New Welsh Review
The Dossier: Miscarriages of Justice in South Wales 1982–2016
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No police officer has been brought to book for their part in these cases, despite the evidence behind the convictions being judged unsafe.
I had to take a long, hot shower when I finished this book. After 196 pages of pure human torment, I felt awful. No, not awful. Dirty, that’s how I felt. I felt completely and utterly foul. Don’t get me wrong. it wasn’t because of the book: the book itself was outstanding. O’Brian knows his stuff. Which is no surprise, given what he was put through. In 1988, he was arrested as one of the infamous Cardiff News Agent Three. He spent eleven years banged up for something he did not do. An experience he describes in this book, as well as his other works, Prisons Exposed (Y Lolfa, 2013) and The Death of Justice (Y Lolfa, 2014). He doesn’t spare the reader any details of those harrowing eleven years – the brutality of his life inside, and the inevitable devastating effect his wrongful incarceration had on him and his family. The reader lives this injustice alongside him, and as banal as sounds, we feel somewhat responsible for O’Brien’s ordeal, and all the other Michael O’Brien’s currently sitting in prison cells up and down the country. We are members of the public after all, and members of the public are meant to support other, not convict them, as is shown in this book on multiple occasions.
Since his release in 1999, Michael has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness for miscarriages of justice and hold those responsible for all those ruined lives to account. Sadly, the fact is – and I found this particularly galling – not one of the officers mentioned in this book have been held accountable for their action. In one case, an officer identified as Inspector Lewis (not his real name, of course) manufactured evidence in not one, not two, but three cases. The police knew he had done it, the public knew he had done it, even the judge knew he’d done it when he identified the evidence presented as ‘unsafe’, meaning not reliable and likely to have been manufactured to procure a miscarriage of justice. And what were the consequences of this officer’s actions? Nothing. Non. Niente.
I guess it is true, really. Justice is blind. Especially if you are a copper.
The only thing more infuriating than the lack of justice in these cases, is the suffering of the people involved. Innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, who were unfortunate to upset the wrong person, people who happened to fit a junk science profile, or even more horrifying, people who were simply too ‘different’ to be anything but guilty. O’Brien highlights very real moments of human suffering in this book, too many to fully analysis in great detail. But the one incident that sticks out in my mind is that a man imprisoned for a year was finally, in principle, able to meet his baby girl for the first time, albeit in the suffocating confines of a prison visiting room. Only to be told she had died from cot death. He was told by the prison chaplin, the only source of support he received inside to cope with this devastating, life-altering, soul-crushing loss. And to rub salt into the wound, it seems, O’Brien was refused permission to attend her funeral. His own daughter, with whom he had been denied all the precious moments that a father should cherish with his daughter. The cruelty here goes beyond understanding.
In conclusion, The Dossier needs to be read by everyone. Persecuted suspects. Over-zealous coppers. The public, who should know corruption exists. And in the wake of Sarah Everard, the Smallman/Henry sisters and numerous other cases, maybe it’s time to questions whether officers are really here to protect and serve.
Beau Longley studies at Aberystwyth University, in the Department of English and Creative Writing.