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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Murder sentence after 'rebellion'
Michael O'Brien
Mr O'Brien said he "missed out" on much of his youth
A man who spent 11 years in jail for a murder he did not commit has told how teenage rebellion got him into more trouble than he ever imagined.

Michael O'Brien was 19 and working as a painter and decorator in Cardiff when he agreed to go "joy-riding" for the first time to be "one of the boys".

But on the same night, Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders was ambushed and beaten as he returned home.

Mr O'Brien and two other men were convicted and jailed for his murder.

Mr O'Brien has said his wrongful conviction for the 52-year-old newsagent's murder changed him forever.

"On the night in question, that's what we were doing, trying to steal a car for joyriding purposes," Mr O'Brien explained.

"I'd never done this before, but nevertheless I wanted to be one of the boys, so I went along with them.

I started getting stronger and decided to fight back
Michael O'Brien

"Looking back on it, I was stupid...I've always felt a bit of an outcast, I just feel different in a sense to other people.

"I was Mr Goody-two shoes, I never did anything wrong, it was a bit of a rebellion."

Mr O'Brien said his arrest left him "stunned" and shaken.

"I allowed myself to be carried in a stolen vehicle...I was guilty of that," he said.

"I was more worried about getting done for the car, because I knew I hadn't done the murder.

Phillip Saunders
Phillip Saunders' killer has never been found

"I just thought the police wouldn't charge innocent people. I was very naive in that sense, I thought only guilty people went to prison.

"I had to face the harsh realities that everything I believed in was just caving in around me."

In 1988, aged 20, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life-imprisonment alongside Darren Hall and Ellis Sherwood, both 19.

Before the trial, Mr O'Brien's daughter died of cot death.

He said he was left "devastated" and in "no fit state" to defend himself.

He said the guilty verdict left him suicidal.

"I was so traumatised. I wanted to die, I wanted to commit suicide," he said.

The three men, who became known as the Cardiff Newsagent Three, were eventually cleared by appeal court judges in 1999.

(From left to right) Darren Hall, Michael O'Brien and Ellis Sherwood
Darren Hall, Michael O'Brien and Ellis Sherwood were freed in 1999

But during the 11 years he spent in jail, Mr O'Brien said his family was "ripped apart".

He said: "It put me on a downward spiral...it devastated me.

"I lost everything I had in my family unit...all that was diminished."

He added: "I had to come to terms with my daughter's death, I had to come to terms with being wrongly convicted and I didn't know how to go about it. I turned to drink, drugs."

The turning point came in 1990, when he met other prisoners, who spurred him on to fight for justice.

"I started getting stronger and decided to fight back... and that's when I started studying law in prison," he said.

Lost youth

Since his release Mr O'Brien has become a campaigner against miscarriages of justice.

In 2001, he launched the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Mojo) at the House of Commons alongside Paddy Joe Hill - one of the Birmingham Six.

But he says his time in prison has left him a "different person" .

He said: "I missed seeing my son grow up...I missed out on a lot of my youth which I can't get back.

"I've lost out on so much in just life in general, just doing everyday things.

"The positives are I fought my way out of prison because I studied law, I've made a number of legal landmark rulings in the courts, my name is in a number of law books for setting a legacy.

"I'm also helping other innocent people which has got to be a good thing.

"If I can stop one innocent person going to prison I feel all of this would have been worthwhile."

'I certainly feel they've left doubts as to whether we've done it'


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