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  • Theo Huckle QC

Lynette White RIP - still learning lessons


Poor Lynette White was viciously murdered at 7 James St, Cardiff Bay, in a frenzied knife attack on St Valentine's Day 1988.

On 26 February 1990 I considered myself fortunate as a ‘baby barrister’ to be asked to ‘sit in’ for my pupil master (as we then called them) at the end of the celebrated murder trial in Swansea, already one of the longest in British history at nearly 6 months.

Sadly, I met our client, John Actie, for the first time when I went with leading counsel down into the cells to tell him that the judge, McNeill J, had died that morning, and that he had to remain in custody until a retrial could be arranged. He was retried the following year and, after 2 years in custody on remand, acquitted, as was his cousin, Ronnie. The trial remains the longest in British history.

The other 3 defendants were convicted. They became known as ‘The Cardiff 3’, even attracting the Rev Al Sharpton to Cardiff to support their campaign to be freed. It took till 1992 for those convictions to be overturned by the Court of Appeal.

DNA evidence subsequently convicted the true killer, Jeffrey Gafoor, who was white and nothing to do with Cardiff docks or its community.

30 years ago, it all seems like yesterday to me. The story is one of a terrible killing followed by the racist targeting of members of the Cardiff docks (‘Tiger Bay’) community by a police force determined to find someone who could be held responsible and ‘close the case’. Everyone involved was - and was put - under extreme pressure, which caused many of them to behave in incredibly reprehensible ways, and eventually brought to light some of the worst oppressive practices followed in the name of ‘justice’. 4 years after PACE was passed it had been breached in the most extreme ways.

Many lives were ruined. I am reminded of it all by the BBC’s fantastic 3 part documentary series which is so worth a look. We still have so much to learn about ourselves from this history. Anyone who thinks these things can’t repeat, or aren’t replicated in our system now, even if perhaps mainly at far lower intensity, is a fool. It’s fascinating. Catch it on iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000zhg7