Michael O’Brien

Years in prison:
11
Year of crime:
1987
Year conviction was overturned:
1999

Michael O’Brien and two co-defendants (Darren Hall and Ellis Sherwood) were convicted of the murder of Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders. Saunders was attacked and robbed as he returned to his home. He received injuries in the attack and died five days later. A pathologist gave unchallenged evidence that Saunders must have received five blows to the head causing extensive fractures to his skull. O’Brien was implicated in the crime by co-defendant Darren Hall, who confessed to the crime. At trial, the three defendants had all stated that they were together at the time of the attack. Hall said that he had suggested to the O’Brien and Sherwood that Saunders should be robbed, and realised some harm may come to Saunders but not that he should be killed. He said he acted as the lookout. He pled guilty to robbery on that basis (and had been prepared to plead guilty to manslaughter). O’Brien and Sherwood said that they were with Hall but that none of them had anything to do with the attach on Saunders. The prosecution case against O’Brien was based on the evidence given by Hall, various witnesses who claimed Sherwood and O’Brien had made incriminating statements to them, the fact he initially gave false statements about his movements on the day of the murder, and testimony from a police officer that he heard O’Brien say to Sherwood that he could not hold out much longer and might have to tell police the truth.. Some time after his conviction Hall was moved to a prison with the facility for prisoners to take part in group therapy. There he began to give a very different account, according to which he had killed Sanders himself after he (Hall) had been raped by two men, possibly at Sanders’ instigation. He said Sherwood and O’Brien had actually tried to pull him away from Saunders. A couple of years later Hall changed his story again, saying that he had nothing to do with the attack and neither had his co-defendants. On appeal, evidence from experts highlighted the unreliability of confession evidence in the case. One expert found that Darren Hall had been suffering from antisocial personality disorder at the time the statement was made, had many of the features of a pathological liar, and had a tendency to be suggestible or compliant . Another found that he had a need to appear socially able and was more concerned about the need for acceptance than telling the truth. The court concluded that had the jury heard this evidence they may well have reached different verdicts and quashed the convictions on that basis.

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  • Offence: Murder Robbery / burglary
  • Jurisdiction: England & Wales
  • County: Cardiff 
  • Ethnicity: White
  • Gender: M
  • Years in prison: 11
  • Offence convicted of: Murder and robbery
  • Year of crime: 1987
  • Year of initial conviction: 1987
  • Year conviction was overturned: 1999
  • Age when imprisoned: 20
  • CCRC Referral: Y
  • Tried with others: Y
  • Link to full case: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2000/3.html
  • Type of fresh evidence at appeal: Evidence undermining the reliability of a confession
  • Compensation: Yes
  • Link to compensation: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/jul/30/ukcrime.prisonsandprobation
  • Crown argued case at CofA: Yes
  • Retrial: Unknown
  • Previous appeals: Unsuccessful application for leave to appeal in 1990