An Exceptional Injustice (Part 4) – The New Cardiff Three

An Exceptional Injustice (Part 3) Flawed
September 22, 2014
An Exceptional Injustice (Part 5) – Justice Denied
September 22, 2014

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Duress – A Legal Quagmire

Mark Grommek, Angela Psaila and Learnne Vilday (the New Cardiff Three) were told that they had a responsibility to tell the truth and should have reported what had been done to them. The prosecutor, Nicholas Dean QC, said that they had time to tell before the committal hearing and trials, but who should they have told? Vilday had tried more than once to tell the truth. Each time she was brought back into line. Psaila tried as well and she too was brought back into line. Grommek stuck rigidly to the script, although he fought his corner on duress hardest of all. They plainly believed that they had no choice but to lie and Vilday at least had indeed tried to tell the truth as Dean and the CPS had demanded. It did her no good.

These witnesses were being looked after by police officers who had not been involved in the original inquiry. They also had access to court officials before giving evidence. According to their prosecutors they should have told the truth to either those police officers or the officials of the court. This took no account of the psychological trauma they had suffered and also the legal and political climate of the time.

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What would have happened if they had done precisely what Dean demanded of them? An investigation would have followed, which would have been their word against the police they accused of bullying them without the certain knowledge we now have that they had indeed been lying about the guilt of the Cardiff Five. What was the likelihood of them being believed?

In March 1990 Alban Turner, wrongly convicted of murdering Michael Galvin at the 1987 Notting Hill Carnival was freed on appeal. The star witness Kevin Sarbutts had retracted, alleging serious police malpractice. The now defunct Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigated those allegations. His lies against Turner, which he admitted to, were never investigated. Sarbutts was convicted by a jury that asked for him to be treated leniently. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

A Dangerous Precedent

If they had told the truth earlier they would almost certainly have shared the fate of Sarbutts. His complaint to the PCA was used to prosecute him for perjury, but not in relation to his self-confessed lies about Turner. He was prosecuted and convicted of perjury in 1994 for his claims of police malpractice. If the New Cardiff Three had told the truth between December 1988 and November 1990, they would in all probability have gone to jail then and for longer, but for what they said about the police – the very things Mr Justice Maddison’s court accepted were true.

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Vilday and Psaila pleaded guilty when told they would be sentenced on one count rather than the three they were charged with. Grommek elected to be tried, pending a decision on whether duress could be a defence to perjury. Mr Justice Maddison eventually decided that duress was no defence to perjury, so Grommek changed his plea to guilty. He had been left with no choice, but he was left with the three counts. They were convicted due to the laws on duress to perjury charges and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment each, despite the judge branding police conduct to them as: “unacceptable in a civilised society”.

Another Miscarriage of Justice

They now want their convictions quashed and a public inquiry. But this requires a change in the law. If what happened to them does not count as duress, then the law is wrong. The unacceptable conduct resulted in statements containing a perjury warning, but it had the opposite effect to that intended by those who drafted that law. Instead of preventing perjury it led inexorably to the evidence they were forced to give. They had no realistic choice but to do as they did back then – perjure themselves.

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20 years later they were prosecuted for doing what they were forced to. The criminal justice system accepts that they have now told the truth about what was done to them in 1988, but the law offers them no remedy, just a criminal conviction – the only people held legally accountable for the miscarriage of justice that befell the Cardiff Five.

On any normal definition of the term the New Cardiff Three are victims of a shameful miscarriage of justice – one that offers a stark warning of what will happen even if witnesses have compelling proof that they were forced into perjuring themselves. Meanwhile, the officers whose conduct was branded ‘unacceptable in a civilised society’ were told that they would face trial – a trial that would later collapse in farcical circumstances.

Continue to Exceptional Injustice P.5

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