New BBC documentary A Killing In Tiger Bay revisits the 1988 murder of Lynette White, the subsequent trial and the institutional police corruption that led to five local men being framed, wrongly convicted and jailed. One of the five, John Actie, has taken part in the documentary and also spoke about the case to Carl Marsh.
Was there any trepidation about doing this new documentary series, John? You did the BBC Sounds podcast Shreds: Murder In The Dock a couple of years ago – could this have brought up bad memories again?
I wanted it out there. I want people to realise exactly what we went through – what they’d [South Wales Police] done it to us. We’ve all suffered: everyone has family, friends, you know. I jumped at this because, as you know, when Shreds came out, Ceri Jackson opened the door for everything. I have got to take my hat off to her.
So, when this documentary came along, I was eager to do it. I wanted to talk to the people. I want them to realise – because, remember, it’s been going on for 32 years, and it was only in 2017 it all finished when the QC who did the investigation came down from London and said it was human error. It was no corruption.
How could I believe that it was human error after all the corruption went down with me? Do you understand me? It’s not happening, Carl. You know that the [sealed evidence] paperwork was found two weeks later [after being lost for the trial]. You have to remember that they have to protect these policemen because it was a lot of policemen, so if they would all have got convicted, could you imagine what would have happened to the South Wales Police!
There’d have been none left! And they’d have to have a separate prison for them all…
Exactly. It couldn’t happen. Come on, you’ve gotta look at it, it’s not happening. That’s never happened in this Great Britain, so that wasn’t going to happen with the biggest police corruption in British history. They weren’t going to jail them guys.
It seems like one rule for the police and one rule for the accused because that’s all you were: the accused. It was a complete fabrication—a farce.
It was terrible. It was the biggest corruption as you’d be listening to these coppers telling you: “you were in the flat.” I said, “I wasn’t fucking there. What are you on about?” and they’d say, “but we know you were there, John.” I said, “well, how do you know I was there when I was working?” and they just said, “two girls…”
I’ve never seen these girls before in my life when I went into court. I was like, “who are they?” I’d never seen these people before. They got these vulnerable people and worked on them as they had nobody to help them. They couldn’t read or write. This is what [the police] had done; this is how they’d got us into jail.
The story [about the murder] itself was also pathetic. Like it was a ritual or witchcraft – fucking crazy. Could you imagine that you’re sitting down, Carl, and you’re listening to that in a police station?
It’s just that I can’t even put myself in your shoes – I don’t mean that with any disrespect. I just couldn’t.
No, no, Carl, that’s fine. I honestly still can’t get my head around it. I still think about it. I sit down in my flat, and when I think, it’s still, you know, strong in my mind. You wake up in the morning not feeling good or watching something on the TV, but there will always be something there to remind you of what happened. And these coppers got away scot-free because – in my opinion – the CPC didn’t want to push it too far.
We had everyone against us. We had the news outlets, you name it, and we were guilty as far as they were concerned. I remember when they came to arrest me, they knocked on the door and told me they had come to arrest me for murder. I was in shock and just told them to fuck off – that’s what I said. “Fuck off, get away from my door.” They then said, “John, if you don’t come, then we’ve got to call for backup.” I said, “Go on, fuck off, go and sit in the car,” and there are four or five of them. And do you know what, there you go – they’ve come to arrest you for a murder, I’ve told them to fuck off, and they’ve gone to sit in a car around the corner! I went upstairs to kiss my wife and daughter and said, “I’ll see you in half an hour.” It was 23 months later until I saw daylight again.
The trauma that you and your family went through, you’d assume it was personal?
Well, when the coppers had charged us, they went down to my local pub on a Sunday night and were drinking champagne. They went to my local pub and were celebrating—all the CID. And you then know that that’s personal.
A Killing In Tiger Bay, BBC One Wales, from 9pm on Thurs 9 Sept. Info: here
words CARL MARSH