It was June 1985 when brothers Paul and Wayne Darvell were arrested for the murder of mother of four, Sandra Phillips. Wayne was 22 at the time, his younger brother just 20.
Over 35 years later, we look back at the circumstances and the Neath brothers who were convicted of her murder.
On June 14th 1985, Sandra Phillips was murdered in her place of work. She was sexually assaulted, hit on the head and strangled. Petrol was poured on her and around the shop on Dillwyn street in Swansea but was not set alight.
The Darvell brothers were fairly well-known petty criminals in the City. Homeless and out of work, the pair would regularly be seen strolling the streets with a can of Dry Blackthorn Cider. South Wales Police spoke to the pair as a part of their enquiry.
Wayne Darvell quickly made a series of admissions. He confessed to being at the murder, but it was his brother Paul that carried it out. Paul denied any knowledge of the murder.
Both men were arrested.
Forensic tests were carried out on the brothers’ clothes. Despite the attack being very bloody and brutal, not a shred of blood, fibre, fingerprint, or petrol linked them to the crime.
The case stood around a few people who saw them near the shop with a container which could have held the petrol. And of course, Wayne’s confession, although Paul continued to claim his innocence.
Both men were found guilty after an 8 week trial at Swansea Crown Court. Paul sentenced to a minimum of twenty years, Wayne 15.
Rough Justice was a BBC programme at the time which would investigate wrongful convictions. They investigated the case and found quite a few areas for concern.
It seemed that Wayne had a history of wrongly confessing to things. A former teacher, Byron Doel told Rough Justice that ‘He was forever confessing things he hadn’t done. If he confessed, the teacher’s problem was solved and he was happy.’ Byron went on to call Wayne a fantasist who loved being the centre of attention.
As the investigation looked into this confession, more questions arose. Wayne had told the police where they could find the murder weapon, but it was not there.
He spoke of having taken a St Christopher medal from Sandra Phillips however she never owned such a medal. He even presented a charity collection box which he said was stolen from the shop during the murder, but it was taken from a different shop.
Wayne had previously confessed to the murder of a dentist and numerous robberies he could not have committed. In some cases, stating that he watched his brother in the same way as he had here.
A worker at one of the hostels where the brothers would stay called Wayne a ‘Police Groupie’. Saying that he appeared to enjoy riding in a police car and the whole experience of being arrested.
Although the brothers were seen in the area at the time of the murders. Eye witnesses reported them wearing the same clothes before and after the murder. There was blood splattered across the shop of the murder. The culprit would have been visibly blood stained.
The container they were seen carrying ‘which could have contained petrol’ was far more likely to contain cider, their lawyer said.
It was felt by many that the police had got the wrong men.
Re-trial: 7 years on.
The evidence was enough to force a retrial. The unreliable confession seen as a missed piece of evidence.
During the trial it was suggested that South Wales Police detectives doctored confession statements, notes and suppressed scientific evidence.
The appeal was largely based using evidence gathered by Devon and Cornwall police who had been asked to investigate the conviction.
After a 2-day trial the men were free. In a statement, Robert Lawrence, the Chief Constable of South Wales, said he ‘deeply regretted’ the wrongful convictions.
The brothers spent seven years in jail for a crime they did not commit.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long, long time.” Paul Darvell said after his release. “I am very pleased it has come at last. I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us – family, friends and lawyers.”
Paul went bald during his seven years in prison added ‘It’s great to be free. We can’t wait to get home. I lost my hair through all the stress. I just want to go and have a pint of shandy. It’s been a long time.’
Both brothers were awarded £80,000 for their wrongful conviction. Paul Darvell died in 2005 at the age of 42.
In 2002 the case was reopened and focussed on a bloody handprint which was left at the scene and was not the victims. Detective Superintendent John Kerr from South Wales Police said at the time: “The murder of Sandra Phillips remains unsolved and the review will focus on developments within the scientific world and developments in investigative techniques.”
With no success, back in 2009, Detective Superintendent Paul Burke said: “It is important to stress an investigation is never completely closed and any new information which is received will be fully investigated.”
To this day, the real killer has never been brought to justice.