they did and he had the full protection of a solicitor present as well as the complete protection of a tape recording being made. This was what was said to him by two High Court judges at two separate trials and by a third High Court judge who turned him down on his application for leave to appeal, after which, without solicitors or barristers who had advised him that he had no further prospect of winning an appeal, he was totally alone.
It does not, therefore, feel like a great triumph of the judicial system for him to have, by a number of accidents, managed to have found allies and renewed his application for leave to appeal and, eventually, not only won it with the ringing endorsement of the then Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Taylor of Gosforth, that the interviews of him were disgraceful and should never happen again, but with the additional effect of causing his two co-defendants to win their appeals on the basis of his suspect interviews.
The interviews were deeply shocking. The ‘bullying’ interviews with the police literally shouting him down were, to me, not as appalling as the extended and insidious advocacy conducted by the persuasive officers whom he did not regard as bullies. In the end it was the extended persuasion that overbore Stephen Miller’s will.
This happens every day in a police station. Perversely, tape recorded interviews make it easier for police to over-talk witnesses, to go faster, to ask more questions and to be more oppressive than when they took, or were meant to take, detailed notes of interviews by hand. But it is custody itself, to me, that offends every concept of individual liberty. Why not tap on Stephen Miller’s door and ask if they could speak to him? They could have achieved the truth that way.
To lock up an individual in a cell can have no other purpose than to coerce him and to make him do what he would not otherwise willingly and voluntarily do. That is oppression. Moreover, the cell is a stinking, dark and dirty place, like being in a lavatory. Indeed, it is with a lavatory built into a bench on which there is at best a thin mattress and a dirty blanket. Consequently, when the police refer to ‘custody suites’ to ‘rest periods’ and to ‘safeguards’, there are euphemisms for locking a person up to soften them up, in which the only relief from isolation and total lack of stimulation, indeed, from all sensory deprivation, is to bring them out for interrogation.
We have held on to, with some difficulty, the principle of the right to silence, albeit in an emasculated form. To me, the ability to detain a person for the purpose of questioning is to allow the police to detain a person for the purpose of undermining their fundamental right to silence. If the police can obtain evidence by proper investigative means, then they have the right to prosecute and bring a person to justice.
If they depend entirely upon what they can extract from a suspect, then this violates the basic concept brought about by John Lilburne’s resistance to the infamous Star Chamber in 1640, from which we came to believe that no person should be forced to be their own executioner. In other words, people should not be required to provide evidence to convict themselves from their own mouths.
To me, the detention and interrogation of Stephen Miller smacks of the rack and thumbscrew and the decision of the Court of Appeal should not have been to the effect that here were safeguards and the safeguards work, but that the custodial process in itself was unfair and unsafe and a violation of individual rights.
We seldom achieve great advances in acknowledgement of individual rights; nevertheless, putting up individual markers is vital, and for Stephen Miller, Yusef Abdullahi and Tony Paris, I rejoice in their freedom. However, I regret that in some ways their acquittal cheated them of a total explanation and exoneration.
Stephen Miller was fortunate in that his longest standing and most energetic ally, Satish Sekar, saw long before most others that something was terribly wrong with his case and I can personally give testimony that Satish nagged and persisted, often up to midnight, with phone calls, meetings and constant reminders that this was a case that had to be defended and that I should do anything that I could to help Stephen Miller. The oppressive process worked. Any person locked up in the awfulness of imprisonment for a wrongful conviction is lucky to have Satish for an ally. He persists. He is constant and he gets results. I therefore thank him and Stephen Miller for having encouraged me to work on the case.