Miscarriage of justice victim stages Christmas ‘fast for justice’
A man who spent more than 11 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit has spent Christmas on a three-day “fast for justice” in protest against the failure to reverse a decision to charge him and others “bed and board” for the years they were imprisoned.
Michael O’Brien, one of the so-called Cardiff Newsagent Three, was convicted of the 1987 murder of newsagent Phillip Saunders.
After a long campaign, the convictions of Mr O’Brien and his co-accused Darren Hall and Ellis Sherwood were quashed by the Court of Appeal. It was recognised that they were victims of a miscarriage of justice and they later received compensation.
But in Mr O’Brien’s case, the sum of around £37,500 was deducted from the amount he received to take account of the cost of his “bed and board” while he was incarcerated.
He challenged the decision, arguing that he shouldn’t be penalised in any way as a result of his wrongful conviction. But a barrister representing the claims assessor defended the bed and board charge, saying that if someone were earning “at liberty”, they would have to spend money on living expenses.
“To put him in the position he would have been in had the miscarriage of justice not occurred, one must deduct the living expenses,” it was argued.
In a split verdict, House of Lords judges decided in 2007 that it was correct to make the deduction from Mr O’Brien’s compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
In July 2023, however, he had fresh hope following the case of Andrew Malkinson, whose rape conviction was quashed after he had spent 17 years in prison in England. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said shortly afterwards that people who had been wrongly convicted should not have to pay “living expenses” for the time they spent in prison. And Secretary of State for Justice Alex Chalk confirmed the rule would be scrapped, describing it as a “common sense change which will ensure victims do not face paying twice for crimes they did not commit”. Mr Chalk subsequently announced that he was looking at other cases of wrongful conviction with a view to backdating the rules.
As yet, however, no decision has been made.
In frustration, Mr O’Brien decided to stage a three-day fast for justice, beginning on Christmas Day. He told Nation.Cymru: “Normally I would have had a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings with my family, but this year that didn’t seem right.
“My family has been supportive although they were concerned that I was undertaking a fast at my age – I’m 56. Going without food makes me feel a bit nauseous and I get more tired than I normally would. But drinking water is helping to keep me going and by restricting my protest to three days, I’m clear that I don’t want to do any lasting damage to my health. That’s why I’m calling it a fast for justice instead of a hunger strike. I went on hunger strikes several times when I was in jail protesting my innocence, and they take a lot more out of you.”
On the reason for the protest, Mr O’Brien said: “It seems we now have a situation where some miscarriage of justice victims won’t be charged ‘bed and board’ payments while others will. Why should people like me and maybe 25 others be discriminated against because our miscarriages of justice came earlier? Either everybody is entitled not to have ‘bed and board’ payments deducted or nobody is. Once the decision to compensate some was made, it surely has to be applied to everyone concerned.”
When we contacted the Ministry of Justice, we were told that the matter was under consideration and that no estimate could be given about the length of time that might pass before a decision was reached.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.