A MAN jailed for a murder he didn’t commit has called for the devolution of justice as he steps up his campaign for a judicial inquiry into wrongful convictions in Wales. 

Michael O’Brien was one of three men wrongly convicted, in 1988, of the murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders in October 1987. 

His resolve for a judicial inquiry – and for the Senedd to take on the issue – has been further strengthened after his plea to the UK Government was seemingly dismissed. 

O’Brien, his brother-in-law Ellis Sherwood and a third man Darren Hall, became known as the Cardiff Newsagenet Three during 11 years behind bars as a campaign to overturn their convictions was launched. The appeal court eventually quashed their convictions in 1999. 

Since his release O’Brien has continued to campaign for others who claim to have been wrongly convicted and for an independent investigation into wrongful convictions in south Wales that stretch back to the early 1980s. 

He is to take his demands to the Senedd but says with the Welsh Parliament having no powers over the criminal justice system all he can ask of it is to place pressure on the government in Westminster. 

“I’m trying to get cross party support (in the Senedd) for a judicial inquiry, but it needs the devolution of the criminal justice system to come to Wales. 

“The Senedd members can’t order an inquiry, they haven’t got the powers.” 

As part of the campaign O’Brien will stage an event in Cardiff in October bringing together campaigners and those who’ve been wrongly convicted of crimes, on the anniversary of the murder of Phillip Saunders. 

“The date is poignant and I want to remind everyone of the victim as he has almost been forgotten,” said the campaigner. 

“It’s not right and it’s almost like it has been swept under the carpet. The victim’s family deserve justice, probably more so than the victims of the miscarriage of justice, if that makes sense?” 

Earlier this year O’Brien met the murder victim’s 92-year-old sister Pheobe, and her son David, as part of a television show and they told him that they knew he wasn’t responsible for the murder. 

The October event will also feature John Actie, who was one of five men wrongly accused of the 1988 murder of Lynette White. Three of the men were convicted, at trial, and their names eventually cleared in 1992. In 2003 the real killer, Jeffrey Gafoor, was convicted after being identified by DNA evidence. 

Also due to speak at the event is Paddy Joe Hill, who is one of the Birmingham Six, who were wrongly convicted of an IRA pub bombing campaign in the 1970s, and who O’Brien got to know during the early years of his own imprisonment. 

Others set to speak at the event include journalists and academics including those who run Innocence Projects in which students take on cases of those it is claimed are victims of miscarriages of justice. 

Author John Morris, who has written The Clydach Murders which claims that David ‘Dai’ Morris who died in prison last year was twice wrongly convicted of the murder of four generations of one family in the Swansea Valley village in 1999, is also set to speak at the event. 

O’Brien, whose own book The Dossier published last year examines wrongful convictions and alleged miscarriages of justice in south Wales from 1982 to 2016, said following the event he and those attending will walk to the Senedd. 

“We will be walking to the Senedd to present a copy of my book as evidence to the members to support our calls for an inquiry and raise this issue with the UK Government.” 

Though some have claimed responsibility for criminal justice resting in Wales could reduce scrutiny as close-knit professions could close ranks if faced with uncomfortable questions O’Brien says it is a responsibility Wales cannot shirk from. 

“I understand the point but I think because we’re a small country, with so many miscarriages of justice cases, that highlights why we need an inquiry. My book is, not the encyclopedia of all the miscarriages of justice, but it is a list of cases that need to be looked at."

O’Brien wrote to the UK Government, via the then secretary of state for Wales Simon Hart, in May to ask for a judicial inquiry to be established. He hopes such an inquiry, led by a retired high court judge, could bring to account all those involved in wrongful convictions, from police officers to legal professionals, and prevent further miscarriages of justice. 

He also said he hopes it can bring Phillip Saunders’ family closer to justice, 35 years after his murder. 

Though a reply from the Ministry of Justice said it recognised miscarriages of justice are “a blight on the criminal justice system and have a devestating impact on all involved” it said it has no plans to establish a judicial inquiry.  

The letter, from a civil servant, also said, in response to concerns at the conduct of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, that “each organisation involved in the criminal justice system is expected to carry out its duties in accordance with the rule of law.” 


O’Brien said: “The letter from the Ministry of Justice just poo-poohed the idea with excuses, it was just appalling really.” 

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said it doesn’t support the devolution of justice but is working with the Welsh Government on some of the recommendations of the Thomas Commission which in 2019 recommended the devolution of justice. 

The spokesperson said: “It is our belief that a single jurisdiction is the most effective way to deliver justice across England and Wales and the costs of creating separate jurisdictions would not be justifiable. 

“We are continuing to work closely with the Welsh Government to deliver justice in Wales, including the joint work on supporting women and young people, and taking forward some of the recommendations of the Thomas Commission.” 

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.