True Crime Tuesdays: A Killing in Tiger Bay
Helen Archer | On 28, Sep 2021
In the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 1988, 20-year-old Lynette White was stabbed to death in a flat above a shop in Tiger Bay, Wales. It was a brutal, frenzied attack – White suffered 69 wounds and, as we are told repeatedly in this three-part documentary, her throat was cut so badly that her head was almost severed from her body. As she lay dead in her apartment, a man was witnessed outside. Described as white, agitated and blood-stained, he was immediately sought by police investigating the murder.
Cut to 10 months later, and, having failed to locate the prime suspect, an increasingly under-pressure police force instead rounded up a disparate group of Black and mixed race men – among them Stephen Miller, Lynette’s boyfriend at the time, as well as Yusef Abdullahi, Tony Paris, and brothers John and Ronnie Actie. It was the start of a nightmare that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Following the excellent podcast written and produced by Ceri Jackson for BBC Wales, Shreds: Murder in the Dock, this documentary is full of their fury at what the Home Office would ultimately call “one of the worst miscarriages of justice in the history of our criminal justice system”.
Split into three distinct parts – titled The Murder, The Trial, and The Reckoning – the series features interviews with some of the men. Later legal action proved that they were stitched up by a corrupt police force, who, for their part, apparently felt that regardless of their innocence of Lynette’s murder, the men were getting what they deserved because of their history of petty crime. There is still a real and understandable raw anger in some of these interviews, as Miller, Paris and John Actie talk about the racist abuse they suffered at the hands of the police and the public.
The documentary works well when it scrutinises the wider milieu of the time, as the courts and media perpetuated the myths of the multicultural Butetown and its residents. The trial would be moved to the less-diverse Swansea, where it would play out in front of an all-white jury. One witness repeatedly referred to the accused as “monkeys”. and there was clearly an effort to portray them more generally as animals. Tapes of the interrogations are played, in which the men were harangued for hours until Miller eventually broke and gave them a false confession. As for Lynette, the police couldn’t even get the spelling of her name right.
The tenacity of the accused’s families is highlighted, as the Black community came together to show their support. Civil Rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton’s visit in 1991 was instrumental in garnering the case more publicity, while a new consciousness was developing in Britain with regard to institutional racism. The investigative TV show The Black Bag featured the case, and pressure grew to release those convicted.
Years later, the police did track down the white man witnessed outside Lynette’s flat on the night of the murder, and he ended up confessing to the crime. But it was too late for the Cardiff Three, whose lives had been irreparably damaged by their treatment at the hands of the justice system. There is some talk here – as there usually is in these kinds of documentaries – about how times have changed. Viewers can make up their own minds about the veracity of these claims. In the meantime, this series is an angry howl for those whose lives have been devastated by the systemic racism which pervades British society – hard to watch at times, but necessary.
A Killing in Tiger Bay is available on BBC iPlayer until September 2022