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Furious miscarriage of justice victim demands release of police document that suggested he was guilty after all

13 Jul 2023 5 minute read
Michael O’Brien. Photo via YouTube

Martin Shipton

A miscarriage of justice victim who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit is demanding that South Wales Police release to him a report written three years after his conviction was quashed which expressed the suspicion that he and his two co-accused were guilty of the crime after all.

Michael O’Brien is furious after having leaked to him an internal police document that refers to a bigger report written by a retired senior detective who believed he, Darren Hall and Ellis Sherwood really did kill newsagent Phillip Saunders near his home in Canton, Cardiff in 1987. The motive was said to be robbery of the cash takings received at Mr Saunders’ kiosk in Cardiff bus station.

In 1999 the Court of Appeal overturned the three men’s convictions, citing oppressive questioning of Hall that resulted in a false confession and numerous other irregularities that took place during the police investigation.

Since his release from prison, Mr O’Brien has led calls for a public judicial inquiry into a series of miscarriages of justice that followed investigations undertaken by South Wales Police, including his own case.

In advance of a protest rally in Cardiff later this month, Mr O’Brien has now been sent an internal report written by two South Wales Police civilian employees 20 years ago.

The 21-page document, dated July 21 2003, was headed “Staff in confidence” and addressed to Chief Superintendent JB Adsley of South Wales Police’s Professional Standards Department. Entitled “Phase 3 Report – Comparative Analysis of Cases”, its authors were two investigative assistants employed by the force – G Price and DG Morgan. Copies were sent to Mr DG Madge, force solicitor; Miss L Buttery, force assistant lawyer; and Mr J Knight, consultant.

The document began by explaining that its purpose was to identify “strengths and weaknesses” in cases cited by the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO) in its call for a public inquiry into a series of wrongful convictions that followed investigations by South Wales Police.


Referring to the Cardiff Newsagent Three, the document stated: “In the case of R v O’Brien, Sherwood and Hall, a review conducted by Mr John Smith, a retired detective superintendent from Devon and Cornwall Police, revealed his suspicions that the three acquitted men may actually still have been involved in this crime.”

The document concluded: “While the analysis of the cases cited by MOJO focussed on the case of [the Cardiff Newsagent Three], the calls for a public inquiry now centre around the case of [the Cardiff Three, wrongly convicted of the murder of sex worker Lynette White]. This follows the conviction of Jeffrey Gafoor, who pleaded guilty to the murder of Lynette White and has now been sentenced to life imprisonment.

“Despite the shift of focus to the Lynette White case, the analysis work that has now been completed is no less relevant. Those calling for a public inquiry will undoubtedly still seek to link these cases with the 1988 investigation into the murder of Lynette White.

“While impropriety was identified in a number of the cases analysed, legislative and procedural changes will have eliminated, or at the very least have reduced, the opportunities for similar alleged malpractices to occur in the future.”

An extract of the police report


Mr O’Brien said: “I am upset and very angry to find out that such a document exists. It is outrageous that the retired detective could accuse us of being the murderers of Mr Saunders after the Court of Appeal overturned our convictions so emphatically.

“I am also appalled that this report has not previously been released to me and my legal team. I believe I have a right to see it and if South Wales Police refuses to release it I will have to pursue this through legal channels.

“I suspected for many years after our convictions were quashed that the police weren’t taking the reinvestigation of the case as seriously as they should have done. I believed they still had it in their heads that we were guilty. Some people called me paranoid, but what’s been leaked to me shows I wasn’t at all.

“The relatives of Phillip Saunders deserve justice. What’s come to light now with this leak underlines even more why there is a need for a public inquiry.”


Assistant Chief Constable Jason Davies said: “In 2003, South Wales Police launched a re-investigation into the murder of Phillip Saunders. This extensive re-investigation found no further evidence that implicated any previously identified or unidentified persons in the murder.

“It was carried out following a recommendation by an independent review that the murder should be re-investigated.

“Our determination to ensure openness, fairness and transparency influenced our decision to publish the reports of Operation Fortitude and Operation Resolute [covering aspects of the case]. This has ensured that a fulsome, accurate account of events exists in the public domain.

“As recently as 2020, the Chief Constable reinforced South Wales Police’s position that Mr O’Brien was the subject of a wrongful conviction, arising from a miscarriage of justice.

“The opinion of an independent reviewing officer pre-dates both the decision to carry out a re-investigation and the publication of the Operation Fortitude and Operation Resolute reports.”

A spokesman for South Wales Police said the force would consider whether the report should be released to Mr O’Brien if he submits a subject access request in line with freedom of information legislation. This he has now done.

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